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LOU DOBBS TONIGHT

Survivors of Hurricane Katrina Face New Deadly Threats

Aired September 6, 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: Wolf, thank you. Good evening, everyone.
Tonight, survivors of Hurricane Katrina face a new deadly threat: diseases such as E. coli, typhoid and cholera. While 60 percent of New Orleans remains under water, officials say anyone still in the city is at risk.

And more fires erupting in New Orleans. Firefighters whose city has been flooded now face the irony of fighting blazes that have erupted throughout New Orleans.

And President Bush has promised a thorough investigation into this disaster and the national response, as a top Senate Republican declares government at all levels has failed. I'll be talking with a leading congressman about this crisis and examine the charges of racism over the response of authorities.

Tonight, the number of people known to have been killed in the flood disaster along the Gulf Coast has risen to nearly 250, but thousands more are feared dead.

The disaster region covers 90,000 square miles, about the same size as the state of Minnesota.

Rescue workers are warning of a new threat to survivors still in New Orleans, those deadly diseases. They say it is totally unsafe to be anywhere near the flood waters, and among the diseases is E. coli. Officials say there's a risk mosquitoes will spread the disease through the entire New Orleans region.

The military is adding more resources and people to the rescue effort. More than 350 helicopters, 75 fixed wing aircraft, are now taking part in search and rescue operations.

Tonight, 5,000 paratroopers have arrived in New Orleans, preparing to search the city for survivors who are still refusing to leave. Karl Penhaul is with those troops and joins us now with the report. Karl?

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, we've spent most of the day with paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division. A lot of those paratroopers with boots now on the ground are veterans of combat in Iraq. Some of them we went out with today on a patrol presence, which is what they're calling it, have recently come from Fallujah, in fact.

But right now, they aren't carrying out search and rescue operations. They plan to start that possibly as early as tomorrow using rubber Zodiac dinghies. But today what they've been doing is patrolling areas that haven't been flooded, but where there are storm stragglers still staying behind.

And they're going along, assuring them that there is law and order on the street and also taking them food, water and rations where those are needed.

Now, of course, under U.S. law these paratroopers can't engage in any law enforcement activities. And we did see a very curious scene today down on Bourbon Street, in fact. First of all, curious to see uniformed U.S. paratroopers down on Bourbon Street.

But then there was also fear that a sniper had holed up in one of the buildings down there. And so we see police SWAT teams and also armed Border Patrol teams there, drawing guns and encircling the buildings. But these paratroopers with vast combat experience simply had to hold back. And the order was, put your guns behind your back, soldiers. We can't be seen to be carrying out any law enforcement here.

One of the soldiers did say he feels that they would have liked to have gotten here earlier to help out on this disaster relief. But they did realize what they have now is a very big mission on their hands.

Lou.

DOBBS: Karl, thank you very much. A mission that is difficult at best for all of our troops, National Guardsmen and, of course, local police and fire.

As the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division joins all of those people to help restore order, and as they patrol New Orleans streets, this lost devastated city is also continuing to burn.

At least four major fires are burning out of control, including one in the city's historic Garden District. Today National Guard troops cordoned off fire scenes as military helicopters flew above, flying in water to battle the fires from the air.

These helicopters are among the more than 350 military helicopters now in action along the Gulf Coast.

Some of these fires have been triggered by broken gas lines.

New Orleans firefighters, along with New Orleans City Police, are turning over control of their operations to federal officials.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today declared the U.S. military has more than enough troops and equipment to respond adequately to this hurricane disaster. And the chairman of the joint chiefs, General Richard Myers, said nearly 60,000 active duty and National Guard troops are taking part in this relief operation.

Jamie McIntyre has the report from the Pentagon. Jamie? JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, today Defense Secretary Rumsfeld called this the greatest recovery effort in America's history. He said that 58,000 U.S. troops are now involved. And clearly the operation is hitting its stride, as those troops are pouring in.

They're now up to, as you said, 350 helicopters that have been conducting evacuations. So far they say 13,000 people have been rescued; 75,000 have been evacuated from the city.

At the same time, the delivery of fresh water has been stepped up: 78,000 gallons of water and fuel -- sorry, fuel has been delivered to hospitals. Nine million of those MREs have been delivered.

You mentioned the fires. They're dispatching two C-130 firefighting aircraft to aid in keeping those fires under control, as well.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and General Myers also insisted that the deployment of U.S. troops to Iraq has had no effect on their ability to respond here.

And, in fact, General Myers said the converse is also true, that the deployment of these troops in the disaster zone is not affecting scheduled deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. They said that the suggestions to the contrary were -- quote -- "flat wrong".

Lou.

