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CNN Presents: Heroes Among Us, Hurricane Katrina Recovery

Aired September 17, 2005 - 15:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR, CNN PRESENTS: In place to meet basic human needs. The mayor of New Orleans hopes to have 200,000 evacuees back in the city within the next couple of weeks.
About 15 minutes from now Iran's president speaks before the United Nations regarding the countries nuclear program. In an exclusive interview with CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lashed out at efforts to curtail Iran's nuclear pursuits.


PRES. MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRAN (through translator): We are against nuclear apartheid, which means some have the right to possess it, use the fuel and then sell it to another country for ten times its value. We are against that. We say clean energy is the right of all countries. But also, it is the duty and responsibility of all countries, including ours, to set up frameworks to stop the proliferation of it.


WHITFIELD: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says when diplomatic efforts are exhausted, the U.N. Security Council must become involved in the nuclear dispute with Iran. Rice addressed the general assembly earlier today.

Outbreaks of violence continue in Afghanistan as the country prepares for crucial elects tomorrow. Officials say three police officers and seven insurgents were killed in the latest clashes. And the government says 20 people were arrested today in a foiled bomb plot. They're accused of planting bombs at a hydroelectric dam in southern Afghanistan.

I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta, more news at the bottom of the hour. CNN PRESENTS begins right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Tonight, in the wake of Katrina's devastation, ordinary people, and extraordinary deeds. Doctors risk their lives to save their patients.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were walled in with water and the snipers and everything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We kept on being assured that someone was coming to get us. They knew what the situation was. We were going to sit tight. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wednesday we began to set up plans to sort orchestrate our own evacuation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A hotel exec works to keep his guests safe and the lights on as New Orleans sinks into chaos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We watched guys bust out the windows. It's pretty dangerous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A choice no mother should ever have to make.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you jumped, what did you tell your 5- year-old son?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mommy's going to get us help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the desperate quest to reunite a family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to help you, so you're not going to be alone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A California businessman takes evacuations into his own hands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If only you get on that plane in my time here in the last 48 hours, it's worth it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When circumstances were at their worst, they were at their best. CNN PRESENTS special, "Heroes Among Us."

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR, CNN PRESENT: They are the heroes amid the chaos. No one asked them to help. They just did. Welcome to CNN PRESENTS, I'm Paula Zahn. In a catastrophe like Katrina, stories of courage and heroism abound. Stories of those who waited into the disaster, who worked tirelessly to save lives to help those in need. Heroes like the ones who emerged from Charity Hospital in New Orleans. CNN's senior medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta was at this devastated hospital as it struggled to hold on. When hope was all but running out.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You in the tree?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm in the water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're in the water?

DR SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: As the first people were rescued from the floodwaters of New Orleans, some were brought here to Charity Hospital. Charity has always been the hospital of last resort for many of the city's poor, uninsured and often forgotten.

DR. JAMES AIKEN: We see people who present challenges. You know, anybody who willingly works at a public hospital has to have a certain level of commitment and motivation to help people.

GUPTA: Dr. James Aiken did his residency at Charity Hospital over 20 years ago. Now the hospital's director of emergency preparedness, he has spent years planning for disasters. But nothing prepared him for this.

AIKEN: There are some things you can plan on and some things you can't. What happened afterwards was not part of the plan.

GUPTA: Monday afternoon, August 29, a breach in the levee starts pouring water into downtown. Twenty nine year old Dr. Michael Abatzis a resident with Charities intensive care unit watches the flooding in disbelief.

DR. MICHAEL ABATZIS, CHARITY HOSPITAL: You guys should see the water rising. It was going up six inches an hour the first night.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were up to our ankles in water.

GUPTA: An island in the flood, Charity Hospital quickly becomes a shelter.

WILLIAM MORGAN, EVACUEE: The good mayor said evacuates but I really had no place to go. I couldn't crowd myself into the Superdome. They don't have medical facilities. They have no way of tending to my needs. I decided I would ride it out. This hurricane reared up and showed its ugly head.

