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CNN SUNDAY MORNING

Tracking Hurricane Rita

Aired September 25, 2005 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: The highways leading back into areas affected by Hurricane Rita are crowded this morning. Some sure to face disappointment when they reach damaged homes and flooded streets. Good morning, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield at our CNN headquarters in Atlanta.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Miles O'Brien live on the northern outskirts of Houston where it is return home day -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Well, five U.S. soldiers were killed today when their Army Chinook helicopter crashed in southern Afghanistan. The area is a Taliban stronghold, but the initial U.S. military report said it did not appear the chopper was shot down.

It's a weekend of protest in tow major world capitols. In London, police estimate 10,000 anti-war demonstrators marched today demanding that Britain pull out of Iraq.

In Washington, D.C., an estimated 100,000 war protesters surged past the White House on Saturday. The anti-war rally stretched to the night. Today, organizers of a pro-military rally hope to draw 10,000 people to the National Mall.

Definitely no peace in the Middle East. Israeli air strikes, overnight, bombed suspected targets in Gaza. Friday and Saturday Hamas militants fired at least three dozen rockets into Israel after a blast Friday after a Hamas meeting. And Israeli soldiers arrested more than 200 Palestinians in overnight raids in the West Bank.

Here now is the latest on Hurricane Rita, which is now a tropical depression. Many evacuees are streaming back into Houston today. Officials put in place a phased reentry plan running today through Tuesday. More than 36,000 Army and Air National Guard troops are on duty responding to hurricanes Rita and Katrina along the Gulf Coast. Searchers will be out in Vermilion Parish, and that's in Louisiana, looking for people stranded by flood waters.

President Bush is in hurricane -- in the hurricane region, rather, today. He'll get more briefings in San Antonio and Baton Rouge before heading back to the nation's capital.

And deja vu in New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers is working to pump out flood waters in the city's ninth ward. They say it will take at least two weeks to drain.

Meanwhile FEMA crews will be in hard hit Lake Charles, Louisiana, today. They're bringing search and rescue personnel, water, ready-to- eat meals, medical supplies and fuel.

And this hour we're taking you to several locations affected by Hurricane Rita in both Louisiana and Texas. We'll begin in Houston a city that seems to escape the major flooding and damage that was earlier predicted. CNN's Miles O'Brien is there and so far it looks like the traffic is flowing behind you. Folks want to get home.

O'BRIEN: Well, Fred, it is smooth sailing on Interstate 45, thus far, at this point of Houston. We are on the northern fringes of the city, for those of you familiar with the city not too far from Bush Intercontinental Airport. Forty five, of course, is the main route connecting Dallas and Houston. So people who evacuated there will be coming back on this road today. And the voluntary program today is for the northwestern quadrant of the city to return today. There's no penalties or arrests implied in all of this, this is a volunteer thing. Everybody would like to avoid what happened on Thursday and Friday of last week when that traffic jam of 15, 20, 24 hours for some people -- people running out of gas on the side of the road, no water, no food. Really chaotic situation, would like that not to repeat on the return.

We have seen some pockets of congestion this morning. In particular, Interstate-45 headed into Galveston. Galveston technically is not open for business for residents to return today, even though Galveston and Houston were spared by a long shot the worst of Rita. Yes, there are broken windows and there are certain neighborhoods that have flooded ponds and isolated pockets here and there and still 350,000 customers without power, but this is not what anyone feared for the fourth largest city in the nation. So, the question is, will people hurry up and get home? Are they concerned about their valuables, their possessions? They authorities are saying that they have a very close watch on people's personal property, but the lure of home, as we all know, is strong. Against that, of course, nobody after spending what they -- the time they spent on the road here, last week, would like to end up doing that again.

Of course, we've been talking a lot all throughout this about medical care because that becomes a very critical issue in the wake of these storms with all power outages and the problems that occur. Sanjay Gupta has been looking into this, really, since Katrina and the problems that happened there in New Orleans. And last hour, we talked about the obvious problems that the Texas Medical Center here has addressed. They had a tropical storm in 2001 by the name of Alison, lots of flooding as a result of that. They made a lot of improvements to the way they designed their hospitals at that time, for instance a simple thing like putting their generators on the roof instead of in the basement. But, there's more to it than that, of course. And Sanjay's back with me and one things I noticed in New Orleans, immediately after Katrina, there were a lot of patients going to the New Orleans Airport, some of the very ill.