DOBBS: Absolutely flat wrong. But also at the same time, the Department of Defense, Jamie, has not been the focus of criticism, rather the Homeland Security Department and FEMA. While that's not in his purview, did the Defense secretary respond to those charges?

MCINTYRE: Well, you know, they've said what that they're going to be doing here is a full lessons-learned report, which you do after any operation to see the kinds of things they could do better.

They stress the fact that the Department of Defense is in a supporting role. And to the extent that I think people are looking at -- critically at what the Pentagon may have done, it's the extent that they were able to foresee the problems that the local and state governments were having and try to be forward leaning on that.

The Pentagon insists that a lot of what they did, including moving most of these assets, were done before any formal request was made. But there is a recognition that some things could be done better and they're certainly looking at that.

DOBBS: And certainly we're all grateful that the U.S. military, whether in the form of the Marines or the Air Force, the Navy, the Army, or the National Guard and our reservists are there, helping our fellow citizens.

Thank you very much, Jamie McIntire, from the Pentagon. Tonight Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and other top federal officials are on Capitol Hill at this very hour. They're briefing lawmakers on this disaster and their response to it. Four other cabinet secretaries among those taking part in what are closed door briefings. They're speaking at the Senate first, and members of the House of Representatives in just about an hour and a half, according to the schedule.

Many lawmakers, of course, are outraged as what they see is a slow response of the federal government to this disaster.

Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff argued for days that no one could have foreseen the catastrophe in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. But there were, in fact, repeated warnings that New Orleans could face a massive disaster, were a powerful hurricane to ever hit the city.

And as this investigation over who's to blame for the disaster in the federal government continues, the criticism, much of it partisan, has centered on the role of the federal government and FEMA.

But tonight, there is new and intense focus on the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans, which may bear much of the blame for this humanitarian disaster. And Kitty Pilgrim has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KITTY PILGRIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In New Orleans, as rescue continues, recovery also becomes a priority. The mayor estimates the death toll could reach 10,000. That same mayor, who early in the tragedy, as the water was rising, said everything was under control.

RAY NAGIN, MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: I don't feel like we're overwhelmed.

PILGRIM: That proved anything but true. During Hurricane Katrina, buses meant to evacuate people were not mobilized and left in areas where they were flooded.

The city's emergency plan clearly states that the mayor should take the lead. And New Orleans has a detailed written plan for evacuating 300,000 via transit and school bus. Some say blame for the New Orleans disaster clearly rests on the state and local officials.

BOB WILLIAMS, EVERGREEN FREEDOM FOUNDATION: Not only weren't the buses used; they weren't moved to higher ground. And so when they needed them, these buses were within a mile of the Convention Center, and yet they're all unusable.

PILGRIM: In New Orleans, previous disasters provided warning of what was to come.

A year ago, during Hurricane Ivan, very few of the poorest people were evacuated. When the hurricane missed the city, the mayor and the governor talked about improving the evacuation plan.

During Hurricane George in 1998, people who were evacuated to the Superdome had to endure thefts and assaults. Yet, that facility continued to be a central part of the plan.

Even last summer, local, state and federal disaster teams simulated a hurricane drill, code named "Hurricane Pam." Even that drill on paper anticipated a million people would have to be evacuated.

Despite the patterns of failure, Governor Kathleen Blanco even today was defending local and state efforts.

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: The first five days of the recovery were heroic. We had -- we were the people who took control.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PILGRIM: President Bush today said he wants to investigate how the federal, state and local governments interact in the event of an emergency.

Congressional leaders also said that a concrete timeline had to be reconstructed. But it's already clear that the state and local governments did not execute many of the plans that were already in place.

Lou.

DOBBS: And interestingly, the "Times-Picayune," the New Orleans paper, calling for the resignation of Michael Brown, the head of FEMA. And certainly, there is considerable basis for any criticism of just about everybody responsible here for relieving the human suffering and preventing the disaster that occurred to so many of our fellow citizens.

The fact is that in July they had an article talking about the very evacuation plans in which people were basically told, good luck.

PILGRIM: Yes. Basically. And a year ago they ran a full drill of a hurricane of this magnitude, and there was a full evacuation plan discussed at that time, yet not implemented in this instance.

DOBBS: Kitty, thank you very much. Important perspective. Thank you, Kitty Pilgrim.

As the cleanup of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina begins, a new tropical storm is forming off the Florida coast tonight. This storm, currently a tropical depression, is headed straight for the eastern coast of Florida. It could strengthen to Tropical Storm Ophelia before it hits. That's expected sometime later this week. And it is expected to dump as much as 15 inches of rain on some areas. A tropical storm warning is up now for 120-mile stretch of Florida's east coast, running from Jupiter to Titusville.

