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PAULA ZAHN NOW
President Bush Set to Address Nation; Mayor to Allow Some New Orleans Residents to Return
Aired September 15, 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.
We are just an hour away from President Bush's live address to the nation. He flew into New Orleans just a short time ago. In light of all the government failure after Hurricane Katrina, this, according to some, will be a crucial address.
Before we get a preview, here's the very latest on a pair of natural disasters. Some 80,000 homes and businesses are without power in North Carolina tonight. And Hurricane Ophelia still hasn't blown away. Its wind and rain will be pounding the Carolina coast until tomorrow and then maybe even give Massachusetts some problems.
But there is some good news from New Orleans. The historic French Quarter should be back in business by September 26; 186,000 people, about one-third of the city's population, will be allowed to come back home over the next few weeks. Mayor Ray Nagin is warning would be-criminals, security will be tight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RAY NAGIN (D), MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: This city, for the first time that anyone can probably imagine, is drug-free and violence-free. And we are intent on keeping it that way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ZAHN: And here is a very dramatic indication of just how much water has drained out of New Orleans. Look closely. See the brown high waterline on the side of the White House? Well, today, authorities predicted the water will be completely gone by October 18.
But the damage, nevertheless, is staggering. The government today confirmed Katrina is the most destructive hurricane ever to hit the U.S. now just about an hour ago, the Louisiana death toll was raised to 558, up from 474 yesterday.
Unfortunately, those numbers are expected to climb even more. We are still learning some shocking details about the chaos in the first days after the storm. "The Washington Post" is reporting that, while 20,000 people endured hellish conditions and violence at the Convention Center, about 250 National Guardsmen were actually camped inside one of the halls, but did nothing to help.
Once again, back to President Bush. He will deliver his speech from Jackson Square in the heart of the French Quarter just about an hour from now.
White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is there now with a preview of what he will have to say.
They have actually released some excerpts, haven't they, Suzanne?
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they have, Paula.
And, of course, this is going to be a defining moment for President Bush. We saw him arrive about an hour ago, his chopper landing on the USS Iwo Jima. He was greeted by his top officials, of course, emergency officials, as well as the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans.
Now, this speech is not only going to be outlining his broad vision for recovery in Gulf region, but, also, of course, the hope is that it will help him recover his credibility and rebuild his credibility as well.
Some quick highlights here. He will offer his condolences and pledge to the American people. He will say, we will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and lives. He will go on to say that federal will cover a great majority of costs of repairing the disaster zone. He will also talk about inspector generals reviewing all of those expenditures.
And then, finally, he will say that the Gulf -- the work in the Gulf region will be one of the largest reconstruction efforts that the world has ever seen. And, finally, Paula, the president, of course, will also take some responsibility for some of the government's missteps.
All of this, of course, is what the administration hopes will enable the American people and this administration to turn the corner -- Paula.
ZAHN: Clearly, Suzanne, the administration has to concede it lost a lot of support, particularly when you look at the poll numbers, when it comes to the president's credibility. Do they really think that this one speech could even start a turnaround?
MALVEAUX: They certainly hope it's a start, but they don't believe that this one speech is going to actually do all of that. This is a beginning.
As you know, in the East Room, it was two days ago the president, for the first time, took some responsibility for those missteps of the federal government. The idea here is that they will continue to pledge money for these programs. They will continue to say whatever it says. And they will continue to try to take responsibility. They want to move forward.
They are hoping, in some way, that this speech, a very important speech for this president, will allow him to connect to the American people and allow them to move forward and perhaps some of that criticism will go away.
ZAHN: Very briefly, Suzanne, do we have any idea how involved the president was in the writing of The speech?
MALVEAUX: We know he was very involved in the writing of the speech. We know that he was practicing his speech at the White House theater earlier today, that, you know, it's important when he's actually going through.
But the way it's going to work, it's going to be a teleprompter. It's going to one camera. He's going to look into the lens and he's going to talk directly to the American people. Of course, the question here is whether or not he's going to be able to make that connection and whether or not people are going to buy what he has to say.
ZAHN: I guess we will have multiple readings of that in the days to come.
Suzanne Malveaux, thanks so much.
When we see the president tonight, he will appear all alone, as Suzanne just mentioned, in Jackson Square. But that's about to change.
To update us now on the water finally going down and the population finally about to go up, I'm joined by Jeff Koinange in New Orleans.
There must be a great sense of expectation, especially as people had to endure what they've been through over the last couple of weeks.
JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No doubt, Paula.
And remember yesterday, we were saying that experts were saying, Army Corps of Engineers, the way they're pumping out nine million gallons of water a day from the city, and it will be ready by the end of October? Well, look at that, October 18. They even gave a hard date. This shows these folks are working literally day and night to drain the city, the mayor saying earlier on today that he's going to let 180,000-plus people into the city in the coming weeks.