GUPTA: By Tuesday, Charity's emergency generators are under water. With dwindling power, staff members scramble to keep their patients alive.

ABATZIS: We found an area of the hospital where the emergency generators were working. We just ran hundreds of feet of extension cord into the ICU to run our life support stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Lean your head back, baby, so you can get sleep.

GUPTA: Trying to treat patients under war-zone like conditions, doctors and staff cope with the situation that's only getting worse.

DR. RODERICK BENNETT, CHARITY HOSPITAL: We don't have electricity. We don't have water. We can't run labs, we can't take x- rays. I mean we're basically back to primitive medicine.

ABATZIS: You can get by easier without power than you can without water. We weren't able to do dialysis on any patients now because that relies on water pressure. Some people were starting to get worried at that point.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, it's hard when we're hearing things on the radio about people looting and violence going on in the city.

AIKEN: Every night was a very, very scary situation. I mean, you could hear the gunfire. We had a s.w.a.t. team comes through the hospital because they had gotten report of a hostage situation. So things were getting very, very tense.

GUPTA: Staff, and patients, try to comfort each other.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I know we will get through it and we will survive this.

GUPTA: Their only hope, word that help is on the way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you, I need you to survive it is his will.

GUPTA: Wednesday dawns, still no sign of relief.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't understand why we can't continue 24-hour evacuation of hospital where we have sick and dying patients. We just don't understand.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We come before you at this precious time, dear lord.

ABATZIS: We kept on being told, hey, help's on the way, don't worry about it, this is all going to be FEMA. FEMA is going to be taking over; the National Guard will come in and move out all your patients.

AIKEN: Wednesday night we were becoming quite concerned and at that point I believe we lost our first dialysis patient.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have not been able to evacuate.

GUPTA: When we return, Charity is left helpless.

ABATZIS: Somebody said, hey, we have already been evacuated. So we were making calls, saying, hey we're still here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know even yesterday we were told to get patients ready to evacuate. And nothing has happened.

GUPTA: And staffers have to decide what to do.

AIKEN: We're at the mercy of others. We're walled in with water and the snipers and everything. We very much felt alone.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome back to CNN PRESENTS "Heroes Among Us."

GUPTA: Wednesday, August 31. It's been two days since Hurricane Katrina left New Orleans in its deadly wake. A hospital named Charity struggles to survive.

MORGAN: All this is organized chaos. ABATZIS: At this point, on Wednesday, we haven't had anything for our ICU patients. We didn't have monitors for everybody. We couldn't get blood work on any body, we couldn't get x-rays, and we couldn't get cat scans. We couldn't get any of the just routine stuff that -- to keep an eye on people.

BENNETT: Some of the elderly patients they are just not built for the 90-degree heat and they are already sick and we can't get all the medicines we need for them rapidly.

GUPTA: Dr. James Aiken the one man inside the hospital who has planned for nearly every disaster scenario is realizing all bets are off.

AIKEN: At this point we really did have a sense of urgency to try to get things done on our own. So that night I began to make phone calls to sort of orchestrate our own evacuation plan.

ABATZIS: One of the other doctors in the ICU, Jeff Williams, had actually called CNN.

DR. JEFFREY WILLIAMS: We have not been able to evacuate almost anyone. I think three people yesterday, and two today, out of 250. We have at least 42 critical patients as of early this morning.

GUPTA: Did you ever think when you were working at charity hospital you would be moving around in a boat to get to work?


GUPTA: With possible snipers over your head?

ABATZIS: No, I didn't.

GUPTA: The next day I managed to arrive at Charity Hospital with the CNN crew. The conditions I find are deplorable. The ER is forced to move to higher ground. The morgue is flooded and bodies are stacked between floors 11 and 12.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I will compare it to being on the Titanic. It was dark, the lights were blinking. the water was starting to come in through the windows.

GUPTA: With no power and no elevators the staff struggles to carry patients up flights of dark stairs.

