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THE SITUATION ROOM

Hurricane Katrina: The Aftermath

Aired September 5, 2005 - 16:00   ET

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


WOLF BLIZER, CNN ANCHOR: We got some pictures coming in. Marine One, the president's helicopter, there it is. The president getting ready to depart from Poplarville, Mississippi, for Gulfport, Mississippi. Marine One will carry the president to his next stop, Gulfport, Mississippi. He's been on a tour of the region. He was in the region on Friday. He's back today, Monday.
He has dramatically changed his schedule for this entire month. He was supposed to have a summit meeting this week with the president of China, Hu Jintao. He decided, because of what has happened in New Orleans and Mississippi and Alabama, he decided to cancel that summit with the president of China and cancel a lot of other events he was supposed to be doing.

Marine One has now moved on, moved on from Poplarville, Mississippi, and its next stop, Gulfport, Mississippi.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where new pictures and information from the hurricane disaster area are arriving all the time.

Happening now, untold loss a week after the storm.

It's 3:00 p.m. in New Orleans, Central Time there, where rescuers still are saving lives, but finding more and more and more bodies, at this point, than they're finding survivors.

And some evacuees are getting to come back, albeit briefly, to see firsthand what Katrina stole from them.

The president returns, as we just pointed out. He visits the ruins of the Gulf region for a second time.

The floodwaters may be easing, but the finger pointing is reaching new levels.

And it's 4:00 p.m. here in Washington, where the Supreme Court nominee, John Roberts, now has a new challenge, to get confirmed not as an associate justice, but as chief justice of the United States, and fill the seat left by the late William Rehnquist.

I'm Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

New Orleans Police say thousands of people are still in the largely evacuated city, and they're getting those people out. That is one of the most critical missions right now. Diehards are being told the city is destroyed, and there's no reason to stay in New Orleans any longer. Engineers are making some progress in repairing the busted 17th Street Canal, a crucial step in draining New Orleans. At last word, about 84 percent of the canal was plugged up by those huge sandbags that we've been seeing. Floodwaters were receding.

More than 1.5 million storm victims now have been evacuated from the three-state disaster area. More than 25,000 are sheltered in the Houston stadium complex that includes the Astrodome, where former Presidents Bush and Clinton visited earlier today.

We still don't have a good handle on the death toll across the region. In New Orleans, we're told bodies are everywhere. Mayor Ray Nagin now says it's possible that 10,000 may be dead. The official death toll in Mississippi still stands at 161. That number is going up, though.

Security and order are being restored across the disaster zone. Thirteen thousand active-duty forces are on the ground, and 38,000 National Guard troops are there as well. The New Orleans Police chief now says he feels the city is -- quote -- "very secure."

Damage across the region is believed to be in the tens and tens and tens of billions of dollars. But officials say it's still way too early, and the destruction too widespread, to put any official number on it.

There's still no electricity in most of the hardest-hit areas. At last word, more than 400,000 power outages were reported still in Mississippi.

Let's get to New Orleans now, a city taking new steps forward today, but still there's a great deal of pain and grieving every step of the way.

CNN's Jeff Koinange is in New Orleans for us. He's joining us live. Jeff, what's happening now?

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I tell you what, Wolf. We're on Canal Street, same place where we were yesterday, but further out. I tell you, you're talking about the water receding, and they are trying to fill up those ditches. Behind me, it was about two and a half, three feet of water yesterday. If I was to walk back there about -- maybe about 100 yards, I'd still be under two and a half, three feet of water. So it hasn't changed much.

To walk across the street, just to give you a feeling of what it's like over here, you see that store across the street? That's a Foot Action, a sports store, completely looted. Nothing out there. We saw sneakers, a pair here and there, when we were walking out. There's so much looting that's been going on.

You were talking about the cost in terms of billions and billions of dollars. That's exactly what's happening, Wolf. It's going to take a long time for this city to recover.

And again, when you're talking about the waters behind me and the rescue missions that are going on, the dramatic rescue missions, the first thing that comes to mind with me, Wolf, is Mozambique, in the year 2000. Remember when half the country was under water, and it took the South African ace pilots to rescue people who had been living in trees for months and months on end? In fact, one dramatic scene was that woman giving birth in a tree.

That's exactly what comes to mind, because I covered that story five years ago. I never thought I'd see that scene again, especially in this country, Wolf.

BLITZER: What we're told, though, in the past 24 hours, Jeff, there has been progress, a much greater military presence, for example, troops on the ground, National Guard, active-duty forces. They're bringing in supplies. They're still trying to evacuate those who managed to survive this storm. Do you see evidence of that?

KOINANGE: We do, Wolf. And we understand that this is the largest deployment of the National Guard since 1989.

Yes. They are on the ground. And yes, for the very first time, people were coming back their homes. We were in Jefferson Parish, one of the counties around New Orleans, and we saw people coming back to their homes, homes that had been razed to the ground, homes that trees had fallen, homes that had -- were not there at all. People were so shocked sometimes to see their homes, and others surprised, pleasantly surprised, to see that their homes were untouched.

