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Congressional Black Caucus Discusses Response to Katrina; New Orleans in Turmoil

Aired September 2, 2005 - 10:30   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: As it has been all week long, our coverage here is going to be rather fluid, as different opportunities become available to bring you the latest pictures, images and information.
We're standing by. A news conference expected to start pretty soon at the Pentagon. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers coming on to talk about that levee break, the levee break in New Orleans, which has caused all the flooding. Still no answer on how to shore up that break. We will bring you that news conference as it becomes available.

Meanwhile, as we've been watching these images of destruction of Hurricane Katrina -- it's been pouring into our living rooms all week long -- what are the lessons? And I know it has a lot of you at home, no matter where you live, thinking about flood insurance, what you need to know and do you need to have it?

Here's our personal finance editor Gerri Willis with more on that. Gerri, good morning.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Good morning, Daryn. Good to see you.

Flooding is one of the most costly natural disasters in the U.S., and you don't have to be near a big body of water to get into trouble. I want to show you some numbers here, Daryn, for just a second. The top states hit by flooding. These are flood claims under the federal programs. Look at Pennsylvania, Alabama, Texas, West Virginia. These are not states that you would necessarily think of being top flood claims, and yet they are.

If you want coverage, it's the federal government that actually underwrites this coverage. It's sold by local agents. Go to to get information, not only where to get help but a quote, agents to get ahold of. Look, this happens to more people than those just along the coast. It happens inland as well -- Daryn.

KAGAN: You got to know that flood insurance has its limits, though.

WILLIS: That's right. $250,000 for the structure itself. One $100,000 for your contents inside. For many people, this will not cover the amount of their loss. So understand that there are some private insurers who offer additional coverage as well. AIG is one of them, but there are many -- Daryn. KAGAN: There's been a lot of eyes on FEMA, a lot of people thinking that that's their final answer. But that's not a good plan.

WILLIS: Absolutely not, Daryn. FEMA only gives you a loan. It's a low-cost loan, but it's like taking out a second mortgage on your house. You're not getting free money here. You've got to get the insurance if you're in danger of flooding.

KAGAN: Timing is important, Gerri.

WILLIS: Absolutely. There's a 30-day waiting period after you get the insurance before it actually takes effect. So if you're listening to the news and the hurricane coverage and you're ordering it because you think you're going to get hit, you will not be helped. You've got to do it early. Got to get on that program right away.

KAGAN: And finally, what about premiums? Why do you have to be careful about those?

WILLIS: If you've already got flood coverage, the reality is, because of what we've seen just over this last week, is that the costs are going to rise for consumers. After Hurricane Andrew, we saw rate hikes of up to six percent. You'll probably see rate hikes again. But I got to tell you, it's worth it.

KAGAN: Understandable, when you look at what people are going through and completely losing their homes. Gerri Willis, thank you for those tips.

WILLIS: You're welcome.

KAGAN: Appreciate that.

Another person to talk to on the phone right now. Mike Williamson is a pilot. He works with Air Evac LifeTeam. He literally has been picking up babies and patients from the hospitals around New Orleans and trying to get them to a safer and better place. And he is with me on the phone right now.

Mike, thanks for taking time.


KAGAN: Can you tell us about the latest people, the latest patients you were able to airlift?

WILLIAMSON: Yes. Last two days, we've been airlifting patients out of Tulane Hospital. On Wednesday, our primary focus was getting all the infants and children out of the hospitals. Yesterday, we switched to getting the adults. We also, through our management staff at Air Evac, they were able to coordinate -- they got a call for help from Charity Hospital. And they were able to literally have to -- because we could not access Charity Hospital, they had to float in rafts or boats, whatever they could find, their critical patients over to Tulane. And we were able to rescue some of those patients yesterday and into the evening.

This morning, we just launched out a few moments ago with our fleet to go into downtown New Orleans again to the Baptist Hospital, where we have 45 patients that we're trying to get out today.

KAGAN: Now, what's this we're hearing about people actually shooting at some of the helicopters? How are you dealing with that?

WILLIAMSON: That's adding a little bit to the stress, to say the least. Our crews are dedicated. Certainly we -- we're putting safety first. It's kind of hard for us to believe it and imagine that here we are trying to help people, we're trying to save lives and we have, you know, those individuals shooting at us.

