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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Life Inside the New Orleans Convention Center; Interview With New Orleans Police Superintendent

Aired September 8, 2005 - 20:00   ET

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


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. Glad to have you with us tonight.
The word tonight from New Orleans is, a lot of the search-and- rescue missions are turning into body recovery missions, and lots of bodies are starting to surface.

Right now, mission critical, the very latest from the disaster zone. A short time ago, recovery teams removed 14 bodies from New Orleans Methodist Hospital, the body bags taken away by boat. A spokesman tells us, these may be people who died even before the storm hit. We have also learned a team from the coroner's office has been dispatched to the Memorial Medical Center in the city's Garden District.

Armed soldiers are strengthening their grip on New Orleans. They're going through the streets by boat, looking for survivors or troublemakers. And get this. The police say they had no calls or complaints of violence last night, three arrests for minor violations.

There are also fewer fires burning tonight. This is a stunning picture. It shows a gas line on fire, but it isn't setting fire to any buildings, fortunately. So far today, only one house fire has been reported.

There were horrifically long lines and even a temporary lockdown when the Red Cross began handing out debit cards to evacuees in Houston today worth some $2,000. The big mess convinced FEMA to scale back its program to give out those cards to hurricane victims. Everyone still gets the money, but only the evacuees at the Astrodome will actually get the debit cards.

Vice President Dick Cheney was cursed by an irate heckler as he toured Gulfport, Mississippi, today. The vice president told reporters it was the first time he had heard such a protest.

And just a few hours ago, Cheney toured the streets of New Orleans in a Humvee and checked the progress on levee repairs.

And Congress isn't wasting any time in approving more money for the storm cleanup. The House passed a $51.8 billion relief bill late this afternoon. And just moments ago, it passed in the Senate as well. President Bush is promising storm victims even more help, and he declared a national day of prayer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So, I have declared Friday, September the 16, as a national day of prayer and remembrance. I ask that we pray, as Americans have always prayed in times of trial.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And what we're about to show you is going to make your stomachs churn. We have some shocking new pictures of the horror and chaos at the New Orleans Convention Center in the days that followed Hurricane Katrina.

I really mean this. If you have children in the room, this is something you won't want them to see. Tonight, New Orleans police are getting ready to investigate the violence that took place at that Convention Center, but what we're about to show you looked like what tens of thousands of people saw when they were crammed into that center with no food, no toilets, and living under extremely dangerous conditions.

Gary Tuchman has been working on this story throughout the day. He joins me now from Baton Rouge.

What did you find, Gary?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Paula, the New Orleans Convention Center had been described as the hurricane shelter from hell. Now there's explicit evidence of that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TUCHMAN (voice-over): Very disturbing photographs supplied to CNN show four dead people who had apparently been mutilated. A source outraged at what happened who was inside the center gave these photographs to CNN. It is not known how these people died, but the source says it's apparent that, at some point, they had been physically abused.

One photograph of two corpses in a wheelchair is too gruesome for us show. Three of the victims are male, one female.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is terrorism America-style.

TUCHMAN: In the days following the hurricane, chaos only grew for the 15,000 to 20,000 people in the Convention Center shelter. The photos we received show a kitchen full of garbage and feces.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are dirty. We waded in that water, dirty, filthy water. And we are dirty. This is not the way we live.

TUCHMAN: But it wasn't ordinary chaos. The New Orleans police chief said people had been beaten and raped. The head of FEMA said he didn't know until three days after the hurricane that the Convention Center even was a shelter.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These people couldn't leave because they couldn't afford to leave. Superdome people went in that shelter because they couldn't afford to leave. And now we're dying?

TUCHMAN: A covered corpse was left outside the entrance, and that wasn't the only body left that way. But there had been no evidence of more of a desecration of the dead until now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCHMAN: Now, today, we spent the day at a shelter here in Baton Rouge. Thousands of people today remain in that shelter. There is lots of complaining. But we can assure you, things are a lot better there in that shelter than it was in the New Orleans Convention Center -- Paula.

ZAHN: Gary, let's go back to those horrific pictures you just showed us for a moment. You describe these as being taken by an amateur photographer. When exactly were they taken?

TUCHMAN: Our source is telling us he took the pictures on Tuesday. That would have been the day after the hurricane came through. And he tells us, Paula, he was just so outraged by what he saw, he felt compelled to give us those pictures to show the world.

