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CNN NEWSNIGHT AARON BROWN
FEMA Director Steps Down; President Bush Visits Disaster Area; Tulane University rebuilds
Aired September 12, 2005 - 22:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: You're watching "Hurricane Katrina: State of Emergency" with Aaron Brown and Anderson Cooper.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening again, Anderson.
Tonight is not far from a bridge that might have been for a time of passage between hope and terror, might have been, but was not. He'll tell you that story coming right up.
But we begin, however, not with a bridge, but a levee, water spilling over a levee along the London Avenue canal that runs through New Orleans. According to state officials, it was not a leak. This has been the subject of some contention for the last hour-and-a-half or so. Rather, it is water being pumped out of the canal that's simply backed up a bit.
Also today, the president's head of FEMA stepped down. Mike Brown had already been pulled from the hurricane duty, sent back to Washington and a desk job. He said what you say in these situations. He was grateful to the president he served and quit because he didn't want to be a distraction.
The president, meantime, paid another visit to the disaster area. It was his third, this time viewing the devastation from the ground, the first time the president has done that in the New Orleans.
And the death toll, as you knew it would, continues to rise. The real question is where it will end, 426 known fatalities now, about half in the state of Louisiana, virtually all the others in Mississippi, the general in charge saying a clearer picture of the final number may emerge within the next 72 hours. And, once again, videotaping of the recovery operations has become an issue. We will report on that in a moment as well.
As we go along tonight, the enormity of looking forward, the necessity of looking back, that and the searing pictures of right now that aren't going away.
We begin with Anderson Cooper in Algiers, across the river from New Orleans.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, Aaron.
Good evening, everyone. Thanks very much for joining us on this special edition of NEWSNIGHT.
We're in Algiers, because, behind us, there is a bridge. And that bridge was a sign of hope for so many here during the worst part of this disaster. Hundreds of people tried to cross that bridge, tried to get to here in Gretna and Algiers, places that had already been evacuated. Stopping them was a small local police force from Gretna.
And what exactly happened on the bridge is the point of what we're trying to find out. First, some firsthand accounts from people who were on the bridge. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LORRIE BETH SLONSKY, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: What we were told by the deputies was that -- excuse me -- is that they were not going to allow another New Orleans and they weren't going to allow a Superdome to go into their side of the bridge, Gretna.
LARRY BRADSHAW, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: Yesterday, the chief was quoted as saying, if we let these people -- quote unquote -- in, our city would look like New Orleans, burned, looted and pillaged.
SLONSKY: So, to us, that reeks of absolute racism, since our group that was trying to cross over was women, children, predominantly African-American. I would say, out of 100 people, you could count three white folks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, that is the perspective of some of the people who tried to use that bridge to get across here to the area around Gretna. Earlier, I also spoke to the chief of the police of Gretna, who has a very different perspective. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHIEF ARTHUR LAWSON, GRETA, LA POLICE DEPARTMENT: We had people being told to come over here, that we were going to have buses, we were going to have food, we were going to have water, and we were going to have shelter. And we had none. Our people had left. Our city was locked down and secured.
All of a sudden, on the Tuesday evening, we had thousands of people at our doorstep that had ventured over to our city. We did not have the wherewithal to maintain them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: We are really going to try to find, in the next couple days, exactly what happened on that bridge. The chief has said that he has no information about shots that were fired. He also denies that any officer from his police force took water and took food from some of these people who decided to camp out on the bridge and wait it out. They say that's exactly what happened. And they say it was a Gretna officer who did it. We are going to try to get to the bottom of this, Aaron.
BROWN: Where did they expect them to go?
COOPER: Well, the -- what's -- I mean, it's just -- again, it's this thing of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.
First of all, the New Orleans police had told these people, hundreds of people, to cross the bridge. They promised them. They said they looked them in the eye and promised them there would be buses on this side. The Gretna police officers, frankly, didn't really care where they went. They just didn't want them in Gretna, because they say their job was to protect the people and the property of Gretna. So, they didn't really care much where they went.
BROWN: That is an amazing story. Anderson, we will be right back to you in a couple of minutes here.
BROWN: The floodwaters have gone down now around St. Rita's Nursing Home, which, as you know, is just outside New Orleans. But the questions, how did it happen that more than 30 people died there? Was it neglect? If so, by whom? Were they simply trapped or were they left behind?
Here's CNN's Drew Griffin.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With all the victims now removed, what happened inside this still waterlogged nursing home is the center of a possible criminal investigation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are very close to the completion. And we will make an announcement in the next 24 to 48 hours what is happening on that case.