Wow. That's incredible, in a city that's been emptied out. It's been a ghost town the last two-and-a-half weeks. That's major, major optimistic news, Paula. But let's not forget, some of these neighborhoods, the water, once it's drained, it's still smelly. It's slimy. There's so much mud and muck. It is going to take a long time to literally clean these streets door to door across the city, Paula.
ZAHN: And people will still be living with restrictions, won't they? As I understand it, they'll have electricity back and enough water for sewage treatment to work and the toilets to work, but that water won't be drinkable for some time to come, right?
KOINANGE: That's right. There's going to be a lot of chlorine put in it, a lot testing put in it on week after week after week, because this water has been mixed with sewage and so much chemicals in the last few weeks, nobody should be allowed to drink it. Nobody should drink it, in fact, because it's so dangerous right now.
But, again, as long as that water is restored, electricity, basic social services, Paula, you'd be surprised how much of a difference that makes. And the men were saying, the French -- they will start with the French Quarter and work their way through the CDB, Canal Street and so on and so forth.
But he did say that, in some neighborhoods, at least half the buildings will have to be demolished because they've been condemned by city experts.
ZAHN: And the other thing, Jeff, the mayor made very clear, he wasn't going to tolerate any violence. There will be a curfew in place as this moving-back process begins.
Jeff Koinange, thank so much for the update.
Now, close to 200,000 New Orleans residents (AUDIO GAP) go back to their homes in the next few weeks. But, tonight, some people in the area have already returned to face the worst.
Keith Oppenheim met one man facing disaster on the outskirts of nearby Chalmette.
KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bobby Berthelot had a lot to lose.
BOBBY BERTHELOT, BUSINESSMAN: Everything was rolling. Everything was up. And, all of a sudden, it's gone in one night.
OPPENHEIM: In St. Bernard Parish, outside New Orleans, Bobby lived at a marina he owns with his brother.
BERTHELOT: This was like a little patio room. We had counters and refrigerators down here. That was a deck.
OPPENHEIM: The Berthelots also had a gas station, a bait shop, an Econo Lodge motel.
BERTHELOT: We just renovated all this lobby.
OPPENHEIM (on camera): This is a lobby that was just renovated?
BERTHELOT: Right. Don't look like it, but it was.
OPPENHEIM (voice-over): There were enough slips here for 200 boats. ESPN would come here to cover fishing tournaments.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Third day of competition at our tournament here in Chalmette. OPPENHEIM: Hurricane Katrina stopped all that, with winds that sliced buildings and a storm surge that scattered large boats.
(on camera): It's really a terrible one-two punch, wind and then water.
BERTHELOT: Right, which was hard for anything to stand.
(voice-over): The marina employed more than 60 workers.
BERTHELOT: It was about a $8 million or $10 million development from the front all the way to the back.
OPPENHEIM (on camera): How much of that do you think is gone?
BERTHELOT: It's hard to say right now. You know, we're going to try to salvage as much as we can, because we owe the bank. So, we got to salvage enough to take care of them.
OPPENHEIM: You really don't have a choice here, do you?
BERTHELOT: I don't have a choice, no.
OPPENHEIM (voice-over): A military unit arrives to shore up a shrimping boat, other than that, no help yet from insurance companies or government.
BERTHELOT: We don't know what they're going to help us with. We don't know what FEMA is going to do to help us.
OPPENHEIM: But, with all the uncertainty, Bobby Berthelot says, somehow, he will rebuild.
(on camera): Is that because you have to or because you want to or both?
BERTHELOT: Well, I guess a little bit of both. I'm not going to just give it up. I'm not going to throw in the towel. That's for sure. We worked too hard for 30 years to just throw it in.
OPPENHEIM: You feel like you owe it to yourself?
BERTHELOT: Right, and to my kids and grandkids.
ZAHN: Keith Oppenheim reporting.
Just a reminder. We're about 53 minutes away from the president's address. As we continue to count down to his speech in New Orleans, we're going to take you to a suburb there, where people say they've been all but forgotten by the federal government.
Stay with us and hear the mayor of Slidell sound off. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ZAHN: And reminder that, at the top of the hour, President Bush is expected to address tens of millions of Americans from New Orleans tonight, where he will lay out his plan for the rebuilding of the city.
But you'll have to excuse the people of North Carolina. They have got a very powerful distraction tonight. It's also a hurricane, named Ophelia. The storm is still off the coast.
And our Rob Marciano is still there watching. He has been watching it for many, many hours.
Rob, is there any sense of how much damage Ophelia has caused so far?
ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, I will tell you, a tremendous amount of damage, surprising to me, Paula, what a Category 1 storm can do.
We mentioned it yesterday, the longevity of this storm, how it's been sticking around for so long and continues to pound the North Carolina coastline. And -- and the storm surge that we saw on the sound side of this island that we are on, emerald isle, which faces the Atlantic Ocean and then has the Bogue Sound behind it. And the damage that we have seen driving towards the middle of this island is really dramatic.
And what surprises me the most, that came on the sound side. We said it was a possibility, because had that persistent east wind. But then the way the locals described how the water came up and then we see this damage, it's just unprecedented, I mean, even for a Category 4 or 5 storm to get this sort of action in here.
There are two inlets that come around the backside of this island that feed into Bogue Sound. And when the storm surge came on the oceanside at high tide, all that water was forced to one spot. And it just bubbled up. And then a north wind kicked in last night. And look what happened.
You know, this is -- I mean, this part of the storm surge, but most of it is from the hollowed-out area of this crab shack, completely hollowed out. And some of these retail outlets have been destroyed; 9/15/05, that's today's date on a boarded-up windowpane. That means the fire department came and said, all right, we checked it out. you can go in. It's safe.
But there's a lot of these buildings that are not safe to even go in to clean up. A number of retail outlets down here, wave runner rentals, and then, beyond that, the Willis (ph) Seafood, which a retail outlet as well. Fishing boats come right up to the docks here and unload their fish. And that's where you can buy it.
But those docks are completely gone now. The backside of those buildings is where the sound is. And it was angry last night, unbelievable.
The other side of this story, Paula, is, we found some kittens, a litter of kittens that lost their mother. Apparently, in the storm last night, she drowned. And it's kind of tugs at your heartstrings just a little bit. We are just not -- we're barely halfway through the hurricane season and we continue to find heartbreak, although, to a lesser extent here than down in New Orleans.
Folks are feeling it just a little bit. Haven't got word on loss of human life, but, hopefully, that number remains low.
That's the latest from here -- Paula, back to you.
ZAHN: Strong little kittens to have survived all of that.
ZAHN: Rob Marciano, thank you. And we will have you back at the end of the hour, because I know this could -- storm could also cause some trouble for Massachusetts a couple days from now.
But, coming up next, a mayor sounds off against the federal government. Coming up, has a Louisiana suburb been completely forgotten? Will anyone help?
ZAHN: That's what life is still like at the Houston Astrodome, more than two weeks after Katrina hit.
Still ahead tonight, why thousands of people who lost their homes to Katrina, now officially the most destructive hurricane ever to hit the U.S., may find their insurance policies are useless. The attorney general of Mississippi actually suing the insurance industry, and they are fighting back as well.
We're also counting down to the president's address to the nation at the top of the hour. We will have it all here live.
But, right now, the latest on the part of the Katrina disaster we have been following. There are now about 2,000 reports of children separated from their parents by the storm.
Let's quickly turn to Brian Todd, who joins us from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which is trying to reunite them.
Are they having much success, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are having success, Paula.
They say -- they say that they have matched up about 700 children with their parents or caretakers. So, that is a pretty good success rate. But what they're up against now is that they have many more children in their database than they have pictures, many more children who they're tracking than they have pictures of. And, in many cases, the pictures are outdated.
Here's an example, Nala Griffith, girl born premature on July 27. She was at the University Hospital in New Orleans in the natal intensive care unit there. She weighed only three pounds when the hurricane hit. The mother was not at the hospital when Katrina hit. She was notified of the evacuation.
She has checked all the hospitals in the New Orleans area since then. The mother, Nicole (ph) Griffith, is now staying at the Reliant Center shelter in Houston. But you have got a premature baby who weighed only three pounds about two-and-a-half weeks ago and is apparently lost.
But here are a couple of children who they do have pictures of. And it will show you the range and age of some of these kids.
Krystal Taylor, she is 8 years old, last known to be with her father in Marrero, Louisiana, but she not been heard from since Katrina hit.
And the range goes all the way up to children who are almost adults. You've got one here named Andrew Zito. He is 18 years old, last known to be in the Gretna, Louisiana, area. Now, on August 28, he spoke to his mother saying he would be staying with a friend at the time the hurricane hit. She has not seen him since then. And Andrew is noticeable by the tattoos that he's got on. He's got a grim reaper tattoo on his right leg, the letters A.Z. on his left calf, the word Andrew on his left arm. He goes by the nickname Drew.
So, you've got a range in age of kids there, from literally a month-and-a-half old to 18 years old. And this is what they're up against. If you have any information on any of these children, they're asking you to call 1-888-544-5475 or go to www.missingkids.com -- Paula.