And Sanjay, they showed up, they had no medical records with them and the team there was very taxed because in many cases they were unable to talk to them because they were just, you know, unconscious or whatever the case may be, and so they spent a tremendous amount of time just sort of doing forensics, trying to figure out what was wrong with them. The medical records issue was a big issue.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Is it is a big issue and you know, one of the interesting things is that in a disaster situation your, obviously, your goal is to try and get the patient out there, keep them alive, You don't think of the other ramifications, let's say, of what your doing. So, if you send a critically ill patient away from the hospital with none of his or her medications, non of his or her records may show up to another doctor, they don't know what to do. On the other hand, if you have some kind of bracelet or even a credit card type thing that contains all your medical information, that could be a really valuable thing in disasters like this. That was one of the things that really struck me as well is that, you know, you could sit back for -- you and I could sit back for a month and just figure out all the things that could happen to a hospital in the hurricane and we still wouldn't have it all figured out, ramifications we cannot imagine.

O'BRIEN: Yes, and that's the interesting thing. And there's such decisions to make on, you know, who you would transfer, for example. Many of the people I saw there at New Orleans Airport really shouldn't have been moved, but had to be. Right? So, they were faced with terrible decisions.

GUPTA: You know, we have protocols for so many things in medicine, you know, it's rote, you know, that's done, so that we don't have to make this up as we go along. That has to be the same sort of thing in these disaster preparedness. We're getting better at that, I think, as a hospital community. But, if it's a grade three as a grade four, do we transfer so many patients versus this many patients?

O'BRIEN: (INAUDIBLE) grade three versus grade four...

GUPTA: That's Category 3 versus Category 4 hurricane, right. I was doing the medical speak there for a second. But you know, at this particular hospital that I was at, they made a decision saying there are some patients are too ill to move. We'd rather put 50 staff members, nurses, doctors, everyone else, at risk along with these patients, because they're too ill to move as opposed to evacuating them. Now, that was a decision that was made.

O'BRIEN: So, a very tight core that would take care of the most critically ill.

Finale thought here, just (INAUDIBLE) up. We live in the world of the Internet and it's amazing to me that everybody has these thick paper files. Why do we not have Internet and electronic records?

GUPTA: There's a lot of people that are paying attention to what you're saying right now that have been working on this for some time. It's going to be a huge industry. Part of that is privacy. You know, Miles, if you moved from Atlanta to New York recently, might some of your files, some of your records, personal information, somehow get lost and into the hands of people who don't need it? Also, you know, just it's going to be an institutional level, is it going to be one hospital or is this going to be a national database? These are tough questions that still need to be answered before we get there, I think. O'BRIEN: Sanjay Gupta, lots to consider there. Let's hope some lessons are learned through all of this. I think we're seeing that as time goes on here.

About 100 miles to the east of where I sit right now is Port Arthur, Texas. And Port Arthur was a place where there was concern that there'd be tremendous damage. A storm surge was the big worry. Because Port Arthur is -- was just to the west of the eye of Rita they didn't get that storm surge they expected. Having said that, there are some pockets of flooding, significant flooding, that they have to contend with there. And CNN's Gary Tuchman is in the town of Port Arthur with more on that.

Good morning, Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, we have spend four days here in Port Arthur and we've seen three distinct phases among the people who live here. Just before the hurricane, there was this feeling of dread. While the hurricane was coming a feeling of tension and now, generally a feeling of relief because Port Arthur was spared the worst. The fear was this Hurricane Rita was going to come either right over this city of 58,000 or just to the west and give this city the worst side of the storm and that likely would have meant, according to all the police and fire authorities here, that most of the city would have been under up to 20 feet of water. But it didn't happen. There is sporadic flooding, as you see behind me, we see this with many parts of the town, but it's nothing catastrophic. There is damage throughout the town. Many roofs taken off of homes, hundreds of windows in the downtown area are gone, but it's nothing catastrophic. Not what we saw in Biloxi or Gulfport, Mississippi. Not what we saw when it comes to flooding, what we saw in New Orleans.

Big deal here are the oil refineries. This is oil country. If you go on Texas Route 82 and oil refinery after oil refinery, stack after stack and many refineries are flooded. One has very refineries has very significant damage we're told. And the police have a problem because the repeater, the police here in Port Arthur that helps them communicate on their walkie-talkies is located on one of the refineries, it was damaged, therefore they can't talk on their walkie- talkies more than a mile at the time between police officers. So that's the big problem, but over all the people here in Port Arthur are very lucky.

Miles, back to you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, CNN's Gary Tuchman. Back to you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Thanks so much, Miles.

And coming up next hour, we'll be talking with the Houston mayor, Bill White about the evacuees returning home.

And Jacqui Jeras is in the weather center. Jacqui, how are things going? JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, I have good news to report, Fredricka. I'm really happy to say that. We were concerned about the threat of inland flooding. Now we're still going to see some flooding with this storm, but it doesn't look like we're going to see the one to two feet of rain we were initially thinking. The storm has picked up some forward speed, it's moving to the north and the east around 20-miles-per-hour, so it's going to be rip-roaring through this area pretty fast today.

