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PAULA ZAHN NOW

Cost of Rebuilding Gulf Coast?; New Orleans' Missing Guns

Aired September 16, 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: Thanks for your help tonight, Anderson.
Sometimes, things don't go as planned. We had some technical difficulties there at the top.

Good evening, everyone. Glad to have you with us tonight.

Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, the recovery effort is gathering speed. And, incredibly, as you can see from this picture, people are still being rescued. This man was found a few hours ago in a still-submerged neighborhood near the City Park section of New Orleans, just north of downtown. He waved a thank you as his stretcher was loaded on to an ambulance. It took him to a clearing where a helicopter then airlifted him to a hospital.

The confirmed death toll tonight for the storm stands at 812 and continues to rise, it seems, almost every hour. This was a national day of prayer and remembrance for the storm victims. President Bush attended services in Washington.

We are starting to hear some questions about how the country will ultimately play to rebuild the Gulf Coast. Despite the more than $300 billion national deficit, Congress has already approved $62 billion in aid. And the total bill could top $200 billion. This afternoon, the president said he won't raise taxes to pay for that rebuilding.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going to cost whatever it costs. And we are going to be wise about the money we spend.

The key question is to make sure the costs are wisely spent and that we work with Congress to make sure that we are able to manage our budget in a wise way. And that is going to mean cutting other programs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: New Orleans, of course, isn't the only part of the story.

D'Iberville, Mississippi, is one example of the dozens of communities overwhelmed by death, destruction and sometimes, unfortunately, downright neglect. More than half of its 7,500 residents are still homeless.

Here's Erica Hill. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Angela Elsey's (ph) family still sleeps in the shed behind their house.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's our bathroom and all the toilet paper. And that's how we do it. It's sad. I mean, we're not as bad as New Orleans, but we need help just as bad as New Orleans.

HILL: This is their living room, a dirt floor, a blue tarp for a roof, over here, plastic bags in place of a sewer system. Of course, no one expected damage like this. And then afterwards, and perhaps even more surprising, no one thought they'd be living like this three weeks later. But the Elseys say this is their only option.

In fact, six out of 10 homes here in D'Iberville were destroyed, according to the mayor. And that left some 4,000 people homeless. And they still are.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For the last two weeks, FEMA has promised me trailers or tents. Just give me a pop-up tent for my people to live in. That's the most important thing in this community.

HILL: This neighborhood is basically gone. Some folks, like Dolores (ph) and Tom Moore (ph), have friends to stay with, but not everyone is so lucky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have a shelter in D'Iberville for any of these people, quite frankly, and that -- they want to be near their homes. And that's why the people aren't going to these shelters outside of the city.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's hard to see a family of five living in a car. It's hard to see them living under overpasses, walking the streets.

HILL: Daily life for people up and down the Gulf Coast and the reality of the limits of a system never tested to this degree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm getting angry. I was upset, but now I'm getting angry.

HILL: Yesterday, the mayor met with FEMA officials and was told help is on the way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was promised tents yesterday for my people. And when I got over there, they said it would be 13 days. I can't wait 13 days. I need tents now for these people to get some type of satisfaction and some kind of some kind of end to this terrible tragedy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: That was Erica Hill reporting for us tonight.

Right now, a critical part of the Katrina recovery work is happening 1,000 miles away in Alexandria, Virginia. That's where first lady Laura Bush was today, touring the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. She was there to encourage the people who are trying to reunite more than 2,000 children with their parents.

Our Brian Todd has been following the effort to connect parents with their children. And he joins me now with an update.

Any more good news tonight?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We do have some good news, Paula.

Based on a case that we reported on CNN earlier today -- and we did report on it in the last couple of days -- this was a young man, nine months old, Ace Martinez. Someone saw a report on CNN earlier today. A social worker saw his picture. He was nine months old, last known to be with caretakers in Covington, Louisiana. His case has been resolved. He has been recovered.

We are told that he was in the care of his caretakers. We're not sure if they're his natural parents or extended family, but he was in their care. They had all gone missing together. Someone saw the picture. Someone recognized the family and the little baby. They called. They reported this case. He has been recovered. And that's as a result of something that CNN has been reporting yesterday and today earlier with this young man's picture.

