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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

Bush Tours Hurricane Devastation; Doctors Work Overtime to Provide Medical Care to Evacuees

Aired September 2, 2005 - 18:00   ET

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


LOU DOBBS, HOST: Good evening, everybody.
Tonight the city of New Orleans remains a lost city of desperation and lawlessness. Almost 90 percent of New Orleans citizens tonight remain displaced from their homes. Fifty thousand New Orleans citizens still cannot escape the city and its flood waters. They are desperate, of course, to get out amid what has been a total collapse of local government and police authority.

And as the U.S. military moves into New Orleans, as they did today, there is outrage from the American public at the slow response of local, state, and federal government to this worsening emergency.

President Bush today toured the devastated Gulf Coast, as the criticism of his administration's handling of this crisis intensifies.

And in Washington today serious charges that the U.S. government has left its poorest, most vulnerable citizens to die on the streets of New Orleans because of the color of their skin and their poverty.

We will be discussing those issues tonight here, and we will be discussing an emergency response that even the president of the United States says is unacceptable.

Let's go now live to New Orleans, Louis Armstrong International Airport, where President Bush is now speaking after taking an aerial tour of the devastated city.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Listen, I want to thank the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans, Senator Landrieu, Senator Vitter, and Congressman Jefferson, Congressman Jindal and General Blum.

I've just completed a tour of some devastated country. I started in Alabama, worked our way down through Mississippi, and ended up here in one of America's great cities. And saw firsthand the devastation that this city has gone through.

I know the people of this part of the world are suffering, and I want them to know that there's a flow of progress. We're making progress. I want to thank the governor for her hard work. And I want to thank the mayor.

I know that some of the folks in outlying parishes here in Louisiana are wondering whether or not people are paying attention to them. We are. St. Charles, St. Bernard, Plaquemines Parish, I understand the devastation that you've gone through, as well. So does the governor -- St. Tammany. So does the governor and so do the senators.

This is a devastating storm. This is a storm that's going to require immediate action now. I'm pleased to report, thanks to the good work of the adjutant general from Louisiana and the troops that have been called in that the convention center is secure. One of the objectives that we had today was to move in and secure that convention center and make sure the good folks there got food and water. The caravans, the bus caravans, are continuing on, as is the airlift.

The people of this part of the world have got to understand -- and by the way, we just came from the 17th Street Levee. A lot of folks are working hard to repair that levee. They've been working around the clock, 24 hours a day. People from -- people from the federal government and the state government and the local government are working to breach that -- to fill that breach.

The mayor has been telling me not only by telephone but here in person how important it is that we get that breach filled and get that pump station up and running. And we went there to inspect progress being done, and the people of New Orleans have got to understand there's a lot of people working hard, and they're making good progress.

You know, I'm going to fly out of here in a minute, but I want you to know that I'm not going to forget what I've seen. I understand that the devastation requires more than one day's attention. It's going to require the attention of this country for a long period of time.

This is a -- one of the worst natural disasters we have faced with national consequences. And therefore, there will be a national response. And I look forward to continuing to work with the governor and the mayor and the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives to do our duty to help the good folks of this part of the world get back on their feet.

Here's what I believe. I believe that the great city of New Orleans will rise again and be a greater city of New Orleans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right. Yes, sir.

BUSH: I believe the town where I used to come from, Houston, Texas, to enjoy myself, occasionally too much, will be that very same town, that it will be a better place to come to. That's what I believe.

I believe the great state of Louisiana will get its feet back and become a vital contributor to the country. I believe the people of Mississippi will recover.

I understand we've got a lot of work to do, and I understand it seems dark right now. But by working together and pulling together and capturing that great spirit of our country, a great city will rise again, and a great state will be vibrant.

If you want to help, if you're listening to this broadcast, contribute cash to the Salvation Army and the Red Cross. There will be other opportunities to give, and we hope you do give, but right now we need cash to the Salvation Army and the Red Cross. They're on the front lines of providing help to the people who need help.

May God bless the people of this part of the world, and may God continue to bless our country. Thank you very much.

DOBBS: George Bush talking from the Louis Armstrong International Airport. The governor of Louisiana, Katherine Blanco (sic), to his left there, now behind him. Mike Brown, the FEMA director, with him as well as New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin.

The governor now speaking.

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you for being here, for being with our people, and for showing the state of Louisiana, all of our citizens, those who are hurt and those who were not, that the United States government cares and cares deeply for Louisiana.

We have a strong people, a determined people, and with your help we're going to rebuild.

Now, we just saw the most hopeful project because it's stemming the tide of the water that just ruined our lives for this last week. And I'm going to name that Project Hope. It is the first sign of a hopeful -- of hope to return to a normal existence.