Still getting decent winds. 20, 30-miles-per-hour sustained. Center of circulation right here across central parts of Arkansas, but you can see all the wet weather, as well, ahead of that system. Threat of tornadoes will be ongoing throughout the morning and afternoon, we've been seeing heavy thunderstorms in and around the Memphis area. Expecting to see some wind gusts maybe 50, 60, 70- miles-per-hour with that storm.

Storm system across the nation's upper Midwest sections is helping to dry Rita up to the north and to east and even some of this energy might split up and reduce it further for tomorrow. The whole red area is the area of concern for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. That storm system continues to push up to the north and to the east for tomorrow. General rain amounts, Fredricka, today, expected only to be in the two to four inch rain.

WHITFIELD: Oh, well, that's good. Encouraging indeed, thanks so much, Jacqui.

Well, so far this hour, we've taken you live to Texas, we're live to Louisiana for some incredible views of a whole town underwater. Stay with us, our special coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Rita, now a depression. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Want to take you to Texas where a large crowd has converged on a Houston grocery store which is set to open soon. There are so many people that apparently there is a bit of concern about maintaining order. Reporter Todd DuPlantis with our affiliate KRIV is there live.

What's the situation, Todd?

TODD DUPLANTIS, KRIV REPORTER: Well, Fredricka, right now we're in front of a H&B store, which is in far west Houston. The situation is the store is reopened, they reopened about an hour ago, but there's not enough -- there's not enough personnel here working the store. Many of them already out of town trying to come back. So, they're limiting the amount of people to get in the store. And as you know, a lot of these stores have been closed since Thursday, people are trying to get supplies. From what we understand, this store will remain open with several of the other chains in the Houston area. But the big story here today is they've got gas pumps open. In fact, the truck just arrived from San Antonio, dropped about 9,200 gallons of gas here. And there's literally a line stretched around the parking lot. People in line, about 50 cars or so, that I've counted just a few moments ago. Some of them like this gentleman here is about to get gas. He told me the last time he got gas was on Thursday. He was on "E" and just moments he ran out of gas and someone's actually helping him push to the front of the line to get the pumps.

That's the situation with a lot of these people. Many of them have not filled up their gas tanks since last week, they're out of gas. Some of them have just returned home from out of town. Yesterday the mayor of Houston, Bill White, made a plea to the public. He said, basically, if you've half a tank of gas, he said, don't go top off your tank. That's what caused the gas prices and the shortage back in the early '70s. He said if you're running low on gas, now's the time to start looking for it. There's going to be a gas supply coming here to Houston. It's going to take some time, there's going to be plenty of gas, but he's not wanting people to panic so they'll run into situations like this.

Obviously, this man is more important than those who have half a tank and can get by for a few days. That's the situation here in Houston. They say it could take about two weeks for things to get back to normal just a lot of patience because this hurricane made a close call on this city.

Reporting live from Houston, I'm Todd DuPlantis.

WHITFIELD: So, Todd, is it so unique that this grocery store is opening or reopening because power is sporadic in other areas and it's difficult to find a store that's up and running that has fresh food and electricity, et cetera and gas?

DUPLANTIS: A few stores were open yesterday. Very few with gasoline, though, because the gas trucks just simply weren't rolling into the city. Many of them were coming from San Antonio. They are now starting to arrive. They're hoping to get the refineries back open in Pasadena, in Baytown, and the surrounding communities to get these supplies going. As far as the food stores, only a few of them were open yesterday.

Today there's about six major chains that are planning on opening throughout the day. The problem they're having, though, is a lot of their employees they can't find all of them right now. Some of them may be out of the city and they don't have enough employees to man the store fully.

WHITFIELD: Gotcha. All right, Todd DuPlantis of KRIV, thanks so much for your report from Houston.

DUPLANTIS: Sure.

WHITFIELD: Well, if you're just joining us this morning, here are the latest headlines out of Louisiana after Hurricane Rita. This home video shows the storm surge as it rushed into a home in Louisiana's Vermilion Parish. One of the hardest hitting areas. Officials in New Orleans say recovery efforts have been set back by a couple of weeks as Rita caused reflooding of part of the city's ninth ward.

Rescues will resume this morning, 16,000 National Guard troops are already in Louisiana with more forces on the way.

Let's get more now on what's being done to pump water from those heavily flooded neighborhoods, particularly the lower ninth ward in New Orleans. We're joined, again, by Mary Snow.