So, yes, people are coming back. But they're not staying just yet, Wolf. Why? Because there's no electricity. As soon as electricity is restored on the ground, people will just be more than happy to come back. But for now, they can just come, inspect their homes, go back to where they were, whether it's Houston or Dallas or wherever they were, and come back once the electricity is restored. That is key, Wolf, before people can come back.

BLITZER: Jeff, share some of the stories that you've been told. You've met with a lot of people in New Orleans since you arrived there, when you flew in from Africa. Share some of the stories that have touched your heart.

KOINANGE: I tell you, Wolf, first of all, at the Convention Center the first couple of days, that was the most heartbreaking stories. When you see old people, disabled people, people in wheelchairs, people on dialysis who have been lying there for days on end, and their children, their sons and daughters and grandchildren, if they were older folks, pleading with us, saying, can we get this person to a hospital? This person needs dialysis. They need care.

Despite the fact the National Guard and the emergency services here were doing a fantastic job, Wolf, we must remember, a lot of people did suffer in those five, seven days, and many of them did die as well.

I remember one particular incident when a child had just been born, about -- right before Hurricane Katrina, and the mother was busy feeding this child, and the father kept saying, Please, don't let my baby die. This is my only child. Please don't let my baby die. And I remember that so poignantly, Wolf.

And this brings back so many images from Africa, so many refugee camps I've covered. That was a major deja vu feeling when I see those scenes at the Convention Center and others that I've covered before, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yesterday, when we spoke, you were walking in that water, in New Orleans, in the French Quarter, and it was pretty deep. And you pointed out to our viewers what they couldn't tell, it was rancid, it was disgusting, the odor was really, really bad.

Has it improved at all, based on anything that has been done over the past 24 hours? We see the water behind you now.

KOINANGE: If anything, Wolf, it's gotten even smellier. In fact, people are coming here for the first time. People are coming -- as soon as they hit the water area, 100 yards away, they can smell the water, the stench. The garbage that's piling up in that water is rotting. And our colleagues today actually saw bodies floating in the water. You can imagine what that water is like when you see bodies a week old, bloated and discolored, floating in rivers, floating in ponds, floating in dams and makeshift lakes.

I tell you, Wolf, this is a recipe for all kinds of diseases. If this is not taken care of, a lot of people are going to end up very, very ill, Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there -- what's next on your agenda, before I let you go?

KOINANGE: Next on the agenda, Wolf, is seeing the people coming back. I think that's what's most important. Highway 90 was opened up this morning, and there was traffic backed up for miles. Why? This is because people want to see what their homes look like. If anything, just get a look, just to satisfy their curiosities, because, a lot of people were telling us, they've been hearing lots of stories on the Internet that people are shooting, their houses are razed, there's nothing left of New Orleans.

But when they come back, for the most part, they are pleasantly surprised. More people have to come and do that, get more faith in the system, then they go back. Once the power is restored, they can all come back and start rebuilding their city. I know that'll take a while, Wolf, but has to start at some point.

BLITZER: All right, Jeff, we're going to check back with you very soon. Jeff Koinange, our man on the scene in New Orleans right now.

The Senate majority leader, Dr. Bill Frist, has just returned to Washington from the area. He is speaking out right now. Let's briefly listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: There were thousands of people in that airport, hundreds of stretchers lined up with people dehydrated and sick. And then by late yesterday afternoon, the airport was clean, everybody had been evacuated off -- hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of flights.

There were still fixed-wing aircraft taking people off late yesterday, but all very successfully. So an amazing change over that period of time.

Today, and the reason that I wanted to get together today, was not to tell, really, that story, or what I've been doing the last two days, but to share that little bit of humanity with you, because it reflects the suffering, the challenging times that are going on, but it leads into our responsibility here in the United States Senate.

So I do want to mention what we have done in the Senate today...

BLITZER: All right, we're going to listen in and listen to what Senator Frist has to say. We'll monitor that and report any news that might develop.

The president, as we've been reporting, is back in the disaster zone for the second time in three days. It's a response, at least in part, to very angry allegations that he and the federal government were slow to respond to this crisis.

Our White House correspondent Dana Bash has been following the president's travels to Louisiana and Mississippi. She's joining us now live from the White House with more. Dana?

DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, you really essentially just encapsulated what the White House is trying to do here, change perception. Every day, we have seen the president.

But there is nothing like a president actually going down, having carefully choreographed pictures with some of the people who were devastated by this. And that is exactly what he has been doing. First in Louisiana, starting in an evacuee center, talking about, in general terms, the fact that he understands that this is just the beginning of what he called a long process, promising to do what it takes to help victims.

But in general, his comments have been, I'm not about the nuts and bolts, but trying to make it clear that he understands, that he gets essentially what they're going through. Let's take a listen to some of what the president had to say earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So let me conclude by asking for God's blessings on you all, your families and friends, and let you know we're here for the long term. I understand. I understand the damage. I understand the devastation. I understand the destruction. I understand how long it's going to take. And we're with you. That's what I want you to know. God bless.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BASH: Now, one of the things that some were looking for when the president went down to the region for the first time on Friday was what some call a bullhorn moment. You remember, Wolf, after 9/11, when President Bush stood on the rubble. There was an impromptu moment when he had the bullhorn in his hand, somebody said, we don't hear you. Wnd he said, well, I hear you. And that, many believe, looking back, sort of shifted what had been at the time some heavy criticism of the president's immediate response after 9/11.