ZAHN: And is it your understanding this gentleman who took the pictures was also seeking shelter at the Convention Center?

TUCHMAN: I don't think we're comfortable characterizing what he was doing there in the shelter. Suffice it to say he was inside the shelter and very angry about what was going on in that shelter, not just those pictures, other things, too, but those picture especially.

ZAHN: And you and I, Gary, have heard plenty of stories from people who lived through the horror those early days after the hurricane. And I guess it's the first time we have actually seen pictures that just show how horrific it was.

Gary Tuchman, thanks so much.

In fact, our Jim Spellman was one of the first CNN people inside the Convention Center last week. When he arrived, people were desperate for food and water and waiting for buses they thought were on the way. And Jim saw, hour by hour, conditions rapidly descend in what can only be called hell.

And Jim joins us now.

Jim, we just heard Gary describe that these pictures were probably taken on Tuesday. Describe to us what you saw when you walked into the Convention Center.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN PRODUCER: I went into the Convention Center on Wednesday, about midday Wednesday. It was packed. Everything I spoke to was asking me for information. When are the buses coming? When are the boats coming? The Convention Center right along the Mississippi. They thought boats were going to come. They were asking for water, food, anything to help them. I'm surprised that those pictures were Tuesday, because, Wednesday, it seemed fairly -- in retrospect, it seemed pretty good on Wednesday, because, by later in the day Wednesday, there were thousands and thousands more people there.

ZAHN: And you kept on going back to the Convention -- describe -- Center. Describe to us how things just kept on spiraling downward.

SPELLMAN: By Wednesday morning -- sorry -- pardon me -- Thursday morning -- at about 5:00 in the morning, we drove by there, actually looking to set up our cameras and possibly go live from there. And it was obviously by that point way too dangerous for anything like that.

We drove by and people were sleeping everywhere in the streets. They were sleeping on the sidewalks. They were screaming out to us. Our headlights woke them up. And they were screaming out to us for help. They were trying to get in our truck for us, looking for water, food, anything. It was getting desperate, more desperate by every hour.

And every hour, more people were streaming past us from our other location on Canal Street trying to go there, because that is where every single person that we saw below the flood line thought you went for help.

ZAHN: And, Jim, we have to revisit the issue of those horrific images. Once again, we don't know the circumstances were surrounding the deaths of those people we saw in those pictures. But did people tell you as late as Thursday that they had seen dead people in there or people mutilated in any way?

SPELLMAN: Nothing on mutilations.

But the -- even our first visit on Wednesday, there was a dead body in the median, right in front of the Convention Center. And we certainly saw more bodies on the outside of the Convention Center later in the day Wednesday and on Thursday. There was lots of rumors going on. All the bodies we saw, people had put T-shirts over the heads or sheets of some order over the bodies.

And it was -- it was -- we -- we didn't go looking for any more bodies in the bowels of the Convention Center.

ZAHN: In our jobs, we often see a reality that we wish we could erase from our brains. What is the most chilling image that will stay with you from the experience of going back to the Convention Center repeatedly?

SPELLMAN: It would have to be the children.

I mean, there was -- there were mothers there with little kids who had -- you know, they had nothing, and it was getting to be several days for them. And, you know, grown men and women, it's horrible, but you see these little kids in soiled diapers and the pain on the parents' faces trying to just find any hope for them, and it was -- it was certainly heartbreaking. ZAHN: Face after face told us that story powerfully.

Jim Spellman, thanks so much.

And tonight, even as I speak, authorities are continuing to drain the toxic floodwaters, clear out the stragglers, and reunite scattered families, but a grimmer reckoning is just beginning almost too horrifying to think about. That is the collection of bodies and the counting of the dead. Every day, we learn another heart-wrenching tale about a supposed place of refuge that turned into a watery graveyard.

At one low-lying facility, St. Rita's Nursing Home in St. Bernard Parish, 32 residents died.

Susan Candiotti has been working on this story all day long. And she actually talked with a man whose mother was among those lost -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And, Paula, as we know, if you live in a nursing home, you are at the mercy of those who care for you. So, in emergencies, you must rely on those people to move you to safety.