And Mary, they have been waiting for the weather to cooperate in order to begin more of the sandbagging. How are they able to progress today?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Fredricka. Well, yesterday afternoon military choppers were finally able to get up in the air once the wind died down a bit and they're expected to resume their operation, shortly. Right with behind me is just a reminder of how fragile the levee system here is. Hurricane Rita did not even hit New Orleans but the rain and a storm surge that came in Friday were enough to overtop a damaged section of the levee and pour into the lower ninth ward, which is now underwater. Now, the Army Corps of Engineers reporting this morning that the water is receding and it has done so by more than four feet, which is a positive sign.

But, you know, after Hurricane Katrina, when that levee was initially breached, crews had been working to shore it up and then Friday, early in the day, water overtopped, an engineers saying that they feel like they're starting all over again. What the Army Corps of Engineers, right now, is trying to do is just to keep shoring up that damaged part of the levee with huge sandbags. They weigh anywhere between three and 7,000 pounds. Once they can establish that, they need to pump out that water in the lower ninth ward, water that reached about eight feet yesterday. And that pumping is a challenge because the pumping station here is out of commission and the Army Corps of Engineers is saying that they won't be able to start pumping until later this week and the process is expected to take another week.

That area was so devastated, no one is living or was living over there since Hurricane Katrina, but it had just been dried out last week. So, engineers starting all over again in that process. Now, despite this set back, the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, said yesterday that he is going to be monitoring the situation very closely today with water receding, two other levees seem to hold up fine and he's going to make a determination at some point about when to restart a plan to start bringing people back in to New Orleans. If you member, some people started moving back into the Algiers section last Tuesday and then the it was put on hold when Rita started moving -- making its way back towards here. So, he said that that program could start as early as tomorrow, possibly Tuesday. He's going to start with business owners and residents of Algiers on the west bank of New Orleans and then he said he will assess about how further and when these other people will start coming back in -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, Mary Snow in New Orleans, thank you much.

Well, another city hit hard by Rita is Lake Charles, Louisiana. We'll take you there live.

Plus, the president is in Texas to get a first-hand look at Rita's wrath. A live report next on this special edition of CNN SUNDAY MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: Well, President Bush in San Antonio, Texas, getting briefed by his folks on the Hurricane Rita damage in Texas as well as in Louisiana and then soon he begins to brief the reporters there. All this taking place before he leaves the Texas region and then makes his visit on to Louisiana. Let's listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In mitigating those damages. And then, sir, we'll reset or continue to reorganize for future operations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So what we'd like to do here is General White is going to talk to you about the search and rescue mission and the complexities that are involved there and how they put that -- and coordinate that together.

MAJ. GEN. JOHN WHITE, JOINT MILITARY TASK FORCE: Morning, sir. About two weeks after Katrina kicked off I sent down Tyndall Air Force Base to help with the operation there. About last Wednesday afternoon, myself and a small team were dispatched here to Fort Sam to organize all the inner agencies for the SAR plan at the air assets that were going to be involved in the search and rescue.

We were able to gleam a lot of the problems that we ran across in Katrina and pull some of those things together. What I'd like to do is give you a quick -- as we hit boots on the ground that Wednesday evening, we had -- fortunately, we had two days to get to find the people and the notes that were going to involved in air picture and the search and rescue, to try to coordinate, orchestrate it to work better than it did in Katrina. So, we had a couple days of notes.

Next slide. Then, as we all know, on the Friday as the hurricane moved in. This is an overview of our plan. You cam see the agencies involved -- Coast Guard, DOD, we work with each other very well, obviously, and , but we just don't know the plans of what the civilians are going to do, so that was a big part of my job on Thursday and Friday.

Next slide. As soon as the hurricane moves in the first folks on the scene, obviously, the Coast Guard, this is our plan, they will sweep the coast. Those first missions they would be doing, primarily, wrecking (ph) do to see what we got because normally at that time the winds are still to heavy for them to do any real valid search and rescue, they can just do wrecking (ph). Those guys did a great job yesterday morning, the flowing in. Admiral Kilkinney flows in and call calls himself waterskiing in behind the storm as it coasts in.

And then the next asset -- next slice -- we bring in our command and control element that's behind the storm, also, to help start the coordination process of all those air assets.

The Coast Guard and the guys off in the Navy can then start their grid search where they would actually going and look for anybody in distress and start the rescue operation. As that flows north from -- in a coordinated manner to search their grids that have been organized through the air tasking order process and, finally, if need, next slide.

Here comes the Army and rare force for their search assets and they have grid responsibilities for search and that's ongoing as we speak, right now through the night.

