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Hurricane Katrina: State of Emergency

Aired September 12, 2005 - 23:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: You're watching "Hurricane Katrina, State of Emergency" with Anderson Cooper and Aaron Brown.
AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: You have to -- I'll start, I'm happy. To you at the top of the hour, welcome those of you just joining us for the second hour of "State of Emergency." I am Aaron Brown in New York.

Anderson is in the New Orleans area tonight. Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, Aaron. I'm in Algiers, Louisiana on the west bank of the Mississippi across from New Orleans. A lot of ground to cover tonight on this second hour. Stories of happy reunions and the recovery effort, a lot ahead, but we begin tonight with stories making news at this moment.

The man President Bush said was doing, quote, "a heck of a job" as FEMA director just 10 days ago is out of work tonight. Michael Brown resigned today. Brown who, as the former commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association, knew more about horses than hurricanes, was heavily criticized for his Katrina relief effort.

His replacement? David Paulison is now acting director. Paulison is a former chief for the Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Department and has been with FEMA for three years.

The death toll from Katrina tonight now stands at 512. Two hundred eighteen of the victims were from Mississippi, 279 from Louisiana. Unfortunately, those numbers are expected to rise as more bodies are recovered.

Also tonight, business owners were allowed into the French Quarter and the downtown area for the first time today but only to collect records and whatever else they may need to help them get up and running again. No one is supposed to stay the night.

Off the Carolinas, we are keeping a close eye right now on Ophelia, right now a tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch are in effect. Ophelia was downgraded from hurricane to tropical storm earlier today but it still poses a threat, with winds of nearly 75 miles per hour.

Two weeks ago, 80 percent of New Orleans was under water. Tonight the number has been cut in half. Forty percent of the city is submerged. That is significant progress to report tonight but as the water level goes down, recovery crews assigned a necessary but grim task know what now awaits them.

CNN's Gary Tuchman reports.


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The unpleasantness of this responsibility cannot be overestimated. These are the people whose stated task is to find the dead. They come from all over, they work for a variety of agencies.

David Johnson is with the Riverside, California Search and Urban Rescue Team.

DAVID JOHNSON, RIVERSIDE SEARCH AND URBAN RESCUE TEAM: If we do come across a body we're going to identify their location with GPS location coordinates and basically securing them to something fixed to where they can be relocated later.

TUCHMAN: Other rescuers will do that. They travel in floodwaters that have already gotten many of them sick, fearing what they will find in much of their stops.

Like this one, a nursing home in the center of New Orleans that has been in business since 1859. 2005 has brought it sickening tragedy. Seven bodies are found by the recovery workers this weekend. They are carried silently by these men, who can only wonder why and how the victims got trapped.

The scene is equally grim in the eastern part of the city, at Methodist Hospital. Fourteen bodies found there. The victims loaded in a truck and what seems undignified but what is unnecessary because of the scope and magnitude of the work to be done.

These workers spirits have been lifted somewhat by authorities saying the death toll, while high, may end up much lower than some estimates of 10,000 or more.

The optimistic tone is even coming from the head of the New Orleans Police Department.

SUPT. EDDIE COMPASS, NEW ORLEANS P.D.: The communications are our guys are getting rescued, we have vehicles in, we have a lot of help and support. I mean, I haven't felt like this in a long time.

TUCHMAN: But two weeks into this disaster, many of the rescuers are starting to get tired and it is easy to forget a large number of them lost homes, too.


TUCHMAN: Like Sergeant Kevin Wilson of the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Department.

WILSON: Oh, I'm through crying. You can only cry so much. I cried when they first told me about. I cried a few days later. But I'm all cried out.


TUCHMAN (on camera): We've done a lot of stories over the years about heroic police officers but rarely have we seen this combination of heroism and vulnerability. Many of these police officers, and I emphasize many, are homeless. They're still working. You go south of here in St. Bernard's Parish and every one of the members of the sheriff's department are either homeless or have heavy damage to their homes.

Can you imagine just going to work every day to protect your citizenry and not having a home?

COOPER: In New Orleans, actually, this boat behind us which looks like sort of a cruise ship, is a cruise ship, I think it's called the Ecstasy, that's going to house police officers now and actually the chief of police who has been sleeping in his office is going to spend his first night in a room on that boat along with a number of his officers so it's some improvement there for New Orleans police officials. Gary, thanks very much.

There is also the missing. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says that about 1,600 kids are listed as missing by their parents or seeking their families.