There are some who are looking for those moments. Some here at the White House and some Bush allies were a little bit disappointed that perhaps that didn't happen the first time. Unclear if, at the end of the day, we're going to get something akin to that.

But certainly, these are very carefully choreographed moments, and those impromptu moments don't happen very often when you're talking about White House travel.

BLITZER: Dana, I don't know if you know the answer to this. If you don't, I'm sure you can get a response from White House officials. I heard something very intriguing yesterday on the C-Span call-in show. They pointed out that the president ordered the flags to be flown at half-mast after the death of William Rehnquist, but not after the death of everything that was happening at Hurricane Katrina.

A, is that true? When did the flags go to half-staff at the White House and other government buildings? And if they didn't order the flags to go at half-staff, why didn't they?

BASH: The answer to the first question is, I believe, that the president ordered the flags to go at half-staff either very late Saturday night or probably, I believe, it was early Sunday morning, after William Rehnquist passed away.

You know, I think that, in general, it is sort of common practice or tradition for the White House, or for the president, to order that after a significant figure in politics, perhaps, dies. And unclear, I don't even know the answer. And I -- we can find out whether or not they actually do this in times of national tragedy. And we will certainly find that out when terms of mass casualties.

BLITZER: Yes, find out if they were ordered to go at half-staff after 9/11, for example, because I think our viewers might be interested in that.

We'll check back with you, Dana, once the White House responds. Thanks. Dana Bash at the White House.

The president also earlier today nominated John Roberts to become the next chief justice of the United States. He's going to have another vacancy to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, the associate justice. We're going to have more on this coming up later this hour. We'll get a sense how that is playing out as well. A very busy time here in Washington.

The White House is denying today that it tried to exclude the Louisiana governor, Kathleen Blanco, from traveling with Mr. Bush. A good deal of political finger pointing in this crisis has been between the Democratic governor of Louisiana and the Bush administration.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick is in Baton Rouge, where the president stopped earlier today, with more on this part of the story. Deb?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the explanation that's coming from the White House is that they tried to reach the governor yesterday, but no one called them back. The governor says otherwise. She said that they got no official word that the president was even going to be in the area. And it wasn't until somebody from her office actually called over to the White House, to Andy Card, that, in fact, they were told that, yes, he was going to be arriving in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

And the governor got that word at 6:00 this morning. She had planned to go to a shelter in Houston. She canceled those plans immediately, sending her daughters on instead to visit with the people there. And the governor was waiting at the airport when the president got off Air Force One. We are told they did exchange a handshake, and then they toured a shelter together here in the Baton Rouge area.

The big development then, came when they arrived here at the command center, because the president had a meeting for about an hour and a half -- a good deal of time -- not only with the governor, but with the state's top officials, and also with the top military personnel. And they were all speaking about it. The secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, came out later and said that everybody is getting along, that they're all professionals, they're all doing their job, and that they're all in agreement about how this has to move forward and what needs to be done next.

And when somebody asked the question, well, in fact, did the chain of command, was it so dysfunctional that it delayed some of the rescues? Lieutenant General Honore, who's in charge of the military response, stood up, and he said, absolutely not. And he used a certain word. I'll just say he called it garbage -- that, in fact, that the city of New Orleans is secure, and that, in fact, that safety is no longer an issue, and that chain of command was not an issue, that, again, everybody was getting along.

So one of the reasons for the falling out, Wolf, just in case folks haven't been following, that is, the White House wanted to try to federalize the National Guard so that they could have control of it. But the Louisiana governor said, no, she needed to keep control, because she wanted to make sure that they could continue to perform law enforcement actions. And that meant keeping order on the ground, and that meant firing if they had to, something that they would not have been able to do had they been under the power of the government, Wolf.

BLITZER: And Deb, we're showing our viewers live pictures right now of a National Guard training center near Gulfport, Mississippi, where these helicopters are bringing the president's staff, and eventually Marine One will bring the president himself back. That is Air Force One that our viewers are now seeing on the tarmac, which will carry the president and his entourage back towards Andrews Air Force Base outside of Washington, D.C.

So, Deb, very briefly, how much bad blood is there right now between the governor of Louisiana and the president of the United States?

FEYERICK: Well, we're not exactly sure. Again, the secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff said everybody was in agreement, and the perception was that they are all in unity now, and it appears that they are all playing nicely. But we haven't been able to reach somebody from the governor's camp just to sort of get a debrief of their sense of how this meeting went.

So, at face value, it seems that they're getting along. But still, there are so many people on the ground right now, Wolf. And we can't even overemphasize that. We're seeing people from all across the country, people flying in from other parts of the world to try to help in this rescue effort. All of those people have to be coordinated. And you are talking thousands and thousands and thousands of people who are here.