ZAHN: We're happy to put that number up as many times as we can, as, Brian, as you have reported over so many nights, the more you put it up, there are spikes in phone calls, hopefully leading to more of these reunions you talked about.
Thanks. See you a little bit later on.
Amid all the devastation along the Gulf Coast, a huge fight is breaking out. Some of Katrina's victims say they're being cheated. Not so, says the insurance industry. Coming up, a story that might make some of you absolutely furious, and what the Mississippi attorney general plans to do about that -- first, though, this progress report on the recovery effort.
ZAHN: We're talking about an area just a few miles north of New Orleans. In Slidell, Louisiana, 15,000 people still homeless, and the mayor of that city is absolutely furious with the federal response.
Jason Carroll toured the destruction with him today. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is what much of Slidell, Louisiana, looks like; 80 percent of homes in the city east of New Orleans are damaged or destroyed, half of the city's 30,000 residents now homeless. Hundreds lined up Thursday for food stamps.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Slidell is one of the hardest-hit areas over here.
CARROLL: So much devastation and, yet, many here say they are being ignored by the agency that's supposed to help, FEMA.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They turned our case over three times. I had to keep registering.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The help line is not up. And all I wanted to know was, where is a house to live? What can I do?
CARROLL: The city's mayor, Ben Morris, just as angry.
BEN MORRIS, MAYOR OF SLIDELL, LOUISIANA: I am so pissed off about it that I can't see straight.
CARROLL: Morris says his anger comes from FEMA's broken promises, like when the agency assured him trailers would be sent to house Slidell's homeless.
(on camera): What's happened with that request?
CARROLL: What do you mean gone?
MORRIS: Nothing's happened.
CARROLL: What do you mean nothing has happened?
MORRIS: Nothing has happened.
CARROLL (voice-over): FEMA has released a statement, saying: "We have contact with the mayor and know he's frustrated. We wish we could have met all their needs already, but these things take considerable time and effort."
Perhaps, the mayor says, there would be more effort if they saw for themselves just how bad things are here.
(on camera): From the air, you really get a better sense of the devastation that the mayor was talking about. When you look down there, it's literally destruction just as far as the eye can see.
MORRIS: This is the greatest catastrophe that's occurred, natural disaster, that's ever occurred in the United States. And we're right in the middle of it. And what we're saying, all right, guys, get out of your hotel rooms. Come down here. Sleep in your car. Sleep in a tent. Sleep on the floor with us and give us some help.
ZAHN: Jason Carroll reporting.
And joining me on the phone, Slidell Mayor Ben Morris.
We hoped to have seen you tonight, Mr. Mayor, but I understand you had some problems on a bridge tonight, which is pretty typical of what you all have to put up with at this hour, right?
MORRIS: It's been unique.
Before we left the Highway 11 bridge that leads into New Orleans was -- they told us it was closed for about six hours due to some mechanicals. We took a back road down Highway 90 and we get to that bridge and it's also out. So, we're kind of -- kind of trapped in here right now.
ZAHN: Mr. Mayor, we just saw a bit of the response from FEMA to your request, that they say that what you're asking for takes considerable time and effort. Have you gotten any satisfactory explanation for why your city hasn't gotten any federal help, as far as you're concerned?
MORRIS: OK, we have gotten some, but what we -- the area that we're going into now, let me tell you -- let me -- this is -- this is a bit of a long story.
But we have been in a black hole for almost six days, since the storm arrived. We had to -- we were running our cars on aviation gas. We had no water, no lights, no telephones, no cell phones, no nothing. I'm not even sure FEMA knew we existed. The thing that disturbs me right now is, we're getting into the human tragedy, where these people are coming back to their homes and finding out that they can't live in them.
The parish president, Kevin Davis, requested trailer parks to be built to house the citizens that are homeless. I have requested them for the first-responders. It's my understanding that the -- FEMA has stopped the trailers, or at least brought the trailers in and has ordered it stopped and that the parish had been ordered not to put the electric power to the trailers for the first-responders.
ZAHN: Mr. Mayor, I understand you were so angry about what has happened, you told one of our producers that, if you were there when a generator truck was turned around and directed away from Slidell, that you would have shot out the truck's tires and taken the generators yourself.
So, you really would have been willing to break the law because of the sense of desperation there?
MORRIS: Well, we had hospitals on very low generator power. Our pumps at the wells were down. We are basically in the dark, except for our public operations area, where we had a -- a generator set up.
This has been probably one of the most incredible experiences that I've ever had. And you know not only did they turn generators around, they turned fuel around. So we had to use aviation fuel in our police cars and our public utility vehicles.