Now, on Friday we brought you the story of a New Orleans father at a shelter in Baton Rouge, who was desperately searching for his five missing children, their mother and his own 72-year-old mother. Here is what Michael Thompson told us on Friday.


MICHAEL THOMPSON, FOUND MISSING FAMILY: It hasn't been easy, not knowing if they're well or not or what kind of share they're in or where they are at this point or how they're feeling. It's been difficult but I've been trying to keep a positive outlook and hold myself together and hope that I can find them soon.


COOPER: We put Michael's number on the screen. He was instantly getting a lot of calls. A lot of them seemed fruitless. Tonight there is a happy ending. A friend of Michael's brother saw the program, alerted him that Michael was looking for his family and at the same time a woman from the Red Cross helped Mr. Thompson, his mother in Vashrie (ph) Louisiana and his five children and their mother, they are in Atlanta, they talked in the phone and now a small family reunion right here on CNN.

Joining me from Baton Rouge, Michael Thompson and in Atlanta his 17-year old daughter Shelley and her mother, Bobby Williams.

Great to see you all here. Mike, when you got that call, when you first heard them how was that? M. THOMPSON: It was very joyful to me. I was overwhelmed with a great sense of relief that they were OK, that they were all together, safe and sound.

COOPER: Bobby, where were you during this storm?

BOBBIE WILLIAMS, HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR: I'm happy to hear from Michael and I'm glad that he found his children.

COOPER: Where were you during the storm, Bobbie?

WILLIAMS: I was in stone (ph), I was in New Orleans east trapped in for four days.

COOPER: And Shelley, how about you. I understand you ended up on a rooftop with you boyfriend, is that correct?

SHELLEY THOMPSON, HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR: Yes, I was with my boyfriend on top of the roof during the storm.

COOPER: And how did you get out?

S. THOMPSON: Some people who stood around my neighborhood came and got me on their boat. And they ...

COOPER: And the rest of your brothers and sisters are doing OK. What happened to your boyfriend, Shelley?

S. THOMPSON: He drowned. When we were on the roof, he tried to swim to a higher roof because his roof was low and we tried to swim to a higher roof and we got on the higher roof but there was a man across the street and he was trying to get us to his house because he had a two story building.

And what he tried to do is he tied some wires on an icebox and my boyfriend, he was going to float on the icebox, but what happened was I told him that he wasn't going to make it because it looked like he wasn't going to make it because it was too far of a distance he had to swim so I told him to come back.

And on his way back -- on his way back -- I told him that he wasn't going to make it to the icebox and on his way back he drowned trying to come back to the roof with me.

COOPER: Shelley, how did you get to Atlanta?

S. THOMPSON: My sister came and picked me up from Baton Rouge.

COOPER: Are you going to be okay, Shelley?


COOPER: Michael, are you going to be able to go see your kids in Atlanta, are you going to be able to see them soon?

M. THOMPSON: Yes, I am trying to make arrangements right now to get out there to them as quickly as possible. It's a matter of funding and transportation at this point but I hope to get them very soon.

COOPER: So you've been going from shelter to shelter trying to find them. How much money do you need to get out there?

M. THOMPSON: I'm really not certain what kind of transportation is available to me at this point to get out there, be it buses or by plane but whatever is available, I'll use that mode.

As far as money goes, at this moment in time funds are nil to none, I really don't have any finances at this point, everything's been lost in the storm, of course. So unless I can find some work soon or some means of employment or some assistance or something of that nature I really have no direct answer to that question right now.

COOPER: Well, I know -- we'll continue to follow your story, we'll try to see what we can do because I know you want to get out there to Atlanta to see your kids and their mom.

Michael, appreciate you joining us. I am glad that your family is OK and Bobbie and Shelley as well.


COOPER: I just wish you peace and I hope you get together real soon. Thank you very much. I'm glad it worked out.

Aaron, we are seeing these kinds of stories still everyday no matter where we go, even people who are safe and sound, their hearts are divided because their families are divided and we're trying to do all we can and it's so frustrated, I'm glad it at least worked out for this family, Aaron.

BROWN: Well, we can't solve every problem but my guess is we can solve that one, so why don't we sort of organizationally put our heads together to figure out how to solve it. Thank you.

COOPER: Yeah, I think we can do that.

BROWN: I think we can. It's almost sinful to talk about politics right now. The president was in the area today, it was his third trip. This one gave him a much closer view of the devastation than the last. He was on the ground. The president also got a better picture, fair or not, of the political price being paid so far. These things can be fluid but his approval rating right now stands at a low point.