Still ahead here tonight, much more on the hurricane disaster, the response to that disaster and the massive cleanup. President Bush is preparing to ask Congress for tens of billions of dollars to pay for relief operations along the Gulf Coast. We'll have that special report.

And rising anger in Congress over the failure of government at all levels to respond quickly to this crisis. We'll be analyzing the increasingly partisan debate over just who's to blame and what we should learn from our response to this disaster. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: President Bush and congressional leaders today promised thorough investigations into the response to the hurricane disaster.

Tonight, the White House is preparing to ask Congress for $40 billion to help pay for relief operations. It's likely to be the first of a series of such funding requests.

Dana Bash reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Facing blistering criticism for a sluggish federal response to Hurricane Katrina, the president promised an investigation, eventually.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We want to make sure that we can respond properly if there's an WMD attack or another major storm, and so I'm going to find out, over time, what went right and what went wrong.

BASH: Congressional leaders in Mr. Bush's own party are not waiting, and announced hearings looking into the government response.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R-ME), CHAIR, HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: We need to identify systemic problems, perhaps in the organization, in the preparedness and the planning. We need to look at the leadership as well.

BASH: But Democrats are calling for accountability now. After meeting with the president, the House minority leader said FEMA Director Michael Brown should be fired.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: He should not continue in that job, less (ph) we witness a continuation of the shortcomings that we have had in the response.

BASH: For now, the White House refuses to answer questions like whether Brown will be held accountable or what an investigation should look like.

BUSH: People want us to do here is to play a blame game. We got to solve problems.

BASH: But Brown has been sidelined, at least in public, after remarks Bush officials concede crystallized the appearance of an inept federal response, like saying this after a day of desperation at the New Orleans Convention Center filled the airwaves.

MICHAEL BROWN, DIRECTOR, FEMA: We didn't know that the city had used that as a staging area.

BASH: From the president on down, the slogan of the high gear damage control effort is impossible to miss.

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Some just want to engage in the blame game.

The blame game.

The time for bickering and blame gaming is later.

BASH: In photo op after photo op, the president tried to illustrate his stepped up response, striking an I get it tone.

BUSH: The people we're talking about are not refugees. They are Americans. And they need the help and love and compassion of our fellow citizens.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BASH: The president also promised that bureaucracy won't stand in the way of -- quote -- "getting the job done." And he announced the vice president is heading to the region on Thursday to figure out if red tape is slowing recovery.

Lou.

DOBBS: Dana, thank you very much. Dana Bash.

President Bush today also declared that now is not the time to assign blame, but Republicans and Democrats are preparing for what is certain to be a highly partisan debate about the disaster in the months ahead.

Bill Schneider has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One point is beyond dispute: the government safety net failed.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our government failed those people in the beginning. And I take it now there is no dispute about it. A hundred percent of the people recognize that, that it was a failure.

SCHNEIDER: The debate over what went wrong is just now beginning. It's coming down to three main arguments. Some are blaming bureaucratic incompetence, government bungling -- a favorite theme among conservatives.

BUSH: Bureaucracy is not going to stand in the way of getting the job done for the people. SCHNEIDER: That argument may resonate with some who experienced the disaster.

AARON BROUSSARD, PRESIDENT, JEFFERSON PARISH, LOUISIANA: Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now.

SCHNEIDER: Many Democrats blame the Republican philosophy of limited government, spending cuts on infrastructure and flood control, the diversion of resources to other priorities.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: And if we need more funds to meet the needs of these people who have been hurt by this tragedy, then we ought to stop the tax cuts that are going to go into effect for the very wealthy.

SCHNEIDER: Another argument points to the contrast with 9/11, when Mayor Rudy Giuliani clearly took charge.

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: Come with us. Come with us.

SCHNEIDER: And President Bush rallied a stricken city.

BUSH: I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you.

SCHNEIDER: In the aftermath of Katrina, local officials seemed overwhelmed. Federal officials seemed out of touch. For days, the country experienced a vacuum of leadership, the frightening sense that no one was in control.

When political leadership fails, the blame falls on politicians, from state and local officials to the very top.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MINORITY LEADER: Those people that are trying to shift focus should realize what Harry Truman said a long time ago, the buck stops here. And the buck stops at 16th and Pennsylvania Avenue.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER: These arguments are not mutually exclusive. There's some truth to all of them. What we don't know yet is which will have the most credibility.

Lou.

DOBBS: Absolutely. And it is interesting to hear the president say that this is not the time for the blame game. Yet, that is precisely the focus of so many of the charges coming from, obviously, the Senate, the House, the Republicans and Democrats alike and certainly from the local level, as well.

Bill, your best assessment, the fact is that while Mike Brown has been held up as a pariah in this is he going to sustain the support of the president? And secondly, do you believe that the focus is just now coming intently toward the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, and the governor of Louisiana, Governor Blanco?