They all want to help. They're all ready to help. The question is, who's giving the marching orders, and how do they mobilize in a way that's completely effective so the cleanup is fast, so that the recovery of the dead is good, and so that the living can go back and perhaps see what's left of their lives.

BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick reporting for us. Deb, thanks very much.

Katrina and finger pointing -- plenty of it going on right now. Are Americans happy with the president's response? Up next, much more on the hurricane and the so-called blame game.

Searching for loved ones in the devastation. We'll get a very personal story from our own Donna Brazile. She's a native of New Orleans.

And later, our other major story today, the supreme vacancy. He doesn't even have the job yet, but Judge John Roberts already gets a promotion.

Much more of our coverage coming up.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Bush getting ready to leave Gulfport, Mississippi, to head back to Washington, to Andrews Air Force Base. We'll watch him. We'll see if there are additional remarks that he makes.

In the meantime, the former presidents, George Bush and Bill Clinton, today offered thousands of hurricane evacuees some comfort and the promise of aid. They visited with people packed into the stadium complex serving as a huge shelter in Houston. The former presidents have established a fund to try to help the hurricane victims, money they'll turn over to the governors of the affected states. The two men, who know what it's like to be in the hot seat, were asked about the criticism the current President Bush has been getting about his response to Katrina.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

GEORGE H. W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What do I think as a father? I don't like it. But what do you think as a one who was president? And I expect President Clinton feels the same way, it goes with the territory. And I'm, you know, I don't want to personalize this, but we're very, very proud of him, of course, and Barbara is. And if somebody wants to tell Barbara about the things that are going wrong, the president's doing wrong, I suggest you wear your flak jacket.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have a slightly different take on this. I think there should be an analysis of what happened. And I have some strong feelings about how I think FEMA ought to be organized and operated. But the time to do that, in my opinion, is after some time passes. Right now, you still have people -- we're still finding bodies there.

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BLITZER: Let's get a little bit more on this entire situation, the criticism and the blame that's being tossed around one week after Hurricane Katrina struck.

Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, is joining us.

Bill, is the public ready to blame the president of the United States for the slow response to Katrina?

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, some people may be surprised by the results of an overnight poll taken Friday night by "Washington Post" and ABC News. When people were asked, whether -- about President Bush's handling of this crisis, 46 percent of Americans said that they approved, and 47 percent said that they disapprove.

While a majority was not ready to blame President Bush for the problems in the federal government's response, they were highly critical of that response. By better than 2 to 1, they said the federal government was not at all prepared to deal with this crisis.

BLITZER: I noticed that this has a five-point sampling error. So this was a relatively smaller -- much smaller poll than we usually do, is that right?

SCHNEIDER: That's right, it was a smaller poll, and it was done in one night. So you have to have a little bit of caution. But it's an indication that people were not ready or not ready quickly to cast political blame. BLITZER: So as much as these are always snapshots, this is a little smaller snapshot than usual. Is there, though, a political danger that the president is facing right now?

SCHNEIDER: Well, look, if the public remains critical of the way the government is dealing with this, then sooner or later, they're going to blame the person in charge of the government. But they don't want to play the blame game right now. In fact, they don't want to deal with politics in this situation. What they're looking for is leadership.

BLITZER: What is the White House strategy in dealing with this?

SCHNEIDER: Well, you know, Wolf, the president went into this crisis with one strength. His ratings were declining, but people still continued to see him as a strong leader, a take-charge guy.

What people expected to see was a president who would come into this situation and, to put it perhaps impolitely, kick some butt. The Rudy Giuliani, the George W. Bush of 9/11. Instead, for days last week, the president -- the country experienced a vacuum of leadership, the frightening sense that no one was in control, not at the federal level or the state or the local level. And that vacuum of leadership was very threatening to President Bush, because it threatened to undermine his one strength, as his ratings were declining.

Well, the president is trying to deal with that now by going in and taking charge, or impolitely again, kick some butt.

BLITZER: These very carefully staged photo opportunities that the president has when he tours the area, we're seeing some from Friday, some more from today. Does that usually have an impact?

SCHNEIDER: Well, no. What really has an impact, frankly, is not just the photo opportunities, but the results. People want to see that the situation is under control.

Look, we just heard from Deborah Feyerick. There are thousands of people there. And she raised the question, who's in charge of them? Who's telling them what to do?

Somebody better be in charge of this operation, and it's got to start looking like it's working smoothly, because the results so far have been deeply disturbing. Even though people aren't ready to cast political blame, they are deeply disturbed by what they are seeing. Shocked was the word that came out of that poll.

BLITZER: Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, reporting for us, helping us understand this. Thank you, Bill, very much.

There's lots of outrage out there. No doubt you'd be reading it on our e-mail. Jack Cafferty, though, has this day off. He'll be back tomorrow, and he'll be anxious to get your e-mail response.

There's outrage, certainly, on the Internet. Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, is checking the situation online. She's joining us now live. Jacki?

JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've now seen the numbers for the voice of the people. We turn to the online community.