New poll by CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup puts it at 46 percent, that's a point higher than it was a week ago, but clearly within the margin of error.

Pretty safe to say things have not changed much. If you average out the recent polls conducted by several polling organizations and news outlets, Mr. Bush's approval rating is hovering at about 42 percent. Part of the backdrop tonight. With the rest on the White House, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For much of his trip in the hurricane zone today, president bush was dogged with the question, does he remain confident in his embattled FEMA chief, Mike Brown?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, have you accepted Michael Brown's resignation?

MALVEAUX: Now Mr. Bush no longer has to respond. Even before the president left the region, Brown announced his region.

BUSH: No, I have not talked to Michael Brown or Mike Chertoff. That's who I'd talk to. As you know I have been working.

MALVEAUX: The president managed to stay away from the Brown issue but the resignation clears the way for the administration to move forward on two fronts, recovery and rebuilding public perceptions.

The image of the president on his third trip to the region devastated by Katrina were unprecedented. He stood in an open air convoy that snaked through the mud, muck and stench of New Orleans, enabling him to see, taste and smell the destruction. His message, recovery is under way.

BUSH: There is progress being made. But there's a lot of serious and hard work that's yet to be done.

MALVEAUX: While Mr. Bush met privately for several hours with some of those hardest hit by Katrina, there were numerous public photo op held with his once harshest critics. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco even joined the president's briefing aboard the USS Iwo Jima.

The president's presence in the area seems to be working on the public's opinion. The latest CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup poll shows marked improvement in how people see the president handling the crisis. But Mr. Bush continues to face tough questions about the federal government's widely perceived inadequate and sluggish response, particularly whether race played a factor. Since so many of those abandoned in New Orleans were poor and black.

BUSH: The storm didn't discriminate and neither will the recovery effort. When those Coast Guard choppers, many of whom were first on the scene were pulling people off roofs, they didn't -- they didn't check the color of a person's skin. They wanted to save lives.

MALVEAUX: But just 15 percent of blacks believe Mr. Bush did a good job in his initial response at the time hurricane, 36 percent think he's done a good job lately. Considerably less than the percentage of whites who feel that way. (on camera): President Bush called David Paulison, who is the head of fire administration of FEMA to think him for taking on his role as acting director. Paulison is infamously the one who called on Americans to stock up on the plastic sheet and duct tape in the case of a chemical or biological attack.

Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, the White House.


COOPER: Just ahead, the first responders after Katrina, just like after 9/11, in harms' way. Some say their health care was neglected after 9/11. The question is, is it going to happen here in the Gulf Coast region as well? We'll look into that.

Plus, I talked to the top cop in New Orleans about the psychological impact of Katrina. His force is getting welcome help from Dr. Phil. We'll tell you all about it ahead.

Stay with us. This -- "Hurricane Katrina, State of Emergency."


BROWN: Flags are flying at half staff in New York and Washington and around the country today. It is a reminder of what happened four years ago. Did you take a moment yesterday to remember that it was the anniversary of 9/11? Four years later, those who answered the call, many of them had made their way to the Gulf to help there and for them, as it was four years ago, there may well be a price to be paid.


BROWN (voice-over): The destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina has drawn thousands of emergency workers to the scene. Like September 11th, four years ago, it is a response that may have put these first responders in harm's way.

RICH GALLO, FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS ASSOCIATION: Very, very terrible smell, the fires were burning.

BROWN: Investigator Rich Gallo is one federal government employee who raced to Ground Zero in New York after 9/11.

GALLO: As you work in these environments, you are subject to just falling down. A slip on the pile or a slip down in the stew that is Katrina. What happens if you get a skin piercing injury?

BROWN: The 9/11 responders had extensive health screening, many of them did, but not all.

While 30,000 local firefighters and police officers got follow-up medical attention, most federal workers did not.

A new study by the Government Accountability Office, the GAO, finds the federal Health and Human Services Department screened only 400 of the 10,000 eligible workers. That it spent less than five percent of its budget and that it prohibited workers to undergo screenings elsewhere.

One reason given? No provision to care long term for workers made sick.

REP. CAROLYN MALONEY, (D) NY: What kind of message does that send to the rescue workers who are out there trying to help the victims of Katrina?

BROWN: New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney pushed for the GAO study and says calling rescuers heroes rings hollow if they're neglected.

MALONEY: What worries me very, very much is if we could not get it right for the 9/11 workers, how are we going to get it right for the Katrina workers with the polluted water and who knows what other kinds of health problems that they will have coming out of this?