SCHNEIDER: Well, Lou, I think a lot of heads are going to fall. The most convenient target right now is the head of FEMA. And there were many, many failures on his part.

This president is famously loyal to people and doesn't like to fire people or get rid of them. I think if there is a demand in Congress that -- to make him a political target, the president may have no choice. But there will also be heads to fall in Louisiana, heads to fall in New Orleans. Tragically, lots and lots of people simply did not do their job in this and there are going to be a lot of people held accountable.

This is not the fault of any one person. So it will not stop with Mike Brown.

DOBBS: It's an extraordinary concept in modern government in this country whether at the federal level or at the local, accountability to constituents.

SCHNEIDER: That's right.

DOBBS: Thank you very much, Bill Schneider.

Tonight's quote of the day comes from the president of Jefferson Parish in Louisiana, of course. In his frustration with the federal government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina, he said, "Take whatever idiot they have at the top of whatever agency and give me a better idiot. Give me a caring idiot. Give me a sensitive idiot. Just don't give me the same idiot."

Still ahead here tonight complete devastation in New Orleans' St. Bernard Parish. We'll be going live to a rescue operation there as rescuers try to save trapped residents.

And a live report on New Orleans' efforts to control its raging out of control fires this evening, fires consuming houses in the city's most historic districts.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: A dramatic rescue today in one Louisiana parish that remains almost completely submerged. St. Bernard Parish is southeast of New Orleans. It was home to 70,000 people before the storm.

Gary Tuchman just returned from there and has our report. Gary?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Lou, hello to you.

Before Hurricane Katrina hit Mississippi, the most dangerous part of the eye wall, that was the second landfall, its first landfall was in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, which as you said is just southeast of the city of New Orleans.

People moved to that parish because it's isolated. It's away from the city. However the isolation hurt that parish greatly with this hurricane.

For the last seven days almost all of St. Bernard Parish, population 71,000, has been under water. Now some is no longer under water and we believe we made the first news media visit there today. When we got to this parish where many people are unaccounted for and feared dead, we encountered a Georgia National Guard helicopter flying above a House. We realized that a rescue was in progress.

Indeed, what had happened was the people aboard the chopper saw two people waving frantically from the second floor of a flooded out house. Immediately, other members of the Army got in an air boat and rescued the two people, Veronica Badeux (ph) and Nick Camerota (ph).

Both of them were in the house for eight days, since before the hurricane came. Because they're in the house they haven't known what's going on elsewhere. They haven't realized how big of a deal this was.

But over the last two days, they had no more water left. So they have not had water for 48 hours. They came off the air boat. We had water with us. We gave it to them to drink.

It was very interesting what Veronica Badeux (ph), who suffers severe arthritis, but is otherwise OK, said to us. She took the water and said, this tastes better than ice cream.

The two of them, along with her dog, Suzie, then went on the helicopter and were brought here, where I'm standing right now, to the New Orleans International Airport. This is where people who are rescued and who are hurt are treated. They're still being treated. And then they're sent on elsewhere to one of many other cities across the United States that is helping these people who have suffered so much.

But we can tell you, Lou, what they're very concerned about, a nursing home is under water in the parish, and they believe that nobody in that nursing home evacuated.

Lou.

DOBBS: Gary, thank you very much. Gary Tuchman reporting from New Orleans International Airport, reporting on the rescue in St. Bernard Parish. Thank you, Gary.

Coming up next here, saving thousands of children left homeless by the hurricane and the flooding in New Orleans. How many families in Texas are helping? Well, it is a Texas-size number. We'll have that live report for you next.

And then, oil prices are falling. So why are millions of Americans still paying more for gasoline? We don't need the Senate Energy Committee to give us the answer, although they did put that question to oil companies today. There's price gouging all across the country, and we'll be telling you about it next. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Thousands of New Orleans evacuees were expected to leave the Houston Astrodome today and then to move onto cruise ships. However, federal officials delayed those plans because many of the evacuees simply didn't want to move again.

Sean Callebs has the live report for us from Houston. Sean?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Lou. Think about it. We've seen the pictures inside the Astrodome of the thousands of people on those cots, two foot by six foot.

Well, 4,000 of them today had the chance to get out of the Astrodome, load onto a bus, make the hour and a half trip to Galveston, Texas, and then get on a giant cruise ship. Carnival Cruise Lines was going to provide two ships for 4,000 elderly people here and try and keep those families together.

However, the elderly said they had worked for a long time to get their benefits transferred here, to get their medications updated, to let their families know that they are, indeed, here and well. So there weren't enough takers.

The plan is not going to be scrapped completely. FEMA now says they're going to try and revisit this and hope they can get some more takers just down the road.