GRIFFIN: The Louisiana attorney general's office is trying to determine if St. Rita's owners violated state licensing laws, which would have required this nursing home to be evacuated or have a plan well ahead of Katrina's arrival. That is not what happened, according to Tammy Daigle (ph). She was a nurse at St. Rita's and on duty Saturday before the storm.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Several family member were calling and asking if we were -- if they were planning on evacuating. And one of the other nurses just picked up the phone and told them, no, we're not going anywhere.
GRIFFIN: A senior nursing assistant said Donya Augustus (ph) told a Pittsburgh television station she was at St. Rita's Sunday afternoon and said the owners finally realized, they did need to evacuate, but she says there were too few boats to get everybody out. She tells a harrowing tale of how the owners waited until it was too late.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What really happened was, when the water started coming up, we was told to take the patients, put them on their bed. The water came up within five minutes. The mattresses started floating up. And that was the only thing that we could hold on to with the patients.
GRIFFIN: Augustus says she and her patients ended up sheltering in a courthouse until they were rescued. What is hampering the investigation is that the state can't find the nursing home's owners. The attorney general's office Friday asked Sal Mangano Sr. and his wife to make contact. And, on Sunday, this man says he saw Sal Mangano Jr., the owner's son, at a Wal-Mart in Natchez, Mississippi.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She said, you all got out all right and everything? And then, again, I got angry, because I wanted to tell her, yes, we got out all right, better than the ones you left behind.
GRIFFIN: Vincent says Sal Mangano Jr. was one of the nursing home's operators in 1988, when his father was a resident. He said, back then, another hurricane was threatening to strike New Orleans. And he says St. Rita's decided then not to evacuate.
(on camera): And they didn't evacuate?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Didn't evacuate, said they weren't going to and didn't do it. Of course, it turned out OK because the storm turned. But, this time, it didn't.
GRIFFIN: You were mad that time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, but, ironically, not as mad as I am now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the people that did stay behind.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Autopsies will soon determine how the 34 people died here and whether they were patients, staff or both. What nurse Tammy Daigle wants to know is why.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were sick. They were infirm. They were -- but they deserved to live. They did not deserve to drown and not know what happened to them.
GRIFFIN: Aaron, this afternoon -- I should say this evening, an attorney who says he represents the owners of St. Rita's contacted CNN and told us on the record that he has, indeed, contacted the attorney general's office of the state of Louisiana. He wouldn't comment further to us, but did say the story that his clients are telling is dramatically different than the one being portrayed in this report. He would not go on the record further.
BROWN: Well, it usually is dramatically different.
I'm curious. Did the -- did the parish police or whatever the law enforcement jurisdiction, they knew they had this nursing home there. Did they make any specific effort to get the people out of there?
GRIFFIN: According to parish officials, they did call the nursing home. They asked if there was any help needed. They had some buses if there was needed to be an evacuation.
And according to these nurses, St. Rita's management decided that, indeed, they had enough to weather out the storm and didn't want to evacuate.
BROWN: Do we know when that call was made, what day that call was made?
GRIFFIN: I don't have specifics on that. I was in the parish today, but I don't have specifics on that. Captain Mike Nelson (ph) is the PIO down there. I will try to track that down for you, Aaron.
BROWN: Thank you. And we will keep track of that one, too. That's two tonight.
There's an ongoing dispute, as you're probably aware, over what reporters can and cannot videotape. FEMA originally said we'd be prohibited from shooting the recovery of bodies. Now, in truth, recovery of bodies is not exactly something any of us likes, but it's part of this story. And, in a free country, government can't make that sort of rule, at least according to a court who heard CNN's lawsuit the other day. Not everyone apparently got the word, which has a way of making everyone's nasty work down there a whole lot harder.
Here's CNN's Dan Lothian.
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN BOSTON BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): There is so much destruction in St. Bernard Parish, every street, every corner, almost too difficult to comprehend.
(on camera): Last week, you couldn't walk down this street in St. Bernard Parish. It was flooded. Now the water has receded and recovery teams are finding more bodies.
(voice-over): We came across three bodies, bodies officials did not want us to see.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Vacate the area, please. Sir, sir, you can't be here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I won't. I'm not going to. Please don't.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (OFF-MIKE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, yes. I was told no one could be here.
LOTHIAN (on camera): Well, would you like to talk to our lawyer? You can talk to our lawyer here in Atlanta.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's OK.
LOTHIAN: Would you like to talk to our lawyer?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, I was told you guys are not allowed to be here.
LOTHIAN: We have a lawsuit that says that we can be here. You're defying a federal -- a federal judge's order by trying to kick us out of here. It's right here.
(voice-over): Despite a legal document allowing CNN to shoot at will, officials kept blocking our view.