BROWN: No two disasters are the same. And Dr. Stephen Levin says that the Katrina workers won't have the same respiratory problems, for example, as those who responded to 9/11.

DR. STEPHEN LEVIN, WTC MEDICAL MONITORING PROGRAM: The illnesses they face may be different. Just as serious, in many cases, but different. There the issue is waterborne infection, overwhelmingly and insect borne infection.

BROWN: Levin says one less of 9/11 is simple. Government can't wait for an emergency to end to begin monitoring the health of the emergency responders.

LEVIN: If people are involved in that kind of hazardous activity, the least we owe them is to keep track of who they are and make sure if their health is affected that we know it and that we take care of them.


BROWN (on camera): A spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services said it is attending to the immediate medical needs of the emergency responders in the Gulf.

Anderson, as you'll recall, in New York after 9/11, a lot of the first responders, everyone was told to wear respirators and the like, they were uncomfortable and not all of them did and I assume you're seeing similar sorts of problems down there.

COOPER: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, these guys and these women, they want to get in the water, they want to try to save lives and they want to recover their fallen citizens who have died and they're doing -- they don't have gloves, they're not wearing the respirators, it is the same deal all over, so to hear that they're being taken care of already, it's hard to believe, given what we're seeing already happening here day after day, Aaron. Clearly a lot of stress on the so-called first responders, the rescuers first to arrive at disaster scenes, of course. It includes the police of New Orleans who have been here all along, many of whom stayed on the job. Earlier, I met up with police Chief Eddie Compass. Two of his officers committed suicide after Katrina hit.

We talked about the emotional toll of the past two weeks and he started off by mentioning how his officers will be getting welcome help from a famous man.


COOPER: Is there help for your officers at this point in terms of like psychological counseling? I mean what they have been through I can't even imagine.

SUPT. EDDIE COMPASS, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT: Well, you know, Dr. Phil has been so gracious that he is going to help put a program together to really work with our officers. He and I got together and I was grieving about the death of a member of my staff and I had that grief buried and he really freed me of that grief and guilt.

I told an officer that I saw he was in stress and I gave him off that night -- that day, and he committed suicide about an hour later and that had been eating me up and I had put it on the backburner because I had to be strong for my officers but he showed me that crying is not a sign of weakness, getting it out is not a sign of weakness and he has been just so great and he is going to put a program together so we can really work with all the officers that really want his help.

So, I mean, that was fantastic news.

COOPER: I think that's going to surprise some people that New Orleans Police Department has to rely on Dr. Phil for help. Isn't there some federal government or state program?

COMPASS: Well, there are other psychologists available also, but I'm just saying he donated his time, he volunteered his time. There are several psychologists and some of us have already gone through a psychological evaluation. I was just giving you an example of my personal experience.

COOPER: Got it.

COMPASS: And the offer that he made to me personally. No, there's 1,700 of us. Dr. Phil is good but I don't think he can do all 1,700 of us.

COOPER: And as you look back now, what decisions do you wish -- I mean, hindsight's 20-20 but what decisions do you personally wish you had made that would have maybe made a difference. I mean, is there something that you can wrap your fingers around and say, you know what, I wish I did this a little differently? COMPASS: Well, we haven't really done and have an after action evaluation. When we do a Mardi Gras, after the event we do an after action evaluation. Well this, the event is still in progress. We are still deploying troops. We are still taking over areas as it dries out. We still have some rescue missions in place, so the event is not over yet.

Once the event is over, we're going to do an after action where all my commanders will give after action evaluations. I'm going to look at all of those, I'm going to do one of my own and then I'm going to really get some closure with this entire incident.

But we're far away from that point. The only thing from a personal standpoint I think I wish I would have done different is when I gave Sergeant Acoto (ph) off that day, if I would have just kept him with me maybe he wouldn't have killed himself.

But from a tactical standpoint, from a lifesaving standpoint, our police department performed brilliantly, my commanders made some very good decision, but I haven't gotten information where I could give you a really good answer. Something of that magnitude, something that's going to carry that much weight, I really want to make an informed, educated decision. I don't want to shoot from the hip.


COOPER: That was Chief Eddie Compass. I spoke to him earlier.

Just ahead tonight, 34 residents found dead in a New Orleans area nursing home after the floodwater hit. Now authorities might open up a criminal investigation. We're going to try to get the latest on that.

Why were those people left behind?

And later the pets that have been left behind and the troubles their owners have been having on getting them back and why the rescue effort for pets seems to have slowed down. We'll get to the bottom of it when we come back.