Thank you again, sir. We love you being here.

BUSH: Thank you.

DOBBS: Governor Blanco obviously trying to put some words of encouragement out to the citizens of New Orleans, especially the estimated 50,000 that remain stranded within the city that is 80 percent captured by the flood waters that remain within the city as a result of three levees having broken.

Today in New Orleans a new dimension to what is already chaos. Major fires have broken out in the city. There was also a massive explosion at a factory. That explosion sent thick, acrid smoke all across the city.

But there are few firemen left in New Orleans to put out those fires, and those fires are burning out of control without challenge or hope of containment.

As for the New Orleans police force, many have simply walked off their jobs, not reporting to duty. At night police still on duty have to defend their command center, rather than try to patrol the lawless streets.

The National Guard says 6,500 of its troops are in New Orleans tonight. Another 500 promised to be in New Orleans by tomorrow. But the mayor of New Orleans today said the emergency response has been pathetic. He says more troops are needed and needed now.

The mayor's police force, by the way, as many as 50 percent of them have walked off the job.

In a message sent to CNN today, Mayor Nagin said, quote, "The people of our city are holding on by a thread. Time has run out. Can we survive another night, and who can we depend on? God only knows."

In Mississippi residents there are bitterly critical of the slow emergency response in their state, where at least 180 people have died and where 75 percent of the residents remain without power tonight. Today President Bush promised them that more aid is on the way.

Ted Rowlands reports from Biloxi, Mississippi -- Ted.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, people here took a few minutes out of their day picking through what has been left of their home, in most cases just rubble, to look up and see the president.

President Bush drove right by the area we are here, which is indicative of a lot of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, completely leveled. The president met with a few of the residents here, gave a couple of people a hug that have lost their homes. He was with the governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, and Senator Trent Lott.

The president acknowledged that the response was slow in coming, to some degree, and also assured the folks that whatever they need would be here. Most residents we talked to living on this coast did give the federal government a bit more of a break than some folks living inland, in that they said that this storm surprised everybody. Long-timers that lived through Camille could never have imagined what type of devastation this storm could have come up with, and it did.

And as one resident told me, he said, "I'm glad President Bush came here, because while a picture is worth 1,000 words, coming here to reality will leave you speechless" -- Lou.

DOBBS: Ted, thank you very much. Ted Rowlands.

More critically ill people are dying at the New Orleans International Airport. At the airport, where medical crews are working in what are nothing less than deplorable conditions, they've been overwhelmed by the task of trying to save the lives of New Orleans patients. At this makeshift field hospital, doctors are processing as many as 800 sick people each and every hour.

Ed Lavandera is at the airport now and has the story for us.

Ed, this is a very, very unpleasant story.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's incredible, Lou. It's been an endless stream of people that continue to come here to the New Orleans International Airport. Take a look at the air field here. There are about eight helicopters, from Army helicopters, Navy helicopters, Coast Guard, as well. And also, you can see what they've done continuously. They're putting them on the luggage racks, the luggage carts they use to move luggage around the terminals here at the airport, moving people back and forth.

And then what happens is they come underneath here and they get shuttled into this portion of the airport. And once they walk in here, it's determined whether or not they need medical attention or whether or not they're put on buses or on airplanes out of New Orleans.

We've just started seeing this here in the last few minutes, where they've started bringing in ice and water and handing it to the folks over the fence. Underneath here, there are hundreds of people waiting to see what happens next to them, waiting to figure out where they go.

Of course, where they've been is so much worse than where they are now, but it is still a long process. This is only a portion of the journey for these folks as they try to figure out where they're going to go next -- Lou.

DOBBS: Obviously, the rescue response people are doing a magnificent job, but tonight patients remain, caregivers, nurses and doctors in hospitals that remain isolated because of the flood waters. Do we have an estimate on how many more people must be rescued from those facilities?

LAVANDERA: You know, Lou, we've been trying to piece that together throughout the day. The best we're been able to get is anecdotally. I was with one group from Tulane Hospital, a group of doctors that said they were the last bunch out of that hospital, and that's right on Canal Street near the French Quarter.

But they also said that there were two other hospitals in that area that were much more difficult to evacuate, and they feared that there were still dozens, perhaps hundreds more people still trapped in those hospitals, some perhaps needing critical attention.

These were people who were already in intensive care units or who already needed serious medical attention when this hurricane hit and when the levee broke, flooding the city.

Although a little while ago I did come across another group that was from those hospitals, but they weren't able to tell me whether or not there were others coming or if those hospitals had been evacuated. But that is still their main concern. Charity Hospital and University Hospital was the other one that were right there in the downtown area off of Canal.