Some things I would like to add to this, sir, we had the benefit (INAUDIBLE) we understand there are some problem with that. The lessons learned out of that, in my take back is we need a national plan and that's what we're going to work on, that would involve -- because we had the benefit of time in this scenario, where we could cut significant multiples to the search and rescue operation, so that's why we're going to try to get the inner agency, civilian and they're scattered, as you know, everybody wants to help and jump in there and that's the right thing to do, but we need to coordinate that better so we don't have air assets run into each other and all of the problems that are associated with it. At least we can have a plan that never goes as planned, but we can adjust as we flow along. From the point of knowing where this is going to hit and grid sectors they're going to use. They can be implemented.

So, that's our take away, sir, in a short recap of how this plan is put together and I would just say we had two days to do it, fortunately.

LT. GEN ROBERT CLARK, CMDR., JOINT MILITARY TASK FORCE RITA: Safety, comprehensive coverage, efficiency, those are the three important points there, I think. The safety piece goes without saying. But the central control and comprehensive coverage precludes the independent operators...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.

CLARK: On the -- in the air space and that's what we're trying to get at. They did a great job of putting that together, Mr. President.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not sure if my boss has anything to add. General Mayes over at the Tyndall Air Force Base, Sir, can you hear us out there? Do you have anything to add to that?

GENERAL MAYES: No, John, you covered it very well. I'll just reemphasize this was a full service, multi-agency effort and the same record to date on both the Rita, Katrina side, speak a lot for the professionalism of the aviators that participated. Thank you.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Having said that about Katrina, there was still some amazingly heroic effort in pulling people off roofs. I don't have any sorties for flowing to Katrina, but there must have been thousand of sorties.

WHITE: Well, as I left last Wednesday it was close to 18,000 sorties flown. Now sir, that includes every agency and it's a lot of airlift in there, too. BUSH: Your point is on Katrina had there been a better coordinated effort between guard choppers, Coast Guard choppers, regular Army choppers it would have been less dangerous?

WHITE: It would have been a better orchestrated plan. You wouldn't have seen a lot of, for instance, one things that we learned out of that. We had someone who needed to be rescued and that comes up on the net, five helicopters show up to get one person in. That's the simplistic thing we'd like to avoid and we're not maximizing the use of our forces to best efficiency. Certainly that was a train wreck that we saw in New Orleans and I know everybody's jumping in trying to help at one time and that's the right thing to do, but if we could have a national plan that would address the search and rescue at this magnitude is what we're out to try to do.

BUSH: Good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, if I might add, I would say that the main point would be with a the national plan, we'll have a quicker jump start, an opportunity to save more people, that would be my input there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: National plan in training against the plan gets you to this state faster in extreme and that's the goal.

BUSH: Part of the reason I've come down here and part of the reason I went to North Com is to better understand how the federal government can plan and surge equipment to mitigate natural disasters and I appreciate very much, general, your briefing, because precisely the kind of information that I'll take back to Washington to help us all of us understand how we can do a better job in coordinating federal, state and local response.

The other question, of course, I asked is, was, is there a circumstance in which the Department of Defense becomes a lead agency? Of course, in case of a terrorist attack, that would be the case, but is there an actual disaster which, of a certain size that would then enable the Defense Department because of lead agency in coordinating and leading the response effort? And that's going to be a very important consideration for Congress to think about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: That was recent tape coming in from San Antonio, Texas, out of the Randolph Air Force Base where President Bush has been spending some time getting briefings on the military components there on the response and recovery efforts post Hurricane Rita. Some comparisons in contrast being made of Hurricane Rita as well as Katrina, lessons being learned. And you heard the overwhelming scene there talking about a better coordination between federal, state and local authorities.

Let's bring in Elaine Quijano who is traveling with the president. The president does have a very busy day ahead after getting his personal briefing from military personnel there at Randolph Air Force Base. He does plan to traverse visit parts of Texas as well as move on to Louisiana before making his way back to Washington, D.C., right?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's correct, Fredricka. He's know that he's actually going to church this morning here this morning in San Antonio and then moving on to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, before returning to Washington. But, it's an interesting point to listen to the president because the very and sort of last idea that he talked about there. Looking at the role of DOD, the Department of Defense, and what role they might play in future disasters, possibly, as the president mentioning there, a terrorist attack, that's sort of a theme that we've heard from the White House over the past few days, although this is probably the first time that we've heard the president himself sort of articulate it in this way. We know that the White House has certainly been looking at whether or not the role of the federal government should be changed to deal with these catastrophes, not just natural disasters. But again, we heard the president mentioning terrorist attacks, also the possibility of disease outbreaks to perform more of a lead role.

Now, White House officials said yesterday they're not ready to make any recommendations to Congress but you heard the president himself say that's part of the reason why he wanted to come out and take a look at these operations first hand. Part of the reason why he was at the U.S. Northern Command yesterday to examine the operation there.