Important, then, to pay special attention to these pictures as we put them up. Here is a case that's not yet been resolved. Amber Cook, she just turned 2 years old. The picture that we are putting up is an outdated baby picture. But she's clearly not much older than this at this point.

She is last known to be staying with her mother, father and grandmother at a hotel in Shreveport, Louisiana. None of them have been heard from since September 4. That was early last week. So, Amber Cook, 2 years old, missing. If you have any information about Amber or any of the more than 2,000 children that this center now lists as missing from Katrina and its aftermath, you are asked to call 1-888-544-5475. And for more information on these cases, you can go to www.missingkids.com.

Paula, they are working round the clock tracking these missing kids from this center 16 hours a day. These are all former law enforcement officers donating their time. They brought these people in from all around the country. And they are still at it. Cases like the Ace Martinez case illustrate why it's important to pay attention to this number, pay attention to the pictures that we put up on the screen -- Paula.

ZAHN: It's all the more amazing when you think that they're working off pictures in some cases that are a year-and-a-half old. And their level of success is really impressive.

Brian Todd, thanks.

Now, you can also help bring these families back together. Stay with CNN all weekend to see pictures of the missing children and help Katrina's smallest victims find their way home. Our special coverage begins tomorrow morning at 7:00 Eastern.

I want to focus now on an important aftereffect of the hurricane. We haven't heard much about it yet, but the storm has literally drowned parts of Louisiana's legal system. Does it mean the criminals, including sex offenders, will go free?

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Think of all the paperwork that marks your life's most important stages, birth certificate, diploma, marriage license and deeds and driver licenses and everything in between. Now, because of Katrina, thousands of critical records are gone. And that means that a big part of the legal system in New Orleans is now in ruins.

Here's justice correspondent Kelli Arena on putting that part of the devastated city back together.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There is finally law and order in New Orleans, but justice could take a while. Along with much of the city, many important legal records are under water.

PETE ADAMS, LOUISIANA DISTRICT ATTORNEYS ASSOCIATION: In Orleans, there's major flood damage to the courthouse and the first floor of the DA's office. They were able to get back in and begin assessing damage within the last couple of days.

ARENA: Property deeds, divorce settlements, criminal case files, some may be gone forever. Even evidence from crime scenes may have been destroyed.

CHARLES FOTI, LOUISIANA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Forensic specialists are being brought in to determine what can be recovered. That will take some period of time.

ARENA: About 8,500 prisoners were evacuated because of the flooding. In some cases, authorities don't know if they're dealing with murderers or traffic violators.

ART RODERICK, U.S. MARSHALS SERVICE: It takes some time, because prisoners, being what they are, switch armbands, change I.D.s. And then we have to physically go out and identify them, either by fingerprints or by photograph.

ARENA: Legally, anyone who's been arrested needs to go before a judge within 72 hours. Bail must be set. Some prisoners have done their time and need to be released. In all the confusion, that has not always happened. Adding to the mayhem, nearly half of Louisiana's lawyers were themselves victims of the disaster. WALTER SANCHEZ, LOUISIANA INDIGENT DEFENSE ASSISTANCE BOARD: Approximately 8,000 of them have been displaced from New Orleans and That surrounding area. And we're trying to identify among those inmates where their lawyers are, how many people need lawyers appointed who don't have them.

ARENA: Louisiana's legal community has been working in overdrive to get the system back on track. The attorney general touches base daily with a variety of principals, including representatives from the Bar Association and the Supreme Court.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Find out whether there is a legal way for us to reconstitute those courts in another parish.

ARENA: State prison officials set up a makeshift jail at a Greyhound Bus station.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the only jail in this whole area.

ARENA: And judges are conducting some court business inside state prisons where inmates are temporarily being housed outside of New Orleans.

But the one problem that no amount of hard work will solve is a lack of money. Many of Louisiana's inmates are indigent and the state pays their legal fees.