(on camera): They've moved two Humvees into our view, so that we cannot see them moving the body into the truck. And they've also put sort of a wall of military and what appears to be coroner types to block our view of the body. Right now, we cannot see what's going on. We are blocked. We're prevented from seeing it.
LOTHIAN: After the federal judge voiced his concerns and after CNN contacted officials in Washington, the Pentagon sent word reiterating again down to the troops here in the field that they should not block the path of reporters.
Again, Aaron, I want to point out that CNN is not simply just trying to go out there and get gruesome shots of bodies, but simply trying to document all aspects of this tragic story.
BROWN: Dan, we lost just about the first paragraph of what you were trying to say there, because we had a little audio problem. You want to repeat it for us?
LOTHIAN: What I was saying is that we did contact the judge, the federal judge. And he did voice his concerns. And we also contacted officials in Washington. We then heard from the Pentagon, the Pentagon then reiterating down to the troops here in the field to let them know that they should not block the path of reporters.
BROWN: Dan, thank you. That sort of work is not -- Anderson, is not fun for anyone to do. And there's a whole lot of tension when it -- when it happens.
COOPER: Yes, there is. It happened to me a couple days ago, earlier in the week. We were out in a boat. And there was a person -- I try not to refer to them as bodies. There was a person who was dead on the top of a car that was floating in water.
And some search-and-rescue people from a local nearby parish said, don't photograph that person. And we basically waited. And they left. And we did from a distance and a respectful distance, not showing any details, nothing that any family member who was at home, you know, because, God forbid, we don't want some family member seeing their loved one on television like this.
But, I will say, this -- as Dan said, this is not some ghoulish pursuit that is, you know, we just want to get pictures of dead people. This is reality. These people have not had dignity for two weeks now. And so, it's a little bit artificial for people to be saying that they are trying to restore the dignity to these people by not allowing their pictures to be taken, because, frankly, if restoring their dignity was the primary, paramount concern, you might make the argument that they would have been picked up and not had their bodies tied to stop signs and lampposts for the last two weeks, while rescuers repeatedly went by them, instead of picking up their bodies, Aaron.
BROWN: A point well made. It is a tension that's likely to go on. Everybody is tired down there. Everybody is a bit on edge. And this is just one of those uncomfortable moments for everyone involved on both sides -- Anderson, back to you in a moment.
In a moment, FEMA Director Michael Brown falls on his sword, as they say. Will others follow?
But, first, almost a quarter past the hour, some of the other news of what turned into a very busy day, Christi Paul with us tonight from Atlanta.
Good evening, Ms. Paul.
CHRISTI PAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening to you, Aaron.
Large parts of Los Angeles were without power for more than an hour today, after workers cut the wrong line. About 700 people were affected by the outage, with some trapped in elevators.
And Chief justice nominee John Roberts has said he'll approach every case with an open mind. He's told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he has no platform and no agenda.
Also, two former executives of Westar Energy have been found guilty of stealing millions of dollars from the company, the largest electric utility in Kansas, by the way. Prosecutors said David Wittig and Douglas Lake paid themselves extravagant salaries and benefits and hid the details from the company's board. Both deny those charges.
And a sad story you now. A baby born to a mother who was brain- dead has died at age five weeks. Susan Torres -- you remember her -- who was born 13 weeks premature, died of heart failure at Children's National Medical Center in Washington following emergency surgery. Susan's mother -- you see her there -- had been kept on life support for three months to allow her to be born.
And a spokeswoman, Aaron, tells us that the family, of course, is just devastated by this.
BROWN: That is a heartbreaking story. We told that story several times on the program. And I think we were all rooting for that little kid to make it. PAUL: Absolutely.
BROWN: And we knew it was going to be tough. And it's a sad ending.
Thank you. We will check with you in a half-an-hour.
BROWN: That one caught us all by surprise today.
Much more to come on the program tonight, starting with the hurricane and the simplest hard question there is. What went wrong?
BROWN (voice-over): If they knew it was coming, if they knew it would be bad, how did we get from this to this?
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And, Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job.
BROWN: And to this. From federal to local, from top to bottom, the emerging picture of how governments failed people.
Also tonight, the school was flooded. Now some parents say they're being soaked. We will ask the president of Tulane University why he's canceling classes, but keeping the tuition.
Later, it is a question of race.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like I'm a slave, man.
BROWN: In a very painful place, the other pain.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, this is just like the booking station?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right, same thing as in a police station.
BROWN: And when disaster strikes, people improvise.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hell of a jail. I mean, it really worked good, beautiful. It couldn't be better.
BROWN: It used to be a bus station.
From New York and New Orleans, this is NEWSNIGHT: "State of Emergency."
BROWN: As we told you at the top, all night long, there's been some confusion about whether there's been a new levee break in New Orleans.
