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PAULA ZAHN NOW
FEMA Director Resigns
Aired September 12, 2005 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. Glad to have you with us tonight.
It has been two weeks to the day since Hurricane Katrina plowed into the Gulf Coast. Tonight, life is slowing starting to edge back towards normalcy in some parts of the disaster zone but the storm is still shaking up things in Washington. Let's really quickly bring you up to speed.
FEMA Director Michael Brown quit today. He, as you know, has been the target of scathing criticism for what many people say was the federal government's too little, too late response in the days after Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. His replacement will be David Paulson, a 30-year veteran of fire rescue work, if you never heard of him, you might at least remember this two years ago he was the guy behind the government's suggestion that everyone buy plastic sheeting and duct tape in case of a terrorist attack.
President Bush got a ground level view of the cleanup efforts today, riding through the streets of New Orleans in a flatbed truck. The president had no comment about the shake-up at FEMA but he's going out of his way to knock down criticism the federal government intentionally ignored African Americans and the poor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The storm didn't discriminate and neither will the recovery effort.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: We apologize for not having the president's sound there. But we will play that for you a little bit later on. Despite the president's assurances you would have heard if that had come through, a new CNN poll shows a huge racial divide in Americans' view of the relief effort. Sixty percent of blacks say the federal storm response was slow because many of the victims in New Orleans are black. Only 12 percent of whites share that view.
The confirmed death toll in the disaster area stands at 426 including 279 deaths in Louisiana. And this afternoon officials announce that the bodies of 45 patients have been found at New Orleans Memorial Medical Center. We received a hospital statement just a few hours ago. It says every living patient was evacuated before the storm hit. From the air you can finally see some signs that things are in fact getting better in New Orleans. The city's port is reopening. Notice that everything, contrary to what you saw a couple days ago is now neatly stacked and arranged.
More lights are coming on in New Orleans right now and the floodwater keeps going down. The city buzzing with activity. Dan Simon filed this report from New Orleans just a short while ago.
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Monday in New Orleans. Two weeks after Katrina is just another day of difficult work.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sixty percent of New Orleans is underwater. So it's going to take a while. But we're going to work until it's done.
SIMON: Word of the day, progress. In fact, by late in the day the city was just 40 percent underwater. Meanwhile buildings are getting repaired, phone lines are getting restored and the grim task of recovering those that did not make it. The resources needed to rebuild cannot be calculated. We navigate through a neighborhood called Lakeview. At the helm Rich Whitner, a local fishing guide. Little did we know how personal it would all become. Whitner steers us toward his own flooded home.
RICH WHITNER, HURRICANE VICTIM: This was our very first house we bought together.
SIMON: How long have you lived here.
WHITNER: We bought it I think in '89 was about the time we bought.
SIMON: It's the first time he's been back since he evacuated with his wife and two children. The water has the front door jammed shut. He tries a more drastic measure, then reaches for his cell phone.
WHITNER: Hello, honey. Well, you know the side window on the porch by the kitchen. I'm breaking into it.
SIMON: Inside it's worse than any of us could have imagined. Practically everything in sight has become a floatable object including the refrigerator.
WHITNER: There's a picture of the wife and kid still on the side. I'll try to save that before we go.
SIMON: The water rose about nine feet in his house. The stench indescribable and the house hotter than any sauna.
WHITNER: You can see how much the mold has already come in here. Getting in here, it's probably very toxic. SIMON: It's a scene being repeated in neighborhood after neighborhood. Upstairs Whitner leads us into the bedroom. Mold has already ravaged his favorite chair. Once again, the cell phone.
WHITNER: The leather chairs, the bed, too honey. I'm sorry. It's just fallen apart. The water -- it's soaked through, honey.
SIMON: Whitner reaches for a few of the sentimentals. The emotion building up until he remembers what is truly important.
WHITNER: I can honestly say I'm one of the luckier ones that was able to get my family out and be able to come back a little sooner just by chance. And the next time I hope people will heed and use the warnings they put out. So many people were so stupid to stay.
SIMON: It is still too early to know exactly how many people died in New Orleans. The most recent estimates, the final toll will be far fewer than the 10,000 initially predicted by city officials.