Also, think about taking all the people from St. Paul, Minnesota, or Anchorage, Alaska and put them in Texas. That is what has happened here over the past eight days. Some 250,000 evacuees have flooded this state.

One of the saddest things we hear so often out here are the number of families that are simply disconnected, been separated because of this tragedy.

We can tell you right now, SBC Phone and Yahoo! are working inside the Astrodome, trying to connect all of these families together. They're working with them to get on the Internet, check all the Web sites there. And every time a family member is connected, they ring a bell. So the chant going up with the smiles is more cow bell coming out of here.

Lou.

DOBBS: Well, Sean, it is wonderful to see those young girls playing skip rope, jump rope, and to have a few smiles on their faces in such a tragedy and such devastation.

Sean, the idea of moving on to those cruise ships, that speaks -- speaks volumes about how well these evacuees are being cared for there at the Astrodome, as well, doesn't it?

CALLEBS: It is amazing, Lou. If you think about creating an instant city in about 24 hours, and I have heard very, very, very few complaints. It is up and running. People have food. They have their medications. They have treatment from doctors here. And they're getting in touch with their families. And that is what is most important to them.

And Lou, you can bet your life that so many people have been treated so well here, they say they simply aren't going to go back. No jobs, nothing to return home to. They vow to make Houston their new home.

DOBBS: And the people of Texas showing Texas-size hospitality. Thank you very much, Sean Callebs, reporting from your great state of Texas.

A bill signed by President Bush four months ago, however, could make it far more difficult for many people to recover financially from this hurricane. The new bankruptcy law goes into effect next month. The restrictions are incredible. Lisa Sylvester reports from Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Katrina took away their homes and jobs. But new bankruptcy legislation could provide a second blow. The law takes effect October 17. After that date, it will be harder for Americans making above the median income to wipe their financial slate clean.

BRAD BOTES, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF CONSUMER BANKRUPTCY ATTORNEYS: Our country's always had a safety net there for people that have been through a disaster such as Katrina, that have gotten ill, that have lost a job, that have been injured. And that safety net is being taken away.

SYLVESTER: Katrina will hurt individuals and businesses who were planning on filing for bankruptcy. Records washed away. Bankruptcy courthouses in New Orleans, Jackson, Mississippi, and Mobile, Alabama remain closed. But the new law may also hurt tens of thousands of Katrina survivors who are living paycheck to paycheck and now face new worries without a steady income.

REP. EDDIE BERNICE JOHNSON (D), TEXAS: Many of these people have paid very basic expenses from credit cards. Some of the ones who traveled might have charged their transportation, might have charged food.

SYLVESTER: Democratic lawmakers before Katrina hit offered an amendment to the bankruptcy bill that would have shielded victims of natural disasters, but it was defeated along party lines.

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee intends to offer new legislation this week.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE (D), TEXAS: Many stories that I've heard inside the Astrodome and inside our major center at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, tell me that there are people from all walks of life, many of them devastated personally and devastated in their businesses.

SYLVESTER: Katrina was a natural disaster. Some members of Congress are bracing for what they say is a pending man-made financial disaster.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SYLVESTER: And lawmakers want to make it easier for Katrina victims to discharge storm-related debt. They note that those hurt by Katrina include a range of people, poor and middle class renters who didn't have insurance, as well as small companies who will find it hard, if not impossible, to stay in business.

Lou.

DOBBS: And Lisa, as you well know, this was heavily criticized legislation when it was passed by the Congress and signed by the president. And as well, at the same time, pushing forward the repeal of the estate tax, which obviously benefits wealthier Americans. The Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist at this hour, in which the nation is concerned about our fellow citizens who have lost so much, including their lives, has at least put the repeal of the estate tax on hold, for some time.

Lisa Sylvester, thank you very much.

We would like to know your thoughts about this issue. Do you believe victims of Hurricane Katrina should be exempt from the bankruptcy bill -- the bankruptcy law, in point of fact? Yes or no. Cast your vote at LOUDOBBS.com. We'll have the results here later in the broadcast.

My next guest says the Gulf Coast disaster is a test of our national character. Last week, he went on to say: "We cannot allow it to be said by history that the difference between those who lived and those who died in the great storm and flood of 2005 was nothing more than poverty, age or skin color."

Congressman Elijah Cummings of Maryland is the former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and joins us tonight from Capitol Hill.

Congressman Cummings, first, thanks for being here. Friday, you were highly critical of the federal government's response to the hurricane. Have your views changed?

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: I'm still highly critical, but I have seen some movement, and I think that's a good thing. I think because so many people came out and said we can do better as a nation, that's exactly what's happened.

But it should have happened a little earlier, Lou, and I think everybody knows that, including the president and all of our local, state and federal officials.

