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New Orleans Mayor Halts Planned Return of Residents; Financial Recovery

Aired September 20, 2005 - 06:32   ET


KELLY WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: From the Time Warner center in New York, I'm Kelly Wallace, in today for Carol Costello, who is on assignment in New Orleans. Thanks so much for waking up with us. We appreciate it.
We will hear from Carol in just a moment. But first, we want to call attention to the left side of your television screen. CNN is teaming up with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to bring you the faces of the missing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Since our effort began on Saturday morning, calls to the center, I believe, have quadrupled. With your help, more displaced parents and children can be reunited throughout the day.

Now, though, a look at these stories in the news.

Four more Americans have been killed in Iraq. One was a State Department security employee. The others worked for the private security company, Blackwater. Their vehicle was hit by a suicide car bomber in Mosul.

Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal has died this morning in Vienna, Austria. You'll recall he helped track down Nazi war criminals after World War II. He then spent decades fighting anti-Semitism and other kinds of prejudice. Wiesenthal was 96.

President Bush is heading back to the hurricane zone today. This will be his fifth trip to the Gulf Coast since Katrina hit. The president will meet with government and business leaders in Gulfport, Mississippi, and get a briefing about cleanup efforts in New Orleans.

To Chad Myers in Atlanta, who is monitoring all that there is to monitor about Tropical Storm Rita.


WALLACE: And, you know, folks in New Orleans, Chad, are going to be watching what you're saying and other folks like yourself are saying...


WALLACE: ... very, very closely.

We want to check now with our very own Carol Costello, who is in New Orleans, because the threat of Tropical Storm Rita, Carol, is definitely affecting people. First, they were told they could return to some parts of the city. And then the mayor, Ray Nagin, saying, no, no, no, we want you not to come back, or if you're back to get out again. It is all so very confusing.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: It's so confusing. I've got to say, I was glued to Chad's forecast. A lot of people are really worried about Rita, and they're glad it's still a tropical storm at this point.

But as you said, they're very confused about what exactly to do. The mayor said, OK, don't come back into the city.

There was a huge traffic jam, Kelly, on I-10 yesterday. We were so happy to see that, because it meant that supplies were coming back into New Orleans, and maybe the city was coming back to real life. And now, those people are being told, well, you might have to evacuate again.

People in the Algiers neighborhood were told they could come back in. They could start fixing up their homes. But now, they were told, get ready to leave by Wednesday if Rita really becomes a threat. They are very confused about what their government is telling them.

Oddly enough, a group of anarchists from across the country came into the Algiers neighborhood to set up this clinic simply because, of course, they don't trust the government from the get-go. And because of all of those differing opinions coming from the federal government and the state, local -- and the state government and the local government, they all came here and converged. And they're trying to help by opening up this clinic, because before you come into the city, you have to get a tetanus shot, and you have to get a shot for Hepatitis B.

So let's listen.


SCOTT CROW, COMMON GROUND COLLECTIVE: And look at where we are in 12 days, right? We have, like, 50-60 volunteers on the ground at any point. We're also feeding people. We're making sure that people are taken care of. And we're hitting the people who are marginalized and also just shut-ins. And nobody else is doing that.

JOLINE WILLIAMSON, CONTRIBUTOR: Toilet paper, paper towels, (INAUDIBLE), diapers, food, dry goods, water. Some of the main name groups don't take direct actual supplies, so we didn't do that. And we brought it here, because we know the community and know the people and know that they really needed it here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are they doing on water inside?

CROW: The outpouring has been phenomenal. People saw the fundamental disconnect between the government and the people in New Orleans and basically abandonment and mishandling and bureaucracy of what happened. And so, when we called for medical aid, people knew what that meant. And people didn't say, well, let's think about it, and let's figure out what to do. People took action and started sending boxes of stuff as close as they could, or they started driving boxes of medical aid here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Another poke here. And you're good.

DR. MICHAEL COZART, COMMON GROUND COLLECTIVE: Today, we saw an enormous increase in the number of people coming into our clinic, and most of these people were evacuees returning to this neighborhood. So, I imagine we're going to have a huge number of people coming in for medication refills, for vaccines and for all sorts of stress- related issues, wanting to talk about what they've been through.

MIRIAM CARTER, PATIENT: I can't leave the neighborhood. There are too many checkpoints. It's too hard to get in and out. There's not enough gasoline. So, if this clinic was not here, I just would not get shots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our services, which we were servicing in the last two, two-and-a-half weeks about maybe 4,000 to 6,000 people, according to the National Guard. It's going to exponentially grow.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've lived in this house for over three years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is it there still?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good. And you're going to live in it again?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, no, not really. I mean, it can be fixed, but I don't have no money.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In our media center here, we have people coming to sign up for FEMA online. And, like, last week, we had one person. Yesterday, we had 25 people.

CROW: We're ordinary people under extraordinary circumstances. And people rose up, as they always do, to help each other. And this happens all over the place, in small town, USA, in big cities, a common ground that we're all ordinary people under extraordinary circumstances. And I think that -- I hope that you can take that home with you.