SIMON: Well, absolutely nothing could have prepared me for being out on the floodwaters today, Paula. The stench is just-- you can't get into what is in the water, it's just too graphic.
And Paula, one thing that hasn't really been discussed is the environmental impact. The people I'm talking to is that you are going to have to go in the neighborhood and bulldoze all the homes. You are going to have to do some type of environmental study impact. And it's going to be expensive. And who knows how long it is going to take before it is decontaminated to where you can actually rebuild.
ZAHN: Is there any guess as to how long the process might take, Dan?
SIMON: The experts I'm talking to tell me it's going to be years. And when you actually go into this toxic waters you really understand what they are talking about. It's just everywhere and there's really no escaping it.
ZAHN: It was so sad to watch you and the gentlemen go through his house, a scene being repeated in many different parts of New Orleans. What is it that you saw that has been the most alarming to you?
SIMON: Well, I think for me it was being in those flooded waters. You go in there and the filth and the stench, it's just everywhere. I mean block after block after block. And you see these churches that are destroyed. It's just so incredibly sad.
ZAHN: Dan Simon, thank you so much for the update. And just a short while ago President Bush ended his third trip to the disaster area but everywhere he went today his visit was overshadowed by a political thundercloud back in Washington. And that storm broke this afternoon. White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux joins me right now from Washington.
Suzanne, it certainly was not unexpected to the president, though, was it?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You are absolutely right, Paula. And as a matter of fact, the Bush administration is certainly hoping that the third time is a charm. This was the third visit for the ravaged area, the hurricane area, and already there are signs in the polls at least that they may be turning the corner.
MALVEAUX (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.
MALVEAUX: And tonight, Paula, President Bush called David Paulison, who is the head of fire administration of FEMA to think him for taking on that role as acting director. As you know, also, Paulison, who is infamously the one who called on Americans to stock up on the plastic sheet subpoenaing duct tape in the case of a chemical or biological attack. Paula?
ZAHN: Well, that may be true, Suzanne, but we should also make it clear that this is a man who had a significant amount of experience in rescue work through his many years working at the fire department. Suzanne Malveaux. Thank you so much.
And I want to remind you that we'll have more on the issue of race and to what extent it might have impacted what went on down in New Orleans. Right now, though, many of the youngest hurricane victims are spending yet another night without their families. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is trying to help reunite more than 1,700 children who were separated from their loved ones.
Brian Todd is in the center's command central, that is, near Washington and joins me now. Brian, they have had a lot of success there, haven't they, in linking up families?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They certainly have Paula. About 466 children to be exact have been reunited with their families in just the one week since this command center here was set up. Dozens of volunteers. Most of them law enforcement officers, former law enforcement officers, donating their time working 16 hours a day.
We're going to show you a couple of pictures of the children still missing. These are in the category of children who have been located but are looking for their parents. And what a range in age we have. Jayden Victor. He is three weeks old. He is a 3 week old boy born one week before Katrina hit. They know Jayden's whereabouts. They know he's at the Earl Long Hospital in Baton Rouge but they are frantically trying to fine his parents to come and get him or otherwise so they can hook them up. Here's -- that's one end of the spectrum in age.
We have the other end, Kevin Sanchez, he's 16 years old. Turns 17 in ten days. Became separated from his family members while at the Superdome in New Orleans. They don't know where his family members are. We do know that Kevin Sanchez is now at the Burton Coliseum shelter at Lake Charles, Louisiana. This is information that we just got updated on just moments ago, where these two children are, and they are trying to hook them. But as you mentioned, Paula, more than 1,700 children are still messing. That number is double the amount that we reported on Thursday when we first got here. I'm joined by Larry Upchurch. Larry works criminal investigations for the FBI for more than 20 years. He's now a volunteer here at the center.
Larry, despite the resounding success and nobody can deny that. Why are the numbers still climbing on you guys?
LARRY UPCHURCH, NATIONAL CENTER OF MISSING AND EXPLOITED CHILDREN : Brian, there could be several reasons but two that come to mind are every time you broadcast here and put up our number more and more family members are able to recall the number and call in and report people missing that they love.