SANCHEZ: Our system in Louisiana before Katrina was underfunded by $30 to $40 million. We had excessive caseloads, undersupported attorneys. they didn't have the support and resources they needed to do an effective job.

ARENA: Now the city is even worse off. Most of the money used to defend the poor came from traffic and parking tickets. And it will be a long time before those provide any revenue in New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: That was Kelli Arena reporting.

And during the worst of the chaos, after the storm, we heard terrifying reports of sex crimes in the streets and also in shelters. Well, now the broken legal system in New Orleans has to track down thousands of known sex offenders.

Let's find out what's happening from Dan Simon.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Katrina brought out some of the worst in human behavior. The Superdome, for example, became a haven for crime, including allegations of child rape. The evacuees may now be in different places, but authorities say the threat of crime is still present.

Those in and around the shelters, authorities say, may include thousands of Louisiana sex offenders.

LT. MAURICE MCLEARY, LOUISIANA STATE POLICE: Obviously, it's a major concern. I don't know if I would rank it, but I would certainly say that it is a major concern that we're addressing.

SIMON: Lieutenant Maurice McLeary of the Louisiana State Police says as many as 450 sex offenders may have fled to shelters across the country. The offenders are required to notify local authorities of their whereabouts. But very few have done so.

MCLEARY: When you have that many people in close, confined quarters, it's disconcerting to know that you have your family there and there may be a sex offender very close to you.

SIMON (on camera): Ideally, a shelter such as this one in Baton Rouge would want to check the national sex offender registry to see if the names match those of any evacuees. But with the number of people and the limited resources, that's become quite a challenge.

MIKE EVEN, BATON ROUGE RED CROSS: We can't pull up that much data unless somebody reveals it.

SIMON (voice-over): Mike Even is in charge of the Baton Rouge center for the Red Cross. He tells us that, while they do check, the process of identifying sex offenders usually won't happen until that person has been there for a few days, which may be too long to prevent a serious crime.

EVEN: Have a great deal of concern, since we have a population that about a third are kids.

SIMON: But, so far, there have been few reports of serious incidents in or around the shelters since the evacuees left New Orleans. Police say they busted drug dealers and found weapons, but no heinous crimes involving sex.

Victims' advocates say that's no reason for people to let their guard down.

KATHLEEN CALLAGHAN, RAPE COUNSELOR: So few police compared to the number of potential victims. They can't be out there guarding us one-on-one.

SIMON: Kathleen Callahan, a lawyer and rape counselor, offered a few commonsense measures for women who find themselves in crowded shelters.

CALLAGHAN: Try to establish a buddy system with other women who might be in the same position and maybe even some trusted men, look out for each other, not necessarily stand guard, where one is -- you know, some people sleep and some stay awake, but just be able to rely on people that you can trust.

SIMON: Trust is a rare and valuable commodity for people who have lost nearly everything they've known and who face a difficult and uncertain future. (END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Dan Simon on one of many unexpected consequences of that terrible, terrible storm.

In the days after Hurricane Katrina, looters took more than food and clothing. Whole arsenals of weapons completely vanished. Where are those missing guns? Who took them and can anyone get them back?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Right now, we want to get you the very latest on what's happening in New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast.

Let's turn to Deborah Feyerick, who's been working on that. She's at our Status Alert Desk, where she is essentially lives these days.

Hi, Deborah.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Paula.

Well, status alert on gun shops. Starting tomorrow, federal agents will go to every gun shop in the affected region. Some were leveled. Some were looted. Some are still standing. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms wants to know what's what. And they have received reports that, in some places that were wiped out, soldiers are actually finding guns scattered in the rubble or turning up in unexpected places.

In New Orleans, agents have been looking for missing guns. And, acting on a tip, they went to a graveyard. They found 20 firearms wrapped in plastic and hidden in a dumpster. Only dealers keep records, so trying to help them trace what they have and what they have lost is expected to take weeks.

That tops our Status Alerts. If you have any information, you can e-mail us here at statusalert@CNN.com -- Paula.

ZAHN: Deborah Feyerick, thanks so much. Appreciate the update.

