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Flooding Crisis in Northeast; Overflowing City

Aired October 13, 2005 - 09:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: In the northeast they're getting ready for the chance of more dangerous flooding this morning. Now a seventh day in a row of rain. Half a foot could still come down in some places. A live report coming up.
A desperate situation meanwhile in Pakistan. Terrifying aftershocks this morning as the relief workers struggle to get some supplies to 2.5 million people without homes. A live report is ahead.

And the Harriet Miers controversy continues. Did the president cross a line in so freely and openly discussing the religious beliefs of Harriet Miers?

All that is ahead 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.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, that was a rare sight there in Columbus Circle. That's a cab that's available. Very unusual...

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: That is very true.

M. O'BRIEN: ... in this city at the moment.

S. O'BRIEN: Speaking from experience, I'm guessing.

You know, we have had rain, rain, rain here, and it's been bad with some sort of localized flooding. But boy, New Jersey and New Hampshire...

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: ... they are just absolutely being hammered now. Seven days -- seven days of, in some cases, just downpour. That's really our top story this morning. More heavy rain is expected in the areas that are already soaked from days of flooding.

Dan Lothian is live for us in Alstead, New Hampshire.

Hey, Dan. Good morning to you.


I'm standing along the banks of the Cold River. Much calmer now than it was a few days ago, and it's much wider as well. This river in this portion was only about 15 to 20 feet wide. It's now more than a hundred feet wide.

Much of the bank chewed away by the rushing waters, raging waters that came flowing through here. As you mentioned, this is one of the areas that was hardest hit by the flooding.

Some three people are confirmed dead. Four people still missing. A dozen homes were destroyed, and dozens others have been damaged.

Of course this isn't the only area in New England that's been impacted by this storm. Other areas as well, including western Massachusetts.


NORMAN MATTHEWS, EVACUEE: Before it floods again, I'm getting the stuff out, you know.

LOTHIAN (voice over): Norman Matthews is an 82-year- old man starting over again with the help of his friends.

MATTHEWS: I'm living through it, and it's fine, but I don't really care to do it again.

LOTHIAN: The mobile home park where he lives along the Green River in Greenfield, Massachusetts was swamped by raging flood waters. He escaped by car just before it got so deep that only a boat could get in and out.

MATTHEWS: The water came right up to here on our trailer, so here on the others it came right in the house.

LOTHIAN: And right over the top of his neighbor's cars. Some mobile homes were lifted off their foundations. The entire park has now been condemned, displacing more than 70 residents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's what I'm looking for.

LOTHIAN: So friends are helping to move his belongings into storage, and give him a place to stay, until Matthews can find permanent housing.

Mayor Christine Forgey said this city of 18,000 people has been hit hard.

MAYOR CHRISTINE FORGEY, GREENFIELD, MASSACHUSETTS: I understand that given the magnitude of what some Americans have gone through at this point, it doesn't really seem to be on the same level, but to us here in Greenfield, it feels like it is on the same level.

LOTHIAN: Heavy rains also left other communities across the state underwater. In the town of Uxbridge, residents could watch as a swollen river threatened their homes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's close, but we're hoping it stays where it belongs. I mean, we haven't lived here long, and so far so good. But we're hoping. LOTHIAN: For some, hoping wasn't enough. Back in Greenfield, Matthews is almost all packed up. His life has been turned upside down, but he hopes to eventually land in senior housing, away from the river, on much higher ground.


LOTHIAN: We're back now live in Alstead, New Hampshire. This area obviously impacted quite hard by the flooding.

The big concern now, obviously, is additional rain. The ground is heavily saturated, and so any amount of rain, even a couple of inches, could cause major problems here. And we are expecting hard rain in the coming hours. Right now just light rain falling here.

To that end, emergency personnel have been going door to door, trying to reach out to some of the 2,000 residents who do live in this town, not to tell them to evacuate, but to give them -- I guess you could call it an evacuation plan. Let them know what they should do if the floodwaters start rising -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, what a mess there. All right. Dan Lothian for us.

Dan, thanks.

Let's get right to Chad, because he can really tell us how long the folks there will be dealing with this weather.