Currently, our -- none of our aircraft have taken fire. We have talked to some of the other crews that have had to take evasive action to avoid being shot. A lot of the shootings are taking place in and around the Superdome. We had to go in there and extract an individual yesterday and get him out of the Superdome, so that was a little bit scary. We were able -- with military support, we were able to get in there and get him out without any problem.

KAGAN: But you're still flying?

WILLIAMSON: We're still flying and we're dedicated to getting those individuals out. What we're doing is, once we bring the patient out, particularly if we're coming back to a hospital, we will load the aircraft with much-needed medical supplies, food and water. We take those into the hospital, drop those off and then pick up patients and carry them out.

We are finding patients that have not had food or water in days. The hospitals that are downtown have exhausted all of their resources. So the water and food and medical supplies are some of the first that they have been receiving in the last three to four days.

KAGAN: And what about the supplies you need, Jet A (ph), and other supplies you need to keep doing your job? Do you have access to those?

WILLIAMSON: Yes, ma'am, we certainly do. The people here in not only the New Orleans area, but all of Louisiana, have, even in spite of their losses, have really gone above and beyond in trying to help us accomplish our mission. Yesterday we were able to get fuel set up at the New Orleans Airport. That made a very crucial place for us to be able to get fuel.

The surrounding airports are -- for example, in New Iberia, the airport has been really instrumental in helping us with our fuel. And we're having to coordinate that and make sure our aircraft is getting that fuel. But it's -- it was an initial problem at first because a lot of the fuel areas were -- had no power and some of the fuel was contaminated. But we've been able to resolve that and it's -- they're really helping us a lot.

KAGAN: Well, no one's helping more than you are. You're doing important and heroic work, as well as all of your people. We want to thank you and wish you well as you continue to try to get as many of those patients out to better place to get care as possible. Mike Williamson, thank you for your time.

Once again, we're standing by. A news conference from the Pentagon. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers addressing the situation with those broken levees still causing problems in New Orleans.

And coming up on CNN, tomorrow night, 8:00, you can find out how you can help. Don't miss this all-star line-up. A three-hour special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE." Again, tomorrow 8:00 p.m. Eastern. "How You Can Help." We're back after this.


KAGAN: Right now in Washington D.C., the Congressional Black Caucus holding a news conference, talking about the response to Hurricane Katrina. Speaking right now, Representative Elijah Cummings of Maryland.

Let's listen in.


REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS, FMR. CHAIRMAN, CONGRESSIONAL BLACK CAUCUS: ... 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. It would be unconscionable to stand by and do nothing.

Yesterday I had a constructive conversation with Carter Allen (ph), the president's top assistant for domestic policy. He says the president is moving as fast as he can and they're doing all that they can. I simply disagree.

Yet government cannot succeed in this challenge without help. We must challenge leaders in the private sector to formulate strategies as to how they can best contribute. We have long heard claims of compassionate, conservative among our nation's leaders. We now want the compassion. This is a time for those with wealth and resources to step up to the plate and demonstrate that compassion.

This is a time to save human lives. People are dying because they have no water in America. Companies that bottle water now have the power to save lives. Infants are dying because there's no baby formula to keep them alive. Companies that make this formula must be on the frontline of our efforts. Food companies could work with their National Guard to coordinate the distribution of food for these victims. Private contractors who have helicopters, and boats and buses at their disposal could put those to use in the region.

Last, let me say this to the president. Mr. President, who is my Christian brother, often quotes this Bible, and so I quote the Bible to you, Mr. President. And it says, "For then the king will say to those on the right and those who are blessed by my father, take your inheritance the king prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in, and I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me."

Then the righteous will answer him, "Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you, a stranger, invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick and help -- and did not help you?"

The king will reply, "I tell you the truth, whatever you did for the least of these, brothers of mine, you did for me."

To the president of the United States, I simply say that God cannot be pleased with our response.

Jesse Jackson Jr. of Illinois.

REP. JESSE JACKSON JR., ILLINOIS: Let me first begin by expressing my support of the statement made by the distinguished gentleman from Maryland, Congressman Elijah Cummings, to stand hear and join with my colleagues in expressing our sincerest condolences to those families in the Gulf region who have lost their lives due to this unspeakable, horrific tragedy.

The federal government today, the Congress of the United States, will approve a $10.5 billion supplemental appropriations bill to help FEMA with much-needed resources in the Gulf region.

Much has been made about the slow response of the federal government. Congressman Elijah Cummings talked upon it. A few short years ago we saw in the Persian Gulf something that was described by this administration as shock and awe. But here on the shores of the United States of America in the last 140 or so hours, we have witnessed something shockingly awful, and that is the lack of response, the quick response, from our government to those American who are suffering, who are dying.