DOBBS: Do you -- you understand why what you said, age or skin color, the suggestion that you were saying that race played a part in the slow response of the federal government, and also the state and local governments here. Do you really believe that?

CUMMINGS: Let me be very clear on that. It's not so much about -- I mean, you all seem to want to spend a whole lot of time on skin color. Let's look at what we have here. Sixty-seven percent of the people in New Orleans were African-American; 20 percent below the poverty level. So you're going to have a large number of African- Americans.

But let me tell you something, white people suffered, Hispanics and others suffered too.

DOBBS: You bet.

CUMMINGS: And so it's a thing -- it's not a thing of black and white, Lou. It's a thing of green. People need money. And the fact is, a lot of people are living in poverty. And poverty, as you well know, is going up, not coming down.

DOBBS: It sure is. And it has -- it is one of the most difficult issues that this country is facing -- some might say not facing right now, are not only are poor people facing even a greater impoverishment, but our middle class is also being constrained at the same time.

But Congressman, those were your words. Skin color. They weren't mine.

CUMMINGS: Well, the fact is, Lou, I said -- I talked about age. I've talked about frail people also.

DOBBS: That's right.

CUMMINGS: The fact is, a lot of people suffered. Instead of us concentrating on that for the moment, what we need to be concentrating on is all of these wonderful human beings, that many of whom are not making a lot of money, out there trying to help the evacuees live a decent life and get adjusted. And I think that's very significant. That's the story.

DOBBS: Congressman...

CUMMINGS: And I want to thank them.

DOBBS: You want to thank them. I want to thank them. I think every American wants to thank them. And I guess what I could say to your comments there, simply amen, brother. We're starting to see this country act like a superpower, act like the nation we know it is, and people respond in the way they should.

CUMMINGS: That's right.

DOBBS: And that frustration, and that embarrassment, frankly, that this government, at the local, state and federal level, did not respond as we are used to expecting from this country. It is just horrendous for most of us.

CUMMINGS: Well, our country, I mean, when people elect us, they elect us to do a job. They entrust us with their tax dollars, and they expect us to protect them.

But keep in mind, with the tax cuts, government is shrinking. With the war in Iraq, government has to shrink. And so, I mean, when we look at the expenditures, for example, for the levees and for New Orleans and protecting it against this kind of catastrophe, money has to be spent elsewhere, and the tax cuts have gone into this, too. You know, somebody's going to pay, Lou. And unfortunately, a lot of people have paid with their lives in this incident.

DOBBS: You know, that's absolutely true, Congressman. But there's something else going on here, too. As we've reported here tonight, the fact is that the people of New Orleans, if they read the "Times- Picayune," knew -- their local newspaper -- knew that those -- those evacuation plans were not adequate, that they were basically being told, you're on your own in the event of a major hurricane or a major disaster.

The fact is, we knew that those levees were inadequate, and that by spending $100 or $200 million, we could have prevented, it appears at least at this stage, tens of billions of dollars in damage.

There is also an instinct abroad in this country and on Capitol Hill, if I may say, and perhaps I should also include we in the media, to simply accept and to move on and to be as apathetic as possible about the facts that are staring us in the face. Do you think there is anything to that?

CUMMINGS: No doubt about it, Lou. We do it with our schoolchildren every day. There are so many children who are being denied a decent education. And we could take good care of them now, so that they won't have problems later on. That's a perfect example. And poverty, of course, is directly linked to education or failure to have a decent education.

So you know, we see this all the time. But -- and keep in mind, 9/11 happened not long ago. We thought we had a secure situation where these kinds of things would not happen. What do we see? We've got problems. We have to question whether or not we are prepared for any catastrophic incident. And so, we've got to spend our money effectively and efficiently, Lou. As simple as that.

DOBBS: Elijah Cummings, Congressman, thank you very much for being with us.

CUMMINGS: Thank you. It's been my pleasure.

DOBBS: Still ahead here, Americans all across this country are paying outrageous gasoline prices as well. Is it in many cases, price- gouging? We'll have the answer for you. The answer, by the way, is yes.

And fires are burning out of control in New Orleans. A city flooded fighting fires. We'll have a live report for you on the battles to put out those fires tonight.

And the country mourns the loss of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Now the U.S. Senate is preparing to confirm his replacement. I'll be talking with a former clerk for Chief Justice Rehnquist here next.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The U.S. military tonight is stepping up efforts to control large fires that are raging out of control in several New Orleans flooded neighborhoods.

Drew Griffin is live in New Orleans and has a report for us. Drew?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just another ironic difficulty here, Lou. We were driving past the Garden District this morning when this fire was just erupting at a house. Firefighters from all over the country, some from New York even, began to fight this fire. And then this incredible force of helicopters came in and started to douse this flame. But there's no water pressure in the city, so all the water has to be brought in by these firefighters.