AIKEN: We ran out of stretchers. We ran out of spine boards. We pulled doors off of hinges and carried them down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please rescue us. WE will help you in any way.

GUPTA: The staff pleads with us to get help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have to take everybody out of here. You cannot survive in this place. I don't think the dead bodies floating around. I don't think we can survive. We have to come out. If you can just tell the United States, please, help us. Thank you.

GUPTA: After impassioned pleas by phone helicopters are finally promised. Now they must get their patients across the street to a makeshift helipad they are sharing with Tulane University Hospital.

DR. BEN DEBOISBLANC, CHARITY HOSPITAL: We put them in boats and we put them in trucks and we drove them here across this flood to this heliport and we've been waiting here for hours trying to get them out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The patients are getting fevers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't even have enough oxygen for them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We used up tank after tank. Our Tulane colleges have been very gracious to let use the teleport to let us try to get out patients out. They have given us their resources. What we don't have, we don't have a coordinated effort by FEMA to get us the helicopters to get these patients out.

GUPTA: Take a look over here behind me. These patients have been waiting here for several hours. Some of the bags, some of the patients requiring ventilators have had air forced in by hand over the entire day today. They are waiting to be evacuated. You can hear and see the choppers.

The choppers flying -- when I filed this report Thursday it's clear, time is running out. The situation here not entirely safe. You are starting to see the National Guard presence for the first time. There were snipers on some of the buildings right around here. They are actually taking shots at the doctors and patients as they were trying to evacuate.

AIKEN: Finally we convinced people we were in dire need. And so once again we would set up plans only to have it halted because of the sniper fire.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have been crying for help. Anybody who will listen. We have a need. These patients don't have anything. We are their only hope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two of them have already died here on this ramp waiting to get out. In this very spot.

GUPTA: Two died here because you couldn't get out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two died here because we could not get them out.

GUPTA: The Charity staff watches as Tulane's people get out, while their own patients are ignored.

ABATZIS: We are just incredulous that this is going on. I lost my voice. I was doing a lot of yelling.

BENNETT: It kind of hurt my heart to see some of our sicker are patients being bagged while they are standing there, one helicopter taking off, with perfectly well people. As the doctors pushed to get their patients out and Tulane staffers tried to lend a hand it becomes painfully clear Charity like many of its patients has been forgotten.

DR. MICHAEL PHILIP KIERNAN, TULANE MEDICAL CENTER: We have been mobilizing with them since yesterday trying to help them. They came over with patients and we tried to get them on choppers too. But they had nothing happening. Nobody in the state was doing anything for them.

GUPTA: After two more frustrating days of fighting for their patients, Charity Hospital finally gets them all to safety.

ABATZIS: Everybody at the hospital was banding together. We wanted to get the patients out of there. That was everybody's first concern.

AIKEN: When that last patient went off and the last staff person waved, that to me was the moment I knew we pulled off something that we never would have imagined being able to pull off before all this started.

GUPTA: Now, back in New Orleans, as part of the relief effort, Dr. Aiken's work continues as he looks toward saving even more lives he reflects back on how he was able to save one.

AIKEN: I do remember a time at the very end when I was helping to position a gurney to put this patient on a very hard floor in an 18-wheeler and he could see it was coming. He reached -- he reached up and shook my hand.


ZAHN: Just ahead, when New Orleans was sinking into despair he was already busy rebuilding.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the reasons why we wanted to get going so fast was because we want to be first up and operating.

ZAHN: The man they call the king of Canal Street. When we return.


ZAHN: Even as Hurricane Katrina was still rumbling toward the Gulf Coast, one man was already planning a response. Lining up generators, supplies and personnel. No, he wasn't a federal, state, or local official or even a rescue worker. He is, however, a hero. A leader who has brought a sign of hope to a city desperately in need of it. Here is CNN's Drew Griffin.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our biggest challenge is trying to get water, power --

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): For a week after Katrina you could find him under the only light actually burning on Canal Street. The Sheraton sign has been battered but bright since the Saturday after the disaster. How could it have electricity in a city still mired in darkness? When you meet this New Orleans hero you might think he is generating the power all by himself.