Also interesting to note, the president was getting a very frank assessment from the people who were involved in the Hurricane Katrina effort. Of course the president's events here, all throughout the weekend in fact, have a sense of leaving the focus on Hurricane Rita and what kind of preparations and what kind of response there has been to that effort. But of course the White House, at the same time, is clearly trying to undue some of the political damage left over from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when, of course, many people said the federal government was just too slow in its response. But the president hearing quite bluntly from some of the people involved in the search and rescue operation. At one point we heard Major General John White talk about there being a train wreck when five helicopters were dispatched to rescue one person, so that being an example of why he believes there needs to be a better national response plan, better coordination of efforts, as you mentioned, that is a theme that we have continued to hear and something that the White House certainly has looked at quite closely, as well. The very basic idea of interoperability. The idea of people on the ground being able to talk to each other in those first early moments after a disaster strikes. So, the president getting some information there and, as you mentioned, he's got another stop today dealing with Hurricane Rita, that is in Baton Rouge before he returns to Washington later today -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: So, Elaine, I wonder, are we hearing the president almost think aloud here? Maybe rethinking the value of the Homeland Security Department which is -- which was one that he developed under his administration putting the Federal Emergency Management Agency underneath it and now hearing these military personnel talk about their assessments. Are we hearing the president thinking out loud, perhaps, reorganizing Homeland Security, perhaps even removing FEMA from under that umbrella?

QUIJANO: I think it might be a little premature, Fredricka, to talk about that just yet. What I can tell you is that when that point specifically about FEMA being pulled into the Department of Homeland Security has been raised in the past, what they simply say is that there are a host of issues, certainly, that the president, that the White House continues to look at and we should point out, as well, that the president has appointed his own Homeland Security adviser, Fran Townsend, to take a look internally at the steps that were taken in and around the response to Hurricane Katrina. But whether or not there is some serious consideration about that we just don't know at this point. But it is interesting to note, to hear sort of the bluntness described by these military folks about what exactly happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and then to hear President Bush now, obviously, signaling to Congress that perhaps this is something they should look at, as well, what going forward might need to be done to improve future responses to whatever might happen down the road -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right Elaine Quijano in San Antonio, Texas, thanks so much.

Well, Lake Charles, Louisiana, is one of the places in that state where Rita hit the hardest. We'll take you there live. And later this hour, we'll go live to another hard-hit spot in Louisiana. Abbeville is waking up to unbelievable flooding there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: The latest now on Hurricane Rita, which is now a tropical depression. Many evacuees are streaming back into Houston today. Officials put in place a phased reentry plan running today through Tuesday.

More than 36,000 Army and Air National Guard troops are on duty responding to hurricanes Rita and Katrina, along the Gulf Coast. Searchers will be out today in Vermilion Parish, Louisiana, looking for people stranded by flood waters.

President Bush is in the hurricane region again today. You just heard part of a military briefing coming from San Antonio, Texas. The president heads to Baton Rouge before he goes back to Washington, D.C.

And deja vu in New Orleans. The Army Corps of Engineers is working to pump out flood waters in the city's ninth ward. They say it will take at least 2 weeks to drain it.

Meanwhile, FEMA crews will be in hard-hit areas like Lake Charles, Louisiana, today. They're bringing search and rescue personnel, water, ready-to-eat meals, medical supplies and fuel.

And now, back to Texas, Houston, Texas, particularly where upwards of 2.5 million people evacuated a few days ago. Well, many of them in a phased in process are being brought back or allowed to come back to Houston that's where we find our Miles O'Brien.

And how is it looking in that traffic behind you in I-45 -- Miles.

O'BRIEN: Fredricka, I have to say, so far, it appears things are doing fine. You an see the traffic behind me, Interstate 45 south moving along at a good clip. I see quite a few cars, lots of belongings and gas cans on top. Clearly people who have evacuated, coming back, but certainly nowhere near the kind of traffic we saw on Thursday and Friday. People in a really epic gridlock as everybody tried to flee the city over Thursday and into Friday.

This location, here, could become different, though, if people decide not to comply. It is a voluntary program, Texans are very independent, and the lure of home is always strong. Of course, while they're talking, here, about a homecoming, about 140 miles to the east of us, in Lake Charles, Louisiana, it's a different story completely. As a matter of fact, think about it right now. The entire coastline of Louisiana, in one way or another, is affected by hurricanes whether it's Rita or Katrina. And 50 roads closed down, many people unable to get to their homes, even if they wanted to do just that. Lake Charles was on the less forgiving side of Rita, significant amount of flooding as a result of all that and many trees down and some of the casinos there on Lake Charles flooded out. Those are big sources of income and employment there. CNN's Jason Carroll is on the shores of Lake Charles this morning. He has more for us from there.