ZAHN: Well, I hope it's meaningful to you that FEMA now says they know just how frustrated you are. And they seem to have a sense of what you all need. I hope you get what you need. Mayor, Ben Morris, good luck. Thanks.
Time now to get the very latest on what's happening right now in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast states. Our Deborah Feyerick has been working on that. And she joins me now from our status alert desk. Hi Deborah.
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Paula.
Well, status alert: diving for debris. Canadian divers are feeling their way through dark waters in an effort to clear debris and reopen the waterways southeast of New Orleans. Divers are conducting what's called sweep missions using sonar pictures to locate hazardous objects. And the water is so murky and so filled with objects the divers can see just 12 inches from their face, that's on a good day. On a bad day, it's just six inches.
Part of their mission is to find and remove victims of the hurricane.
Status alert: phones down. It's been three weeks since the storm and 300,000 phone lines in Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana are still down and out. Bell South, the only major provider in the region, is hoping that everyone has service by the end of October. The company reportedly in talks with Verizon and SBC to get extra manpower to help with repairs. Until then, customers without service can go to portable phone banks to make calls and go online if they've got gas for their car to get there.
That tops our status alert. E-mail us here at StatusAlert@CNN.com with any information you may have on the Gulf states -- Paula.
ZAHN: Deborah Feyerick, thanks so much.
I wanted you to see something now, soldiers going house to house in New Orleans this afternoon, discovered a stranded dog at the top of a stairway. It was merely a skeleton. I'm going to show you what happened next. Please stay with us.
ZAHN: First, the shock of losing your home to Katrina, and now, the outrage. After years of paying insurance premiums, some home owners are seething with anger after being told their insurance won't necessarily pay to repair or replace their homes. In Mississippi, Katrina destroyed more than 68,000 homes, apartments and condominiums. One estimate says insurance companies may face $60 billion in damages.
Now, down on the ground, the damage is even more shocking. Look at this, entire communities all but erased. The insurance companies say they'll cover wind damage, but not damage caused by the waters that rolled in from the Gulf. The industry say that's flooding and standard policies don't cover that.
Now if the companies don't pay, the home owners could get stuck with the bill or maybe even you the taxpayer, if the government decides to step in.
Well, today, Mississippi's attorney general, Jim Hood, jumped into the controversy. He has filed a lawsuit that would force five insurers to cover the damage no matter what caused it. He joins me from Jackson. Good to see you, sir. Thanks for joining us.
So explain to us tonight how it is that a lot of these policies explicitly exclude coverage of flooding. Does that mean these policies are meaningless to you?
JIM HOOD, MISSISSIPPI ATTORNEY GENERAL: Yes, and they sold them as if they were hurricane policies. And now, you know, they're trying to use legal loopholes and exclusions and the fine print to tell people that they're not going to cover their damage for the storm surge. They called it a hurricane policy, yet it doesn't cover storm surge according to them.
ZAHN: But the fine print exists. It's in writing, isn't it, in most of these policies, what people signed on to?
HOOD: Well, Paula, as you know insurance companies hire a fleet of Philadelphia lawyers to draft up these insurance policies, yet they didn't even place the terminology in place of storm surge.
If they were to try to exclude storm surge they should have placed that in the contract. And I believe our courts will construe that to -- against the insurance companies. And these people should be covered.
You know, as you said, with 68,000 people who have lost their homes, they have nothing but hope. And as Mississippi's attorney general, I'm not going allow the insurance companies to take that hope away from them.
ZAHN: But to be fair here, Attorney General Hood, isn't it true some of these policies explicitly state that no spray from the sea would be covered, and some of them do in fact say the storm surge wouldn't be covered under the terms of this agreement?
HOOD: None that we have seen have stated specifically the storm surge is not covered.
You know, they had a separate provision in there for hurricanes. It talked about a hurricane deductible. People were told that they didn't have to buy flood insurance unless they lived in a flood zone. None of the banks were requiring that they have so-called flood insurance.
So I think that most people who purchased a hurricane policy assumed that it would cover anything that was the result of a hurricane. And certainly, a 30-foot storm surge would be part of a hurricane.
ZAHN: All right. So what is the bottom line here, that you're going to have to bring engineers on a case by case basis and determine what was the actual cause of the damage, and someone's going to have to moderate this?
HOOD: That's what I'm trying to avoid with this suit on behalf of the state of Mississippi. We're not asking for any damages. We're just asking a court to construe this provision, so we can avoid so many lawsuits. And some insurance companies are paying what they owe. They're going on and paying on these policies. But some aren't. And we hope this will force them to do that.
And certainly, the pressure on the companies -- I mean the banks are going to be left holding the bag. It's going to bankrupt about half of the people, businesses, cities, counties, on our Gulf coast. I feel like the federal government will also step in.