DOBBS: And of course, anecdotally, there are reports that there are not even sufficient hardly power -- there is no power to provide for patients, as you say, Ed, who are in critical need of care. And the nurses and doctors themselves without food and running without water. So the situation remains desperate tonight.

Ed, thank you very much.

LAVANDERA: Let me add...

DOBBS: Yes.

LAVANDERA: Lou, let me add one quick thing to that.

DOBBS: Yes, Ed.

LAVANDERA: I heard one story which I found fascinating, where nurses giving I.V.'s to each other to keep each other nourished, well nourished enough to continue on to be able to help. That's one little nugget that I think speaks volumes to what they're going through in those hospitals.

DOBBS: An extraordinary story. And as you say, illustrative of the desperation that grips still much of the city of New Orleans. Ed, thank you very much. Ed Lavandera reporting.

We'd like to know your thoughts about the government's, local, state, and federal, response to this disaster. Do you think local, state, and federal officials should be held responsible for the failure to respond adequately in the wake of Hurricane Katrina? Yes or no? Cast your vote at LouDobbs.com. We'll have the results coming up here later in the broadcast.

A great deal more coming up here.

Left behind. Charges tonight that people are being left to die in New Orleans because they are black and because they are poor. We'll have a special report. I'll be talking with the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.

And tonight a national security failure. Our nation's homeland security officials are failing American citizens in their first major challenge since September 11. That charge and a special report are next.

And stay with CNN for our continuing coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Larry King at 8 p.m. Eastern tomorrow for a three- hour special on how you can help.

Those stories and more still ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: In the chaos, the devastation, the desperation left behind by Hurricane Katrina there is also revealed a disturbing truth about life in this country. Too many of us live in poverty: 37 million Americans, a number that has grown an unprecedented four years in a row. As the desperation in the city of New Orleans rises, America's poor are the most vulnerable in a disaster anywhere at any time, and certainly in this one.

Christine Romans has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Crushing poverty in New Orleans. Once invisible to the world, now for the poor here, their misery is on full display. Utter desperation laid bare by Hurricane Katrina.

Poverty here is double the national average. Forty percent of the city's children are poor. Two thirds of this city is African- American. They are the least likely to have gotten out ahead of Hurricane Katrina.

ERIC KLINENBERG, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: It's unrealistic to think that poor people, often without cars, often with family members living nearby, often with elderly residents for whom they care, can easily get in their cars, if they even have cars, and drive out of town. It's impossible to look at those images and not understand the social structure, the inequality that's a part of Hurricane Katrina.

ROMANS: Disaster planners say it's widely known that the poorest are the least likely to leave. No money, no place to go, no way to get there. In fact, federal disaster scenarios had identified 100,000 residents as immobile, poor, elderly, or ill. Those people, for more than four days now, have been utterly helpless. That, many say, is a national disgrace.

DAMON HEWITT, NAACP LEGAL DEFENSE FUND: And it's unconscionable and intolerable that in this, the richest country in the world, that we would allow this to happen. And make no mistake that there is a clear racial dimension. There is a clear class dimension.

ROMANS: He says these people live below sea level literally and figuratively. They are the south's working poor, barely surviving on minimum wage.

New Orleans is this country's ninth poorest city. Louisiana has the fourth highest poverty rate, Mississippi the highest. Katrina couldn't have taken aim on a more vulnerable population.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: And now these tax-paying Americans, left behind or away from their jobs at the casino, the wharf, the hotel, it could be months before they get paid again. But how insulting that before they worry about that they must find food, water, and a way out.

DOBBS: It is also important, because Reverend Jesse Jackson, the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP have injected a straightforward and dramatic and perhaps even truthful charge that much of the failure here is because of race.

But we should put in context, it seems to me also, that the city of New Orleans is 70 percent black. Its mayor is black. Its principal power structure is black. And if there is a failure to the black Americans who live in poverty and in the city of New Orleans, those officials have to bear much of the responsibility.

We're going to be taking a look at those issues here later in the broadcast, because they are critically important. Christine Romans, thanks for putting it in some considerable, if terrible, perspective. Thank you.

The slow response is sparking rage among African-American leaders, who say class and race should not determine who lives and dies. No one certainly can argue with that statement in this country. Lisa Sylvester reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are the last to begin leaving the city. The vast majority of them are African-Americans. Black leaders say it's simply unacceptable that so many were left without food and water for days.

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: We cannot allow it to be said by history that the difference between those who lived and those who died in this great storm and flood of 2005 was nothing more than poverty, age, or skin color.