We go, we rock n' roll and get it done. Our idea is to make sure we get things up and operating, our infrastructure in first before everybody else does. Just another portable generator we brought in.

GRIFFIN: Kevin Regan is vice president of Starwood Hotels, but on post hurricane Canal Street he's a king.

REGAN: Kevin Regan to Eddie and Neal.

GRIFFIN: His scepter is his radio. It helps him keep track of the three hotels he's trying to get up and running. Bouncing between the Sheraton, the W-Hotel French Quarter and the W Hotel New Orleans.

REGAN: Did you guys see those guys come down.

GRIFFIN: He's trying to bring back to life not one, but all three of his hotels in a city pronounced dead. Is this city coming back?

REGAN: Yes it will be back. I think you know we're going to be up and operating and probably have a few hundred rooms within the next couple of weeks. We're going to house all the contractors. We will get the city rebuilt.

On this side of the building was where it sustained most of the damage.

GRIFFIN: Truth is it Regan city is already being rebuilt. The W New Orleans lost 50 percent of its windows.

REGAN: The suction just pulled the windows right out of it.

GRIFFIN: Repair supplies are on the way.

REGAN: We have about 500 sheets of plywood coming in within the next couple of days. This is what we started from a dehumidification standpoint.

GRIFFIN: Dehumidifiers are drying carpets at the Sheraton. Three blocks away at the W French Quarter the chefs are organizing to restart the kitchen.

REGAN: Did they clean out the freezers. Nope, they haven't. Nope, they haven't. They are not going to get the diesel trucks.

GRIFFIN: Regan over sees it all working nonstop.

REGAN: We will go back over toward the Sheraton. I have to check on some diesel fuel. And make sure that we get the diesel truck here before they run out at 4:00 in the morning. GRIFFIN: That's right, power. Right in the center of the darkened city Regan's first recovery plan was to get the lights back on.

By Friday, even amidst all the chaos, the Starwood Hotel group managed to energize, to power their hotel right here in the French Quarter, the W. It's now a police precinct. How did you handle all three hotels when this town was going to hell?

REGAN: Very carefully. We had escorts everywhere. But we were able to get these power guys and get our power up. Get the generators in. So we had connections between the city, and the guys that were out at the roadblocks. And are you bringing your employees in?

GRIFFIN: Regan and Starwood had what the city of New Orleans apparently did not, a plan, generators were lined up, supplies, electricians, even insurance adjusters. Guests and staff from all three hotels would consolidate into one property.

REGAN: This is where we housed everybody during the storm.

GRIFFIN: Ride out the storm then they would all evacuate. All Regan had to do was get here, law and order had broken down. The city was under siege by roaming gangs and looters and thugs.

REGAN: We had gunfire up and down here. We had looters over here. There were people jumping through the windows and stealing stuff. The easiest thing for us was to make sure that we were up and operating. We kept our command center rolling. Probably 11 rooms, 12 rooms.

GRIFFIN: And it has been up and rolling for weeks now. The problem for Regan is the city didn't seem to be rolling along with him.

But there was no plan.

REGAN: Not from what we can tell.

GRIFFIN: Nothing compared to your plan.

REGAN: No, disaster you would think that the federal government would have disaster plan in sight that they would have been right here. Mobilized and ready to go. It didn't happen right that way. It is going to take a little while before you get people coming to visit New Orleans. It is going to take some time before they rebuild.

GRIFFIN: In a city not known for being subtle. Regan offers the same advice he gives his staff.

REGAN: They need to cut through all the crap and start making things happen. It is pretty dangerous.

GRIFFIN: Blunt talk from a different kind of hero who sees nothing for New Orleans but a very bright future. REGAN: By next week we want to have Starbucks Coffee going, we want to have food going. We want to have a bar going. Back to business.


ZAHN: Coming up, a mother's desperate search for the son she left behind. Two women, two heroes. One incredible journey when we come back.


