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Tour Boat Tests; Long Beach Cleaning Up; Xavier University Will Reopen; 'Minding Your Business'

Aired October 5, 2005 - 07:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. Just about half past the hour on this AMERICAN MORNING. Miles has the day off.
Coming up, we're going to talk more about those difficult choices now facing New Orleans. Three thousand city employees laid off. We'll talk to the president of the city council about that decision, why it happened and if there's another round of layoffs on the way.

First, though, let's say hi to Rob Marciano in Long Beach, Mississippi, where financial issues are a big problem as well.

Hey, Rob. Good morning.


You're right about that. This town is really worried whether or not it's actually going to survive. Seventy-five percent of the tax base gone as Katrina rolled through here five weeks ago.

So we're doing a little progress report. We're checking in here. There are frustrations with, you know, the help or lack there of from FEMA. We're going to talk with the mayor. We'll talk with the superintendent a little bit later on about just that.

Want to talk with Chad Myers, though. He's in the CNN Weather Center. Just a few minutes ago announcing that we have the latest tropical storm, Tropical Storm Tammy, off the coast of Florida.


CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Jumped right past tropical depression right to tropical storm. That can happen sometimes when they get really right up on it and the storms just begin to gusts. We've had gusts on buoys out here in the Atlantic to over 40 miles per hour.

There's the storm right there. Orlando, obviously, the space coast, Cape Canaveral right there. This storm is moving to the north- northwest at 16 miles per hour. And it's going to parallel the coast for a long time. That means it's going to bring onshore winds and waves to the coast as well. And if you're in a bay or a back bay you may even see some of the water coming up from a minor storm surge. Typically, there's not a lot of storm surge from a tropical storm at 40 miles per hour. But it can happen if you get winds and you've had winds in the same direction for a long time. There you see the storm extending its arms all the way up to Wilmington. Even a couple of showers up there.

And earlier you ask, Soledad, where is it going? Going to parallel the coast for a while. And 2:00 on Thursday, the forecast is just west of Jacksonville. And then as we get into Friday, into Friday night, not that far from Atlanta.

Now it isn't going to be a tropical storm anymore. It's just going to be a low pressure system but it's going to bring the chance of significant heavy rain all the way from really Mississippi and Alabama, especially in the northern part, through upstate into South Carolina and right through the Piedmont of North Carolina as that wind gets pushed up the little bit of a mountain range there. The rain falls out rather quickly.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: All right, Chad, thanks.

MYERS: You're welcome.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Headlines now. Carol Costello has a look at those this morning.

Hey, good morning.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. Good morning to all of you.

"Now in the News."

The state of Oregon is defending its assistive suicide law before the Supreme Court today. At issue where state rights end and federal law begins. In the meantime, some reactions to the high court. A CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup Poll taken this week shows Americans are less impressed with President Bush's Supreme Court pick Harriet Miers than they were with the nomination of the new chief justice, John Roberts. Of the 800 people asked, 44 percent rate Miers good to excellent, compared with 51 percent for Roberts after his nomination.

A bit of a reversal on election rules in Iraq. The National Assembly voted just last hour to change the rules for next week's referendum. The parliament scrapped some procedures that had it had put into place last week. Today's reversal comes after pressure by the United Nations. The vote on Iraq's new constitution is set for October 15th.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and British Prime Minister Tony Blair are discussing the best ways to combat terrorism. The talks come on the second day of Putin's trip to London. The Russian president is also presenting awards to a British navy servicemen today. The crew helped rescue a Russian mini sub in August after it got caught in nets at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean.

And a gas tanker explosion in New York will likely cause a bit of a headache for commuters this morning. More than a bit probably. Police believe the truck overturned and hit a retaining wall on Tuesday as it traveled on the Bruckner Expressway. It then burst into flames. The truck was carrying more than 6,000 gallons of fuel. The three-alarm fire also destroyed some parked cars and then spread to nearby buildings. The driver was killed and at least one other person was hurt. Amtrak service was also interrupted because of this fire.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: And what a mess traffic was.

COSTELLO: Oh, it was yesterday. It was a mess.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Just gigantic.

All right, Carol, thanks.

Well, today, investigators are going to try to determine what caused that tour boat to capsize by conducting tests on an identical boat. They're calling it the twin sister. The accident happened on Sunday in Lake George in upstate New York. It claimed 20 lives. Alina Cho reports on the very latest.


ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Like so many others, Al Dardis heard about the accident on television.

AL DARDIS, FORMER CAPTAIN, ETHAN ALLEN: I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe it.