Secondly, they continue to move people from shelter to shelter and as that happens more and more families tend to lose people and lose contact with people.
TODD: All right, Larry, best of luck to you and everybody else here who is doing incredible work around the clock. Thank you very much. We're going to put up the number again. If you have information on any of the children that we've put up on the screen or anybody else that is missing, any of the children that are missing and any of the children who are missing, 1-888-544-5475 or go to www.missingkids.com.
ZAHN: And Brian, we'll be checking in with you throughout the hour and also sharing with our audience some of those 400 success stories that you talked about where these groups have so successfully linked up missing children with their families who happen ton scattered all over the country.
While hundreds of children wonder about their parents whereabouts at this hour, Gary Tuchman has witnessed one of those incredible moments. For one of those children of the storm. He's just back with that story. You want to miss it.
ZAHN: As you can just see from our progress report, we all had to absorb a bunch of different statistics along the way. And I know there's one in particular that's very hard for any of us to get our hands and arms around and that is the fact that 1,700 children of the storm are still separated from their families tonight.
However, there is a little bit of a hope on the horizon tonight. One mother and daughter are finally back together after being torn apart in the chaos that followed Katrina. Our Gary Tuchman is just back with a story of their reunion.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We met her at a hurricane shelter in Baton Rouge.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is Hurricane Katrina. These are the houses, this grouping. I drew one car in there ...
TUCHMAN: Ten-year-old Maya (ph) used art to express her feelings about losing her house and more poignantly about her mother who was missing. What is your mom's name?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Debra Isadore (ph).
TUCHMAN: You must be a very worried young lady.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
TUCHMAN: Maya was at the huge shelter with her aunt and cousin. Her mother wanted to do some overtime work the night before the hurricane. And they became separated. But after nearly two weeks of anxiety something wonderful happened. Maya finally reached her mom on a cell phone that wasn't working until the day she called.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I started crying because I reached her. I knew she was there. I say, mama are you safe? She say yes.
TUCHMAN: Her mother found shelter at a family friend's home in Houston but incredibly she spent one night in the very same shelter at her daughter without knowing Maya was there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just want to hold her, that's all.
TUCHMAN: Debra had a hard time getting a ride back to the shelter to reunite with her 10-year-old. So we arranged to get a car and driver to take her from Houston to Baton Rouge and then she walked in. To find her little girl.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maya!
TUCHMAN: Mother and daughter were back together. The shelter is expected to remain crowded for weeks to come. But Debra and Maya on crutches with a sprained ankle will now live temporarily with family in Baton Rouge.
(on camera): When I first talked to you you were really worried and scared. You know what, your mom was, too at the same time. How about that? Now you're together. Is that great? How do you feel?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's my baby. Great. This is all I got.
ZAHN: The hard work of a lot of people in this country we hope that scene is repeated over and over again. Again 1700 kids of the storm still separated from family members. That was Gary Tuchman reporting.
Hurricane Katrina seems to have opened up a racial divide here in America, raising a question we all need to face. Did poor people and black people get second class service from their government with deadly consequences?
ZAHN: We all saw the pictures in the days after the hurricane, poor people, black people, without food, without water, desperate for any shred of help. It raises so many disturbing questions. Why were they left behind? Was it because of their race? And now can anything bridge the huge gulf that opened between the way whites and blacks perceive our government's response to the storm? Here is 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.
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.
ZAHN: And that was our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley reporting.
In the face of a killer storm does a person's skin color or the bank account determine whether they live or die? The Reverend Al Sharpton and the Reverend Joe Watkins are here to give us the insight.
Church on a Monday night. How about that? Welcome, gentlemen.
So do you really think, Reverend Sharpton, if the majority of those victims left behind in New Orleans had been white that the federal response would have been any faster than it was?
REVEREND AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: There is no doubt in my mind if this happened in West Palm Beach, Florida, it would not have taken the president two days to respond to even end his vacation.
ZAHN: What evidence do you have of that?
SHARPTON: Look at what happened last year when we had storms covering Florida. I happened to be in Florida. They never got -- when the forecast of a storm was announced the president was guaranteeing aid, guaranteeing National Guard. Forecast. We have a storm that not only was forecast for two or three days it hit. He still stayed in Crawford and finally spoke three days later.