A great visual from Wonkette.com, talking about how Michael Chertoff said part of the reason for the delay in federal response is they thought New Orleans had dodged a bullet. She says, what papers does he read? These are the ones she picked up from the Tuesday after the fact, with headlines like "Catastrophic."

People are looking for heads to roll, specifically those of Michael Brown, the head of FEMA, and of Michael Chertoff, over at Bullmoose Blog. Would you entrust your life and the lives of your family to them? The answer to that, no, under the heading, "Fire Them now."

"Criminal negligence," they're calling it at Talking Points Memo Cafe, saying that the federal government did have an emergency plan that they had formulated back in 2004, just didn't follow through.

Over on the right, MichelleMalkin.com. Fire Michael Brown? That's OK, go ahead and do it. But if you're going to be mad at somebody, be angry on the local level, be angry at Nagin and Ebbert and Blanco, not at President Bush and not at Michael Chertoff.

From the YellowLine.blogspot.com, a centrist blog, they agree, go ahead, blame the New Orleans government. They deserve to be blamed. But they also follow up with, don't shield the federal government. They had a responsibility to the people as well.

Wolf, absolutely no shortage of anger and outrage, and looking to blame somebody at this point.

BLITZER: All right, Jacki, thank you very much.

Seven days later, no letup in the search for survivors. We'll get the take from the skies when I speak with the photographer who's been documenting these dramatic rescues.

Also coming up, the president raises the stakes in the battle over Judge John Roberts. We'll go live to Capitol Hill. The fight over two Supreme Court openings. What do we expect?

We'll take a quick break. Much more of our special coverage. Thanks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Mission critical. Here are some of the latest developments happening right now inside the hurricane zone.

More military reinforcements are on the way. Twenty-eight hundred Louisiana National Guard troops are returning early from Iraq to help in their home state. The American Red Cross is in the midst of the largest response in its 125-year history. The agency says it's housing 135,000 people in more than 470 shelters scattered across 12 states.

And the overall death toll from Hurricane Katrina still is not known, by any means. The Health and Human Services secretary, Michael Leavitt, is among the latest predicting a very high toll. He told me yesterday it's evident the number will be in the thousands.

Air Force One getting ready to take off from near Gulfport, Mississippi, on its way back to Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, D.C. The president has been in the region touring once again. He was here -- he was in the region on Friday. He came back today, canceling so many of his plans for Labor Day, all of his plans for Labor Day, and for so much of the month of September, as he focuses in now, one week after this hurricane struck, almost exclusively on this tragedy, on this horrible, horrible situation that has developed in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Fresh from the Persian Gulf, the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps are hitting the beaches of hard-hit Biloxi, Mississippi, and they're bringing all their manpower and expertise to bear. They will need it.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is joining us now live from there with more on this part of the story. Ted?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, they call it Camp Restore, and it's up and running now along the beach of Biloxi, Mississippi. It's Marine and Navy personnel here. Five hundred Marines, up to 4,000 Navy personnel are available for deployment here. They're bringing all the assets on shore. They got to first work to restore the water here and the plumbing, and they're also -- in fact, today, some cooks are going out to serve some meals at Biloxi High School, where a shelter has been set up.

There are shelters spread across the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It is not just from FEMA and from local authorities. It's also from faith-based organizations, the United Way and other organizations. They're pouring in here.

And the difference is starting to be felt here. Thousands of meals are being served a day to those that need it. There are thousands and thousands of families that have found their homes completely destroyed, people that may have evacuated but have come back or are people that were just in the region and have come back to find absolutely nothing left of their homes. They are being tended to day by day.

Meanwhile, the search and recovery effort continues here along the Gulf Coast, as well. Search crews are going through piles of rubble and looking for signs of life or for bodies. And they continue to find bodies along the Gulf shore, pulling them out, tagging them and dealing with them as they best can. But it is an overwhelming and gruesome task.

Another thing we're seeing popping up here to add misery to some of these families -- there's a real fear of snakes in some of the areas. We met a person whose brother was bitten by a venomous snake, had to be hospitalized, given anti-venom. His arm swelled up. He was in serious condition in the hospital, just one of the many things that people are dealing with.

It is really overwhelming, Wolf, to see the enormity of all of this, and the commander here on site said he had watched it on television back in Norfolk, Virginia, and he said he couldn't imagine -- he just was -- his breath was taken away when he came here. And he says his troops are here for the duration, until the job is done. Infrastructure first, then the rebuilding process.

BLITZER: Maybe, Ted, your photographer can pan a little bit and show us what's happening behind you. We see those military vehicles there, but let's get a wider shot, if we can. You can explain to our viewers what we're seeing.

ROWLANDS: Well, actually, because they've just put a few large trucks in front of the actual camp, you can see behind those trucks, the actual tents that they've put up here. And they've put a sign up that's probably difficult to see through that flatbed, but the sign actually says Camp Restore. And according to the commander, a couple of Navy personnel asked him if they could do that, and they did.