SYLVESTER: No matter how fair or not, African-Americans are drawing contrasts. After 9/11 the president was a welcome and reassuring presence on the scene. But it was five days and much criticism before he stepped foot in the Gulf Coast.

Money and resources have poured in to rebuilding Iraq, National Guard troops diverted overseas while recovery efforts in New Orleans have languished.

Those with money were able to get out of the city. The poor, many of them black, left behind. The state of emergency in New Orleans is threatening to rip open old racial wounds.

HILARY SHELTON, NAACP: There have been reports of boatloads of white Americans being transported out of harm's way while African- Americans were still left lingering, trying desperately to find assistance.

SYLVESTER: Black lawmakers want to remind everyone that these faces, the people who are dying of thirst and heat, are American citizens who have been waiting for days for their own government to help them.

REP. CAROLYN KILPATRICK (D), MICHIGAN: Lives of women, children, the elderly, the frail are at stake as we speak. We're a better country than that. And I submit to you that as the richest country in the world, with those citizens who have paid taxes, we owe it to them to do no less.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: And our nation has been quick to help those in other countries in need, which is why many are asking the question why has it taken so long to come to the aid of American citizens on our own soil -- Lou.

DOBBS: It is an absolutely appropriate and frustrating question. Lisa, there is in this charge, particularly from Reverend Jesse Jackson, from the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus among others, there's been no mention of Mayor Ray Nagin, who is black, the -- a predominantly black power structure in the city of New Orleans. Why is that?

SYLVESTER: Lou, I'm sorry. But we're having some audio problems, and so I was not able to hear the question. If you could repeat it again, please.

DOBBS: I'll sure try. Why has there not been, from the Congressional Black Caucus, the NAACP, other certainly well-meaning groups, focusing on the racial issues here, no mention of the fact that the mayor of New Orleans, who has to bear first responsibility in this, Ray Nagin, is himself black? That the power structure of the city of New Orleans is primarily black? The police department, the majority of which is black? Why has there been no focus on those facts and those responsibilities?

SYLVESTER: Well, we heard the mayor earlier today, for instance, and he was very irate. The sense is that it's the federal government that has somehow dropped the ball. These politicians, the Congressional Black Caucus...

DOBBS: I don't think anybody would argue that, Lisa. But why would not black leaders concerned about black poor people in this case, who are the predominant victims here who remain in their city stranded, why would they not also focus on a black mayor of that city and its black power structure?

SYLVESTER: I think one of their reasons is at this point they don't -- they're looking at this as in something needs to be done right now. I think that as the days go on they will be looking around to see what happened, what went wrong. But at this point they were very clear that they didn't want to point fingers, because they realized they're still very much in crisis mode.

But that's a very valid question Lou, that down the road will need to be addressed.

DOBBS: Well, if they don't want to point fingers, they sure have approximated doing so, and it's -- and the frustration is understandable. The charges may be well founded. The responsibility, I suspect, will be much broader.

Lisa, thank you very much. Lisa Sylvester.

I'll be talking with the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus about these issues and others. I'll be talking with Congressman Melvin Watt.

Also ahead here, governors calling for a cap on gasoline prices. In the markets, prices moving back a bit. But in your neighborhood gasoline establishment, those prices, some of them are going up 20 percent, overnight. We'll have a report tonight on how much you'll be able paying for heating oil and gasoline.

And then, security failure. Outrage over this government's slow response to this disaster and new concerns about how prepared the United States would be for a terrorist attack. We'll have a special report.

And thousands are in critical condition, being treated at the New Orleans Airport. We'll have a live report for you from the field hospital there. A great deal more still ahead. Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The government's slow response in the wake of Hurricane Katrina shows just how unprepared this country is to handle a major disaster. Now the department created to keep Americans safe is under sharp criticism from all across this country.

Kitty Pilgrim has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It looks like a bomb went off. Even the president said so.

BUSH: It's as if the entire Gulf Coast were obliterated by the worst kind of weapon you can imagine.

PILGRIM: In the first real test to the Department of Homeland Security since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, many are asking, "Why did it take five days to get relief on the ground?"

The mayor of New Orleans railing against the agency Thursday.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: I've talked to the head of the homeland security. I've talked to everybody under the sun. I keep hearing that it's coming. This is coming, that is coming. And my answer to that today is B.S., where is the beef?

PILGRIM: Yet the head of the Department of Homeland Security was in congratulatory mode yesterday, even as the situation deteriorated.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: It is a source of tremendous pride to me to work with people who've pulled off this really exceptional response.

PILGRIM: Too slow was the charge from some in Congress as it convened today to pass a $10.5 billion emergency supplemental bill for Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And heads should roll, quite frankly, because it is unconscionable that we are standing by and not responding...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the weeks and months ahead, those of us charged with oversight of homeland security issues will be asking hard questions about the effectiveness of the Department of Homeland Security.

REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) NEW YORK: For it is nothing short of outrageous that in this country, where we talk of 9/11 every day, we still haven't dedicated enough resources to improving our emergency response capabilities.

PILGRIM: And yet the Department of Homeland Security has a near $41 billion budget.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: Now, the ranking member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, Benny Thompson of Mississippi, put it this way, "our government failed in both its preparedness and its response to the disaster. If terrorists rather than a hurricane had attacked, the result would have been no different" -- Lou.

DOBBS: I think that is precisely, Kitty, the subtext that is within the minds and the hearts of most Americans as we sit here watching 50,000 of our fellow citizens stranded now for four, five days in many cases. Having to endure this without a response that is something that should make us proud rather than disgusted and frustrated and even angry.

PILGRIM: I would expect that this is being discussed at every dinner table in America tonight.

DOBBS: Well, it sure, I hope, will be discussed as we as Americans hold accountable our elected officials from both parties and local, state, and federal. It's time for government to begin working for the people of this country rather than a few special interests.

We're seeing -- we're seeing here in my opinion the result of what has been a curve, a downward slope for some time because politics is overwhelming public service, I think in too many instances. Certainly in this one there's a lot to be answered for.

Kitty, thank you. Kitty Pilgrim.

The disaster in the Gulf Coast comes as President Bush's approval ratings are at the lowest levels of his presidency. President Bush today responded to criticism that the federal response to Hurricane Katrina has been unacceptable. Suzanne Malveaux reports -- Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, five days after Hurricane Katrina hit, President Bush arrived at ground zero, New Orleans today. President Bush facing blistering criticism for his administration's slow response, promised and pledged robust federal help.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Friday the president toured the obliterated...

BUSH: I understand the devastation requires more than one day's attention.

MALVEAUX: Friday, the president toured the obliterated Gulf region from the air and the ground, in a series of photo ops designed to reassure victims that the federal government was on top of things.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm trying to find my house. My house is over there.

MALVEAUX: In Biloxi, Mississippi he comforted women who lost their home. At a Coast Guard hangar in Mobile, Alabama he bowed his head and vowed to do more.

BUSH: We have a responsibility to help clean up this mess.

MALVEAUX: He also praised his disaster point man, FEMA director Mike Brown.

BUSH: And Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job. The FEMA director's working 24...

MALVEAUX: Earlier at the White House, Mr. Bush did express some dismay at the federal government's efforts to maintain order in New Orleans.

BUSH: The results are not acceptable.

MALVEAUX: But the president later defended the response time.

BUSH: The levees broke on Tuesday in New Orleans. On Wednesday we -- and Thursday we started evacuating people. A lot of people have left that city. A lot of people have been pulled out on buses. It's -- you know, I am satisfied with the response. I'm not satisfied with all the results.

MALVEAUX: With estimates of thousands dead, many say the administration's reaction is too little, too late.

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) CALIFORNIA: How could the president be satisfied with the response? What is needed in a response like this is one that minimizes death and disease, which minimizes...

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: And Lou, President Bush returns to the White House this evening to sign that emergency supplemental $10 1/2 billion -- Lou.

DOBBS: Suzanne, what is the reaction there at the White House? This administration, under great criticism and political pressure because of the war in Iraq primarily, but also because energy prices are out of control in this country. There has been no federal response. And now this -- the way in which the United States government, the state of Louisiana, and the government, the local government of New Orleans has responded, these -- there has to be some concern within the White House staff, the political advisers to the president tonight. MALVEAUX: Lou, all you have to do is take a look at those pictures that were really set up, designed and orchestrated today to show that the administration, to show the president out there, saying look, this is a person, this an administration that wants to meet the needs of these people to know and to realize that this is a White House that is very much aware that it is under a great deal of criticism here for responding too slow, perhaps responding too late. They are very much aware of that.

We even had reporters who were traveling in the pool very close to the president who were saying just across the way they could see those dead bodies on the road. Those are not the kinds of things the president talked about, those are not the kinds of pictures we saw today. It was a very well-controlled situation.

This is a White House that essentially wants to get out that message, wants to perhaps counter what that perception was, the criticism from a lot of people that they just did not respond fast enough.

DOBBS: Suzanne, thank you very much. Criticism again, as we have been reporting here and pointing out in point of fact, criticism that could be laid at the feet of local officials and state as well as the federal government certainly. Suzanne Malveaux reporting from the White House, thank you.

Tonight, Houston, Texas is filling up with more than 75,000 New Orleans residents without a home. The people of Houston giving them a home.