CHO: Dardis had a reason to care. He was one of the first captains on the Ethan Allen, piloted the tour boat for 15 years.

You're still sick about it?

DARDIS: If that ever happened to me, I'd die. I couldn't take it.

CHO: Dardis said, when he was at the helm back in the '70s and '80s, he always made sure people were seated. He said the boat was harder to handle when it was filled to capacity.

DARDIS: If you have a lot of people on one side, it's just not good. It don't run good.

CHO: He has seen what happens when a boat tries to maneuver around the wake of a larger vessel.

You've seen things flip over?

DARDIS: If they come close to anything and they're anywhere near half throttle, something bad happens.

CHO: Investigators are looking into whether the wake of another boat caused the Ethan Allen to cap-size.

MAJ. GERALD MEYER, N.Y. STATE POLICE: Well, you can understand how a vessel of that size, things could go wrong.

CHO: New York State Police Major Gerald Meyer said two crew members should have been aboard the Ethan Allen on the day of the accident. But Captain Richard Paris was alone.

MEYER: The crew member would be important in an accident situation because, you know, you might need two people to hand out life preservers.

CHO: The company that owns the Ethan Allen is Shoreline Cruises. The state has sidelined its five other boats.

JAMES QUIRK, PRESIDENT, SHORELINE CRUISES: Our company, Shoreline Cruises, has been in the passenger boat business on Lake George for more than 27 years. And until Sunday, we have had a perfect safety record.

CHO: But as this 911 call makes clear, something did go terribly wrong.

911 OPERATOR: 911 emergency.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God. Oh, my God. A boat, a boat, a boat went over just the Ethan Allen, just outside of Green Harbor.

911 OPERATOR: Green Harbor?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It tipped right over.

911 OPERATOR: How many people were in the boat?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, please oh, a lot of people. They're hanging on to the bottom because it went right over. Oh, please hurry.

CHO: Seventy-five-year-old Anna McGunagle said it all happened so fast. She survived the accident. Her husband did too.

ANNA MCGUNAGLE, SURVIVOR: I was content that I wasn't going to make it and he was too. But God had other plans for us.

CHO: Despite the tragedy, Al Dardis says Lake George is still the queen of American lakes and the perfect place to take a vacation.

DARDIS: It was a beautiful day, gorgeous day. Something like that should have never happened.

CHO: The NTSB will be conducting what it calls a stability test. It will take the twin sister boat of the Ethan Allen, put the equivalent of 50 passengers on that boat, move all of the weight to one side of it and then see what happens. The NTSB says it will know a lot more then than it does now.

Alina Cho, CNN, Lake George, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Investigators also say they hope to have the Ethan Allen cleaned up and in the water tomorrow, at the very latest, to see if it actually leaks and if that was part of the problem.

Let's get right back to Rob Marciano. He's in Long Beach, Mississippi, this morning.

Hey, Rob.

MARCIANO: Hi, Soledad.

Five weeks ago, Hurricane Katrina came roaring through the coastlines of Southeast Louisiana and Southwest Mississippi. And, boy, it just pummeled homes and businesses and recovering has just been incredibly slow a lots of folks are frustrated.

Joining me this morning is Mayor Billy Skellie, the mayor here of Long Beach.

It's been a long road for you I'm sure the past five weeks. How far has your town come?

MAYOR BILLY SKELLIE, LONG BEACH, MISSISSIPPI: We've probably gotten to about from a scale of zero to 10, probably a three or four.

MARCIANO: So what's been the most challenging thing?

SKELLIE: Well, taking care of people, first of all. Trying to tend to their needs, those who are hurting, those who are displaced, trying to get housing and all that's been very slow.

MARCIANO: About how many people? I've read 30 to 40 percent of the homes are people that are displaced out of those homes?

SKELLIE: Right. We have about 40 percent.

MARCIANO: Where are they going? Are they not going to shelters?

SKELLIE: They're with friends and family members and, beyond that, I don't know. But we're trying to get them housing, temporary housing and it's been real slow because there's not a lot of property available to develop temporary trailer parks, you know, RV parks, to house them. It's been very slow and disappointing.

MARCIANO: Your fire chief has been quoted as say, it's like "Groundhog Day." He feels like Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day." You know it's the same thing, day after day after day. Why do you think he feels that way?

SKELLIE: Because I feel the same way. You get up and do the same thing and it seems like that you did it yesterday and you thought it was tended to and you go back and it wasn't and you're doing it over again. And it's just I think it's just part of the process of recovery right now. MARCIANO: Is it just because, I mean just look, there's just so much stuff everywhere. Is it cleaning stuff off the road, that was the first order of business, I assume?