CNN's Deborah Feyerick has literally been working on this since about dinnertime tonight and joins us at the status desk with more on that. DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, we can put a couple of people's minds at rest. This is what we're finding out. The levee is sound.
There is no breach. And this is coming directly to us from the Army Corps of Engineers. In order to understand what may have happened, you have to understand how it works. There are pumps that are taking the water from the flooded areas and putting the water into the canal. From the canal, the water is being moved into the lake.
Well, what happened is, today, engineers turned on a new pump. Water was being sucked into the canal faster than it could be moved into the lake. And so, you got a backflow. Water started coming out over the top. That's what caused what appeared to be a flooding. I spoke to a number of people on the ground, a couple of law enforcement agents as well. And they said that the radios were crackling with news that there was possibly a breach at the levee.
But we're told now from the Army Corps of Engineers and from other people, officials with the state, that there is no breach. The levee is secure -- Aaron.
BROWN: Deb, thank you. This has gone back and forth a bit. We will see if and where it goes next -- Deb Feyerick at the status desk.
More now on the change at the top at FEMA, the departure of Michael Brown, who three days ago was yanked off the hurricane duty in a storm of headlines about his lack of experience and how the whole thing played out. He's being replaced now by David Paulison, a man who has some considerable experience in emergency management. You may remember him from an odd little moment a few years back. He was the guy advising Americans to prepare for a terrorist attack, in part, by stocking up on duct tape.
Mr. David Paulison's a firefighter, Anderson, as you know. And he actually has quite a lot of experience in this. It will be interesting to hear what he has to say tomorrow.
The president, when he heard about it, seemed a bit surprised that Mike Brown resigned today.
COOPER: Well, also, the president commented last week that Mikey was doing a heck of a job. It will be interesting to see what the president has to say in the next couple days, Aaron.
When something goes wrong, badly wrong, the question now is always this. What did they know and when did they know it? Lots of things went very badly wrong before, during and after the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina and the disastrous flooding which followed the storm. We are talking at the state, the local and the federal level.
CNN's Tom Foreman reports on the people in charge, who knew what was coming and they knew it before Katrina struck.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, federal, state and local officials, despite claims to the contrary, knew everything that was coming. The massive storm surge, the failing levees, the stranded survivors, the collapse of roads, bridges, electricity and phones. They had planned for and trained for all of it. And now with FEMA Director Michael Brown bowing out, accusations against others at all levels are rising like flood waters.
SEN. BILL FRIST, (R) MAJORITY LEADER: One of the problems that we're facing at the federal level and at the state level and at the local level -- and again, not casting blame anywhere, is a total system-wide failure, because people making decisions hesitated.
FOREMAN: The head of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA, Michael Chertoff, has insisted for two weeks he had no warning of how bad Katrina could be.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Even as everybody thought New Orleans had dodged the bullet Tuesday morning, the levee was not only being flooded, which is I think what most people always assumed would happen, but it actually broke. So I think that was -- did catch people by surprise.
FOREMAN: But it turns out the National Weather Service issued a detailed message a day before the strike, saying buildings would be leveled, high-rises crippled and most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps longer.
In addition, and again contrary to Chertoff's claims, FEMA was most certainly warned that the levees could collapse, although even well after the levees failed, FEMA officials continued to downplay how bad the flooding might be.
One said, I don't want to alarm everybody that, you know, New Orleans is filling up like a soup bowl. That's just not happening. But in fact, it was happening.
GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: What we need to do is not distract, not play the blame game, because everybody is at risk here.
FOREMAN: Governor Kathleen Blanco continues to be in the middle of a storm over when, where and how she requested military help. The White House has suggested the governor failed to call early enough for the assets she needed.
The governor's office says before, during and after the storm hit, Blanco's message to the president was consistent.
DENISE BOTTCHER, GOVERNOR'S PRESS SECRETARY: And she said, We need your help. We need everything you've got.
The governor genuinely felt at that time she had asked for help.
RAY NAGIN, MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: What the state was doing, I don't freaking know, but I tell you, I tell you, I am pissed... FOREMAN: Even New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, a folk hero to some, is under intensifying fire. His city's own plan called for mobilizing buses and evacuating the poor and he did not get it done. He says he could not find drivers, but Amtrak now says it offered help and was turned down, so a train with 900 seats rolled away empty a day-and-a- half before the storm hit.
(on camera): All of these accusations and the public outrage they carry clearly make federal, state and local leaders nervous. There are no indications any more heads are going to roll right now, but they all know that's right now.
BUSH: Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job.