And so they're sleeping here on the beach, deploying from here and scattering across the Gulf Coast. They're being ferried in and out by transport ships. And it is quite an impressive scene. It really is apropos because this place looked like a war zone before they arrived, and they fit in quite nicely here. It's really amazing to see the entire Gulf Coast, how extensive this damage is from this hurricane.

BLITZER: Ted Rowlands reporting for us from Biloxi. Thanks, Ted, very much.

I want to bring in J.T. Alpaugh right now. He's been one of the helicopter pilots, one of the photographers, the reporters up there that have been bringing us some amazing pictures over these past several days.

J.T., we're grateful to you and your colleagues for doing what you're doing. Share with our viewers how you got to where you are right now and your mission.

J.T. ALPAUGH, POOL PHOTOGRAPHER: Good afternoon. Wolf, how are you? Well, basically, what we did is we flew in behind Katrina as the storm blew out of the area. We came in about two hours behind the storm. And what we needed to do and what we wanted to do was to come in and actually show the damage behind us the storm that no one had seen yet. We came out and planned this ahead of time, and we stood by west of the area and came in behind the storm and just wanted to make sure that we got these pictures out to everybody that needed them so they could send the resources and deploy the resources that they needed.

BLITZER: And basically, you are, right, what they call a pool, and you make your pictures available to a lot of news organizations. ALPAUGH: Absolutely. We've made our pool available to everybody, including some of the emergency operations personnel, because the helicopters are now filling the skies over the New Orleans area. So we wanted to make sure that we could get these pictures out to all the media outlets, and it was very important for us also to supply these images to the emergency operations center, so they could make some very critical decisions on the images that we're seeing.

BLITZER: I want to get to some of those rescue operations that you photographed for our viewers. But just about an hour or so ago, we saw some pictures of you flying over what was Six Flags -- Six Flags amusement park in New Orleans. We're showing those pictures, J.T., right now. What was it like?

ALPAUGH: Well, basically, this is an area just to the southeast of the downtown lakefront area, lakefront airport, about two or three miles. And this Six Flags amusement park, like everything else in this immediate area, was under water. And we are seeing scenes like this all up and down the Gulf Coast area, as far as windswept damages and water damages all throughout the New Orleans area. So again, it never ceases to amaze us. Every time that we go in the air, we're just finding more and more of these flooded and isolated areas in and around these provinces and parishes of the New Orleans area.

BLITZER: And we've also seen live here on CNN some of the dramatic rescue operations. You often follow a Coast Guard helicopter or another rescue helicopter, and they drop those lines, those cables, and they rescue people. But many times, you tip off the authorities where you see individuals. Talk a little bit about that.

ALPAUGH: Well, Wolf, what we have on our helicopter system is a cineflex (ph) camera system, and it's a very detailed -- in fact, it's a high-definition camera system. You're seeing some of the standard- definition images, but on board our aircraft we have high-definition monitors. So we're able to use this lens and use this zoom and camera capability to pull the detail out and go in and find some of these victims on rooftops. And what we do at that point is either we've thrown down -- we carry some meals ready to eat, MREs, along with water, and we've done some operations that we can throw down some water to these people and food until rescue can get there.

But we -- what we do is we radio in the aircraft coordinates, the GPS coordinates, to the AWACS airplane above the area, and try to get some of these rescue helicopters to where these people are.

The rescue operations and hoist rescue operations have declined much over the past day or so, but there are still some areas where there are people isolated that haven't evacuated. So we're trying to branch out and really try to find some of these people that have been left behind, who thought they could stay and wait it out but are realizing very -- very quickly realizing that it's been a week right now, and no one's coming for them and they can't wait this out because the waters aren't going down.

And these waters are becoming more and more toxic and more and more dangerous, so it's important that these people get out. And we want to get these people out. And how we do that is we find them as best we can, and we point them out to some of the rescue aircraft, who are doing heroic deeds and just getting in there and using their professionalism and their skills to pull these people out. It's some of the most amazing rescue operations I've ever seen -- very, very exciting stuff to watch them do their work.

BLITZER: And I know you've got to get back to work, J.T. We'll continue this conversation, but we all appreciate the excellent work that you are doing for all of us, and most importantly, for the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

We're going to take another short break. When we come back, our own Donna Brazile, a native of New Orleans. She's got an amazing story to share with our viewers. Her own family has been endangered. Some of them, unfortunately, are still missing. Donna Brazile when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Even in the midst of the efforts to focus in on the hurricane victims, President Bush made a major decision back here in Washington that could be felt literally for decades to come. He gave the Supreme Court nominee judge John Roberts something of a promotion, a significant promotion, shall I say, tapping him now to become the Chief Justice of the United States. Mr. Bush clearly felt a sense of urgency after the Chief Justice, William Rehnquist, died late Saturday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

G.W. BUSH: The passing of Chief Justice William Rehnquist leaves the center chair empty just four weeks left before the Supreme Court reconvenes. It is in the interest of the Court and the country to have a Chief Justice on the bench on the first full day of the fall term.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Judge Roberts's confirmation hearings had been scheduled to begin tomorrow, but there's now a new timetable as he's considered for the top job on the Supreme Court.