WHITFIELD: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield at the CNN Center in Atlanta. CNN PRESENTS continues in a moment. But first a check of the stories now.

One person died and at least 76 were injured when a commuter train derailed this morning on the Southside of Chicago. A passenger is quoted as saying she heard brakes squealing before the crash. But an area Congressman says the cause of the wreck is not yet known.

REP. BOBBY RUSH, (D) ILLINOIS: The Metro hasn't told me. they don't know the cause of it right now. I think the cause is going to be determined after the NTSB gets here and really do their level of investigation. So we are all waiting on NTSB to give us the final reporting to the cause.

WHITFIELD: Some passengers describe the state of panic on the train as it skidded out of control.

The top federal official in New Orleans is cautioning residents not to return too early. Vice Admiral Tadd Allen said the city's water and sewer systems are far from normal. And anyone who returns should use extreme caution. Mayor Ray Nagin has announced his intention to reopen parts of New Orleans over the next week and a half.

Also today another deadly car bombing has shaken Iraq. At least 30 people were killed in a mostly Shiite neighborhood east of Baghdad.

More news at the top of the hour. CNN PRESENTS continues right now.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: They ran for their lives. That was just the beginning for a pregnant mother faced with an unthinkable choice. Here is medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rosina Jefferson's story is a story no mother should have to endure. On Monday, August 29 as Hurricane Katrina surged through her New Orleans home she frantically grabbed her 5-year-old son Ashton, left her fiance and headed to higher ground. She was nine months pregnant, her due date just 48 hours away. As the waters in New Orleans continued to rise, her situation only deepened. Arriving at a friend's home her son suffered an asthma attack. Then Rosina went into labor and had to make a quick decision.

(on camera): When you jumped what did you tell your 5-year-old son?

ROSINA JEFFERSON, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: Momma going to get us some help.

COHEN (voice-over): in the midst of contractions she leapt from a window leaving her son and friend behind. Swimming 30 minutes in search of help, the Coast Guard found her on a bridge and airlifted the laboring woman to Women's Hospital in Baton Rouge. Throughout the rescue she told the story of the son she left behind and prayed he would be found.


COHEN: On Wednesday August 31, 8 pound, two ounce Keith Hall, Jr. was brought into the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Perfect heart, perfect. lungs. Can't do better than that, he's perfect.

COHEN: But the birth was bittersweet. Two days had passed and there was no sign of 5-year-old Ashton.

JEFFERSON: I'm mad because I got this baby, but I miss my other baby.

COHEN: Shannon Easley was about to enter her life. A mother of four and deeply religious, she was helping to open a shelter at her church in nearby Walker, Louisiana. In the coming weeks, this makeshift home would welcome some 25 families.

SHANNON EASLEY, JUDSON BAPTIST CHURCH SHELTER: I went to social services and said our church wants to open up a shelter and I'm sure there will be moms and babies that want a place to go. So, she gave me a couple of names and Miss Jefferson was one of them.

COHEN: Shannon also worked in the very hospital where Rosina gave birth. Seeking out Miss Jefferson, a friendship formed.

EASLEY: We're going to help you so you're not going to be alone.

COHEN: On Thursday, September 1, incredible news. Rosina's friend, the woman she left her 5-year-old with saw her story on CNN and relayed a message to the hospital. Young Ashton and fiance, Keith were, safe at the Houston Astrodome.

JEFFERSON: I found my baby!


COHEN: With that news, a mother wept and Shannon Easley devised a plan then dialed her husband.

EASLEY: I called Willis immediately. I said, "Guess what, they found the baby," he said "Really, where is he at," I said, "He's in Houston," and he said, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"

COHEN: As mother and baby Keith left the hospital and headed to the shelter, a surprise awaited them.

EASLEY: And I was so excited because I didn't want anybody to know.

COHEN: What she didn't know was that Shannon had driven 10 hours through the night and picked up her precious cargo.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look at your home.

COHEN: And when the exhausted mother arrived at the Judson Baptist Church shelter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got something else for you, OK?