BROWN: Do our numbers now. In a poll last week by "Time Magazine" half the people polled, 57 percent, said they didn't buy the president's explanation of why help for the victims of Katrina had been so slow.

As for the facts behind the distrust, the facts that we know so far at least, a picture is beginning to form.

We talked a bit earlier tonight with Mike Allen from "Time Magazine" and John Dickerson from


BROWN: John, let me start with you. Just an overview here. After 9/11 the government drew up a national response plan. It's about 500 pages, it's a big deal that's supposed to allow us as a country to deal with this sort of thing. It failed, didn't it?

JOHN DICKERSON, SLATE MAGAZINE: It did fail and everybody failed in this instance. There was the government plan -- the entire Department of Homeland Security was created as a kind of sleek, stainless steel way to kind of break through the bureaucracy. We had seen what the bureaucracy had done on 9/11.

But then at the local level there had been study after study. New Orleans had a preparedness plan and there were drills run to see what would happen if just this very thing happened and people didn't pay attention to the results of those drills.

BROWN: Is there something about the president's management style and the way the administration set up that made engaging him more difficult than it should have been?

MIKE ALLEN, "TIME MAGAZINE": Aaron, the president prides himself and has thrived as a big picture person. Now here the president on Sunday before the storm came took step to mobilize some resources. That is something that is not normally done and I think in his mind he thought that he had taken care of it.

You heard the president say today something that surprised me and that is he acknowledged that he thought based on the news coverage that New Orleans had dodged a bullet and only later realized, as much of the coverage caught up that in fact that had not occurred.

BROWN: The governor of the state of Louisiana has taken a fair amount of criticism. Did she do the things she should have done as the governor of a state and was the state simply overwhelmed?

DICKERSON: Well, this is the great question. She did some of the things. She declared an emergency. She tried to get the White House on the phone but what you hear from the White House is that she called and said, yes, we need your help but she didn't set her hair on fire to use a term from an earlier emergency and the White House is saying essentially that she didn't press hard enough for what she needed. She wasn't specific enough.

The governor's people say, you know, when someone is drowning you don't -- you don't ask them for the details. The White House and the administration says that they were relying on the people on the ground seeing what was going wrong.

Well that's a fair point except that the Department of Homeland Security should be able to do a little bit better than watching just the news reports on television.

BROWN: There's two ways this can go it seems to me. One is that government will focus entirely on fixing the mess and it's a huge mess and it's going to take a lot of time and a lot of dough. Or, they will redo all the planning and truly figure out what went wrong because the next time there's not going to be two days warning. ALLEN: Exactly and the president today in his remarks made a reference to the fact that the various responsibilities at different of government may be something that he wants Congress to look at.

This president was reelected with the idea that he could be a transformational president in the domestic realm as he has been overseas. This is not how they wanted to do it. What they can do is fix things going forward.

And, this administration's hallmark is going to be in the rebuilding of New Orleans. The emphasis you're going to see and the announcement they're going to make in the days ahead are going to have to do with redevelopment so he can talk about progress and fixing things.

BROWN: The great question is whether the political damage in many respects is already done and we'll just watch that play out over the next couple of years. Good to see you both, thank you.

DICKERSON: Great coverage, Aaron.

ALLEN: Thank you.

BROWN: Thank you, Mike Allen and John Dickerson.

Still to come on the program, death in a nursing home, will criminal charges follow the discovery of the bodies at St. Rita's?

And the dog days of Katrina, one man tries to find out what happened to his best friends.


COOPER: Welcome back to STATE OF EMERGENCY. I'm Anderson Cooper live from Algiers, Louisiana on the west bank of the Mississippi. Across the river behind me is New Orleans.

And, nearby in St. Bernard Parish lies what is left of a nursing home, there dozens of elderly patients drowned to death. It is truly a scene of horror and tragedy but it also may be the scene of a crime.

CNN's Drew Griffin investigates.


DREW GRIFFIN: CNN 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.

CHARLES FOTI, JR., LOUISIANA ATTORNEY GENERAL: 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. She was a nurse at St. Rita's and on duty Saturday before the storm.

TAMMY DAIGLE, NURSE: Several families 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 are not going anywhere.

GRIFFIN: A senior nursing assistant Sedonia Augustus 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.

SEDONIA AUGUSTUS, NURSE: 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 onto 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.

VINCENT CANZONERI, ST. BERNARD RESIDENT: 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 all right, better than the ones you left behind.

GRIFFIN: Vincent Canzoneri says Sal Mangano, Jr. was one of the nursing home's operators in 1998 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. And they didn't evacuate?