COSTELLO: So, depending on your sense of humor or your sense of irony, the anarchists have come in, you know, developed this clinic, and things are running very smoothly. They do not believe in violence, however. They say they're the good anarchists.

Back to the matter at hand, Kelly. You know, people are really confused about what exactly to do, because they've just come back into the Algiers neighborhood, for example. They've run out of money. It's not like they can afford to go back and stay in their hotel rooms. Not only have they run out of money, but their reservations are gone. The hotels are still full. The hotels are filling them. So, they simply have nowhere to go.

So, most people say even if Rita becomes a really big threat, they're going to brave it. They're going to stick it out.

WALLACE: Incredible stuff, Carol. I wish we had some time to talk, but we don't. But we will be watching your reports coming up at the hour -- top of the hour on "AMERICAN MORNING." Carol, thanks so much. We'll talk to you again tomorrow.

Certainly when disaster strikes, most people would agree surviving, of course, is the most important thing. But then what? When you've lost everything, all of those financial records, like many Katrina victims did, how do you get back on your feet financially?

Well, "Money" magazine is offering some very important tips. And here to talk about all of that is senior writer Ellen McGirt.

Ellen, great to see you.

ELLEN MCGIRT, "MONEY" MAGAZINE: Thanks for having me.

WALLACE: I think when you're in your article, one of the most important things you say is, delaying is not only dangerous, it can be costly. Why?

MCGIRT: Because that is when right after the disaster, particularly before or after is when you're going to want to check in and see what kind of benefits are available to you, what kind of problems you really have.

The temptation is to hunker down and ride out the storm. And everybody understands that. But if you are able to accept help, if you're able to accept a ride, if you're able to get out, get out. You're going to need to talk to your employer, talk to the government, make sure that any checks -- any income that's coming your way is still going to be able to come to you. And also, assess the damage from a safe location.

WALLACE: And let's put up a full screen with some of your tips. So, number one, you say, of course, get yourself safe, and then get busy. But you also say, go to a bank.

MCGIRT: Even if you don't have I.D., one of the most amazing things about or modern digital age is that your banks will work with you to identify you using alternative identification protocols -- mostly after September 11. A lot of this comes from the Patriot Act.

But be prepared to be quizzed. If you walk into a branch of your bank and nobody knows you, they're going to ask you things about your life that they're going to get from your account information, but also your credit report, and something called Lexus Nexus instant I.D., which searches all of the public records available about you. So, 10 years from your credit report, and the rest of your life. You're going to be answering 10, 15, 20 questions, however long it takes. They can re-establish your I.D. It will also work for another bank if you belong to a community bank and all of the branches were destroyed.

WALLACE: And we're going to keep putting up some more tips here. You also say, of course, check your income. Apply for unemployment to see if they're eligible for that, obviously.

MCGIRT: You're going to need to call your employer. If they're out of business, are they going to be able to continue to pay you? If not, it's only you're the one that's in the crisis, can you take your leave time? Can you take vacation time? Will they give you extra time to get your life back together? Or if you're disabled as a result of the disaster, are you eligible for disability?

These are the things -- conservations you need to start to have, and you can't do them if you don't have electricity or high-speed Internet or a way to communicate.

WALLACE: We want to put up a second full screen, which has four other bullet points. You say, of course, contact banks and financial institutions, as we've been talking about. Get free advice. Go to a library and seek long-term disaster relief.

I want to go to the "get free advice," because that's important. Where can I go to get free advice when I'm in this situation?

MCGIRT: The Financial Planning Association has done a wonderful thing. They were contacted by the Red Cross after September 11. And if you're a disaster victim -- and, of course, we see these kinds of things across the country and not just with Katrina -- they're working with the Red Cross to offer free financial advice. And people really need it. Filling out forms. Contacting their creditors and letting them know that they've had a disaster, and they're going to need a payment holiday. Student loans, mortgages, auto loans. Those kinds of things that can give you some breathing room.

WALLACE: Also, I'm learning from your article as well that the library, your local library might be a place...


WALLACE: ... to get the FEMA applications...

MCGIRT: Everything.

WALLACE: ... the Red Cross applications. I don't think most people know that.

MCGIRT: The library is a great resource on a sunny day. But when you really -- if you've been relocated and your neighbors you don't know, or even if you've just need someone who has got access to all of the information you need, go to the library. You can do job hunting, temporary jobs, benefits that you may be available for, and it's just a good, solid place to set up communication with everyone in your life.

WALLACE: Such important information that we really haven't talked about a great deal. So, Ellen McGirt with "Money" magazine, thanks for bringing those tips to us today. We appreciate it.

MCGIRT: Thanks for having me.

WALLACE: Still to come here on a busy Tuesday morning, the towns the national spotlight has overlooked, yet the destruction from Katrina is much the same. We'll have a live interview coming up. Don't go away.


WALLACE: And welcome back. Your news, money, weather and sports. It's about 47 minutes after the hour. And here is what is all new this morning.