FOREMAN (voice-over): A few days ago Michael Brown's job publicly appeared to be safe, but with hundreds of thousands of Americans still out of their homes and jobs, there may be room yet for a few more in the unemployment line.
Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: Well, just ahead tonight, another storm is lurking out there in the Atlantic, Ophelia. We will take a look at how strong Ophelia is now.
And back to school, just not their school, the college students who have ended up many miles from the university they enrolled at.
This is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT: "State of Emergency." Stay with us.
BROWN: Well, we're still very much in the hurricane season. Ophelia, the season's latest storm, can't seem to make up her mind what she wants to be, so far, a hurricane three times, a tropical storm, four.
So, where is she tonight? CNN's Jacqui Jeras joins us from Atlanta -- Jacqui.
JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Aaron.
Ophelia is actually moving now. It's just been sitting there for almost a week. And it's finally making its move toward the coastline. And we have a lot more confidence now in where that storm is going. And we do think it is going to be land -- making landfall along the North Carolina coastline probably in the next day to two days because of that turn.
However, some dry air has also been moving into the storm. And that has help it weaken a little bit today. And that's why we're down to tropical storm status and winds are around 70 miles per hour. We had been getting some of the outer bands hitting North and South Carolina throughout much of the afternoon and evening hours, some of these bringing in some very heavy downpours. In fact, over the next day to two days, we are going to be seeing anywhere between four and six inches of rainfall.
And we think parts around Wilmington, extending on up towards Morehead City, will be seeing some of the heaviest of showers and thunderstorms. There are tropical storm warnings which are up, because those strong winds should be moving, we think, any time, in fact, gusts already 25 to 35 miles per hour. That's from Edisto Beach, extending on up towards Cape Lookout, also, a hurricane watch across the same area, which means hurricane conditions are possible within 36 hours.
Tropical storm force winds go out 160 miles from the center of the storm and the location of the storm is just about 160 miles away from land now. So we're going to watch those winds increase throughout much of the night, and you'll really feel the difference when you wake up tomorrow morning.
Forecast track is having it turning slightly up to the north. We think it will slowly do that over the next 24 hours. Best chance at landfall, we think, will be along the North Carolina coastline sometime midday on Wednesday. Still a little bit of margin of error. We could see some stuff move in into South Carolina, but it looks like some of the models have been picking this up and bringing it out to sea and not affecting land. They're not doing that any longer, so we're having a lot more confidence in our forecast here tonight. Aaron, back to you.
BROWN: Jacqui, thank you. It's strange how Katrina changes how nasty you view one of these. This is still plenty nasty enough, 70- mile-an-hour winds. Thank you very much.
Tens of thousands of college students found their school year washed away by the floods of Katrina. They scattered around the country, in some cases transferring to schools where their classrooms aren't under water. But hundreds of students from New Orleans found open doors and a surprisingly warm welcome just a few miles up river, in Baton Rouge.
JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): They're welcoming some unfamiliar faces at Southern University in Baton Rouge. Some 750 of them so far. Thousands of students displaced from colleges in New Orleans have been fanning out across country, looking for places to spend the fall semester. And maybe longer.
MEGAN PERRY, DISPLACED STUDENT: I thought it was going to be like last time, just a quick vacation, to be quite honest.
FREED: Megan Perry was supposed to attend Dillard University this fall, but Dillard is under water.
PERRY: It's very disappointing and frustrating, because I had everything already planned. I had all my stuff. I bought all my books.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I still have water in my house.
FREED: The influx of new faces had the student government worried about how everybody would fit in. How would you characterize their mood? I mean, are they -- is there anger, is there frustration? Are they feeling lost, stumbling around?
JUSTIN MCCORKLE, STUDENT GOVERNMENT PRESIDENT: Shockingly, they're surprisingly comfortable, surprisingly comfortable. they're surprisingly comfortable. Actually, just blending in. Like if you just looked around the campus, you would never know who were the transfer students.
FREED (on camera): Have you slept much in the last two weeks?
DR. EDWARD JACKSON, SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY CHANCELLOR: I have -- it's gotten a little better as we've gone on, but it's been tough.
FREED (voice over): Southern's chancellor says one thing hurricane transfer student won't have to worry about here is tuition, at least not for now.
JACKSON: If a student has paid tuition at a university in New Orleans, they will not have to pay tuition again.
FREED: The chancellor explains the school will take students at their word if they say they've paid up at another college. And he says the schools will just have to figure it out later. Jonathan Freed, CNN, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
BROWN: So now imagine you paid $20,000 or so for your child to go to Tulane University, only to find the school is shut down till spring. Not good that. Now imagine you're the president of Tulane University trying to keep a staff of professors and the like together through an unprecedented disaster, which also takes money. Put those two things together and you have some anger, a lot of frustration, and, as it turns out, Scott Cowen's job. He's the president of Tulane and joins us tonight. Have you heard from angry parents about not getting their money back?