Hundreds more New Orleans residents bused to Houston today, a six-hour, 350-mile trip. There are fears that Houston, America's fourth largest city, will sag under the strain of trying to care for so many new people, people in great need. But Houston, as I said, opening its arms to them.

Sean Callebs is at the Houston Astrodome tonight, which closed its doors to new evacuees today. Sean, tell us all about it.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, indeed, Lou, the Houston Astrodome you see behind me became overcrowded last night. The fire marshal decided there were simply too many evacuees in there, estimated 15,000 at this point. So they made the decision no more evacuees. However, the buses continue to come in.

Well, we heard from Mayor Bill White earlier today. Not terribly far away from us is the Reliant Arena. They are going to use that. The Reliant Center is over that way, they plan on putting up another 11,000 beds to take care of all of these evacuees. The mayor made it clear, the plan they had, very fluid. They are adapting. He is adamant that no evacuees will be turned away.

As you said, the city is indeed opening its arms, opening its heart, doing everything it request. But look at the pictures from inside the Astrodome. There are just thousands of cots seemingly packed one right against each other. Now, some people have complained about the cramped conditions, trying to get food, saying at times it's simply a miserable condition considering everything they've been through.

But we want to introduce you to 19-year-old Gezel Bennett. She's five months pregnant and has spent two nights in there on those cots, and you could not be happier with the way Houston, and in particular, the way the people inside the Astrodome have treated you and your friends.

GEZEL BENNETT, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: Yes. I'm very happy. Everybody is nice, and they opened their arms to us, and it's very comfortable in there. The city have like over 15,000 people in there.

CALLEBS: You talked about the medical care, the food. You have everything you need.

BENNETT: Personal hygiene, towels, soap, shampoo. Everything. Because they have a lot of people that don't have, but you have -- we have everything.

CALLEBS: And a real Texas size favor. You said the people could not be nicer to you.

BENNETT: They can't. I have never -- since I've been there for the two days, I have never got a negative attitude from nobody. The food is good. We got hot food. We have food in probably five -- well, since the storm hit before lasagna, pizza, grits, eggs, breakfast. We have...

CALLEBS: Warm food.

BENNETT: Warm food.

CALLEBS: Now, tell me about your city. You say you're embarrassed with the ways the residents are reacting there: the fires, the gunshots. Do you think you'll ever move back?

BENNETT: No, I'm not going back to New Orleans. No. On the west bank, we didn't get much damage. We didn't get damage at all. So, if we go back, it's to go back and get furniture. But we're not going back to New Orleans. There's just no hope for New Orleans right now.

CALLEBS: Are you scared? Do you not want to be around the people you're seeing in the streets?

BENNETT: I mean, because I'm kind of shocked the way they reacted. I mean, going into the hospital, shooting people and all that in a time like this, a life-death situation and they're reacting like this, so I don't want to be around them.

CALLEBS: Suzanne, best of luck to you. Thanks very much for taking the time to speak with us this evening.

BENNETT: Thank you. CALLEBS: And Lou, I have to tell you we have heard that from so many people we've talked to, people simply horrified with the way the residents in the city reacting. And a number of people, elderly, young saying I have no intention of going back. For right now, Houston is my home.

DOBBS: You know, today, Sean, with the president giving that brief news conference at Louis Armstrong International Airport with Governor Blanco and the mayor there trying to offer hope, somewhat cryptically, I think would be fair to say. But the fact is, this is -- this is a troubling, troubling event. It's too easy to compare this to the way the people of New York City responded to September 11, and to look at the way in which some of the residents, certainly only a few, but some of the residents of New Orleans have responded. This is going to require a great deal of understanding as we move forward through the next days.

Sean, thanks for bringing us that important story, and a story that I hope will put a smile on the faces of a few people who are obviously concerned about the residents, our fellow Americans still suffering in the city of New Orleans.

Coming up next here, doctors are treating 800 people an hour at the New Orleans International Airport under makeshift conditions, under terrible conditions in many cases. We'll be going back there live. And a former New Orleans mayor will be joining me. He's criticizing the response to this crisis. He's our guest.

And evacuees from New Orleans are now being turned away from the Houston Astrodome, as Sean Callebs has just reported. We'll have a live report on where nearly half a million New Orleans residents are now being cared for and provided shelter for.

And stay with us for continuing coverage here on CNN of the aftermath of this terrible Hurricane Katrina. Larry King, 8:00 p.m. Eastern tomorrow, a three-hour special on how you can help. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: My guest tonight was among the first to criticize the federal government's response to the disaster in New Orleans. Sidney Barthelemy was mayor of New Orleans from 1986 to 1994, joining us tonight from Atlanta. Good to have you with us.