REVEREND JOE WATKINS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You have got to give the governor of Florida credit for that. The governor of Florida was right on top of it.
ZAHN: Are you suggesting then the Governor of Louisiana was not on top of it and she blew it? Is that what you're saying?
WATKINS: Well, I think the governor of Louisiana tried the best she could. I think the mayor of New Orleans tried the best he could. Sadly the best they could still cost lives. And that's unfortunate.
ZAHN: Were they incompetent?
SHARPTON: Reverend, are you saying the governor of Florida has a way of reaching the president, that CNN, ABC, CBS doesn't work in his house? He couldn't see on television people dying? He didn't say anything for two days while we all watched this hurricane hit and kill people. So his television doesn't work in Crawford, Texas?
WATKINS: The president's TV works just as well as anybody else's. Consider what happened in New York when tragedy struck on September 11
SHARPTON: He was here in two days.
WATKINS: Also, think about the fact the mayor of New York City and the governor of New York worked together closely. They were the ones that provided the primary structure for the people of New York.
SHARPTON: The president was here in two days.
ZAHN: You're blaming it once again on the state and mayoral level saying that's created the president's problems.
WATKINS: I don't want to blame anybody. This is a sad thing. And I think the right attitude is the attitude that family we just saw on TV has which is that you pray for everybody and the thing to do now is work together.
Poor people were disproportionately affected in this storm, there's no doubt about it. And black people happen to be, again, disproportionately poor.
So obviously a lot of black people were impacted by it.
SHARPTON: I agree. Eighty-four percent of the people poor in New Orleans are black. I also agree we must pray together. I was there all last week. But I also know many of those families want us to work as well as pray. That's in the Bible. And I think there has to be an accountability by the president.
And to add insult to injury. Can you imagine if you're in Iraq, a soldier and you turn on TV and your mother doesn't get a response from the federal government and called a refugee on top of that. I mean, we're called refugees, president doesn't respond, blame it on the local mayor. Just doesn't count up.
WATKINS: The truth of the matter is the disaster did not discriminate. The president got that right. It did not discriminate.
SHARPTON: The reaction did.
WATKINS: People of all colors ....
ZAHN: There's no way you can defend the federal response on ...
WATKINS: What you can say, though, is that it is hard for people who are poor who lack resources and access the way to information the way you do and the way I do which was the case in many cases either perished or who were left behind or forced to stay in the Superdome.
ZAHN: How much of this blame should the mayor of the city take?
SHARPTON: I think that whenever...
ZAHN: He certainly understood the makeup of this population that had no way out of the city.
SHARPTON: I think that whatever blame that he could have dealt with in terms of the local evacuation that falls in his door should fall on his door. But when you are dealing with the fact that three states -- Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana -- is hit, you are dealing with a major Gulf area. That's way beyond the mayor's domain. That is federal, and the federal government had the primary responsibility. When you deal with the fact that those levees should have been repaired. The budgets were cut, coming from the federal down, what happened was the infrastructure had not been repaired by the federal government, which caused the bursts in the first place.
ZAHN: There's a lot of concern that any inroad this is administration was making with African Americans might be diluted or a very hurt by this response. What do you make of reports that someone very close to Karl Rove even went as far as to say, one of the reason why the president didn't wade into any crowds when he was in New Orleans was the fact that he probably was going to get hit by protesters, and no one was going to like what that picture looked like, with a bunch of angry African Americans screaming at him.
WATKINS: Well, let me take that. I think the president was reaching out like every president has done in times of sadness...
SHARPTON: From a helicopter?
WATKINS: ... to all Americans. He is there right now, and he is there reaching out to all Americans. It's so important to do that.
Again, remember the fact that black people are disproportionately poor. Fifteen -- under Bill Clinton, 15.1 percent of the population was poor; under president Bush, 12.7 percent of the population is poor. That's a reduction, that's a good thing. But still, African Americans are disproportionately affected.
ZAHN: You get the last word, Rev. Sharpton.