And keep in mind there's little communication in the city. It's making it very difficult to catch these fires early and then to get the water to them quick enough to put it out. It's been a real problem. And as more and more of the city is pumped out, that's creating more and more areas where the city is going to be vulnerable to these types of fires. It's an incredible situation.

DOBBS: Drew, there are four fires we're told right now just in the Garden District alone that are out of control. That's understandable, because it's all but impassable, the streets and the access to those fires. But are the fires diminishing in frequency, or are they building from your viewpoint?

GRIFFIN: Well, I don't have any of the data to firmly tell you, Lou, whether they're increasing or not. They're popping up all over the place. Some are large like the one we covered today which spread from house to house, actually crossed St. Charles Avenue as the trees caught fire. And then, you know, that Garden District is so densely populated with these old wooden houses. But some are small fires that are put out right away, literally, by passing National Guardsmen that spot them.

The problem is, if people -- the people are living there, Lou. And they shouldn't be. They're living without power so they're lighting candles at night, they're smoking, some are improvising their cooking. And it's creating a fire hazard. And if a fire breaks out, who do you call? Those people have no communication. They literally have to run down the street, drag some National Guardsmen or some policemen to get their attention, and then try to get the fire department here. And to show you how difficult it is, the boat in back, that is pumping -- it looks like it's dumping water out, but they're circulating water, circulating water into fire trucks that are coming by to fill up. It's just back to rudimentary living here. There is just no services whatsoever in the city, and fire is the next thing coming for New Orleans. It's terrible.

DOBBS: New Orleans and all who live there have suffered so much, but the idea that people will not leave there, that is such a difficult thing for people to understand. Are we seeing more people finally give up and say to the rescuers, please rescue us, rather than keep going? You know, we're going to hold out here until whatever point is necessary?

GRIFFIN: Lou, the people in the flooded areas want to get out now. They're basically trapped. But keep in mind there's a large section of this city that is high and dry, the Garden District is one of them. And there are lots and lots of people just camping out. They're not leaving. Every single one of them -- I just talked to a dozen people today who are just going to sit it out. I can't understand why. They don't feel they have anywhere to go. They certainly have the opportunity to leave. And they're also getting water by people coming by and giving them water. They just won't leave. I can't understand why.

DOBBS: Even with the additional threat as you have chronicled here tonight, Drew, the raging fires that are taking place, in quarters and the mayor saying point blank that with E. coli, dysentery and cholera, that everyone in the city is at risk. It's remarkable. Drew, thank you very much.

Gasoline prices fell slightly overnight. Many of you may not believe that, but according to AAA the national average of gasoline fell more than a penny. Now $3.04. You may not believe that either. But the majority of us are still paying far more than the national average.

Bill Tucker has the report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The damage to the drilling platforms and refineries in the Gulf Coast region is indisputable, but the price of gasoline is not.

SENATOR PETE DOMENICI, (R) NEW MEXICO: Why are the gasoline prices so high? Why are the oil companies making record profits? And what are they doing with them?

TUCKER: Consumers are paying a national average of more than $3 a gallon for regular unleaded gasoline. The highest prices can be found in the Northeast. That's considerably more than the $2.32 a gallon which was the average a year ago.

The members of the Senate's Energy and National Resources Committee cut right to the point. SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, (D) CALIFORNIA: I don't know how one justifies the projections of the annual profits from -- projecting on the first half that I have just mentioned. At this time, gas prices have never been higher in the history of the United States.

SEN. RON WYDEN, (D) OREGON: The "Wall Street Journal" published a chart showing how the price of unleaded gas in the United States had gone up 132 percent in the past year, while the price of crude oil had gone up 64 percent. So that makes it clear that the oil companies are not simply passing on higher crude oil costs, but they're also adding substantial increases. Now that looks to me like price gouging.

TUCKER: There were calls by the member of the committee for everything short of price controls. But some of the steam may have been taken out of the congressional anger by the markets.

TOM KLOZA, OIL PRICE INFORMATION SERVICE: Ultimately, markets can be self-correcting. Particularly, when you've got the consumers involved. So I think we saw in the last week the highest prices we're likely to see this year for gasoline and perhaps for a generation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCKER: And sometimes you need not only consumer involvement, but state involvement helps. The state of New Jersey today announced that one quarter of the stations it visited in the past week are guilty of ripping off the consumer.

DOBBS: And we're hearing reports from states all across the country, price gouging, finding price gouging, they just -- as yet don't know what to do about it.

TUCKER: Right.

DOBBS: Well, hopefully they'll figure it out quickly. I have a few thoughts if they run out of ideas. Bill Tucker, thank you.