Let's bring in our congressional correspondent, Joe Johns. He's watching this story for us. Joe?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist held a news conference just a little while ago, talking, frankly, most about Hurricane Katrina, but he did tell us a little bit about what he expects to happen on Judge Roberts and on the Supreme Court this week.

As you said, we did expect confirmation hearings to start tomorrow. That's no longer the case. We might find out as early as tomorrow when the confirmation hearings will begin for Judge Roberts. In the midst of that, we're told there will be no hearings until at least Thursday. On Wednesday, the Senate is expected to come in and consider a resolution for Chief Justice Rehnquist and then recess for the funeral of Chief Justice Rehnquist, which is expected to occur on Wednesday. There's been a lot of talk about how all of this should be handled.

The Democratic leader, Harry Reid, also held a news conference today, earlier today, saying, in his view, it would be inappropriate to go forward, at least until the funeral is finished.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NE), MINORITY LEADER: I think it's almost unseemly to go forward on this while he's lying in state.

I feel terribly uncomfortable moving forward on this while his funeral is pending. I think we -- my personal feeling is we should wait for a while to do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JOHNS: Of course, the overarching question has been, how will the renomination, if you will, of John Roberts to be chief justice of the Supreme Court affect the process in whole? And of course, a lot of people are saying it won't affect it at all simply because he was always assumed to be able to get through this process pretty easily.

On the other hand, some Democrats are suggesting, including Senator Ted Kennedy, a key Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, that he'd like to know both of the nominees going forward before he actually has to vote on Judge Roberts. So there's that. He's the only one we know of talking about that on Capitol Hill, although Ralph Neas, who is one of the people on the outside, a Democrat, a liberal, who's very much been pushing to try to get rid of Roberts as a nominee -- he also has suggested that, as well. So a lot of things up in the air right now, Wolf, and we'll keep you advised.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Joe Johns, reporting for us.

As Roberts takes on what may be an even tougher challenge, the public appears to be behind him. Our new poll shows 48 percent of Americans believe Roberts's ideology is -- quote -- "about right." About a fourth believe he's too conservative. Just 8 percent think he's too liberal. Surprised that there are even 8 percent who believe that.

Note, though, this survey was taken last week, before Roberts was tapped to become the chief justice. Americans don't necessarily want Roberts to enjoy a cakewalk. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed say he should answer questions about his views on specific issues, 42 percent said he should not have to answer those questions.

We're going to take another quick break. Donna Brazile standing by. We'll speak with her, her extraordinary story about her search for her own family missing in the aftermath of Katrina in New Orleans when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Our CNN political contributor, Donna Brazile, is a long- time friend. She's also a New Orleans native with lots of family affected by Hurricane Katrina. Donna has been working tirelessly over the past week to take care of their needs. She is joining us now.

Donna, our heart goes out to you, but tell our viewers the story, what happened, because you have a lot of relatives. You're one of nine children.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, sir. Well, when I learned about the storm, I immediately tried to get as many people to evacuate, but unfortunately, in a large family like my own and many other families, some people were able to go, some people had to stay behind. My dad stayed behind. My -- I had six sisters and brothers in the area. Two left and four stayed behind.

One day after the storm, when we heard about the water cresting -- and of course, there's no communication. At this point, you can't find people. You can't talk to them. My older sister stayed as long as possible because she was across the river, to try to get over the -- get other people out. She had to leave because the water's rising. That left my dad, who's 75. It left my baby sister and two others in the area.

As of today, I'm -- I want to say that my sister, Sheila, is still missing. I talked to her a week ago and I encouraged her to fill her bathtub with water. Sheila is 46 years old. She was last at Tulane and South Jefferson Davis Parkway. Sheila lives in an assisted living facility. I've talked to FEMA. I've talked to everybody. Wolf, you would be amazed the people I've talked to.

This area is still under a significant amount of water. When my daddy was rescued two days ago, the water had risen up to 18 feet. Now, luckily, he lives in a duplex, upstairs. My dad and my brother- in-law stayed on the porch every day, every night, facing mosquitoes, alligators, dead bodies and begging people to save them. And my dad, who served in Korea, told me that Korea -- he would much rather go back to Korea than to face what he had to go through in order to get saved.

So we're still waiting to hear the good news about Sheila. My sister, Lisa, lived in her garage, just unsanitary conditions, no water, no food. It's been a very tough week trying to reunite my family. I have family now in places I never thought Braziles would ever go. My dad's in San Antonio. I have cousins in Dallas and in Houston.

And Wolf, I can't tell you the logistical nightmare of not just trying to find people, but then, of course, once you find them, to get them into shelters and then also to make sure that they have some place to go. So...

BLITZER: We're showing our viewers some of the neighborhood where your family lived right now. And if you take a look over there on that big screen, you can see -- maybe if you recognize any of the area, you'll point it out. You point out that your sister, who's still missing...

BRAZILE: Yes, sir.

BLITZER: ... lived in an assisted living facility.

BRAZILE: The YWCA at 3933 Tulane Avenue. I have my cousin, who's a New Orleans policeman. He's doing a great job. He's still trying to find his family, but he's -- everyone is trying, but you can't get to this area. This area is still under a lot of water.