CANZONERI: Didn't evacuate, said they were 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?

CANZONERI: Yes, but ironically not as mad as I am now.

GRIFFIN: Really?

CANZONERI: For the people that did stay behind.

GRIFFIN: Autopsies (INAUDIBLE) 34 people died here and whether they were patients, staff or both. What nurse Tammy Daigle wants to know is why.

DAIGLE: They were sick. They were infirmed. They were -- but they deserved to live. They did not deserve to drown and not know what happened to them.

GRIFFIN (on camera): Tonight, the attorney for St. Rita's management called CNN and told us that he has indeed contacted the attorney general of the state of Louisiana on behalf of his clients. He would not go further on the record but did say the story his clients are telling about this terrible tragedy is dramatically different than the one being portrayed.

Drew Griffin, CNN, New Orleans.


COOPER: And that is certainly not surprising to hear. We will investigate further tomorrow.

Near me is the Crescent City Bridge. It's right behind me. It's a vital link across the Mississippi River. It was closed by a police chief on this side of the river, on the west side of a small town after New Orleans was overrun by water and by chaos. The police chief says he sealed it off because the city had no supplies and couldn't sustain the hundreds or thousands of evacuees who may wanted to have entered.

But Lorrie Beth Slonsky and Larry Bradshaw tell a much different story about what happened on that bridge, which they saw with their own eyes. They joined me earlier. I began by telling them what the police chief said and asking if they were told why they weren't allowed to cross the bridge.


LORRIE BETH SLONSKY, HURRICANE KATRINA 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, and as a matter of fact.

COOPER (voice-over): What did you think they meant by that?

SLONSKY: Well, we can only take the direct quote from the chief himself, which is...

LARRY BRADSHAW, HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR: Yesterday, the chief was quoted as saying if we let these "people" in, our city would look like New Orleans burned, looted and pillaged.

SLONSKY: So, to us that wreaks of absolute racism since our group that was trying to cross over was women, children, predominantly African America. I would say out of 100 people you could count three white folks.

COOPER: Well, the chief says that his police force is pretty mixed between African Americans and white people but describe what you saw on that bridge. I've asked the chief about police firing over the heads of personnel. Did you personally see police do that?

SLONSKY: Yes, we absolutely saw that over our heads and we also had guns pointed to us directly.

BRADSHAW: Anderson, we were told...

COOPER: So you were told -- go ahead Larry.

BRADSHAW: I'm sorry. Anderson, we were told by the commander of the police command post at Harrah's that we should cross that bridge and there would be busses waiting to take us out. So, we were following the advice.

We were told we can't go to the Superdome. We can't go to the convention center. There was no place else to go. He told us to go across the bridge, which is what we attempted to do. We never asked...

COOPER: So, there was a New Orleans police officer told you to go across the bridge. They told you there would be busses there. There weren't busses there and as you're walking across the bridge what do you see? You're approaching -- you're on the bridge and what it's blocked off by police cruisers?

BRADSHAW: Right. It's a pretty steep incline because you're coming from the flat surface up to a pretty high bridge, as you can see. So, it took a while for the group to make it up there. We had people on wheelchairs. We had people in strollers, people on crutches, so we were a slow-moving group and we didn't think anything when we saw the deputies there.

Then all of a sudden we heard shooting but that wasn't so unique because we had been hearing shooting every day but it was so close. Then people come running back towards us in a panic saying the police are shooting at us. And, Lorrie Beth and I we said that can't be right. That doesn't make any sense.

COOPER: And your crowd dispersed but a group of you, about 80 or so I understand, decided to just kind of camp out near the bridge and you say then the police came and actually took food from you and took away your water why did they do that?

SLONSKY: Anderson, this is what was so disheartening to us is because we were a group of like some really sick older folks and some young folks in between an encampment and we had food that someone had stolen for us and given to us at this camp and we had some food as well.

So now we were a community that was able to have food and water and pretty safe shelter in between the minimal traffic going through. It was at dusk time, right at nighttime when the sheriff's deputy came up to us and held a gun to us and...

BRADSHAW: Jumped out of his car with the gun aimed at us screaming and cursing and yelling to get off the blank blank freeway and just -- just so rabidly angry and we tried to reason. We tried to talk and he was just putting his gun into the face of young children and families.

COOPER: Do you know where the sheriff was from? Do you know what department?

BRADSHAW: It said Gretna on the police car.