SKELLIE: You had to make it where you could get to people that were injured. And that was the first item of business was to clear the roads enough to travel with emergency personnel.

MARCIANO: Talked with one of your alderman yesterday, Alderman Bennett (ph), and he was frustrated to the response to with FEMA. What's your response to that?

SKELLIE: I get frustrated. I realize that the amount of responsibility and work that FEMA has to do with all of the disasters that's gone on and with the magnitude and the catastrophic of this event, it's just more than what anybody could probably have prepared for.

Now, I'm disappointed on some of the time it took for us to get a, you know, a pack given to our city, which works with you closely on projects and how to write it up and how to do your business. I was disappointed in that.

But other than that, they've been helpful and now they're on board with us and we're working now. So it makes you a little bit behind but I feel like it's going fine now.

MARCIANO: Seems to be in your blood to be mayor. I understand your father was also the mayor some years ago when another hurricane came through.

SKELLIE: Yes, Hurricane Camille. The one that we use for a benchmark that we now find that we've got a we have a new benchmark. So this one's worse. So, yes, he was, 36 years ago.

MARCIANO: I'm sure he was a good man and a good mayor and I know you are, too. And I hope that doesn't become your family legacy of hurricanes here. We wish you the very best in this tough time.

SKELLIE: All right. Thank you.

MARCIANO: Mayor Skellie, thank you very much.

SKELLIE: Thank you.

MARCIANO: Frustrations, Soledad. It's five weeks now and, you know, it's just there's just so much to do and I'm sure it feels like day after day, you know, you're just not getting things done. But hopefully they'll get things on the road to recovery here soon enough.

Back to you.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes, tough for all those people. And then, of course, you know, things to do on every possible front. You talked about schooling, you talked about rebuilding, you talked about infrastructure, you talked about money, you talked about politics, getting the city back and running. I mean the list goes on and on. There's just a ton to handle.

All right, Rob, thanks. We'll check in with you again.

Still to come this morning, much more on the decision in New Orleans to layoff of thousands of city workers. How's that going to affect the city's recovery efforts? That's up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Take a look at these pictures. This is Xavier University in New Orleans. The date, September 3rd. The campus, the buildings just inundated with flood waters. That's in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Well now the city's mostly drive. Administrators at Xavier and several other universities as well are taking a look past the damage and they're working on plans to reopen. I visited Xavier when I was in New Orleans, spoke with the school's president about the very big job that lies ahead.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, (voice over): The president of Xavier University, Dr. Norman Francis, surveying the damage done by Hurricane Katrina.

Is it weird for you to come back the first time and check it out check out the damage?

NORMAN FRANCIS, PRESIDENT, XAVIER UNIVERSITY: You know, I wake up at night wondering about it. And not my house, strange enough. My wife is worried about the house. But I, you know, I just put it out of my mind.

This is the science complex. The whole science complex.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: There's a lot to worry about. The buildings are badly damaged. The greenhouse and the science building practically brand new will have to be replaced. Big trees have toppled over. The dorms have suffered probably the worse damage. Still, Dr. Francis is optimistic.

FRANCIS: Just looking at what I see, the grounds, I think we can put together. And, you know, take a good power washer and car wash and make sure we get all the mold off there (ph). I think we're going to make that January 6.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: To open the whole university?


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: That's the plan, to reopen in January. Dr. Francis took us on a tour of his beloved university. We start in the library. The water line there only a couple of feet high in a city where some houses were up to their eves in water.

So the bad news, to some degree, is pretty good news. Books are destroyed, but not too many. The computer lab is safe. Dr. Francis estimates it will cost $12 million to $15 million to repair and clean up the university.

The school has an incredible history. Opening its doors to African-American students in 1915. But Xavier is not a wealthy school. Its endowment just over $50 million is tiny compared to other bigger institutions.

FRANCIS: The story goes that, you know, I go to Rome and the pope gives me money. When I go to Rome, the pope asks me for money. And people don't know that Catholic colleges are not supported by the Catholic church.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: It's small but mighty. Its school of pharmacy world famous. And even though Xavier has just 3,000 students, it places more African-Americans into medical school than any U.S. university.

FRANCIS: I say invest in us because we produce in the human capital that makes this country strong.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: The pitch, so far, is working.

FRANCIS: Now I'm waiting for some of the ones who can step up and hit the ball over the fence.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: A million dollars.

FRANCIS: Exactly.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Or maybe the whole $10 million.

Until the money comes, professors and staff will be laid off. Dr. Francis is hopeful, but realistic, about some students not returning. Many have moved with their parents who have been forced to relocate.