BLITZER: That facility, that assisted living facility, is under water still?

BRAZILE: It's under at least 10 to 15 feet of water. My daddy said the water started receding about a day before he was rescued, but it went from 18 feet to 15 feet. Still, there's a lot of water. I've had reporters in the area, reporters I've been able to talk to, and I say, go by and find my daddy. And they've told me they can't get there because of the water. When Reverend Jackson went into the area, he told me about the water.

New Orleans is still under a lot of water. And I'm afraid, as my father said to me just last night, that at nighttime, you can hear people crying, Help me, help me. And he said the sound at night of hearing people crying for help and you can't help people -- he said it's just heart-breaking.

BLITZER: But your father is OK?

BRAZILE: Luckily, thank God, he's in San Antonio. We got him out of the shelter. I have -- there are so many angels in Texas right now and all over the country that are helping the people of Louisiana. They are taking care of them. They are treating them like their own family and bringing them food, bringing them water.

And I want to say to you, Wolf -- and I've talked to President Clinton and others -- my father, like many other seniors and elderly people, lives paycheck to paycheck. So when they get their check at the beginning of the month, they buy their medicine and food for the month.

And many of these people need medicine. They need their insulin. They need their heart pills, whatever. And we're urging people to make sure that they have medicines. They don't have ATM cards. They don't have the wherewithal to purchase anything. And so people need to be understanding and help the people of Louisiana rebuild and restart their lives.

BLITZER: You mentioned your sister, Sheila, who's still missing -- 46 years old.

BRAZILE: Yes, sir. That's Sheila.

BLITZER: She's right there. But you say she was living in assisted living. What kind of needs did she need? BRAZILE: Well, Sheila years ago had brain surgery, and as a result of her surgery, it made her unable to take care of herself. She is functional. She can walk. She can do a lot of things. But this assisted living facility is for people that cannot pay full rent. So there are a lot of low-income people live there. They have no cars. The had no way of getting out.

And I'm surprised, and it took me days to figure this out, that in terms of the evacuation strategy, with no communication, with no way of getting to people -- she had no way to walk out or swim to the nearest Superdome or -- and let me just say, conditions in those places -- and you all have done a fantastic job of reporting. But we have heard of people in my own family who were raped. Just the conditions in those areas for those four or five days were horrible, inhumane. And I'm glad that we're going to help those people get their lives back.

But I want to find Sheila. I want to hear her say, Hey, Boo (ph). I want to hear from my sister. And I know I speak for all the people of Louisiana, that were grateful for all of the humanitarian assistance that's coming our way.

BLITZER: How are you coping, Donna? This is such a -- such an enormous challenge. I can only imagine what you are going through.

BRAZILE: Well, I am lucky. I'm lucky in the sense that I have lots of friends all over the country that are helping me. I am helping too. I'm doing it in four phases.

One, find the missing.

And then, two, help those stranded find shelter.

Three, help reunite my family. My sister, Lisa, was able to be reunited with her two children about 48 hours ago.

And then four -- and this is the most important phase and that is the to help rebuild their lives. I've secured housing, One house in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I'm looking for housing. I'm looking for -- I've asked my friends. I say -- you know, the Temptations have a song, "Ain't Too Proud to Beg." I'm begging friends to help adopt families so that we help these people. They can't afford to start rebuilding their lives.

Tell FEMA to get rid of all these regulations. I tried to get Section 8 housing for a family member today, and they wanted to know if my sister qualified. I said, hello? They have nothing. So Wolf, I'm coping because I have a lot of friends and I have a lot of faith.

BLITZER: Our heart goes out to you, and we will certainly pray for the best...

BRAZILE: Thank you.

BLITZER: ... especially for Sheila, your sister. Donna, thank you so much. BRAZILE: Thank you, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: There are many resources on line for families affected by Hurricane Katrina. Our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton, is checking that situation. She has some practical information for people who are in the same situation as Donna Brazile, and God only knows how many thousands of people that includes.

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: There are Web sites and community message boards just teeming with people just like Donna, looking for information on their loved ones, sites like CraigsList.org. This is usually a community site where you go to find furniture. The New Orleans section has a Hurricane Katrina section on missing people. I had a quick look just now, Wolf. Over 700 posts just today, people looking for their loved ones. People that have turned up safe. Resources like CNN.com. People have contacted us saying, I'm OK, published at CNN.com in our safe list.

Now, with all these different resources out there, the Red Cross is trying to consolidate as much information as possible in one master list. Go to RedCross.org to find out this information. They are calling it the Family Links Registry. A huge master list, over 44,000 people have contacted them already with information. It's searchable by last name. You can find out where the people were originally and where they are now. You can see the scope of this problem here on line.

The Brown family, for example, from New Orleans. Paul and Joyce are now in Baton Rouge. Trina Robinson (ph) has showed up now, she is in San Antonio, Texas.

As I said almost 50,000 names there already. If you don't find the person you're looking for on the list, you can also post their information in the hopes that someone has seen them.

Wolf.

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