JEFFERSON: (SCREAMING) My baby! Thank you! I love you so much!

COHEN: Finally, mother, baby, and big brother reunited.

JEFFERSON: I was so surprised. I would never in my life thought they would have been behind that door.

COHEN: Two mothers, two heroes and the happy ending continues. Last week, Shannon Easley's town opened its heart and doors once again as little Ashton Jefferson attended his first day of kindergarten.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Recognize Ashton? You get to meet a whole lot of new friends, don't you?



ZAHN (voice-over): Coming up -- one man's mission to help his ruined neighborhood.

JAMES DICKEY, BILOXI, MISSISSIPPI RESIDENT: Got bad heart, sugar diabetes, high blood pressure, and he couldn't go with you down there, you know.

ZAHN: Hope in the form of a rusty old shopping cart when we return.

Also, an unlikely crew joins forces to assist the rescue effort.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were one family out there. We were not uptown, downtown, black, white or anything like that.

ZAHN: Citizens of New Orleans come together to save a city submerged.



ANNOUNCER: Welcome come back to CNN PRESENTS: Heroes Among Us.



ZAHN: Along the battered Gulf Coast a little can go a very long way. For those who've lost everything, even a few bags of ice can mean the difference between life and death. One man in Biloxi, Mississippi, understand this all too well and he's doing all he can with whatever he can he can. Here's Beth Nissen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, give me that.

BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the road to recovery in Biloxi, Mississippi, a truck driven all the way from northern Florida by three people who watched the news, saw the need, collected donations of crucial supplies and drove 12 hours to Biloxi to hand them out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is for the baby.

DICKEY: That means, to me, like a million dollars, you know. Somebody is thinking about you in another city and I appreciate it.

NISSEN: This is how James Dickey a one-time shipbuilder on disability spends his days now. Trying to find relief, help, for himself and his kin, his neighbors.

DICKEY: They low, you know, by then, we've lost everything, see? When you lose everything everybody's spirit's down low.

NISSEN: His primary daily mission, push his rusted shopping cart down to the emergency relief center run by the Salvation Army.

DICKEY: Oh man, you're a life saver.

NISSEN: Get ice for his cousin.

DICKEY: Slide then in there.

NISSEN: Who noticed to keep his last bottle of insulin cool.

DICKEY: Got bad heart, sugar diabetes, high blood pressure, he couldn't go with you down there, you know.

NISSEN: He can get ice and water here. Canned food and used clothing at a local church. But he doesn't know where to go for longer term help. Help fixing van, his house both swamped with sea water and muck.

DICKEY: See, everybody lost everything they had right now. You know, houses, cars, all. Ain't there no more. All gone. Ain't no stoves no more. Ain't nothing left, everything is water damaged.

NISSEN: He sees what looks like help rolling in but it only seams to pass him by. So he does what he says his people have always done, do for themselves, watch out for each other.

DICKEY: There you go. That's the best I can do, man.

NISSEN: Nothing is as it was. Nothing. Nothing. Still he says Biloxi is where he belongs. Where he'll stay.

DICKEY: But, I been here ever since I was 15 years old. You know? So this is home.

NISSEN: It could be worse, he says, so much worse. Three people on this street drowned in the storm.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Give me a hug, baby.

DICKEY: All right.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't you make my husband jealous, either.


NISSEN: Finally after a long push through the Mississippi heat, he gets to what's left of the home of his cousin, Felton Farley, hands him what is left of a bag of ice.

FELTON FARLEY, BILOXI, MISSISSIPPI RESIDENT: I can set the ice inside the icebox there, you know, that will keep it cool. That insulin got to be cool at all times.

NISSEN: The filthy storm waters reached almost to the ceiling in the house, ruined everything inside, but he's managing, for now.

FARLEY: I got little old canned goods down there. I can open up. I can't tell what some of them is.

NISSEN: He's trying to clean up. Starting with what clothing he can pull from the wreckage, hanging them to dry stiff in the sun.

FARLEY: I'm hanging on in here, best I can do.