SIDNEY BARTHELEMY, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: Thank you, Lou.

DOBBS: You have family still, you're not certain of their whereabouts in New Orleans, right?

BARTHELEMY: No. My wife's mother is infirmed, and we're still trying to find out exactly where she's located at this time.

DOBBS: That is unfortunately the case for tens of thousands of people with relatives who may be stranded or simply in care centers that -- where they don't know where they are. The city of New Orleans itself, how did it in your judgment, did it respond to this crisis?

BARTHELEMY: It was overwhelmed. They really have let a lot of people down. When you hear half the police department walking off the job...

DOBBS: That's amazing.

BARTHELEMY: That is unbelievable. It really is unbelievable. Because most of the people there are good people. I think a lot of hope was lost, and I think that's the biggest problem with the slow response, is that people have lost hope. And they didn't see any help coming. They only saw things getting worse. Then they saw thugs and hoodlums taking over the streets. It was heart-wrenching.

DOBBS: It's heart-wrenching, and the city is rendered, perhaps permanently -- Sean Callebs reporting a lot of people he talks with who have been evacuated to centers, particularly in Houston, are saying they're just not going back, because they're embarrassed by the way some of the residents, some of the citizens of New Orleans have behaved, that they want no part of a city that permits such a thing. How do you react to that?

BARTHELEMY: I really am very, very saddened. I think that the majority of the people in New Orleans are good people. The majority of the people who were left behind are really good, decent, decent citizens. There are thugs. There are criminals that have taken advantage of this situation, and unfortunately, we didn't have the resources to deal with them. And I think they should be dealt with severely, because they're not helping the people. They're just thugs.

DOBBS: What about the accountability for the local, state, and federal government officials who simply -- I mean, tonight, at the end of what has been the most tragic week in New Orleans' history and a good part of this country's history, what kind of accountability should there be?

BARTHELEMY: I think there's got to be accountability. You know, somebody should have seen this happening the way that they did. If you recall, I called for federal intervention this Tuesday and said that this problem was greater than the ability of the local government or state government, that it had to be the federal government.

DOBBS: Sidney Barthelemy, we thank you for being here. The former mayor of New Orleans. Let's hope that hope remains in New Orleans.

BARTHELEMY: I'm hopeful. And I think the majority of the people are going to be hopeful. We are going to rebuild that city.

DOBBS: You know, we're Americans, and we have a long tradition of winning and overcoming disaster. There's no reason for New Orleans not to be in that long historical line of return to success and betterment. We thank you.

BARTHELEMY: It's a great -- thank you. It's a great historical city, and I think it's really, as somebody said, the soul of America. We have to make it work again.

DOBBS: Mr. Mayor, thank you very much.

BARTHELEMY: Thank you.

DOBBS: Coming up next -- members of the Congressional Black Caucus are blasting the federal government's response, or lack of it, to Hurricane Katrina. I'll be talking with the chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. He's my guest here next.

And then, an energy crisis? Gasoline prices rising all around this country, while the markets tell us that prices should be going down. Gasoline stations, in fact, some of them running out of gas altogether. And certainly they're not running out of chutzpah. Some stations raising gas prices by 50 cents overnight. Americans are demanding that the White House take action, and take action now. We'll have that story and why that action isn't being taken, and a great deal more, still ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: One congressman, William Jefferson, said that if the people in New Orleans weren't poor and black, they wouldn't have been left behind. Joining me now is the chairman of the Congressional Black Congress (sic), Congressman Melvin Watt of North Carolina.

Congressman Watt, do you agree with that assessment?

REP. MELVIN WATT (D-NC), CHAIRMAN, CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: No, I don't agree with that assessment. I think in most cities, the poor people, disproportionately African-American, and the people who have the ability to get out in a situation such as this before the disaster hits, typically upper-income people. So what you end up with is a class situation more than a race situation.

DOBBS: Either one is disturbing. What I hear you saying is you don't believe this was an issue of race. Rather, it was a question of socioeconomic condition, i.e. just poor people who simply weren't provided for, nor planned for in an emergency like this.

WATT: That's right. I don't think God visited this hurricane only on black people. He visited it on New Orleans, and the people who were in New Orleans -- black, white, or otherwise -- were victims of it. The ones who were able to get out, whether they were black, white, or otherwise, were not victims, at least not in the short-term way than the ones who remain there are.

DOBBS: Congressman Watt, I think, though, that you would agree with most assessments right now of the critics of the local, state and federal response here. It has been abysmal. To what degree do you think we should hold accountable the officials who have failed a sizable portion of the population of the citizens of New Orleans? And, frankly, embarrassed a very proud nation?