But I don't want our taxpayers to have to foot the bill that the insurance companies owe. And I'm going to try to force them to pay what they owe.
ZAHN: Of course, you know what some of them are saying tonight, that if you succeed you're going to bankrupt them because the policies, whether it's fine print, little print, large print states that they're not going to cover water damage.
HOOD: Yes. But you know, they always say that. They always say -- they said it after Hurricane Camille in 1969, this is going to bankrupt us if you make us pay for this wind and water damage.
They're talking even by their own estimates between $2 billion and $4 billion additional money that they will owe. That's certainly not going to bankrupt the insurance industry, which has reserved somewhere in the neighborhood of $465 billion.
They will make those statements in an attempt to garner sympathy, but I guarantee you, I've been on the coast today down there and people that are down working on their homes, don't have much sympathy for these insurance adjusters that are trying to take advantage of them.
ZAHN: Well, we're going to follow this very closely. Mississippi attorney general Jim Hood, thank you for joining us tonight.
Every single day we watch little dramas play out on the streets of New Orleans. And this afternoon I saw something I want to share with you, it's a moment of care and concern that just might have saved a life.
ZAHN (voice-over): As National Guardsmen make their way through New Orleans brown, filthy flood water, they're alert for any sound, any sign of life. And this afternoon, they heard something from the top of a stairway behind a house. Look closely. At the very top of the stairs is an abandoned black dog. It was terribly thin and afraid.
A guardsman cut the top off a bottle of clean water and left it on the stairs. As the dog drank it dry, the soldiers broke up some food and tossed it to the famished animal.
This dog was just one of an estimated 30,000 animals affected by the hurricane. The dog wouldn't come when a soldier called it, and the guardsman had good reasons to approach carefully. Just today, a colonel complained that pitbulls, left behind by their owners, have formed packs that are attacking his soldiers.
But this story has a happy ending. The soldiers eventually managed to trap the black dog, and they carried it to safety, sending it on its way to one of the shelters that have been set up for animals. The end of a very long challenge, just one story among thousands.
ZAHN: Meanwhile, animal welfare organizations are pooling their resources to reunite pets with their owners. If you need more information, you can go to the ASPCA and the Humane Society Web sites.
We're just about 20 minutes or so away from President Bush's address tonight from New Orleans. What is he about to tell the nation? Will it help bring his poll numbers up? Will it help calm people's angers? And can he regain his political stature? Lots to talk about on the other side. We'll be right back.
ZAHN: And we are about 20 minutes away from President Bush -- actually, look, as our little clock says, 18 minutes away from his speech, where he will address the nation from Jackson Square, in the heart of New Orleans' French Quarter. Let's check in again with White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.
Suzanne, how important is the White House saying this speech is tonight?
MALVEAUX: The White House believes this is a critical speech for the president. Really, this is a defining moment for him. We are told that just moments ago, the president really practicing his speech up until the very last minute, even aboard the USS Iwo Jima, going through the last-minute corrections and notes and things of that -- practicing earlier. They believe that this is an opportunity, and a necessary one, for the president not only to lay out this broad vision of recovery of the Gulf region, but also perhaps to try to recover some of his credibility as well. ZAHN: And do they really believe those numbers will shift at the end of the day?
MALVEAUX: Well, they don't believe that one speech is going to do it, but they believe what the president needs to do tonight is to simply look into the TelePrompTer, look in that single lens, and simply talk to the American people, to make some sort of connection. But even White House aides will concede this is not really the best form for the president, when it comes to communicating. He does much better when it comes to group settings, live audiences, spontaneous events, but this is the type of thing they know he has to focus. They know it's very serious and they know that he has to deliver that message.
ZAHN: Suzanne Malveaux, we'll see you in a couple of minutes. Thanks for the update.
President Bush is facing what is certainly one of the biggest challenges of his presidency. Even before the hurricane, polls showed his image as a leader taking a pounding, and now criticism for his response to Katrina. Tonight, as Suzanne just mentioned, he's going to try to turn that around, but first, how he got to this point, from Dana Bash.
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The hands-on Bush image people see now is very different from three weeks ago as Katrina barreled toward the Gulf Coast. Then, Cindy Sheehan and anti-war protesters were at the president's doorstep, and he was out of sight. He knew the storm was coming and managed with his CEO approach: Called area governors, the New Orleans mayor, was assured by aides unprecedented resources were ready.
By Sunday, before the storm hit, he signed disaster declarations, releasing federal funds, and called the press to his ranch to issue a warning.
BUSH: I urge all citizens to put their own safety and the safety of their families first by moving to safe ground.