No one can be too sure just how many guns were stolen in those first days after Katrina hit, but now that order has been restored, federal agents, as you saw in those last pictures, are desperately trying to track down all of those missing weapons.

Here's Jason Carroll with more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All different types of firearms.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every day, a few more are confiscated.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These guns were taken into custody from the Convention Center.

CARROLL: Boxes and piles of weapons.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These long guns here were seized in a location.

CARROLL: Looted from gun dealers, like B.J.'s Pawn Shop in New Orleans.

(on camera): And what type of weapons do we think they sold here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All different types of firearms, handguns, long guns. You name it, they had it in there.

CARROLL (voice-over): The storm forced the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to move its New Orleans operations to a post office.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got agents that are living in a mail room.

CARROLL: Their first priority is determining the size of the gun problem.

MARK CHAIT, ATF SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE: We really don't know how many weapons may have been looted or taken around the streets.

CARROLL: One thing we do know is that weapons, looted or not, were used in the chaos after the storm. A CNN crew spent a night under siege at a New Orleans police station as armed men roamed nearby.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stand by. (INAUDIBLE)

CARROLL: And now that military units have reestablished order, search teams have reported finding people who have not died from drowning, not from the collapse of the buildings where they were sheltered, but from gunshot wounds. As to where the gun looters are, FBI agents working out of a hurricane-ravaged office have narrowed the possibilities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They either drowned, we have them under arrest, they are still in town with those weapons, or they got on the buses and were part of the exodus.

CARROLL: For the ones still here in New Orleans, are searching neighborhoods where water has receded. When you come into a community like this, what is it that you do?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we identify individuals who are here. We speak to them. We glean intelligence of who are the problematic people in town, where are they? What's their capability, the amount of fire power they have.

CARROLL: And if they skip town, there's this. It's an intelligence assessment report of a list and description of New Orleans' most violent criminals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Such as tattoos, dates of birth, peculiar aspects. We have a couple of individuals who were former professional football players. I mean it runs the gamut.

CARROLL: The assessment was send to all 56 FBI field offices nationwide so police in other cities can be on the lookout. Searching for gun thieves in New Orleans, still very much a daunting task. Half of the city's 150 square miles is under water. So after Katrina, it was divided into eight districts, each one assigned to a local or Federal agency.

SUPT. EDDIE COMPASS, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPT: We have the manpower. We have the spirit. We have the will. We have the intestinal fortitude. We have the ability and we have the love to get the job done.

CARROLL: Now they just need the leads.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: And they're going to need a lot of that intestinal fortitude. Jason Carroll reporting.

Hurricane Katrina blew the lid off an absolute scandal. Why wasn't the government ready for an emergency? Why did FEMA fail? And an inside look with some new facts coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Over the past few hours, we've been getting a disturbing account of what may have been going on inside FEMA just before Katrina hit. It comes from a FEMA employee who says the people in charge simply ignored urgent warnings about the storm. Here's Tom Foreman with more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the waters keep dropping and the Gulf coast staggers back, homeland security chief Michael Chertoff toured the region, remembering the many lives and homes lost.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: For those who remain, there is a promise as the president said yesterday of rebuilding to a better and brighter future.

FOREMAN: But Chertoff is being haunted by the past by yet another accusation that he and the bosses at FEMA, an agency he oversees ignored warnings of how bad Katrina would be.

LEO BOSNER, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MGMT SPECIALIST: We told these fellows that there was a killer hurricane heading right toward New Orleans.

FOREMAN: Leo Bosner is a long-time FEMA employee and an official of the employees' union. He helps right the daily national situation update to inform government leaders in all departments of potential problems. Very early on the Saturday morning before the Monday Katrina hit, that report told Chertoff and his FEMA leaders in bold type about the state of emergency on the coast. It said, New Orleans is a particular concern because much of that city lies below sea level. If the hurricane winds blow from a certain direction, there are dire predictions of what may happen in the city. Comparisons were noted with 1969's great killer storm Camille, but Bosner says the warning bell did not produce a strong reaction.

BOSNER: And a couple of fellows were saying why aren't we doing more? What's going on? We felt devastated. We felt let down. We had done our job, but the bosses didn't do theirs.