Well, for Tom Rodrige (ph), his mother may have paid the ultimate price, because it's unclear whether an evacuation plan, a proper one, was in place.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: Tom Rodrige (ph) is living a nightmare. He knew his 92-year-old mother, Eva (ph), was deep in trouble and he was helpless to get her out of harm's way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have had numerous storms before, and they know that, if they evacuate, she needs to go with them.

CANDIOTTI: His mother, Eva Rodrige (ph), lived and apparently died with more than 30 others in St. Rita's Nursing Home, which was flooded after Katrina swept into New Orleans. Some were evacuated, but many were not moved to safety in time and drowned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She had Alzheimer's. She knew who people was. She remembered things and she could still get around on a walker. So, she wasn't -- she wasn't an invalid. So, she could -- she could -- she could move around.

CANDIOTTI: Tom Rodrige, himself a former emergency management director for Louisiana's National Guard, was out of town when Katrina turned toward New Orleans. He started calling the nursing home Saturday, urging that it be evacuated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, they indicated that they were not going to leave.

CANDIOTTI: Sunday night, as Katrina struck, Rodrige was 30 miles away directing emergency personnel for Jefferson Parish. He called the nursing home in St. Bernard Parish again, pleading with officials to get the residents out. He was told they were going to try.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I called the St. Bernard officials again and told them that, you know, they've got to get these people out. And they said they notified them and that they weren't -- they refused to leave. And I said, well, you need to send the sheriff's office down there and make them leave. And he said, I'm doing everything I can.

CANDIOTTI: On Wednesday, 10 days after Katrina struck, authorities began removing bodies from St. Rita's Nursing Home. Eva Rodrige's remains have not yet been found. CNN has been so far unable to reach the nursing home owners to find out whether they had an evacuation plan and if the workers did all they could to clear the place out.

CNN reviewed St. Rita's records on the state's Web site. It indicates the home's license expired last July, but we couldn't reach state authorities to confirm that. For Tom Rodrige, the pain is overwhelming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She may not have been able to withstand the ordeal, even if they would have rescued her. But she deserved a chance, you know, to be rescued, instead of having to drown like a rat.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CANDIOTTI: And, Paula, within the hour, about seven ambulances arrived at the nursing home. And sources close to the investigation tell us, more bodies have been found. But, for this evening, the work is done. They don't have the proper equipment and work will resume in the morning -- Paula.

ZAHN: Susan Candiotti, thank you for that update.

Meanwhile, New Orleans' Police Superintendent will join me in just a minute. I'm going to ask him when forced evacuations will actually begin and just how much force he'll use to carry out that order, but, first, a progress report on the overall recovery effort.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And we are back.

Hard to believe, but, at this very moment, a nation reeling from Katrina is nervously watching yet another hurricane in the Atlantic off the Florida coast.

Rob Marciano is in our Weather Center. He has the very latest on Ophelia.

OK, we're going to get back to that, to Rob Marciano.

But, right now, why don't we head to New Orleans? And we have been concentrating an awful lot today on the whole notion of 10,000 to 15,000 people remaining in that city, the city officials saying that there is a direct order for them to get out.

And among those folks who have been traveling around town to see how neighbors are reacting to that news is Dan Simon, who has toured the whole city.

So, Rob, (sic), what has been the level of cooperation today? Is anybody listening to the cops?

DAN SIMON, REPORTER: Well, Paula, if I had to sum up today in one word, it would be defiance. These remaining residents are just so determined to stick around. I know the police department has said they don't want to use force to get these residents out.

But based upon what he saw today, I'm not sure there's going to be any choice. We talked to an attorney, a well-to-do lawyer, who is so convinced that he's just doing fine on his own. He's got plenty of food and water, and he just can't believe that there are military personnel on his street telling him that he has to leave. He says it doesn't make sense. He says he's getting along just fine without the authorities.

I went to a bar today in the French Quarter, and it's still open. They're working on generators. And there are customers, and they say, we're doing just fine. So, I think the police department is going to have a really tough time convincing these remaining folks, as you said, 10,000 to 15,000 people, to leave town.

ZAHN: But they continue to say they're going to try to do it in a sensitive way and explain to folks that the water is contaminated, that, obviously, food is scarce and, in large parts of the city, you are not going to have power back in some time. Are any of these folks frightened by these reports?

SIMON: You know, I talked to many people. And I expressed that. I said, why would you want to stick around without any water or electricity? And they say, you know what? It's like camping out and it beats going into shelters. We would rather be here. We would rather be with our belongings. We would rather be among friends. And we would rather be in this great land that they love so much, Paula.