BASH: He privately warned a top aide they may eventually have to scrap the schedule, but this is a president who delegates and multitasks, so he went to Arizona for a Medicare event Monday, adding what he thought would be a reassuring line.
BUSH: I want the folks there on the Gulf Coast to know that the federal government is prepared to help you when the storm passes.
BASH: By Tuesday morning, now in San Diego, the president knew the levees in New Orleans had broken. That meant disaster. He told aides they would be going back to Washington, but again, his style was methodical. The cabinet needed time to reassemble, so he waited to return as well, focused then still on what seemed to be his most pressing political challenge.
BUSH: We'll build a free Iraq that will fight terrorists instead of giving them aid and sanctuary.
BASH: Mr. Bush never considered canceling the planned speech on Iraq. It was that stay-the-course Bush instinct, while New Orleans was filling with water, that even some allies say betrayed him.
The conservative "New Hampshire Union Leader" wrote this: "A better leader would have flown straight to the disaster zone and announced an immediate mobilization of every available resource." Again, though, he followed instinct. Unlike some predecessors, this president generally avoids appearing at disaster zones right away, saying it drains resources from rescue and recovery.
CROWD: We want help! We want help!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at all these people you see here dying!
BASH: But the images were devastating. People on the ground appealing for help; their president viewing the damage from far above.
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: It was the fly-over in Air Force One and tip the wing to look at it. It had an imperial quality about it as well.
BASH: Back at the White House, the president once again delegated.
BUSH: FEMA Director Mike Brown is in charge of all federal response and recovery efforts in the field.
BASH: As the rescue efforts were slow to start, complaints about the federal response poured in.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Well, the buck stops at the president's desk.
BASH: The White House privately insisted the mayor and governor deserved blame, too, but publicly tried to stay above the fray.
Yet after watching TV newscasts about chaos at the Convention Center, the president seemed to have a moment of truth.
BUSH: The results are not acceptable.
BASH: But the image of a slow-to-act, some say slow-to-care president had already taken hold. Working against instinct, he dropped his stay away policy and became a frequent presence on the ground. He tried and failed to take over security from the governor. He gave into intense criticism his FEMA director was in over his head, and uncharacteristically, ordered him home, then let him go.
BUSH: I'm going to find out, over time, what went right and what went wrong.
BASH: He promised an investigation, and finally, after deflecting accusations for two weeks, he held some blame, a stunning about-face. BUSH: To the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility.
BASH: The White House hopes this approach, capped by his address to the nation, reestablishes the president's credentials as a decisive crisis manager and a rally-the-country leader.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When disaster strikes, everybody looks to the president, not to the governor, not to the mayor, not to local officials, but to the president of the United States.
ZAHN: Dana Bash, reporting for us tonight.
We are just about 12 minutes and six seconds, our clock says, away from the president's address. One of his toughest critics is coming up next. Can the president say anything to satisfy Howard Dean?
ZAHN: Right now, we're just minutes away -- nine minutes, to be exact -- from President Bush's address to the nation from New Orleans.
Earlier I spoke with someone who has been highly critical of the president's response to the disaster, former Democratic presidential candidate, now Democratic National Committee Chairman, Howard Dean.
ZAHN: Governor Dean, good to see you. Welcome.
HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: Thanks for having me on.
ZAHN: Our pleasure.
The polls would indicate that the American public overwhelmingly supports the idea of rebuilding New Orleans. The president expected to lay out a specific plan tonight. What kind of a bounce do you think he'll get in the polls?
DEAN: I can't say that. But I can tell you what had better be in the plan. First of all, FEMA needs to become an independent agency again, as it was under President Clinton.
Second of all, the bankruptcy bill needs to be put off. It takes effect in about a month. There are going to be hundreds of thousands of people from Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana who are going to be in hoc for the rest of their lives if that bankruptcy bill isn't put off. And that needs to be done. That needs to be put off for a year for everybody in America, or give a special exemption to people from those states.
Thirdly, we cannot pass an extension of the estate tax. Sooner or later people in this country are going to wake up and understand that if you have $750 billion around to give to 25,000 American families, you'd be better rebuilding New Orleans, rebuilding Mississippi, rebuilding Alabama and then having some left over to start paying down the deficit and start investing in American jobs again.
ZAHN: Governor, you've said the ugly truth that skin color, age and economics played a significant role and who survived and who did not. Are you suggesting that the president doesn't like black people?
DEAN: No. That's the Republican National Committee is trying to say that. Most of the controversial things I've supposedly said in the last year or so have been spin machined by the Republican National Committee who reworks them and sends them out to enterprising reporters hoping that one of them will pick it up.
ZAHN: Do you think the president looks at all Americans equally?