FOREMAN: Homeland security has admitted that each with the monster storm closing in, Secretary Chertoff was working from his home, not his office that Saturday, but they say, he was in close contact with FEMA headquarters and with top man Mike Brown, now resigned but at the time talking with the president.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm confident, Mike, that you and your team will do all you can to help the good folks in these affected states.

FOREMAN: The employees union which has helped raise these latest accusations has been unhappy for quite some time with the Bush administration's treatment of FEMA, so politics could be at play. But Secretary Chertoff is staying away from counteraccusations. He knows he'll have to answer all these charges before Congress anyway so his office is saying the focus now needs to be on the people who still need aid.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Tom Foreman reporting tonight. Residents of St. Bernard parish in suburban New Orleans get to go back home tomorrow, but what's waiting for them?

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I really don't thank that they're prepared for what they're going to find here. This is a total wipeout.

ZAHN: So what exactly is left of a community that spent nearly three weeks underwater? Miles O'Brien takes us there next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: Starting tomorrow residents of St. Bernard parish, a New Orleans suburb, will finally be allowed back into their homes. They're going to see for the first time what's actually left of their community which was battered by hurricane Katrina and then swamped under as much as 20 feet of water. The destruction is so total, so overwhelming it's bound to be a brutal shock as Miles O'Brien discovers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The next steps for St. Bernard parish are clear as mud. Now that the deep water is receding, the cold, harsh reality of an unprecedented disaster is staring Sheriff Jack Stephens in the face.

SHERIFF JACK STEPHENS, ST. BERNARD PARISH: We just never wanted to believe that it could happen to us and it has happened to us. We're living our worst nightmare with regards to a weather event.

O'BRIEN: Katrina covered more than 95 percent of the parish in deep water for days. Parish leaders say nearly every home and building here will have to be demolished.

STEPHENS: I don't think there's ever been a community that's had as hard a hit as we've had.

O'BRIEN: It is hard to comprehend an entire community of about 70,000 people obliterated during the course of a 12-hour lashing from mother nature. Now the sheriff is bracing for the grim returns.

What's the reaction going to be like when they have the opportunity to start Saturday, to come here and take a look. What do you think's going to happen?

STEPHENS: Well, a lot of these people are veterans of hurricanes. In this area, it's something that we have put up with our whole lives. So I think that they -- that they anticipate some damage, but I really don't think that they're prepared for what they're going to find here. This is say total wipeout. This is devastation.

O'BRIEN: Serra Thibodeaux says the damage is 10 times worse than she expected. What are you going to do now? Have you thought about that?

SERRA THIBODEAUX, ST. BERNARD PARISH RESIDENT: What can you do? At this point what can you do? Day by day. You can't make any plans.

O'BRIEN: Do you think you'll ever come back here and live here again?

THIBODEAUX: Probably not. There's nothing to come back to.

THARON BOASSO, ST. BERNARD PARISH RESIDENT: Everything is totally destroyed and just thrown everywhere.

O'BRIEN: Nothing to salvage?

BOASSO: Maybe a little whatnots that you can clean up, you know? My mom gave me this.

O'BRIEN: What is it?

BOASSO: It's a little box, like a little memory box and it has some words on it. O'BRIEN: The parish is teetering on the banks of oblivion. The school system is shut down and so is the hospital. Sheriff Stephens isn't sure how he's going to meet the payroll and yet amid this bleak landscape, there's talk of a new St. Bernard rising from the mud. Should St. Bernard be rebuilt?

STEPHENS: St. Bernard will be rebuilt. It may be a far different place than those of us that grew up here are used to, but I think it can be a better community. I know I might not live long enough to see it completed, but I know I'll live long enough to see it started.

O'BRIEN: You've maintained some optimism throughout all of this.

STEPHENS: Well you have to. If you didn't, you'll lose your mind.

O'BRIEN (on-camera): Tomorrow, residents here in certain parts of St. Bernard Parish will have an opportunity to come back and see what has happened and see it with their own eyes. The number of homes that can be lived on can be counted on one hand. We're talking about bulldozing 30,000 structures in this one parish alone about four miles from the French quarter.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: Very hard to comprehend all of that. Miles O'Brien reporting for us tonight.