And I know you're going to be talking to the chief about how you go about evacuating these residents. Are you going to have to use force? And based upon what I saw today, again, I just -- I personally don't think there's any other solution.

ZAHN: And I think you and I and everybody else out there can well imagine what a wrenching job this is for the police, because many of them have lived in that city their whole lives as well. It's not an easy job.

What was the most surprising attitude you confronted on the street today?

SIMON: Well, you know, Paula, I used to live in New Orleans, and I come here with some fresh perspective. I just arrived in town last night. And, you know, when you cover these hurricanes, when you cover storms, generally there's an optimism in the air. There's a feeling of optimism in the air. And, you know, as I toured the lands today for the first time, having come back here, I'm not feeling that sense of optimism. There's desperation in the air. They don't know how they're going to be able to rebuild, how long it's going to take them.

And, to me, that was -- that was a bit depressing.

ZAHN: Yes. They certainly have a long road ahead. Dan Simon, thank you so much for that update.

Right now, we're going to get more on the situation in New Orleans from the city police's superintendent, Eddie Compass.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And we turn now to New Orleans police superintendent, Eddie Compass.

Good to see you again, sir.

Do you have any idea tonight how many people are defying your order to leave their homes?

EDDIE COMPASS, SUPERINTENDENT, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT: Well, right now, we're basically focused on people who want to leave. We're still doing voluntary evacuations. We still have thousands of people that we need to evacuate.

You know, when people think about New Orleans, they think about the downtown area. They see it's dry. They think everything is OK. But 80 percent of our city was under water.

ZAHN: Sure.

COMPASS: But we're focusing our efforts right now on getting the people that want to leave out of here.

ZAHN: Do you have any sense, at the end of the day, once you've gone through those who will voluntary leave, how many people will be left?

COMPASS: No.

But what we're going to do, once we're sure that we have checked every grid and made sure that every area of the city where people want to evacuate are evacuated, then we will change our focus. We will then start the mandatory evacuations. But this is how we are going to do it. We are going to be very sensitive to the needs of the community.

We are going to explain to the people that the toxic waste that's in that water can be deadly. The cleanup effort cannot be started until they leave, because the chemicals that they have to use to clean up is going to be deadly. And I say, once we start looking at these people face to face and start explaining these things to them, I think we are not going to have any problem with anybody wanting to leave -- wanting to stay here.

ZAHN: Well, what if you do encounter a problem? Walk us through the process of what kind of force you would potentially use to make someone obey the order.

COMPASS: Well, we're going to use the minimal amount of force necessary.

You know, when you say a minimal amount of force, is -- it varies. You know, I can't give a definitive answer or quantify it. If you have someone that's 100 pounds and you bring three police officers in, you're going to have to use much less force than if you had somebody 350 pounds. But we are going to bring the proper amount of force to do it safely. We will have to do it expeditiously. We are going to do it very efficiently.

ZAHN: You, under law, are allowed to fine people $500 if they don't obey and perhaps imprison them for as much as six months. Do you plan to take those choices?

COMPASS: No. No, we're not doing that. We're just trying to get people to safety. We're not putting anybody in jail. We're not fining anybody. We're just trying to get them to a safe place, so that they can survive.

ZAHN: CNN has been given some photographs, some very disturbing photographs, showing bodies from the Convention Center that appear to have been mutilated. Do you plan to launch potential murder investigations?

COMPASS: Yes, we do. And we are going to use our forensics, do whatever we can to try to get some closure with these things.

You have got to understand the difficult situation was to gather evidence at that time. I mean, we were just trying to save human life. And we are still in the process of saving human life. We are back to police functions. We are back to police services. And I truly believe that, if it's possible to bring these individuals to justice, we will.

But you have to understand, I mean, there were 30,000 people in there. The scene was probably destroyed. And evidence you know, may have been -- not may have been, was definitely damaged, but we are going to do everything we can with the technology and the forensics that we have to try to get some type of closure to this for the families.

ZAHN: So, what's your reaction to the fact that there are reports that these bodies, some of them horribly mangled, were discovered in these wheelchairs?

COMPASS: Well, it was horrific.