SCOTT COWEN, PRESIDENT, TULANE UNIVERSITY: For the most part, we haven't, Aaron. There have been some parents who have posted messages on blogs or e-mailed other people about that, but the vast majority of people have either waited to see what our statement would be about tuition, which came out today on our website, Tulane.edu, or really allowing us to focus on some higher priority items we have right now as an institution.
BROWN: I mean it's easy for me to say, since I'm not a parent of a student at Tulane, that it seems like we ought to give you time to sort this out. It's not my $20,000. What are you going to do?
COWEN: Well we published the statement today, and I refer all parents and interested people to it. And I think when they read the statement, they will see that we took a fair and equitable approach around the tuition issue, which is a very complex one. In some cases, Aaron, the tuition will be retained by Tulane University. In other cases, it will not be. Let me give you two examples of each just to clarify the situation.
There are many institutions around the country that accepted our students at no tuition to the host institution, with the understanding that that student would pay Tulane University its fall tuition. In that case, we believe, that it's in the best interest of everybody for Tulane University to keep that tuition. Another example is institutions around the country that collected Tulane tuition and is going to remit it back to Tulane. In those cases, we believe it's fair and equitable to the host institution and to the student and Tulane that the tuition stay with us. No student will ever have to pay more than they ultimately would have had to pay at Tulane anyway. And this was the intent of the host institution.
Now, let me give you two examples where they will get refunds. If a student set out this semester and took no courses anywhere and paid their Tulane tuition that tuition will be credited to the spring tuition. Or in as in another example if a Tulane student decided to withdraw, they would get a full refund of all their tuition for this semester.
BROWN: Let me just ask you one or two quick things. Is the university financially in trouble at all because of this?
COWEN: Any institution, whether it's a university or company, will be negatively affected by this. Our longtime viability is strong and healthy and we will be OK. But I think it would be naive of anyone to believe that we could come through such a devastating tragedy as we have, and not be financially hurt.
BROWN: And just other thing. There's a whole staff at universities, professors, and people who clean offices and everything, I suppose, in between. Are there they going to get paid?
COWEN: They are on the payroll and we've been trying to pay them every month. Because what makes Tulane University a great institution is its people, its faculty, its staff and its students. So one of the things we're doing in these extraordinary times is making sure we can keep our core faculty staff and students together to continue the excellence that Tulane University has become known for all these years.
BROWN: Are they scattered all over the place?
COWEN: They are. One of the things, Aaron, people haven't realized is that a week ago, I was basically on the campus in New Orleans. We had 6,000 employees that were scattered all over the United States. We had no communication. We now had no information technology systems whatsoever. So within one week, we have rebuilt the entire infrastructure of the university with 30 people working out of a hotel room in Houston. BROWN: Well it's been, I know it's been really difficult. And I'm sure if I was one of the parents, I'd be patient, but I'm not sure about my neighbor. Thank you. Good luck.
COWEN: Thank you very much.
BROWN: Scott Cowen, the president of Tulane University.
Still to come tonight, same story, very different conclusions. Why black and white Americans saw the response to Katrina differently.
And Sing-Sing it isn't. The bus station in New Orleans is now the local jail. This is a Special Edition of NEWSNIGHT: State of Emergency.
COOPER: As much as natural disasters recognize little beyond the laws of nature, the same cannot be said about their impact. It differs. The wealthy have cars in which to evacuate, they have family to go to, insurance to rebuild. They have lawyers to sue and lawmakers to take their calls.
The poor, of course, by and large, do not. Because the poor in New Orleans, by and large, are black, and race trumps class, it changes the picture. Does and has. Here's CNN's Candy Crowley.
MACHON SIMS, PHARMACEUTICAL SALESMAN: Bless the food that we're about to have today, and thank you for such a special day. We also want to take the time out to ask you to continue to cover those people off the Gulf Coast who have suffered such a tremendous tragedy.
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's a pharmaceutical salesman, she's a real estate broker. Both grew up poor. They are now suburban middle class. And they don't want to believe what they can't help thinking.
CHRISTY SIMS, REAL ESTATE BROKER: In every African-American's mind in this country, it's in the back of our heads, you think they didn't come in because we were black? I'm hoping that's not the case.
CROWLEY: In the new poll from CNN/"USA TODAY"/Gallup, 60 percent of black Americans and only 12 percent of whites said they think rescue was slow to arrive in New Orleans because most of those needing help were black.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm black, you know?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That don't make me any better than you or you any better than me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're right about that, my brother.