Katrina did more than devastate property, it devastated and it has shattered lives. I believe and am fundamentally appalled at the idea that this news media mass now shifted the emphasis from the devastation that people's lives, people who only owned a pan, people who lived in a shotgun home, people who had one television set, whose lives have been completely devastated by this horrific tragedy, the news media has now shifted the conversation from the devastation that their lives have experienced, that their families have experienced to what people do in desperate circumstances, including steal...

KAGAN: We are covering the emotional and the technical as well. On the left hand of your screen, the national black -- Congressional Caucus having a news conference, calling for a stronger reaction, a stronger response from the federal government. On the right-hand part of your screen, the news conference we're about to go to, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers talking about what could possibly be done about the levee break in New Orleans.


LT. GEN. CARL STROCK, CMDR. U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: ... now to close that canal down.

Those are not critical right now, because as I said, the lake levels have steadied. But we are concerned. As we look down the line here, we see storms forming up in the atlantic. We want to make sure that we don't catch ourselves with levees open and another storm front moving on us. So we're going to go ahead and proceed to close those canals, although that's not vital to our recovery effort at the moment. Once those canals are closed, we will then begin to actually work the levees.

The third element is an aerial approach. And you've seen, I think, some of that activity going on. This, too, represents a challenge, because we have very limited aviation assets. And rotary wing is really what we need to put material into these breaches, and that's the very asset we need to do search and rescue and save victims. So our efforts became something of a second priority and our initial plan was delayed a bit because of that.

And in fact, that's not unreasonable, because while water is flowing our ability to stop it is even more difficult, but now they're stabilized. The aerial method is going in. And I, unfortunately, don't have any direct status for you on that, but that is occurring right now.

Under this, we're dropping essentially sandbags in. We started out with 300-pound sandbags, and have the ability to do 2,000 in larger bags, and we have a sufficient quantity of those on hand to get those done.

So all three of those things are working, and whatever works first is the way we're going to go.

Now the next task we have is to essentially de-water city. The plans call for breaching levees on the Lake Ponchartrain (ph) side, and really let gravity take control to move the water. That is the most effective and efficient way to do that.

I know there's a lot of interest on how long it will take, and I really can't comment on that now. We should have a better feel once we really, truly analyze the situation. But that's dependent on the size of the breaches we make in the levee. A small breach, obviously, takes longer the drain. The challenge is the...

KAGAN: We've been listening in to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers talking about what to do about the water and levee situation in New Orleans.

Now we return back to Washington D.C. And the national -- the Congressional Black Caucus.

JACKSON: Let's go to work now and rebuild America.

Thank you very much. REP. CAROLYN CHEEKS KILPATRICK (D), MICHIGAN: I'm Congresswoman Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick from Detroit, Michigan.

I'd like to add my support to both of my colleagues who have spoken before us. And in the absence of our chairman, Mel Watt, who has to be in North Carolina, just returned to the country, we come to you this morning as a sense of urgency.

First of all, the people are not refugees. There are American citizens. They pay taxes. They raise their families. They help American grow, and I wish the media would call them American citizens and not refugees, which relegates them to another whole status.

We're here representing members of the Congressional Black Caucus, and you've heard much of what's been said.

I want to report to you that Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, mayor of the city of Detroit, has been in action mode for the last 48 hours.

And we're offering today and have talked with Congressman Bill Jefferson and Congressman Bennie Thompson, as well as Congressman Artur Davis. The city of Detroit is offering 500 families to come to Detroit. We will airlift you out. We are working with our airlines.

We have housing, food, clothing now. The mayor has been meeting with FEMA and other agencies and, in a private coalition, members of the city of Detroit, business community and others, have come together to offer housing immediately.

KAGAN: We have been listening in to the Congressional Black Caucus calling for a much stronger response to the federal government to what is happening along the Gulf Coast. One of the speakers there, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr., that was the son.

We have the father now with us on the phone, the Reverend Jesse Jackson. He has made his way to Baton Rouge. Reverend, good morning. Thank you for making time for us.

REV. JESSE JACKSON, CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER: Yes, I'm in Baton Rouge now. I left New Orleans last night. It was painful sight to see, a completely dark New Orleans at 2:00 in the morning. (INAUDIBLE) to get 450 students from Xavier University and we were finally able to rescue them. They've been on the bridge, and holed up for five days. What was so painful, however, that there were thousands on the bridge who had hope against hope that we were coming to get them. And we could not get them on the buses. And so to leave them there was so painful.