Three weeks ago, best-selling author Anne Rice watched her native city drown. So who does she blame for that?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNE RICE: And we see the proof of our delays and the red tape and -- and the deaf ears, really.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ZAHN: Coming up next, my conversation with author Anne Rice. What does she want for her beloved New Orleans?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

Millions have wandered through the streets of New Orleans without ever even setting foot in the city through the haunting and mystical stories of novelist Anne Rice and her wildly popular vampire chronicles. So like the music of New Orleans, Anne Rice is the heart and soul of the city and tonight that heart is hurting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNE RICE: I was born on the edge of the garden district. I grew up there. The last 15 years I lived in a 150-year-old house. There were times when living there was like living in paradise. It was like living in a (INAUDIBLE). ZAHN: For years, best-selling author Anne Rice used words to bring her New Orleans to life, the spooky, the romantic, the sensual city that Rice has called home for most of her life. It was the backdrop for most of her novels and an almost daily source of inspiration.

RICE: My heart is always in New Orleans. New Orleans is in me. New Orleans shaped my life. It made me a writer. It made me a person who dreamed dreams. It made me a sensualist, a person of the imagination. It gave me everything that I am and my whole soul will always be with New Orleans. I mean, the thought of losing New Orleans is more than I can bear.

ZAHN: Rice watched from her new home in California as her beloved city filed with water, the city where she still owns a home, stores her manuscripts and memorabilia, the city where she raised her family and buried her husband, the city of her memories.

RICE: It is a cataclysm. It's like something like the destruction of the ancient city of Pompei. We've never seen anything like this in America and it's happening to New Orleans.

ZAHN: How angry are you about what has happened to your city?

RICE: Well, I'm angry. I'm distraught. I feel that our officials from Louisiana went to the Federal government. They told them we need help with the levee system. We need appropriations. We needed help from the government to shore up the levees and we needed help to stop the erosion of the wetlands and, obviously, our voices were not heard. Some things were done, but not enough was done. Not enough by any means and then this disaster finally came and we see the proof of our delays and the red tape and the deaf ears, really.

ZAHN: But Rice thinks the nation and the government is now listening and will rebuild, remembering that the Gulf coast ports and oil refineries are a crucial part of our nation's commerce and New Orleans a crucial part of our soul.

RICE: I don't think people are going to give up on this city that's been a great city for 200 years. I don't think they're going to give up on the birthplace of jazz and the home of Creole culture and the center of Cajun culture. They're not going to give up on that at all. Nobody wants to see this most unusual of cities, this most beautiful of American cities die. Nobody wants that. They can't want that.

ZAHN: But what impact do you think this tragedy will have on the soul of New Orleans?

RICE: You know, New Orleans people are some of the strongest people I've ever met in my life and they're some of the most patient people. They have strength. They have the ability to take a deep breath and to say let's go home. Let's see what's left, let's see what we can build back up. Let's see what we can preserve. My heart is broken. It's terrible devastation and to think that if we had had Federal aid for the levees, if we had Federal aid for the wetlands that we could have resisted that storm surge. Those are horrifying thoughts, but we'll go on. We'll go on. We'll ask for those things. We'll demand them. We'll get them and we'll rebuild.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ZAHN: The hope of novelist Anne Rice. Now back to the business of rebuilding.

Coming up, FEMA's brand new point man is starting his second week in one of the pressure-filled and fastest-paced rebuilding efforts in U.S. history. What's it like? How is he holding up? Our Kyra Phillips tries keeping up with him.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: So it's been exactly one week since Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen took over as the president's man in charge on the ground in the disaster zone. Allen is a career Coast Guard officer and a native of Tucson, Arizona. He happens to be third in command of the Coast Guard and in his last assignment, he was in charge of 26,000 military and civilian workers, but right now he faces the toughest assignment of his career. Our Kyra Phillips spent the day with him and filed this report just moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He wakes up as early as 3:30 a.m., Vice Admiral Thad Allen wastes no time. He's leading the largest rebuilding effort in American history and his day is jam packed. First up, news conference with the mayor of New Orleans.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: We will open up the French quarter for residential and commercial activity.