He had encouraged them to come back. Now, Mayor Ray Nagin is saying, everyone should leave New Orleans, because of the threat of Tropical Storm Rita.

In money, a major labor case against Wal-Mart has gone to trial in California. The suit alleges the company denied lunch breaks to more than 115,000 employees. Attorneys are seeking $66 million in penalties and interest.

In culture, sexual assault charges may be dropped against actor Christian Slater. New York prosecutors say they'll clear the record if the actor stays out of trouble for six months. Slater was arrested in May for allegedly groping a woman.

In sports, congressional investigators are questioning Major League Baseball players about Rafael Palmeiro. They're trying to determine if the Baltimore Orioles player lied back in March when he testified to a House committee that he never used steroids. Palmeiro was suspended for 10 days last month for failing a drug test.

To Chad at the forecast center in Atlanta.


WALLACE: Still to come here on DAYBREAK, the "help needed" signs are out for several towns in the aftermath of Katrina. We'll take you to one of those towns just after the break. You are watching DAYBREAK for Tuesday, September 20. We'll be right back.


WALLACE: And welcome back.

Don't forget about us. That's what people in some Gulf Coast communities are saying in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Much of the focus, as we know, is on New Orleans. But many other towns along the Gulf Coast also are devastated -- towns like Ocean Springs, Mississippi. And Mayor Connie Moran is joining us on the phone now.

Mayor, thanks so much for talking with us.

I first wanted to read you a quote in your -- a quote from yourself in the "Washington Post." You say -- quote: "We tried. We had our radios. We know how to fill out the FEMA reimbursement forms. We know what we're supposed to do. We were as well-organized as we could be for a small town facing something of this magnitude."

But what, mayor? The federal help just didn't come?

MAYOR CONNIE MORAN, OCEAN SPRINGS, MISSISSIPPI: It was somewhat late, Kelly. My staff and I were actually living there in City Hall for days, did what we could for the first few days, five days, then seven days, then finally FEMA and MEMA, the state agency for emergency management, did arrive and set up shop about nine days later.

Still signals are unclear in particular for temporary housing. We filled the forms. People are awaiting now their mobile homes. That distribution should commence pretty soon, we're told.

But we're doing what we can to make sure that our citizens are safe and stabilized and have a roof over their heads. Right now, they're living in tents just waiting for the next step. And many, of course, have left the area. And that's what we're trying so desperately to do is to bring them back, stabilize our workforce and get our schools opened.

WALLACE: There really are incredible stories, mayor. Local leaders like yourself are really taking matters into your own hands. You know, you talk about sleeping on the floor of City Hall for 12 days. At one point, you ordered the locks cut on a county warehouse, ordering some other people to hijack a forklift to clear out debris. I mean, this is a situation where local leaders like yourself are doing things you sort of never possibly imagined, because there was no other help around.

MORAN: Well, we did what we had to do. And I'm sure you would have done the same thing. Actually, we have a very good working relationship among our board of aldermen, our citizens and our county leaders as well. That was a county-owned warehouse, and we just simply had to open it to start receiving goods and supplies that started to come in. The first ones were from Chicago. Then we had help from small and large cities alike.

Parkville, Missouri, for example, and their mayor, Kathy Dusenbery, did adopt us. They brought down three truckloads of supplies and goods, which we distributed, not only in Ocean Springs, but sent some to other cities along the Gulf Coast.

Mayor Fried, David Fried, from Washington Township, New Jersey, also came down with three police cars, which we desperately needed -- vehicles of that sort, that kind of equipment, so that our own forces could maintain security. It was very important. Law enforcement officials from -- gosh -- cities and probably from about 10 states have come into our area, and are still here. We're housing them in our Civic Center. The Red Cross has set up in our senior citizens center. We're doing what we can to make our assets available to other organizations in order to serve people in need in Ocean Springs and in the outlying areas.

WALLACE: You certainly are, and it's really been incredible how you're getting support from cities around the country.

Mayor Connie Moran of Ocean Springs, Mississippi, thanks so much for talking with us here on DAYBREAK. We appreciate it.

Turning now to Chad. Chad, time now to give away a DAYBREAK coffee mug.

MYERS: Well, all right, yes, give away a coffee mug from yesterday. We finally got back to asking some questions and giving away a mug. Number one was, when does President Bush hope to have all of the Hurricane Katrina victims, the evacuees, out of shelters? And that's by mid-October. And two people were arrested in California for posing as volunteers for what aid organization? And they were posing as volunteers for the Red Cross. They got a couple of thousand dollars, and then they were arrested.

And the winner, the winner is B.D. Knight from Malvern, Pennsylvania. Hey, mug going to Malvern, Pennsylvania. I know it well. Cloudy skies there for you today, even a chance of severe weather across parts of that area -- Kelly.

WALLACE: All right, Chad. We will be right, everyone. Stay with us.



WALLACE: From the Time Warner center in New York, I'm Kelly Wallace, in today for Carol Costello. "AMERICAN MORNING" starts right now.


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