You know, when you look at our society, there's a small percentage of people that prey upon our citizens, our good citizens, throughout urban America. It was unfortunate that these good people in our system, these good people in our society, were trapped with these deviants for such a long period of time.

ZAHN: So, it makes your stomach churn, makes you sick?

COMPASS: Yes. It does. It really does. It sickens me.

It sickens me that these nefarious individuals took advantage of this situation. But, you know, God will judge them and they will be punished for their acts. They may not be punished in this life, but they will be punished in the next.

ZAHN: Superintendent Compass, thank you so much for your time tonight. And good luck to you.

COMPASS: Thank you, ma'am.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And we have all heard those predictions that the Hurricane Katrina death toll could go into thousands. Well, we have been working on a story about one small town where they're hoping it won't be that bad, because they'll have a very tough job ahead. We will explain why when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: And we continue at this hour with the up-to-the-minute official numbers on the loss of life from Hurricane Katrina.

At this hour, the number of confirmed deaths, nearly 300, a number that is expected to soar into the thousands.

Tonight, as more bodies are being recovered, Christiane Amanpour has been finding out about the process of gathering the dead and returning them to their loved ones. She has discovered one small town with a sad and very sacred duty.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Police cars escort refrigerated trucks full of bodies collected from the floodwaters of New Orleans. This is how the federal government says it wants to pay respects to Katrina's victims, many of whom still languish in the disease-ridden waters.

Here in the tiny town of St. Gabriel, nearly 70 miles from New Orleans, FEMA has turned a massive, 125,000-square-foot warehouse into a morgue to process and identify the bodies. Medical examiners have now started round-the-clock operations to X-ray, photograph, fingerprint and take DNA samples from the victims.

Mayor George Grace says the dead could exceed even the town's own population of 6,000. GEORGE GRACE, MAYOR OF ST. GABRIEL, LOUISIANA: This is our contribution to the overall tragedy. And this is the only role that we were chosen to play, and we intend to play that role.

AMANPOUR: Most residents we found, like Evelyn Stiller (ph) and her family, say it's the least they can do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If it was my family member, I wouldn't want them sitting on the interstate waiting for somebody to come collect them.

AMANPOUR: But in this poor town, average annual income $9,000, a few people do fear property values and even their health could be affected. But the blunt reaction of Theresa Roy, who owns a small grocery store, startled us, with her apparent preference for a morgue, rather than a shelter.

THERESA ROY, RESIDENT OF ST. GABRIEL: I'd rather have them here dead than alive. And at least they're not robbing you and you have to worry about feeding them.

AMANPOUR: Still, Theresa does have sympathy.

ROY: They have to go somewhere. These are people's families. They have to -- they still have to have dignity.

AMANPOUR: Mayor Grace has been assuring people, the morgue is no health hazard, and he readily agreed to having it here. But he says, in any event, FEMA didn't give him much choice.

GRACE: They have the right, by law, to come in on any property and use it for public use.

AMANPOUR: This huge warehouse-come-morgue has already started to process the bodies. Authorities say they can handle about 150 per day, but they don't want family members coming here looking for their relatives or friends, because after the forensics are completed here, the bodies will be released back to the state of Louisiana, and then to the families for burial.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: That was Christiane Amanpour reporting for us tonight.

At this very moment, a nation reeling from Katrina is nervously watching another hurricane in the Atlantic off the Florida coast. This time we know Rob Marciano is going to be there from our weather center. He has the very latest on this hurricane. How bad does it look at this hour, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's just a category 1. But at one point Katrina was a category 1 as well. So, we're definitely concerned about the fact that it has became a hurricane today.

And also how close it is to the U.S. It's only 75 miles offshore. The center of it about 75 east-northeast of Cape Canaveral. And the past couple hours, we have seen these cloud tops begin to explode. Thunderstorms developing, and the storm getting better organized.

This is the forecast track from the National Hurricane Center. And because this storm has not moved. And it's really not moving much. It's going to gather strength likely over these very warm waters. Where it goes is still a question mark. But the latest forecast track brings it to the northeast. And that will be good away from land, but some of our longer-range computer models actually take it back around. So that's a possibility as we get to the beginning of next week.

In the meantime, right now, we're looking at tropical storm warnings that are in effect for north of the central part of the eastern shore line. No hurricane warnings out right now, Paula, so that's good. That means the National Hurricane Center says it doesn't look like it's going to slide to the west and come in as a hurricane, at least right now. We'll keep an eye on it.