The people deserve and deserving a massive airlift and massive (INAUDIBLE) protective convoys. We got food drops and water drops in Indonesia in two days after the tsunami. We've not done that in New Orleans, even now. And so, the relief effort has been a disaster.

And now our challenge is, once we get people out, to get some places to stay. Fortunately last night -- the students (INAUDIBLE), the same students from Xavier, (INAUDIBLE). We need these churches and massive gymnasiums and others to make a place for people to stay once we get them out of New Orleans.

KAGAN: So reverend, you're calling for churches across the country to make space in their houses of worship to give people refuge?

JACKSON: Indeed, on this coming Sunday should be a national day of prayer. Because there are so many dead people uncounted, dead people in New Orleans, number one. Now, many churches have (INAUDIBLE). And use those gymnasiums to, in fact, be rescue centers for people so they can adjust.

I would hope, President Bush, for example -- with closing military bases -- why not use these military bases as temporary places for people to stay? They have housing barracks. They have health facilities. They have food facilities. The Congress said yesterday that there would be 300,000 more people to be evacuated. So this is a massive need for relief, rescue and reconstruction.

KAGAN: Reverend, if you could stay with us a moment, we do need to fit in one break here. I have a couple more questions for you. We'll be back with you in just a moment. Our viewers at home, our coverage continues after this.


KAGAN: Thank you for staying with us on our continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath. This the day, once again, that President Bush will visit the area. We expect to see him in Mobile, Alabama, in about 20 minutes. More on that just ahead.

Meanwhile, I welcome back the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who has made his way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and is joining us on the phone. Reverend, good morning once again.

JACKSON: Indeed.

KAGAN: Much has been made, not only of the pictures that we're seeing and the people that we're seeing -- that this isn't just a question of race and who is left behind, but one of economic class. And that it's the poor who are being left behind, Reverend. Well, how would you comment on that?

JACKSON: Well, you're looking at a matter of 100,000-plus people in New Orleans who make less than $8,000 a year. They are not very mobile. Many are old and fixed incomes, you know, children. And they simply could not move. So we knew last Friday that this hurricane was coming and could be a possible level four or five. And we knew level three was overrun levees.

Secondly, moneys are (INAUDIBLE) and the millionaires, those budgets were cut. So we sent the resources to (INAUDIBLE) in Baghdad and left our men exposed. Helicopters and (INAUDIBLE), in fact, in Baghdad. (INAUDIBLE) huge price for investing more in Iraq and (INAUDIBLE) the rich and not reinvest in America. Those are lessons that must be learned in this crisis, on this crisis. KAGAN: Reverend, let's look forward. Because, of course, the immediate crisis that's happening right now is just getting these people out of New Orleans. But the story doesn't end there, because most of these people will not have homes to go back to. So what do you do with them? What kind of opportunity do you provide for them and how do you help them create live in other parts of the country?

JACKSON: Well, that's why the first issue is rescue. The second issue is to relocate them to some housing that's not yet prepared. And then the issue of reconstruction. So right now we're in the first stage of rescue. We must now relocate, and that's why the military bases would be a place to be considered, and churches using their gymnasiums. The (INAUDIBLE) do that. And then families can adopt families (INAUDIBLE).

People who lived (INAUDIBLE) down here on the front line have skills training to do the reconstructing of the city, which requires, of course, a major investment by our federal government. (INAUDIBLE), that Alabama plan, that the Mississippi plan, (INAUDIBLE) plan -- we need a one centralized federal plan rescue or relocation and release. Three state plans are -- creates even more unnecessary bureaucracy.

KAGAN: The Reverend Jesse Jackson, joining us on the phone. I know you went there to help and you believe you have a lot of work ahead of you. We're going to let you go. Thank you, sir, for your time. Jesse Jackson, joining us on the phone from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Our coverage continues here on CNN.

Thick, black smoke billowing from above. Below, thousands face another day of misery. The crisis is deepening and conditions are worsening in the city of New Orleans. It is four days after Hurricane Katrina, and a pre-dawn explosion and fire are only adding to the mounting problems of a shattered city.

And we're looking at aerial taped pictures of New Orleans. More troops and aid are beginning to arrive, but the violence and lawlessness continue. Tens of thousands still are waiting for help.


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