SHARPTON: To say that they are less poor, but we are still disproportionately black, does not give comfort. And we cannot explain why that president sat two days in Crawford, Texas, while the nation saw what he should have seen, and then flew the other way to San Diego to get a guitar. That is contemptuous, if you're sitting there in the Superdome with your life washed away. These people are not hallucinating -- this president failed them.
ZAHN: Will we leave it there?
The reverends -- always good to see the two of you together.
SHARPTON: Glad to see you.
WATKINS: Good to see you.
ZAHN: I want to see you side by side in a pulpit once. That would be an interesting experience - Rev. Sharpton, Rev. Watkins.
The hurricane repair effort is a 24-hour operation, and so is our coverage. In just a minute, Deborah Feyerick joins us from the Status Alert Desk with the very latest on the recovery effort. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ZAHN: We're back, 35 minutes past the hour. We want to quickly update you on the very latest from New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, as people there deal with the state of emergency.
Deborah Feyerick is working the phones and her sources tonight. And she joins me from our Status Alert Desk, where I think she has basically taken up residence there -- hi, Deborah.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Paula.
Well, Status Alert on victims: The number of bodies recovered in Louisiana has now jumped to 279. That's almost 80 more than yesterday. The majority are at the temporary morgue just outside Baton Rouge. And even people who died after the storm -- for example, those in hospitals, whose life support may have gone down, or who may have suffered a heart attack -- their deaths will be listed as hurricane related.
Status Alert on sex offenders -- where are they? Even the head of the Louisiana prison system doesn't know anymore. Prison officials are asking sex offenders who evacuated during the storm, just like everyone else, to check in at the nearest police station, wherever that might be. The same goes for prisoners on parole and people on probation. Louisiana officials say, one man has been arrested for rape in the last 24 hours. But it's not clear whether he was in the prison system.
More status alerts to come. For anyone who has any information on a parish or town in the affected area, they can definitely contact us here at STATUSALERT @CNN.COM -- Paula. ZAHN: Those tips have been very helpful -- Deborah Feyerick, thank you.
One of the most disturbing stories I have seen in the aftermath of the storm is the discovery of nearly three dozen bodies at a Louisiana nursing home. It's not only a tragedy, it could end up being a crime.
Drew Griffin just filed this report.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: With all the victims now removed, what happened inside this still water-logged 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 the 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 said 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 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.
(on camera): And they didn't evacuate?
VINCENT CANZONERI, ST. BERNARD RESIDENT: Didn't evacuate -- said they were going to; 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 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.
DAIGLE: They were sick, they were infirmed, they were -- they did not deserve to drown, and not know what happened to them.
GRIFFIN: Paula, we have some late breaking information on this, just within the last hour. An attorney called CNN, contacted us, and said he represents the owners at St. Rita's. He says he has contacted the attorney general on behalf of his client. He would not go on record, would not comment further, but did say the story that his clients are telling is completely different than the one being portrayed here in the media.
ZAHN: Well, I can't imagine what that story would be, Drew, not having heard their side of the story. But we know that there was a mandatory evacuation. We know that this particular nursing home was supposed to have its own individual evacuation plan.
GRIFFIN: And, Paula, I'm going to get to this attorney as soon as I got off of this broadcast and try to figure out what exactly is that story, if he will tell me. He was not forthcoming when he talked to CNN within this last hour. But he is trying to say, at least, he has contacted the attorney general's office.
We should also say, Paula, three or four other nursing homes are being looked into by the attorney general's office, all with similar type of deaths, although not to this great number.
ZAHN: I guess, once again, here, Drew, one of the more alarming statistics that "Time" magazine is reporting is that some 70 percent of nursing homes in New Orleans weren't evacuated at all.
GRIFFIN: Apparently, they just did not have either the means to do it, did not have the plan to do it, or thought, like at every other time, the city would be spared at the last minute by a hurricane. ZAHN: I guess that description you just got from the nurse is the scariest one of all, that within five minutes, she saw that water go up to mattress level. I guess, from that point on, they were in really, really bad trouble.
Drew Griffin -- thank you very much. Keep us posted on what you learn from the owners of the home's attorneys.