COOPER: Well, we try not to take sides on this program. We don't believe in taking sides. We try to get all the angles but we do want to find out facts. We care about facts, especially now the people here deserve to know exactly what happened here, so whatever mistakes were made can never be repeated again.

Earlier tonight I was joined by the Gretna police chief to get his side of the story. His name is Arthur Lawson and he was the man who decided to seal off part of the bridge.


CHIEF ARTHUR LAWSON, GRETNA, LOUISIANA POLICE DEPARTMENT: We had no preparations. You know we're a small city on the west bank of the river. We had people being told to come over here that we were going to have busses, 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 so for the sake of the citizens that left their valuables here to be protected by us.

COOPER (voice-over): One person is a paramedic. What they say basically is that they marched with this long group. They were told by New Orleans Police to come and that there were four patrol cars on the bridge and that your officers fired shots in the air, is that true?

LAWSON: To my knowledge it's not true. We certainly will look into it once this is over with and we get back to a level that we can investigate it.

COOPER: If they were firing shots into the air would that be appropriate?

LAWSON: Well, I don't know the circumstances. It's hard for me to answer, you know, if that happened exactly what went on.

COOPER: But to your knowledge did any officers explain why? I mean you're essentially saying you didn't want those people coming here because you were afraid about what the safety of this levee?

LAWSON: I was afraid to have the people come here for the safety of this levee as well as evacuation. We had no place to house them, to feed them, water and there were security issues. Our city was already locked down. Our borders were closed at the time and our city was locked down as far as safety for the citizens of Gretna and their property.

COOPER: There are going to be some who will see this and say well look you guys were dry. You knew generally the mayhem that was going on in New Orleans. Couldn't you have just allowed them, you know, sanctuary on this side and just, you know, sort of tried to corral people in one area, give them what you could and try to call in reinforcements, call for help, call for busses?

LAWSON: Who were we going to call? We had no radios. We had no phones. We had no communications, as I just told you. We had not spoke to the city of New Orleans prior to or during this event.

COOPER: Sunday I saw the mayor of New Orleans going on TV and he mentioned this, you know, the allegations of what happened on the bridge and people -- officers firing over his citizens' heads. He seemed to indicate, you know, maybe race played a role. He seemed to indicate that, you know, this was just outrageous. When you hear the mayor saying that kind of stuff what do you think?

LAWSON: Well, I think the mayor is misinformed. I think he's making statements based off of news coverage that, you know, I -- I still don't know all of the facts. For him to stand there and pass judgment not knowing all the facts would be the same as for me to stand here and pass judgment on them not evacuating the city of New Orleans and not being adequately prepared for the disaster that they had and being able to evacuate their people.

COOPER: I mean the way it's been presented to me they started -- this is a white community. The officers were white, people on the bridge trying to come across African American, not the case?

LAWSON: Not the case. Race played no part in it. Safety played the major part in it.


COOPER: Well, two completely different perspectives. At this point, we're going to have to leave it up to you to see who you believe but we're going to keep investigating this all week because we do want to find out what happened on that bridge. It's a microcosm of what happened elsewhere and only by piecing together all these different pieces of this puzzle are we going to be able to figure out how to make sure this never happens again.

Coming up tonight ahead on the program, the problem with pets, there are a lot of animals needing to be rescued but why are rescue efforts, why have they been slowing down? The answer is simple but it is still shocking.



COOPER: We've had a lot of animal rescue workers come to us off camera, didn't want their faces or their names used on camera and they said that the rescue efforts here have been slowing down and they've been complaining about bureaucracy about what's happening at the main shelter in Gonzalez, Louisiana.

So, today we went there to find out exactly what's going on.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER (voice-over): In a shaded shelter in Gonzalez, Louisiana, Hurricane Katrina's voiceless victims are waiting, small dogs and big ones, a pit bull and her pups. They were born in New Orleans Superdome, puppies of the storm.

JAY CARR, LOST TWO DOGS: I'm going to go from cage to cage to cage to cage.

COOPER: Jay Carr is looking for his two dogs. His wife insists she saw them rescued on TV.

CARR: My wife saw it and when she screamed we all thought something bad had happened.

COOPER: Jay abandoned the dogs when he had to swim for safety. He wishes now he'd evacuated earlier.

CARR: She punched me.

COOPER: Your wife punched you?

CARR: Yes, when we first saw each other and my daughter kicked me because I had left the dogs.

COOPER: It's no easy task to find a lost pet. There are so many stalls, so many scared faces to look into. The shelter is full. There's simply not enough room.