We still coming up, you know. Ain't like we -- ain't coming back up. But, I'm getting a little more help.


ZAHN: Resourcefulness comes in many forms in the aftermath of Katrina. In New Orleans, a 50-year-old businessman named Jimmy Dellry heeded the call for help. Found as many boats as he could, formed an unlikely crew and set out to rescue hundreds.


When I got to Napoleon, Saint Charles Avenue, I could see boats coming and going, people running. And we got canoes, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and flat boats and got them running, most of them were hot wired because maybe they didn't have a key.

It's worst over up in here. We need to move west towards Jefferson.

There were some men from the recovery halfway house up there at Napoleon and (UNINTELLIGIBLE) they came through like troopers. They jumped in the water, they helped. I showed them how to operate boats. I showed them how to talk to the people. They learned quick. They gave their hearts out and I hope for every one of them that helped us, that what they did will help them in their own process to recover.

Ma'am, when you pack up bring important things, you don't need to worry about bringing your food or anything like that they got all the food and water you need.

Something came out in everybody's spirit. It was what we were all about. We were one family out there. We were not uptown, downtown, black, white, or anything like that. We were people of New Orleans. We'd all been hurt and we just had to help each other.

Well, right now, we're in the poorest section of New Orleans in the uptown New Orleans. This is called Central City, and it's devastated. These people didn't have the money to get out of town, let alone lose the few things that they had. And the question is not am I evacuating them knowing we'll come back. It's going to be the change of their whole life. It's not just leave everything and we come back. You know, what I mean? It's their whole life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Level of water is up to your knees inside the house and now floor is mostly dry, you know, you just wait until it go down a little bit more.

Yeah, we have a bed up here. We have water. We have food. You know, we have everything you need up here.

DELLRY: Hopefully we can give them something they deserve because, you know, we've gone abroad to do it in other countries and this is America, and we have got to support these people. They just are what makes up a community.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: New Orleans, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I stay right over here, man.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm concerned about the trouble these people (UNINTELLIGIBLE) -- born and raised right here in New Orleans (UNINTELLIGIBLE), that's underwater.

That's the school I went to, elementary school. My home underwater, my family's underwater and I been here to get them. Not just my family, but all this is my family. If you come out and we're asking, "Ready to get out of here? You know, you need any help?"

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm looking for Kisha Robertson and Nicky Robertson.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, is everybody all right? Y'all still all right? About ready to go?

Some of the people are telling, we ain't going anywhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because we have enough food an water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They don't want to go, man. Some shoot at you, you know. Whatever. Call you names. I know I'm dealing with people minds that's not at the right frame. So I understand that. Mine isn't either.

I came out of that top window of my house over there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I came to this boat out here. Walked away from it and I took it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no boat shop out. There's no grocery stores open. Let's be doing what he's doing to help people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I organized a group that is called the Robin Hood Looters, I'm not a thief, you know, by trade. No. We steal only necessities, like things like these. At times like these, but just stealing, that's not my thing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Try to maneuver straight across.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can't I turn here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're at a pickup point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody ready to go?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got a lot of debris in this water. Debris like bodies, dead dogs, cars unwater. You got to know where you're going.

We'll get it. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Me, I think it's god's work. I never question his. After this I hope I never see this boat again. I'm doing this to save their lives. Lives of the people that I know all my life.



ZAHN (voice-over): Coming up, he chartered his own plane to the gulf. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They didn't care where they were going, they just wanted to get out of hell.

ZAHN: They're rescuing pets. And these children are helping other children. The hero next door when we come back.




ANNOUNCER: Welcome come back to CNN PRESENTS: Heroes Among Us.


ZAHN: From coast to coast, from the north to the south, east and west, relief workers, fund raisers, volunteers. These are the heroes among us, those who have rushed from across America to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Here is Kyra Phillips.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are doing this for Hurricane Katrina and to help raise money and we really feel sorry.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They are heroes of the smallest kind.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're selling lemonade and cookies for Hurricane Katrina.