Some of hurricane Katrina's tiniest victims had no choice but to ride out the storm. They are the premature babies, and their parents couldn't stay by them. Tonight, days of agonies in some cases give way to relief.
ZAHN: And we are just getting word of some late breaking news out of New Orleans. There may be a problem with the London Avenue Canal, a leak potentially. Joining me now on the phone is the president of the City Council, Oliver Thomas.
Mr. Thomas, I know you have just been updated by the mayor on what is going on with this canal. What did he tell you? What did he confirm?
OLIVER THOMAS, NEW ORLEANS CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT: He confirmed that there is another leak, a breach, whatever the term is, in the London Avenue Canal. They are rushing to try to secure that to make sure that it doesn't expand or becoming any worse than it already is.
ZAHN: How serious of a problem do you think that is?
THOMAS: Well, I don't know how long it's going to be. It happened, as a matter of fact, it happened during our briefing. And that's why I was not able to get away to get to you guys live, because we do have potentially another emergency situation. But they are working, trying to stabilize it right now.
ZAHN: Just for our audience and my education, this is the canal that runs through the city to Lake Pontchartrain. I know it's probably hard for you to make this assessment because you've just been briefed. But did the mayor characterize how serious of a leak this is and the potential problems it could cause for your citizenry?
THOMAS: If it is not contained, it could be just as serious as some of the others. But we do have a couple things going in our favor. The lake is not very high right now, and the canal right now, you know. But it could be potentially extremely dangerous if we would have some rain or if Lake Pontchartrain would rise. Currently, that situation is not very stable; working to stabilize it.
ZAHN: Can you give us a sense of exactly what is being done to try to repair this leak at this hour?
THOMAS: No, no, I can't because the information came to us in the middle of our assessment meeting and our briefing with the mayor.
ZAHN: What was the level of the mayor's concern about this new development?
THOMAS: The mayor was extremely concerned. He stopped the briefing and went to follow up on the information and then came back to the meeting and confirmed it.
ZAHN: Well, Oliver Thomas, we appreciate your coming out of the meeting to share that news with us. I know that you are making some progress in some areas of the city, but this development is, indeed, a concerning one. Once again, the mayor of New Orleans in a briefing with members of the City Council just confirming that there is a leak in the London Avenue Canal, that is a canal that runs through the city to Lake Pontchartrain. The good news, from the president of the New Orleans City Council, is the fact that the lake is not very high now. It is not raining right now. And repair efforts are underway, even as we speak. We don't have a sense because the mayor didn't characterize it during this meeting as to what this potentially could mean down the road. But we will keep you posted as more details come to us. Again, we appreciate Oliver Thomas breaking away from the meeting to share that with us.
Many people that got out of New Orleans safety -- or safely, that is -- are still anxious tonight about family members that were left behind. But what is being done to round up their pets and arrange reunions? Stay with us, and we're going to show you some really nice ones.
ZAHN: And we're back.
As if New Orleans didn't have enough to worry about tonight, some breaking news just confirmed by the president of the City Council there who just came out of the briefing by Mayor Nagin. It has now been confirmed that there's a leak of the London Avenue Canal. This is a canal that basically runs through the city to Lake Pontchartrain. He was unable to characterize two us the seriousness of the leak, but he said, there are ongoing efforts at this hour to repair it. He could not tell us how long he thought it would take to repair, nor could he tell us what the ramifications would be if they didn't get repaired. He said, the only good news in all of this is that Lake Pontchartrain is low right now, and that might spare the city even more damage. But once again, this is a concern, a huge concern of the people in New Orleans, again, tonight, that there is a leak in the London Avenue Canal. When we have more information, we will bring it to you live.
Now, back to the story of so many of the separations we reported about over the last week or so. You had parents who were separated from their children during or after the hurricane, and they, of course, are hoping soon to be reunited with them. And one young mother is very lucky tonight, because she is actually holding her premature baby in her arms. But just a few days ago, in the wake of Katrina, that seemed impossible.
Jason Carroll has her story.
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two days after the levees broke, Khalila Robinson was in a New Orleans maternity ward giving birth.