Good morning, Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And good morning to you, Miles. Certainly no homecoming here for the people in Lake Charles, at least not yet. Officials still telling people it's not safe to come back, still too early for that.

Standing right here on the shores of Lake Charles, certainly couldn't do this yesterday, but if you take a look, you can see all those pylons there. Yesterday when we were out here none of those pylons were visible because the lake waters were just too high. You can see lake waters returning to normal levels at this point.

Also, we checked out downtown Lake Charles on our way in early this morning and, fortunately, much of the floodwaters there have receded, as well. Certainly didn't look like that yesterday when we took a tour through Lake Charles. I saw a lot of damage a lot of flooding in pocketed areas, flooding here in downtown, also more flooding to the south. In terms of the damage that we saw, downed trees, the power lines that you spoke of, as well. Also, partially collapsed buildings and some buildings which had completely collapsed, most of the damage that we saw, significant damage, was down in the Lake Charles Regional Airport. there. The main terminal its roof collapsed under hurricane force winds down there, as well.

We checked in early this morning with emergency officials, spoke to them about what's going to be happening. The day shift has already started, obviously, emergency crews are going to be out, they're trying to get a more accurate assessment of just how bad the damage is. What they're going to do is canvassing the various neighborhoods, reporting back to the main center here in downtown. They're still very much in the process of clear debris. There is no power here at all. In fact, at one point we drove almost a half an hour to the east, still no power there. So, a very wide area still without power, without water, as well. Emergency crews are working with the water treatment facilities trying to get them back up and running and that will certainly improve the sanitary conditions here, as well.

Lake Charles police, at this point, are being inundated with phone calls from people on the outside trying to reach loved ones who, obviously, they can't get in contact with them. So, what they're going to do is compile a master list of people who they're trying to get in contact with. They're going to be driving out to their homes and doing visual checks on their homes trying to find them here, as well.

Also, very quickly, just want to set the scene for you where I am. I'm standing right in front of the Civic Center here, that's it right over there, that building. What they're going to be doing here, once police go out to these various neighborhood, if the run in contact with anyone who needs help and can no longer stay in their home, they're going to bring them here and then they'll be doing is they'll be putting them on those buses that you see lined up there and then they're going to be taking them to Minden, Louisiana, that's near Shreveport, I believe, it's northwest of here. There's a shelter up there in Minden for them. You can see those buses lined up waiting for people, if necessary. Back to you.

O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, CNN's Jason Carroll, we appreciate that. Jason Carroll in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

We're going to take a break. When we come back, Houston's police chief, Harold Hurtt is here and he'll tell us how things are going on the interstate on the first day of a phased return home for Houstonians. Back with more in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, live from Houston, Texas, actually, the outskirts. We're not in the city proper here, right? This is a man who would know, this is the police chief of Houston and this is the first day of what is hoped to be a phased, orderly, nonchaotic return home for people. You member last Thursday and Friday the scene as everybody tried to get out. Monumental gridlock, 15 to 20-hour traffic jams, people running out of gas on the side of the road, no food, no water, no services. It was quite a scene here.

Police chief Harold Hurtt is here to tell us what's being done to try to make the return a little more smooth. And what, essentially today, what you've done, you've divided the city up like a piece of pie; the northwest quadrant today. Do you get the sense, just by driving around, reports from your officers, that people are complying?

CHIEF HAROLD HURTT, HOUSTON POLICE CHIEF: That's correct and take a look at the traffic behind us, there's no jam there and people are moving along very good. And we hope that people slow down and get back to town. There's still over 3,000 people here without any electricity, so there's no rush to get home. There are plenty officers out here on the street, here, protecting their property. So, just try to relax and come home. We know, we're asking people to kind of phase them -- you know, come in on phases, but you know, they want to get home, they want to check on their properties, so we understand that.

O'BRIEN: That is a natural inclination, especially when, you know, you realize the storm spared the city, pretty much, and your house is going to be OK, you want to get home. And that assurance you just give is an important one because people would be concerned about the security of their valuables.

HURTT: That's right and we've had very few break ins. The events that we had yesterday, I think we had up to about 28 attempt burglaries and out of that we arrested probably 22 people. So, we had more cops on the streets than crooks at the time.

O'BRIEN: And you've got a full compliment of officers out. How does that number of arrest compare to an average day in Houston?

HURTT: Well, as far as percentages for burglary arrests, it's up tremendously. Usually you clear about 10 percent of your burglaries, we're up around 60, 75 percent.