PHILLIPS: Children such as 6-year-old Claire Jensen in Atlanta helping her mother volunteer at the Salvation Army.


PHILLIPS: Kids in Buffalo, selling baked goods, even their toys for Katrina relief.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They pulled out toys, even toys that they use now, just wanting to find a way to give.

PHILLIPS: They are not alone. Relief drives in Montana.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our water was flying off the shelves before we could get it to the floor.

PHILLIPS: Blood drives and car washes in New Mexico.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're sending all of our money to America's Second Harvest.

PHILLIPS: They are the heroes among us going above and beyond. TONY PEW (PH), NEW ORLEANS EVACUEE: We had to evacuate due to the hurricane, me and my daughter and grandbaby. My husband did not come.

PHILLIPS: Tony Pew (PH) is a New Orleans native who fled the storm. She volunteered to go back into the gulf area on a relief flight as a way to keep her mind off of worrying about her missing husband.

PEW: I have not seen or heard from him since Monday night.

PHILLIPS: On her trip, the phone call she had been waiting for.

PEW: I heard this guy saying, "Is this Tony? Tony? I just need to let you know Ralph Ramous (PH) is all right" and I heard my husband in the background, holler, "Hey, Ralph, Ralph, Ralph" and I heard him. So know he's all right.

PHILLIPS: In Maryland three sisters decided to help kids displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The result, Project Backpack. Bags filled with school supplies, toiletries, and some fun, as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kids would know what other kids want, so we're trying to encourage like 11-year-old, like me, to pack for an 11-year-old.

PHILLIPS: So far, they sent over 5,000 backpacks to the gulf region, with more to come.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just hope they have fun with it. I just hope that they open it up and go, "Oh, that's awesome. I'm so excited."

PHILLIPS: Pets have been the focus of good samaritans, as well. Eighty animals now have temporary homes in California after being flown out of the disaster zone by chartered jets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These animals have been through a lot. When they got on the plane, they were dirty. They were literally found on the streets in New Orleans. This one is a completely different dog. She was in the back of her cage, wouldn't leave. She was so dirty and we bathed her with paper towels and antiseptic soap and she's just a much happier dog.

PHILLIPS: The goal now to reunite the animals with their owners. All across the United States, people are swinging open their doors to victims of the hurricane. Kirby Robinson of Houston is taking care of his mother's house while she is working as a contractor in Iraq. He's also taking care of 27 house guests, evacuees from Katrina's wrath.

KIRBY ROBINSON, HELPING VICTIMS IN HOUSTON, TX: I can't see nobody who can actually turn people away. If you got any space in your house, you should let -- you know, please let them in.

PHILLIPS: In Cambridge, New York, north of Albany, an EMS worker named Ted Burt decided he need to do something and found 17 families and a town willing to help him.

TED BURT, NEW YORK EMS: I'm looking to fly a planeload of refugees from Alabama to New York state and I know this may sound a little crazy, but, do we have host families already waiting for them.

PHILLIPS: Then there is a San Diego oil executive, David Perez.

DAVID PEREZ, SAN DIEGO OIL EXECUTIVE: Everybody was looking to get out. They didn't care where they were going. They wanted to get out of hell.

PHILLIPS: He spent a quarter after million dollars of his own money on relief efforts. First, by chartering a jet to bring supplies to the disaster area.

PEREZ: Who wants to go, just you two?

PHILLIPS: Then, by going a step farther, airlifting evacuees out himself.

PEREZ: I'm here to help you, man. If this is one person, if only you get on the plane, then my time here is the last 48 hours is worth it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have no idea what San Diego even look like but woe love to give it a try.

PHILLIPS: Everyday heroes, stretching across America, doing their part to help.


ZAHN: The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina has changed countless lives forever. Not just the lives of survivors but also the lives of so many unsung heroes. As we conclude this special edition of CNN PRESENTS. We leave you with some images of those heroes, their courage and their compassion set to the music of Aaron Neville and his version of Randy Newman's "Louisiana, 1927."


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