DEAN: I think this president -- I don't think this president is a racist. His policies have had the effect of harming some people more than others. For example, 80 percent of Americans, white, black or brown, have seen their income drop by $1,700 on average under this president. That hurts everybody.
Cutting Medicare, cutting Medicaid, trying to privatize Social Security, that disproportionately hurts people in the lower income brackets, white, black or brown because they rely on the programs.
ZAHN: So if you use your math, you're saying this president only cares about the 20 percent of Americans that are rich?
DEAN: If you look at his policies, that's true. The president has been good for the 20 percent of the people, one of which includes me, who are at the top and not so great for the 80 percent of the people who aren't at the top.
ZAHN: What about the folks in New Orleans? We know that three- quarters of the population was African-American, and by and large, poor.
DEAN: That's right. And you know, I've said before, we still have a race problem in this country. Most people don't want to know about that.
ZAHN: But isn't it true, governor, that the same people you're talking about New Orleans that are homeless today were poor under Bill Clinton's leadership?
DEAN: Yeah. But Bill Clinton didn't try to cut Medicare and Medicaid and privatize Social Security. At least he had the temerity to understand that there was a problem, and we ought to do something about it.
ZAHN: Appreciate you dropping by tonight.
DEAN: Thanks, Paula. My pleasure.
ZAHN: Well, that's one opinion. And probably a predictable one at that.
Time to get some reaction now from James Glassman of the American Enterprise Institute. He joins us from Washington. And "Time" magazine columnist Joe Klein here in New York. Welcome to both of you.
Joe, quickly put this into context for us. This is the fourth trip the president's made to the region against the backdrop of some of the poll numbers that we're going to put up on the screen right now. With an average -- when you look at all of these polls straight across the board an approval rating of 42 percent. What can the president say tonight that will turn any of those numbers around?
JOE KLEIN, TIME: Well, I don't think that this is a huge turning point moment for the president. It's an important speech. And he will be able to reassure the people in the region. But the reason why those poll numbers are low is not merely because of the hurricane. In fact, people kind of think he did OK, not terrific. He has...
ZAHN: So you think it's Iraq and gas prices that are driving it?
KLEIN: He has a much greater problem -- Yes. I mean, you know, I think it's going to come to be seen in the end that he handled Katrina better than he handled Iraq.
ZAHN: What about the race issues here, James, and how the president starts to chip away at that, when the majority of Americans who are black, feel the response was slow, because the victims were mostly black.
JAMES GLASSMAN, FELLOW, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: Right. Well clearly the response was not slow because of the victims being African-American. But the president has a tremendous opportunity here. What he can do with New Orleans in the social infrastructure department could be overwhelming.
ZAHN: But that perception exists.
GLASSMAN: Oh, you know, OK, the perception exists, but frankly, it's not very accurate. I lived in New Orleans for many years. New Orleans has been a poor city, certainly a city where blacks are poor, where blacks are warehoused in terrible housing projects. It's a disgrace. And it's a disgrace, even though it's been led generally by African-American mayors.
This is not a race issue. The great opportunity for the president right now, he can reform the New Orleans school system. He can do something to encourage real industry in New Orleans, through enterprise zones. There are all sorts of great things that can be done.
This city can be rebuilt. And I hope that that's what he's going to emphasize tonight, an exciting, optimistic vision of rebuilding New Orleans.
ZAHN: And I think most people agree, the city can be rebuilt. But what they're looking at, is the price tag for this. And what this means to the American taxpayer down the road.
KLEIN: Well, yeah. I think that it's no accident that the Congress has pushed back reconsideration -- repeal of the estate tax, which is the tax which is what the Republicans call the death tax. I think that there's a real budget crisis that we have, because of all the money that's going to both Iraq and to here.
But Jim's right. I mean, this is a real opportunity to have the conversation about race and poverty in this country. And both sides, Republicans and Democrats, have been avoiding this, for the most of, you know, for the most of the past 25 years.
ZAHN: So what are the chances, James, in closing tonight, that we really will see a bipartisan debate here, and a meaningful one at that?
GLASSMAN: You know, Paula, I think they're very good. I think we spent a lot of time with recriminations and finger pointing. And there certainly were failures up and down the line. But I think we're finally beginning to get beyond that.
I really congratulate Mayor Nagin for bringing people back to New Orleans, saying that people can come back to the French Quarter. And I am very optimistic about this city being rebuilt.
ZAHN: Well, we appreciate both of you giving us an idea of what we should look for tonight. Joe Klein, James Glassman, thanks again.
And that is it for all of us. We really appreciate you're being with us tonight. Our coverage of the president's address from New Orleans continues right now. Here's Larry King.
LARRY KING, HOST, LARRY KING LIVE: Thank you, Paula.
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