CROWLEY: From who is to blame, to the role of looters, black and white America often view Katrina's aftermath through the lens differently.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like I'm a slave, man. I feel like back in time (ph).
C. SIMS: I believe that this will go down, the way that they were treated in the Superdome and the Convention Center, I think that this will be included in the black history books.
CROWLEY: Christy and Machon Sims watched it from their home in suburban Atlanta. But the horror of New Orleans shook them in their souls.
C. SIMS: I know my history. It hurt me just as much to see those masses of people suffering, beautiful black women and men laying dying on the streets -- in the streets of New Orleans, being robbed of their essential just dignity to die, you know, with dignity. That's how I compare that to slavery.
CROWLEY: Roughly equal numbers of blacks and whites said they were shocked and saddened by the response to Katrina, but more blacks were angry, 76 percent, versus 60 percent of whites.
In the Sims household, some of that anger is toward the media. Too much emphasis on the shooting, not enough nuance on the looting.
M. SIMS: Now, obviously, I don't condone people stealing. I'm not trying to say that at all. But if someone was actually taking food out of a store that was not occupied, a store that was not going to be saved, in order to survive, you know, is it a bad thing? Maybe those people who took food in some situations were somebody else's answer to live.
CROWLEY: Fifty percent of whites think the looters were mostly criminals; 16 percent of blacks felt that way. Whites tend to blame the debacle of New Orleans on the mayor and residents. Blacks tend to blame Bush, and 72 percent of them say Bush doesn't care about them.
In the Sims household, they think now is not the time for blaming.
M. SIMS: We pray that you mend our hearts, and we pray that this world comes together and give every individual who suffered from that tragedy something to go forth with and make their life better.
CROWLEY: Candy Crowley, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: Two very different perspectives on one problem that still continues.
Ahead on the program tonight, doing hard time on a hard floor in the aftermath of Katrina. What to do with the prisoners. A unique solution. This is a special edition of "NEWSNIGHT: State of Emergency."
BROWN: Coming up, a bus station where you can get a ticket. But it's a ticket to stay, not a ticket to ride.
But first, about quarter until the hour, time once again to check on some of the other news of the day. Christi Paul in tonight from Atlanta -- Christi.
PAUL: Good to see you, Aaron, thank you.
Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari visited Tal Afar today, following three days of fighting between Iraqi insurgents and Iraqi and U.S. forces. Now, the northern town has faced a rising insurgency in recent months. And Operation Restore Rights was launched two weeks ago to try and drive those insurgents out.
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas raised the Palestinian flag at the border crossing between Gaza and Egypt today, the day after Israeli troops left. Now, that flag went up during evening prayers, and it marks the end of 38 years of Israeli occupation.
Another night of violence in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Protestants threw homemade bombs at police and blocked traffic on the city's main road. They're angry because of a parade for the Orange Order was rerouted to avoid a Catholic neighborhood. And gas prices still high in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The national average is $3.01 a gallon, that's up 38 cents since the storm disrupted supply. Industry analysts are expecting prices to drop again soon, but I'm sorry to say, not to pre-hurricane prices. Aaron, back to you.
BROWN: Probably not in our lifetime. Thank you, Ms. Paul.
Coming up next on the program, what do you do with the inmates when you can't keep them in the prisons? CNN's 24-hour coverage of the state of emergency continues after the break.
COOPER: The flood waters of Hurricane Katrina left thousands of people with no place to stay. Some of them needed a very special kind of place to stay, a place to keep them off the streets and behind bars. CNN's Ed Lavandera reports on the journey from bus station to jail.
ED LAVENDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): As chaos fell over New Orleans and flood waters filled the first floor of the city jail, police became increasingly desperate for ways to get the looters off the street.
BURL CAIN, PRISON WARD: That's why we had to have a jail. There was no place to put these people. So the jail became a passion for us, that it was essential that people could be safe.
LAVENDERA: Burl Cain usually works as the warden of a maximum security prison. He was brought in to help overwhelmed local officials solve the problem. Three days after the hurricane struck, Warden Cain and others walked into this Greyhound bus station, and where buses once pulled in and out, they saw a new jail.
CAIN: Helluva jail. I mean it really worked good. Beautiful. Couldn't be better.
LAVENDERA: Of course, the prisoners aren't enjoying the experience. There aren't beds, so they use shoes and water bottles as pillows.
MAC MCKASKLE, PRISONER: I'm 51 years old and my old bones just not tolerating sleeping on a concrete floor too good for two nights in a row.
LAVENDERA: The warden and his team took 24 hours to turn the station into a primitive justice system. They put up chain link fences and razor wire, added portable bathrooms to create jail cells. Captain Chad Darbonne makes the inside of the bus station work like a police station.