O'BRIEN: All right so, so far so good, people heeding the call. The good news is we've seen gasoline available. We've seen stores open. Have you seen the same thing?

HURTT: That's right. I've been driving around this morning, there's places for people to get food, gasoline, the lines are not as long. In those areas where we do have long lines, we're assigning officers to keep order and make sure that people go through the line, get their gas, and on their way home.

O'BRIEN: Yeah, It's -- as you look back on it and you look back on that evacuation, what do you think the biggest mistake was in all of that as you look back? I mean, clearly, there were lessons learned.

HURTT: I don't know if there were any mistakes. I think our original plan was that maybe we're going to have 1.5 million people leave the Houston area. It turns out, I think, the latest number that I had was two -- 2.8, 2.8 million, last.

O'BRIEN: So the evacuation was over subscribed?

HURTT: Right. And I think as more people watched TV they saw the Category 5 and, you know, talk about the impact that it would have on Houston and Galveston, more people decide to leave. You know, I know a lot of people in these businesses, they closed their businesses and left and that's why we have a shortage of gas and services because the business owners themselves left. So, everybody decides, hey, we have to get out of here.

O'BRIEN: So, in one sense, maybe what happened here was an overreaction in the wake of Katrina. The flipside of that, next time, there's something baring down, given what happened here, are you worried next time people will not comply?

HURTT: No, I'm not., because I think they're people that lived here longer than I have that have, they've gone through hurricanes before, they know the dangers and the fact that they get lots of information about the hurricane direction, the impact that it will have on the Houston area and they'll make the decisions.

O'BRIEN: Let's hope they do. Chief Harold Hurtt, good luck as the city makes it's way back from Rita, and as people get back, let's home it happens all safely and in an orderly fashion. We don't want a repeat of what we saw Thursday and Friday. Thanks for dropping by here on the side of Interstate 45.

He's getting up in a helicopter, right now, and take a look at the city, get a sense of where the traffic problems are and if, in fact, too many people are trying to come home too soon. Back to you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much. Well, that's what happens when you got too many people trying to come home too soon, as Miles was explaining, this is what happens when you've got too much water in the same general area. You're looking at Lake Livingston and the lake Livingston dam. And the Polk County officials have deiced to open up this dam to try to alleviate the rising floodwaters. But, of course, what happens with this, it also means that the low-lying areas just might experience some sort of flash flooding taking place. The low-lying areas from this dam all the way down to Galveston Bay. But the big picture is the Polk County officials believe that by doing this they will alleviate or prevent any further, more massive problems resulting from flooding.

This all taking place post Hurricane Rita, even though, for the most part, a good part of southeastern Texas avoided a big hit by the hurricane, but, instead, but still, they are dealing with a good number of rising waters in various areas.

Now, let's check in with Jacqui Jeras in the weather center. We're talking about a tropical depression which still holds an awful lot of water which could bring some significant problems to certain areas, right?

JERAS: Oh, yeah, we're still worrying about flooding and we're worried about some gusting winds and possible tornadoes. And by the way, that Lake Livingston dam that we were just looking at, recorded one of the peak wind gusts from Rita at 117-miles-per-hour, that's what it was estimating as the storm came ashore.

Here you can see it now, the center of circulation over Arkansas, but all of the wet weather really ahead of that circulation, now. Very heavy on the eastern side of this storm and it's becoming extra tropical and we'll just call it the remnants of Rita, we think, later on for today. Still some gusty winds, 20 to 30-mile-per-hour sustained throughout this region and we've a very strong flaw line that extends from, really, northeastern parts of Louisiana (INAUDIBLE) throughout much of Mississippi and is really been pounding the Memphis area on and off. You can see its just off to the east of there right now, but this squall line, we are concerned, does have the potential of producing some tornadoes that we may get some warnings on this later on this afternoon, especially as temperatures start to heat up. The rainfall amounts, pretty incredible, across parts of Louisiana. These are storms totals, not just 24-hour totals. So this is over the last couple of days. There you can see New Orleans just over six inches, some areas getting as much as a foot. Eight-and-a-half inches in Beaumont. And we're looking for storm to move quickly to the...

WHITFIELD: All right, Jacqui, let me just interrupt you briefly. We just want to bring up this live picture, right now. And this one of the consequences of the aftermath of Hurricane Rita. You're looking at a helicopter shot of a run away barge on the Trinity River. We don't know any other details about this barge only that it is unmanned and you can see that there is some sort of a crane or apparatus that's on that barge. We don't know what it broke from or what part of the Trinity River we're looking at, but this is the latest picture we're getting in, just kind of a sporadic consequences of Rita that we're able to show for you when we get them.

All right, we're going to pick up our next hour of our continuing coverage of the aftermath of Rita right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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