ZAHN: Wow, happy to hear that. At this hour, for a change, Rob Marciano, thanks so much.

There are so many heroes that came out of Hurricane Katrina, including a pair of police officers. They're married. And what they've been doing will make you very proud. I know it did all of us. This is something you don't want to miss. But right now, another progress report on the ongoing relief effort.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: The National Guard and active-duty troops who are on the street right now have brought a badly needed break to the very exhausted New Orleans Police Department. From the moment disaster struck, those officers have scrambled to save their city any way they could. And Drew Griffin has been out talking to some of their officers, and hearing some of their incredible tales, including the story of a husband and wife team keeping up the fight from the homefront.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's in across the Mississippi in an area of the city known as Algiers. The water did not come here. The houses here survived. And inside this one, Dave and Becky Benelli are running a New Orleans police precinct.

BECKY BENELLI, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT: On and off, we're all working different hours, so we're all doing different stuff.

GRIFFIN: Becky is Sergeant Becky of the city's crime lab. Her husband Dave, that's Lieutenant Dave, is commander of the sex crime division. The flag and squad cars parked out front mark the house as the new headquarters for both.

(on camera): Is your gas working? B. BANELLI: Uh-huh.

GRIFFIN: Tonight we're having.

B. BANELLI: Tonight we're having meatballs and spaghetti.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): But the Banelli opening up their home is not just a duty, they say, it is the only option for their colleagues who have lost everything.

B. BANELLI: I'm very blessed.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Better than surviving, really.

B. BANELLI: Yes. I'm very blessed.

GRIFFIN: You're holding people into this house, because they weren't...

B. BANELLI: Half of them are people who have no home to go back to.

GRIFFIN: What are they going to do?

B. BANELLI: I have no idea. They can stay here as long as they want.

DAVE BANELLI, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT: The very areas of the city that were most devastated by floods, this happened to be the area where 85 percent of our police officers live.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): From his driveway, Banelli dispatches patrol cars and sends officers to new assignments. What used to be the sex crimes unit now handles a little bit of everything.

Lieutenant Banelli needs to see this to understand how officers who have lost everything can keep working and working. He also says people need to know what really happened in New Orleans. Banelli was assigned as security at the Superdome for six days. He, his fellow officers, and 250 National Guardsmen he says prevented the pathetic conditions from inside from becoming catastrophic.

D. BANELLI: We had to basically sleep with one eye open at all times, because we had an environment there that was ripe for chaos. We had 25,000 people living in subhuman conditions. It was hot...

GRIFFIN: And hot-tempered. But he says the police themselves policed the crowds. Thugs would few. And he wants to explode the urban myths about rampant rapes, killings and beatings.

D. BANELLI: I'm the commander of the sex crimes unit. My unit handles all rapes. We had two reported attempted rapes.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Attempted.

D. BANELLI: Attempted rapes. And they were handled. And the individuals were arrested.

GRIFFIN: That's it.

D. BANELLI: And that's it.

GRIFFIN: For six days, that was it. He says the people remained calm, the police remained vigilant and the evacuees were taken away.

Now, he says, look and see who is left: the cops.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: Paula, you know what the hardest part for this for Dave and Becky Banelli? They sent their 10-year-old daughter to Atlanta before the storm to ride it out with an aunt and uncle. Dana Banelli started school at her new school in Atlanta on Tuesday. It's the first time in Dana's life that either her mother or her father didn't walk her to school. And that's been tough on them.

ZAHN: Yeah, but on the other hand, someday she'll be old enough to understand what tragedy can inspired in the best of us. Drew Griffin, thanks. That was really a great story.

We've also been looking into a story that makes a lot of people furious. But it involves a question that has to be asked. Has the government been spending too much time getting ready for a possible terrorist attack and ignoring the obvious threat posed by hurricane scenarios that had been actually rehearsed by the federal government?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: As many of you know, Sunday is September 11th, a marker that has taken on new meaning in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Just a short while ago, the man who was New York City's police commissioner on 9/11 told Lou Dobbs that this time federal, state and local governments weren't prepared.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BERNARD KERIK, FORMER NYC POLICE COMMISSIONER: It's a disaster that nobody thinks you would see. I mean, the damage, the devastation, the death, you know, but it demonstrates how important preparedness is. In a post-9/11 world, personally my opinion -- my opinion only -- I think there were many, many things that could have been done to prevent this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: And that was former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik.