FRANCIS: We're getting calls from everywhere where the kids say, I'm at Cornell or I'm at Penn State or I'm at Howard, I'm at Spelman, I'm at Morehouse.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Their tuition waved for the semester in the wake of Katrina.

Students who got financial aid, that's a big percentage of your students.

FRANCIS: Eighty-five percent.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Suddenly that financial aid is completely inappropriate. Their parents don't have jobs. Their parents don't have homes. FRANCIS: That's correct. And that's why we say to the Congress, you're going to have to put more financial aid in so those kids can come back to school.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: It could bring the total price tag to $90 million. Dr. Francis says he's encouraged even though the central power plant's been destroyed, there's debris all over the ground and mold is climbing the walls.

Look at the mold.

FRANCIS: No, we're not going to walk in here.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: No, you don't want to breathe this stuff. This stuff is bad.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: So he says failure is not an option here. There's too much riding on Xavier's success, too many students who need him to rebuild.

FRANCIS: I've walked these grounds for 57 years. So that's a pretty long time. Longer than you were born!

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes, it is, sir.

FRANCIS: But my point, that becomes a part of you. And I guess it may also be that it cannot fail.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: It cannot fail. We hear that a lot. Well, Tulane and Loyola, and the University of New Orleans, have also announced plans to reopen by January.

Still to come this morning, we're "Minding Your Business" with Andy. The nickel, believe it or not, getting a facelift. Andy's going to show us what the new one looks like just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Some news about some new money. Andy Serwer's "Minding Your Business" this morning.

There's a new nickel. Woo-hoo (ph). Breaking news now.

ANDY SERWER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I mean this is huge, huge stuff. And, you know, the folks at the U.S. Mint have been awfully busy, Soledad, when we're talking about the quarters program for the different states on the backs and then, of course . . .

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: All right, don't knock that program. I love that program.

SERWER: Yes, all right, you like that program. You've been collecting them with your kids.

A new $50 bill. A new $20 bill. We had the new $10 bill just last week. And now the new nickel, which will be unveiled right now for you all.

Now look at this. A couple of interesting things here. That's Thomas Jefferson. Yes, he stays on, T.J., and you can see a little bit of a small there, which is kind of unusual. Some people are say it's a Mona Lisa small. The artist who did this design, Jamie Frankie from the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, she says it's a sign of optimism, if you will.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: That's an optimistic smile?

SERWER: Well, you know.


SERWER: All right. Maybe had he a tough morning.

The other thing about that is that you could see he was facing forward as opposed to in profile. And that's a big thing because the coins usually have the presidents, if you look at the penny and the old nickel, in profile because the mint's concerned the face would rub off. But apparently they have some new technology here where it's not going to rub off. And so good for them.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I would hate to see his depressed look if that's his optimistic smile.

SERWER: Yes, I thought it was a little happier than that but that really didn't look that happy.


SERWER: I guess that was a very subtle Mona Lisa smile, right?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes it was.

Andy, thanks.

SERWER: OK. You have a good smile.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh, thank you.

SERWER: You're welcome.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Let's get right back to Rob Marciano. He's in Mississippi for us this morning.

Good morning.

MARCIANO: Hi, Soledad.

We're live this morning in Long Beach, Mississippi. Some here say the federal government's been, you know, a little slow to help them out here. Others have even blamed the media. They haven't really done much coverage here in Long Beach. Well, we showed up and we're talking about it today and it's a community that's still in rubbles.

What about if you're getting your child for school or getting them ready for school this morning but they didn't have a school to go to? That's a problem here. We're going to talk with the superintendent and we'll talk with students in the next half hour.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, a tough question about race for President Bush. We'll take a look at how African- Americans say they feel about the president five weeks after Katrina. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Breaking news. As this year's extremely busy hurricane season fires off yet another storm in the Atlanta, Tropical Storm Tammy suddenly appears off the coast of Florida. We're tracking Tammy as it grows stronger this morning.

More bad news out of New Orleans. As many as 3,000 city workers are losing their job too in the wake of the Katrina. The mayor says he has asked for help, there's just no money.

And in Washington, D.C., the president with a tough sell to some key members of his own party. Supreme Court Nominee Harriet Miers back on Capitol Hill and looking for support on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN Broadcast Center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING, with Soledad O'Brien and Miles O'Brien.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh, look at that. Long Beach, Mississippi, where the sun is rising. A beautiful day. But you can hear from our reports that Rob's been bringing us this morning, that is a city full of trouble. They have a lot to deal with this morning as they clean up and try to move forward in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.


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