Still ahead, the Supreme Court pays tribute to its past and looks towards its future. We'll have the latest on the tributes to Chief Justice Rehnquist and the upcoming hearings for Judge John Roberts. Will he attempt to roll back Roe v. Wade? Will he assert a conservative court? Will he be confirmed?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: The Great Hall of the Supreme Court is now where Chief Justice Rehnquist lies in repose. Our nation's sixteenth chief justice will lie in the Great Hall until Wednesday. Wednesday, he will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Earlier, pallbearers carried the chief justice's casket up the Supreme Court steps. Six Supreme Court justices looked on, including retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Among the pallbearers, Federal Appeals Court Judge John Roberts, of course President Bush nominated yesterday to replace the chief justice.

On Capitol Hill, Senate leaders announced confirmation hearings for Judge Roberts will begin next Monday, after the period of mourning for William Rehnquist ends. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Arlen Specter, said the president might want to wait until after these hearings to name his second Supreme Court nominee.

There is no dispute about the legacy of William Rehnquist. It is considerable, it is significant, whether you're liberal or conservative. The Rehnquist court constrained and in some cases, reversed the liberal momentum of the '60s and reasserted respect for the powers of the states.

Joining me now from Washington is attorney David Leitch. He's former deputy White House counsel, former law clerk to the chief justice, one of the pallbearers today at the Supreme Court ceremony.

David, first, your assessment of the most important elements of the Rehnquist legacy on the high court?

DAVID LEITCH, FORMER REHNQUIST LEGAL CLERK: Well, I think the most important elements are the ones that he began to assert as a lone dissenter in the 1970s, when he first joined the court, and the court came to join him over the years on issues about separation of church and state, on issues of habeas corpus and search and seizure law, and, as you mentioned, on issues of federalism. Those were the places where he really made his mark on the law.

As a chief justice, he was a remarkable man on the court, and had the admiration and respect of not only of his fellow justices, but of everyone who worked in the building.

DOBBS: The -- Judge John Roberts, is he, in your best judgment, in the same -- would you put him in the same view as Chief Justice Rehnquist?

LEITCH: Well, I don't think he's trying to be the next Chief Justice Rehnquist. I think he'll be his own person, and he'll form his own legacy. I think he'd be very honored to think that he would in some way follow his former boss, the chief justice. But he will be Chief Justice Roberts, and all that that entails.

DOBBS: Would he, in your judgment, be -- and I hate to keep using the word judgment -- would he be as committed as the chief justice to constraining the Commerce Clause, its usage? Would he be as committed to federalism, as you put it?

LEITCH: Well, those are hard things to measure. As you know, Judge Roberts has not been a judge for very long. He's expressed very few views on those kinds of issues.

I think the important thing in looking at a judge who's about to be confirmed or considered for confirmation is his intellect, his character and his judgment. And he has those things in great capacity, and I think those are the types of things the Senate ought to be looking at, not particular issues as to how he'll decide. DOBBS: Well, David, I couldn't agree with you more on any nominee. You and I both know that won't be the case. And one of the first examinations will be of Roe v. Wade and the prospect that is the legitimate real fear, if not valid fear, on the part of liberals and others in this country, who are afraid that a conservative chief justice, a conservative justice on this court would move to push back Roe v. Wade. Your thoughts?

LEITCH: I think you'll certainly see that question asked a lot of times and in many different ways. I'll be very surprised if there's an answer given that expresses how Judge Roberts is going to rule on those -- on that issue or other issues that might come before the court.

Some of the senators will find that frustrating. Others will find it appropriate, as they did when Justice Ginsburg testified.

DOBBS: And the partisan politics will be in full, full force. We thank you, David Leitch, for being with us.

LEITCH: Thank you for having me.

DOBBS: And tonight, to find out how you can help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, we ask you to call the American Red Cross at 1-800- HELP-NOW. For a full list of charities, please go to cnn.com. They're all listed there.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DOBBS: Now, the results of our poll. About 90 percent of you say victims of Hurricane Katrina should be exempt from the new bankruptcy law that goes in effect October 1st.

And finally tonight, Judith Miller remains in prison. The Pulitzer Prize-winning "New York Times" reporter has been in prison for 62 days now for protecting her confidential sources in the White House CIA leak case.

We thank you for being with us tonight. Please join us here tomorrow. The commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, Lieutenant General Carl Strock will be our guest. He has the important job of leading the way in the rebuilding of New Orleans. I'll be talking with him about that enormous task, of first draining that flooded city.

Congressman Phil Gingrey of the -- one of the handful of doctors in Congress, who's been treating the victims of the hurricane. He's among our guests. We hope you will be with us, too.

For all of us here, good night from New York.

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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