WATT: Frankly, Lou, I think we're focusing on the wrong issue. The accountability comes at a later point in the process. Right now, I think we should be focusing on making efforts to alleviate the pain and suffering that's going on there. There'll be plenty of time to look back and assess who was at fault and try to make a determination of what accountability they should have for that.

DOBBS: Do you think the federal government has responded adequately at the end of this week?

WATT: No, I don't think anybody has responded adequately. But the federal government I think just didn't anticipate the like of a local structure. The difference here, it seems to me, was in New York, everything around the affected area of 9/11 was still intact. This is a whole city that's lost its infrastructure, and the local authorities really had no capacity to respond. So the federal government really had to bite the bullet and take the whole responsibility, and it just didn't do so early enough.

DOBBS: Congressman Melvin Watt, we thank you for being here. The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. Come back soon, and hopefully in the days ahead, we'll have much happier things to talk about, including significant progress in helping the people who remain stranded and trying to survive in the city of New Orleans. Thank you, sir.

WATT: Thank you.

DOBBS: When we continue, President Bush visits one of the hardest-hit areas of the Gulf Coast. I'll be talking about what he saw and what we're likely to experience, with three of the country's top political journalists here next. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Joining me now are our regular Friday night panel, three of the country's very best political journalists. Karen Tumulty, "Time" magazine. Ron Brownstein, "The Los Angeles Times." Roger Simon of "U.S. News and World Report."

Why did I say among the best? You are the best. Good to have you all here.

Let me start, Karen. This disaster response has been, by nearly every measure, a disaster. What will be the impact on, first, the mayor of the city of New Orleans, Governor Blanco and President Bush?

KAREN TUMULTY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, I think that there's not going to be a lot of glory being passed around to anybody's response for this. New Orleans allowed development for decades that actually weakened the barrier islands, encouraged erosion. It clearly did not have an adequate evacuation plan, even though the city was fully aware that over 100,000 people there don't have cars. And the president's response, today he began by saying that the effect has been unacceptable, but by midday he was praising the head of FEMA...

DOBBS: Yeah, Mike Brown.

TUMULTY: ... as having done a terrific job. You don't get a sense that, you know, anybody is willing to sort of wrap their arms around this even yet.

DOBBS: Ron Brownstein, I mean, what is the -- the fact of the matter is, that you've got Mike Brown, the head of FEMA. You've got Michael Chertoff, the head of the Homeland Security Department, basically responsible for this response from the federal level. How did they do? Real simply.

RON BROWNSTEIN, LOS ANGELES TIMES: Well, real simply, it has been one of the worst weeks for the federal government in my adult lifetime. I think the natural instinct of any administration when facing the kind of criticism that the Bush administration is now under is to, you know, rally around each other, to circle the wagons and to say we did as much as we could as quickly as we could.

Look, reality bites, and in this case the president would be better served to be the one out there, the first one out there acknowledging what Americans are seeing every day. This has not been adequate. It's been far from adequate, and he should be the one asking the toughest questions, because obviously, as you suggested before, the underlying subtext here is if we are not ready for this, a catastrophe which was among the most studied and anticipated of anything on the books, how would we respond, four years after 9/11 to another terrorist attack?

DOBBS: And the answer, Roger Simon, is not a favorable one. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said, "if we can't respond faster than this to an event we saw coming across the Gulf for days, then why do we think we're prepared to respond to a nuclear or a biological attack?"

I was struck by the mayor of New Orleans saying on the radio in New Orleans, "I don't want to see anybody do any more goddamn press conferences," his words. "Put a moratorium on press conferences."

As we look at the parallel here between preparedness for a terrorist attack and what's happening in New Orleans, I think the American people may be getting tired of these so-called press conferences imposing on issues without being able to back up a reality, whether it's border security or whether it's port security, or whether the response to a federal disaster, Roger. Do you?

ROGER SIMON, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": No. The mayor has had a tough week. He should get some more sleep and stay off TV himself. It's been a tough week for America. And as you say, it shows how unprepared we are for a national attack. This is one medium-sized city, 489,000 people, and we couldn't handle the problem there. The federal response was inadequate, and it remains inadequate.

DOBBS: Our hearts here, as I know everywhere across the country, go out to the people who still suffer within the city of New Orleans because of these flood waters and the chaos they endure. We hope the weeks ahead bring far better results.

Tonight, let's take a look at our poll. Eighty-nine percent of you say local, state, and federal officials should be held responsible for the failure to respond adequately in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

That is our broadcast for this evening. And we thank you for being with us. Stay with CNN for our continuing coverage of the aftermath of this destructive hurricane. A special edition of "ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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