As we mentioned, the Hurricane Katrina disaster raises a bunch of disturbing and controversial questions. Are emergency responders too focused on terrorism and ignoring the obvious? Here's Kelli Arena.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Katrina brought what al Qaeda repeatedly has threatened.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have any ailments, broken bones?

ARENA: A devastating blow to a major U.S. city. The results were very similar to what experts had predicted would happen if there were a major terrorist attack.

REP. JANE HARMAN (D-CA), HOMELAND SECURITY COMMITTEE: Think about it -- hundreds if not thousands killed, thousands of destroyed buildings, large cities and towns left virtually uninhabitable. An enormous public health crisis, hospitals overwhelmed, roads impassable, no communication system, so that emergency personnel could coordinate or communicate with people.

ARENA: This was the result of a storm we were warned about. Imagine if there were no warning at all. And what about all that disaster training that we've seen first responders go through? Were they just photo opportunities, or are there plans in place?

MICHAEL GREENBERGER: What we're learning is that this is all pieces of paper with writing on it, and it does not correspond to the reality of the federal government's capabilities.

ARENA: Part of the problem, experts say, is there has been more focus on preventing terror attacks than on dealing with the aftermath.

RICHARD FALKENRATH, CNN SECURITY ANALYST: And the idea behind that is that your best options are always to stop the attack before it occurs. Because once it occurs, you're in a race against time to save lives and save property.

ARENA: But there was no preventing Katrina. Four years after the September 11th attacks, both the federal and state governments seem to be grappling with many of the same problems. For example, after the Pentagon was hit, people trying to evacuate Washington, D.C. couldn't. All the major arteries out of the city were clogged.

In New Orleans, officials had time to get people out of the city, but an estimated 100,000 were still there when the hurricane hit.

RANDALL LARSEN, INSTITUTE FOR HOMELAND SECURITY: Evacuation of cities is something that's talked about a lot, but there's very little done to look at it. And this was a case where a properly executed evacuation could have saved countless lives, and unbelievable amounts of suffering.

ARENA: Experts say if there is a bright side, it's that vulnerabilities that can be exposed can be shored up. For one thing, the government did not anticipate the looting or the violence that we saw in New Orleans.

FALKENRATH: I think one of the things that the federal government will be building into its plan more in the future is preparing for civil unrest, for lawlessness. You know, we hadn't really seen unrest in the previous disasters that we had.

ARENA: The government will need to act fast. The FBI just warned its state and local partners that with all the resources devoted to the Gulf Coast, terrorists could see this as an opportunity to strike again. As of now, there is no credibility intelligence that they will.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Thank God for that. Kelli Arena reporting.

Now, another vitally important question we all have to face. We're going to try to answer it in the CNN special over the weekend. It's called "Is America Prepared?" You're going to have a couple of chances to tune in Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. So that will be your two chances, then and then again on Sunday at 7:00 p.m.

We're going to take a short break here. Our medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, has been putting together some answers to a question we've also been very concerned about: What kind of germs and dangerous chemicals are lurking in the water? Not just in New Orleans, but all over the Gulf Coast.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: I think it's a warning that bears repeating in tonight's health authorities are saying it over and over again, those holdouts who refuse to leave flooded areas are exposing themselves to a grave risk: the really bad water. Elizabeth Cohen is monitoring the increasing dangers posed by the reeking mixture. And tonight she tells us about another peril that might result even from exposures days ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Being in this muck can't be healthy for anyone, but the most vulnerable: a developing fetus.

SHANNA SWAN, REPRODUCTIVE EPIDEMIOLOGIST: I'm very concerned about those fetuses, because they are being exposed to whatever the mother is exposed to.

COHEN: It's impossible to say how many pregnant women were stuck in this water or for how long, but there's no question, this matter contains oil, viruses, bacteria and more.

STEPHEN JOHNSON, EPA ADMINISTRATOR: Our testing found that lead concentrations in the floodwater samples exceed what EPA considers safe for drinking water levels.

COHEN: A nurse at this shelter said some of the people here told her they were forced to drink the New Orleans water, because they had nothing else. And according to reproductive specialists swallowing lead or even absorbing it through the skin or inhaling water particles can cause miscarriages, developmental problems and later in life, learning disabilities.