(on camera): So this is like the booking station?
CHAD DARBONNE, JAIL CAPTAIN: Right. Same thing as in a police station. We stand them up right here against this wall, and then we take their photograph.
LAVENDERA: Hold on. Wait a second. You got a booking station already?
DARBONNE: Booking station.
DARBONNE: Mugshot, finger prints, everything.
LAVENDERA (voice over): The district attorney's office has moved into the bus station's gift shop. The jail medic works from the ticket taker. And an Amtrak locomotive powers the building. This makeshift jail has been open more than a week. About 275 people have been held here so far. The majority were arrested for looting, but there's been a rapist and a murder. But people here will never forget the first inmate.
DARBONNE: We opened for business Saturday. Our first customer was an unfortunate fella, he thought the station was open. Well, he drove up in a stolen car.
CAIN: We gave him a ticket right on into here. He got a ticket, all right, but it wasn't where he wanted to go.
LAVENDERA: Cain is passionate about this jail.
CAIN: This is the only jail in this whole area. And so we had a jail. Without the vision to have the jail you can't have reconstruction. So it's a wonderful thing. LAVENDERA: Burl Cain has spent 24 years working as a Louisiana prison warden. Amid the destruction and confusion here, that's what makes his jailhouse, built out of a bus station, look like a masterpiece.
LAVENDERA (on camera): Now, the idea is not to keep those prisoners there for very long. They hope after 24 to 48 hours they can move on to other prisons in the state of Louisiana. They acknowledge that there will probably be delays in proceedings and court hearings and that sort of thing. But they say unusual times call for unusual ideas, and they think that having a jail here -- these prison officials think that it's the first step toward make making the city normal again -- Anderson.
COOPER: Ed, it's surreal every time I drive by that Greyhound bus station, I see those prisoners out there. Never thought I'd see something like that. Thanks very much. An ingenious solution to a very difficult problem, I suppose.
Coming up, Beth Nissen reports on FEMA and Mississippi. We've focused a lot on FEMA in Louisiana. But how are they doing in Mississippi? We'll look into it.
CAIN: FEMA Director Michael Brown became the first political casualty of Katrina today. But criticism of the organization has percolated all the way down to street level. NEWSNIGHT has sent a team to the hurricane zone to report a series of stories on the complicated road to recovery. The question tonight, just where is FEMA? On the Gulf Coast, NEWSNIGHT's Beth Nissen.
BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): You hear it from dazed survivors all along the ruined Mississippi coast. You hear it in Pearlington.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The need would be to get ahold of FEMA.
NISSEN: You hear it in Biloxi.
SHEILA MILLER, STORM VICTIM: And nobody ain't showed up here from FEMA to let us know what they're going to reimburse us, what they're going to do or nothing.
NISSEN: You hear it in Pascagoula.
SCOTT FERGUSON, PASCAGOULA POLICE: That's one of the biggest complaints you hear on the streets from people, where is FEMA? Why aren't they helping us?
NISSEN: The Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, is here. Has been working hard in southern Mississippi since before the storm. ERIC GENTRY, FEMA: I think a lot of people don't understand that a lot of the help that they saw early on came in as part of the FEMA umbrella.
NISSEN: Like these 18 wheelers, sent by FEMA with tons of bottled water, ice, and emergency food to Pascagoula, Mississippi, early last week, along with thousands of FEMA recruited, FEMA trained, FEMA paid workers.
GENTRY: They were there early on. It's just, maybe they weren't all wearing FEMA shirts.
NISSEN: This FEMA team was as it worked it's way door to door, or rubble to rubble, in Pearlington.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're firefighters from Michigan that are trying to help FEMA out by giving everybody the information, so that we can get them registered. Do you have food and water.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any medicines you need, anything like that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
BRIAN MICHELLI, FIREFIGHTER AND FEMA VOLUNTEER: Come in and help out there, but you know some that covered 90 thousand square miles. When you're going door to door, it's just taking time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well you can't expect them to get here just like that with the amount of damage everywhere.
NISSEN: Everywhere in small coastal towns like Pearlington, in urban neighborhoods like Biloxi --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's totally destroyed. This is the bedroom. FEMA hasn't been here to look at all the stuff --
NISSEN: FEMA is getting here too. In the house behind hers, a lone weary FEMA housing inspector was assessing damage. Sheila Miller was happy for her neighbor, but still frustrated, upset.
MILLER: Overwhelming, is what they say. If they had to live out here day to day to survive, then they would understand.
FERGUSON: I realize that they're doing the best they can, but, you know, they need to understand that these people are desperate. They need help. All along this Gulf Coast everybody needs help.
NISSEN: Beth Nissen, CNN, on the Gulf Coast.
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