(on camera): Under Louisiana state law they haven't been willing to send any of these animals out of state so this facility, which is a good facility, it's got vets. This dog has been given a bath. She's going to get cleaned up but this facility can only deal with about 1,300 animals and it's full. There are still thousands more animals out there.

It sounds like sort of bureaucracy is just making this much more difficult than it should be is that true?

WAYNE PACELLE, THE HUMANE SOCIETY: There's no doubt that bureaucracy has impeded our efforts.

COOPER (voice-over): Wayne Pacelle is president of The Humane Society of America. He wants to move many of these dogs out of state to make room for new ones but until recently Louisiana state officials have said no.

(on camera): For the last couple days of this you haven't been able to get more animals in because this facility, which by state law they have to come here, it's been full up, is that correct?

PACELLE: Well, we moved out some yesterday so we were able to take in a couple of hundred. There was a day that there was no additional intake and they actually prevented us from bringing animals into the facility even though we had some out there.

COOPER (voice-over): Here the dogs are fed and walked. It's not ideal but it's all they have. People are the priority of course but animal advocates say helping pets does help people.

(on camera): Why do you think it's important I mean even when there are people suffering to be looking after animals?

PACELLE: You know if you really are on the ground here and have a sense of what's going on you see that they're actually inseparable questions. The people who are still there are staying because they have pets. They don't want to be separated from them. The people who were evacuated and who left their pets behind are calling us inconsolably saying "Please rescue our pets."

COOPER (voice-over): When we left, Jay Carr still couldn't find his two dogs. Perhaps his wife was wrong. Perhaps their dogs haven't been rescued at all. There's only so many more places for them to look. Time is running out.


COOPER: In a moment good news, an update on the man searching to find his family.

And, ahead, Aaron has a look at the morning papers.


BROWN: OK, now, time to check morning papers from around the country and around the world. The "Dallas Morning News," I need you to shoot the picture here. It's a before and after. Over here, August 30th and the picture next to it today; you can see how dramatically, and it is dramatic I think you can see it, I don't have my glasses on, the floodwaters have receded in New Orleans in 12 days.

That is an encouraging picture, a lot of problems, a lot of -- a tremendous number of issues still to be sorted out but the water is going down and it's maybe going down a little bit faster than people start.

So now we can start talking about making a new New Orleans. That's the headline in the "International Tribune." I wonder what New Orleans will look like.

"The return to the Big Easy begins" is the way the "Christian Science Monitor" headlines the Katrina story. "City allows temporary reentry." People with businesses were allowed in for a little while today. They weren't allowed to stay the night but there are parts of the city, the French Quarter for one that's relatively dry so people were allowed in to see it.

Judges not politicians, are not politicians, Roberts says. I hope not they're judges, shouldn't be politicians.

Forty-five bodies found in a Louisiana hospital. This is the story of the hospital, the people who own the hospital, the company that owns the hospital said that actually these people had died before the storm and they were actually waiting for the coroner to pick up the bodies. That seems like a lot of bodies though doesn't it? I mean I don't know the hospital business but anyway it did to me.

"The Oregonian:" Bush pledges aid to rebuild. How are we doing on time Wilson? He says residents will decide how to shape New Orleans. Oregon volunteers say hurricane stranded pets. Oregonian localizes the story as best it can. President denies that bias, Iraq War, slowed response.

The president's third trip in the area just because something should remain normal; due in Chicago tomorrow, according to the "Sun Times" the weather will be, thank you, sweat it out, 90 degrees in Chicago.

Final thoughts for a Monday night after the break.


BROWN: We come up on the top of the hour, Anderson. I was reminded earlier tonight in the program that even the largest of news stories and this one is enormous are really made up of a series of smaller moments that are sewn together that form the larger picture and the story that we started telling the other night, Friday night, of Michael Thompson is the perfect example of that.

COOPER: Yes, it absolutely is and that's a very good point. I mean earlier in the program if you're just joining us, we brought you virtually an emotional reunion. Michael Thompson, who is in a shelter in Baton Rouge, his 17-year-old daughter Shelly and her mother Bobby who are in Atlanta, also there's Mr. Thompson's four other children.

We have gotten a tremendous response to this story, some viewers coming forward tonight to pay to reunited them in person to get Michael Thompson to Atlanta. We're hoping we can get that together for everyone involved, quite a story. We'll keep you posted hopefully tomorrow -- Aaron, CNN's coverage tonight.

BROWN: Thank you. If we can't pull that off, we're not trying very hard, Anderson. We'll see you tomorrow.

Our coverage continues with Catherine Callaway in Atlanta.


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