KHALILA ROBINSON, MOTHER: I lost a lot of blood. And they couldn't -- they didn't have any equipment to try to stop it or give me medicine for the pain.
CARROLL: Her baby, Khaliza (ph), was four months premature and desperately needed a respirator. But power was fading at University Hospital in New Orleans.
ROBINSON: We didn't know how long the generator would be on before we would be rescued. So they didn't know how long she could actually live if the generator was to go out.
CARROLL: Khalila's baby was one of 121 babies evacuated over several days by helicopter to Women's Hospital in Baton Rouge.
ROBINSON: Some other mothers was too heavy. So they had to take some of the mothers off. And I was one of them that they took off.
CARROLL: Her baby stayed on the flight. Khalila had to catch the next one. She saw her baby for only a moment, and then was separated again when she was taken to a nearby shelter. With the baby's father out trying to find relatives after the storm, Khalila was alone. So Khalila's mother, who lives in Dallas, came to get her.
ROBINSON: It is very, very painful, because I really want to see her and be there with her at a time like this, because she is so little. And I just want to be there every day to see her and make sure she is doing OK.
CARROLL: The couple registered with FEMA, applying for money to get back to their baby in Baton Rouge.
ROBINSON: How long will it take for it to come in the mail?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Honestly, we don't know. Hopefully, a couple days.
CARROLL: The message from FEMA: For now, you're on your own.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I was in your shoes, I would start researching and finding these people. There's a lot of civilians have given money that want to help you. Wherever that is, I don't know.
CARROLL (on camera): Just give me a sense of what has the process been like for you so far? I mean, it is sort of...
ROBINSON: Very tedious, right now. I am really getting angry, right now.
CARROLL (voice-over): Borrowing gas money from family, the couple leaves the next morning for the eight hour drive to Baton Rouge, the parents finally getting to see their baby again.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, how are you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome back.
She looks a little bigger.
CARROLL: Tiny baby Khaliza (ph) weighs just one pound, seven ounces.
ROBINSON: Very, very excited is how I feel right now. It's hard to find words. It really is.
CARROLL: Words are not necessary.
CARROLL: Khalila and her husband have no plans to return to New Orleans; Dallas will be their new home. In the meantime, they will be staying in a shelter in Baton Rouge so they can be close to their newborn baby girl -- Paula.
ZAHN: I hope their newborn baby girl is growing and gaining strength, day by day.
Jason Carroll -- thanks so much.
We're going to take a short break and have more breaking news for you out of New Orleans on another levee breach when we come back.
ZAHN: Right now, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children is working very hard to help more than 1,700 kids who were separated from their parents either before the storm, during the storm, after the storm. Brian Todd joins me once again from the center's headquarters near Washington.
Brian, any more success there tonight?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some more success, Paula -- going to tell you about that in a moment. You're going to get a look at the room here; dozens of volunteers working it. We do have one lead that they are actively chasing at this hour: 7-year-old Calvin Hayes. He was last seen at the Houston Astrodome. He got there on September 4 or around that time with a teacher who had temporary custody of him. He has been lost since then in the Astrodome. They are chasing down a lead right now. They believe he's at the Austin Convention Center shelter in Austin, Texas. They are investigating that lead. How he got there from Houston, they don't know. They are chasing down the lead for 7-year-old Calvin Hayes. One success story we can report that we reported on this show on Friday of a 2-year-old girl -- they had no name, no date of birth -- they now report that she has been reunited with her mother. We have a name: DaCheney Williams. We showed her picture at Friday. She was at the KellyUSA center in San Antonio. She has been reunited with her mother. So, Paula, that is one success story we can report tonight.
ZAHN: All right, Brian Todd, thanks so much.
We're still trying to make some sense of some reporting that the president of the New Orleans City Council shared with us. He was saying that he believed -- well, not only believed, but the mayor had just confirmed at a briefing with members of the City Council -- that there was a leak in the middle of the London Avenue Canal. This is a canal that has breached before in the wake of the storm. It's a canal that runs through the city to Lake Pontchartrain. Now we're hearing, it may not be a breach, but a small leak. We will keep you posted throughout the night.
"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now. Thanks for joining us.
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