PHILLIPS: Stunning news, but the admiral immediately takes charge.

VICE ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, JOINT TASK FORCE KATRINA: The mayor and I want to be briefed on exactly who's going to be where, who's going to do what and make sure there are no ambiguity in roles and responsibility.

PHILLIPS: From press conference to videoconference. It is now 11:50. Inside his mobile command center, the admiral leads an executive conference call with DHS and FEMA. At issue, how to brief New Orleanians back home.

ALLEN: There's been some discussion in Washington about whether or not we should use vouchers to move (ph) temporary housing. That somehow...

PHILLIPS: He's only a week into the job, but it's clear he's hit the ground running. And your mission is?

ALLEN: Community of effort, increased philosophy of what's happening, cut red tape. We need to treat the victims of this catastrophe as if they were our own family. What would you do if it was your child, your husband or your mother. How would you treat them? You need to have sensitivity when you're (INAUDIBLE) these people.

PHILLIPS: 1:00 p.m. Allen gets an urgent call to board the Iwo Jima. The bells mean the admiral's coming.

ALLEN: Folks, how are you doing?

PHILLIPS: Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff is about to land.

So right now Admiral Allen is going to meet with the secretary of department of homeland security Michael Chertoff. They'll have a private meeting for about 30 minutes and then it's off to the next.

Good news, water levels are going down fast.

ALLEN: One of the reasons that this has happened much quicker than we thought is we've had evaporation that you wouldn't consider for this time of year.

PHILLIPS: 1:30 huddled inside the command post, a who's who of joint task force Katrina. Zip code by zip code, block by block, the national response plan unfolds right before our eyes. 2:30 p.m., 80,000 people back in New Orleans within two weeks. Is it a reality?

ALLEN: Well, it's a pretty tough reality. We're taking a good hard look at what the mayor's proposed, health, environmental, security, safety concerns and we're going to give it the best assessment we can.

PHILLIPS: This is a hands-on leader.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Admiral, thank you, sir for coming onboard.

ALLEN: Thank you, skipper. I don't know what the Navy term is, but fall out and gather around. So what I've been trying to do is build a sense of camaraderie, unity and team work among the Federal community that are bringing all of the assets to this fight and the other thing I've tried to do is stay out of politics. I really appreciate it. Thank you, folks.

PHILLIPS: His predecessor, General Russel Honore is still part of the team. What do you think of Admiral Allen?

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, CMDR, JOINT TASK FORCE KATRINA: He's a go-getter, very competent, mature, strategic leader. He's the right guy for the right job at the right time.

PHILLIPS: Just ask his aide, Lieutenant Katrina Harper, yes, her name is Katrina.

LT. KATRINA HARPER, COAST GUARD: It's like the energizer bunny. He doesn't stop. He's just -- he does it all and he gets out there and touches the people he needs to touch especially with this recovery.

PHILLIPS: When Allen can't be at two places at one time, his chief of staff Captain Tom Atkin is there.

CAPT. TOM ATKIN, COAST GUARD: He's given us a vision from the very beginning, focus on helping the people. Treat them all like they're family and we'll it happen.

PHILLIPS: I think he's calling you.

ATKIN: I'm sure he is. He likes me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

PHILLIPS: And yes, that was the admiral calling all of us and telling us we better hurry up, call and catch up with him. He had to go to a late dinner chow to meet and greet with volunteers, cooks, other members of his troops and then guess what happened after that? He had to go meet with the president of the United States, Paula.

ZAHN: By then he has no idea of whether he's waking anybody up when he dials the phone for all these folks that he's trying to place in the field.

PHILLIPS: He calls it his battle rhythm.

ZAHN: Absolutely. That's what it's become. Kyra Phillips, fascinating tour of his day. I'm exhausted. Take care.

That's it for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for joining us. We've a special on all the heroes among us. Please join us tomorrow night, but in the meantime, "LARRY KING LIVE" is next.

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