SWAN: The fetus will have this high impact from these chemicals, much higher than the mother potentially.

COHEN: The Environmental Protection Agency tested the water, and found of all the chemicals, only lead was high. However, they did not account for what a mixture of all those chemicals might do.

SWAN: They more than add up, very often, so that the risk is far greater than can be predicted by one chemical at a time.

COHEN: Shanna Swan and others who specialize in environmental threats to unborn babies say this kind of thing has never happened before, so there's no good way to predict what will happen to the babies whose mothers spent time in the water. But experts we talked to said most will probably be fine, but it's almost certain that some will suffer adverse effects, especially since fetuses can't fight off toxins very well.

SWAN: Their protective mechanisms are not mature until sometime after birth, so that they can't handle the chemicals as well as adults.

COHEN: Of course there's nothing any mother-to-be can do if she got stuck in this, or this, or this, just wait and be part of what one scientist described to us as a big unintentional experiment: what swimming in toxic muck does to an unborn child.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COHEN: Now, it bears repeating that health experts emphasize to us that the vast majority of these unborn children will in fact be OK. But they say there's no way to predict which might suffer ill effects -- Paula.

ZAHN: So when you talk about the situation in utero, what about these kids once they're out of the womb? Are they going to be better able to fend off the effects of these bad things?

COHEN: Right. Unfortunately, whatever effects might have come from their mothers' swimming while the baby was in the womb, you can't do anything about that after they're born. If there was any damage done, it's done.

ZAHN: One of the consequences that we didn't even think about a week ago. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much.

I mentioned a little bit earlier on that President Bush called for a national day of prayer and remembrance on September 16. But we found some people who are already putting their faith into action. Our faith in values correspondent Delia Gallagher has been working on a story that I hope will inspire you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Over the last week or so we've heard so much about the heartbreak brought on by Katrina, but now I want to bring you a story of hope, and of lives just beginning. At a church in Louisiana, at this very moment, you might find a newborn baby nestled in her mother's arms. Delia Gallagher has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): First Baptist Church needed a mission. Before the storm, on some Sundays, a third of its pews were empty, but now, a new sense of purpose. This is the church of the newborns, sheltering Katrina's littlest victims.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like 18 1/2.

GALLAGHER: Symphony Spikes is named for her long, long fingers: like a pianist. She's 17 days old, born six weeks premature. Still in the hospital when her mother Sheria and brother Sincere (ph) were forced to evacuate without her.

SHERIA SPIKES, HURRICANE VICTIM: I came out with one piece of I.D. a some wet Social Security cards.

GALLAGHER: After the family was reunited, they came here to First Baptist.

SPIKES: They help you like -- when you first come here and you're scared and your nervous and you don't know what to do, they really help you. They help you get anything you need. And they support us. And if you just need a break, they help you with the children.

GALLAGHER: But now, Sharia wants to leave.

SAMANTHA CORNELIUS, HURRICANE VICTIM: On the way to evacuating, my water bag broke on the interstate.

GALLAGHER: Samantha Cornelius went into labor the day of the flood driving down the interstate with her three children trying to get out of New Orleans. She made it to a hospital, and in the dark without anesthesia, surrounded by her two sons and daughter, she gave birth to Joshua.

(on camera): You didn't get to take a shower after you gave birth?

CORNELIUS: No. They didn't have any running water.

GALLAGHER: The next day, Samantha and her family got back in her car and drove here.

Symphony Spikes has lots of godmothers. Two volunteers from Missouri offered to take her family home with them. But Sheria wants to be with her mother in New York. They've had trouble getting in touch. We offered to help.

SPIKES: Momma?

GALLAGHER: And before long, a plan.

SPIKES: I love you momma. Yeah. OK. Thank you.

Thank you, so much. Thank you.

She said, that there's somebody here who might be able to get me home, like, immediately.

CORNELIUS: I just couldn't see myself starting over again. I just can't see it.

GALLAGHER: For the Cornelius family, hope seems dim. Samantha has no money, no family, no place to go. For now, she and her children have only the comfort of this church.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And through all that loving support, perhaps a slice of hope as well.

That wraps it up for all of us here. Thanks so much for being with us tonight. We will be back same time, same place tomorrow night with a special on so many of the children so damaged by Hurricane Katrina. Good night.

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