Hey, Chad. Good morning again.



S. O'BRIEN: All right.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Chad.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. We're looking at the earthquake as well this morning in Pakistan, and the wake of it. What was a rescue operation is shifting now, helping those who are homeless and just kind of clearing rubble.

Carol Costello is here with that and more.

Good morning, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And something else, too. Some terrifying moments in Pakistan this moment as a powerful aftershock hit the area. Officials from the country say the death toll from this weekend's earthquake is now at least 23,000. Plans are in the works to set up tent cities for the scores of people left homeless. Authorities are also planning to review building codes and regulations in the country to minimize destruction in the future.

President Bush is set to address U.S. troops overseas this hour. He'll do so from the White House.

The president will speak to American forces stationed in Tikrit, Iraqi, through a video conference hookup from Washington. And we will have live coverage of that less than one hour from now.

Some political flap after President Bush's decision to highlight the religious beliefs of Supreme Court pick Harriet Miers. The president has said Miers' faith is a big part of her life, but some critics say the president is using religion as a selling point for conservatives, and they argue that a justice should be guided by the Constitution, not her religious ideals.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has reportedly been subpoenaed to turn over personal records in connection with his July stock sale. Sources cited by "The Washington Post" say the Securities and Exchange Commission issued the subpoena within the past two weeks. Authorities want to know if Frist had any inside information about the stock.

Its price fell a short time after the sale. Frist denies any wrongdoing.

A new study suggests where you live could influence when you marry. Couples near the East and West Coast tend to wed later than men and women elsewhere in the country. The youngest bride and grooms tend to be in Utah. The Census Bureau also found that couples in the South are the least likely to live together without getting married.

And some controversy in the American League championship series. It happened in the bottom of the ninth with two outs. White Socks batter A.J. Pierzynski strikes out swinging, but the home plate umpire said the ball touched the dirt -- touched the dirt behind the plate.

S. O'BRIEN: Drop the banner. Drop the banner. There we go.

M. O'BRIEN: Can we play it one more time so people can see it?

S. O'BRIEN: There you go.

M. O'BRIEN: That's not it. That's the subsequent hit -- yes.

COSTELLO: Anyway, going back to my original point, if the ball hits the dirt, then the batter has to be thrown out at first base.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. We will...

COSTELLO: That didn't happen. This happened in the ninth inning, and the White Sox went on to win the game.

M. O'BRIEN: We've got to play it. I'm sorry, we can't do this to our viewers.

S. O'BRIEN: Imagine, if you will, a ball hitting the dirt.

M. O'BRIEN: Imagine a ball -- forget the fireworks. Is there any way...

COSTELLO: No, but I don't think it did, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: I'm with you.

M. O'BRIEN: We've got to see it. Here we go. All right.

COSTELLO: You can't tell.

M. O'BRIEN: Do we have the slow motion -- there it is. There it is. And?

COSTELLO: Oh, that was close.

S. O'BRIEN: I don't think it did. I'm with Carol on this one.

COSTELLO: I don't think it -- I didn't see any dirt come up.

M. O'BRIEN: I don't know. What does the crew say?

Pete, what do you say, in the dirt?


M. O'BRIEN: Hit the dirt, they say.

COSTELLO: Oh, Pete's always wrong.

M. O'BRIEN: Jay?



M. O'BRIEN: We have a divided crew, and that's not good.

COSTELLO: Yes, but the series is tied at 1-1. It will just make for a more exciting...


M. O'BRIEN: That's it. It's all about ratings. That's it. No, no, no. I didn't...

S. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Carol.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Let's -- let's shift gears now.

We're going to talk about Katrina. Thousands of Katrina evacuees are setting up permanent homes in Baton Rouge. And that is pushing the city's capabilities, well, really, in many cases, beyond its limit.

AMERICAN MORNING's Alina Cho spent the day there on Wednesday, and she has the story of a city bursting at the seams.

Alina, good morning to you.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Miles.

You may recall just after the storm 250,000 people fled New Orleans for Baton Rouge. At the time, the city thought that most of those people would eventually lead. That was not the case. One hundred thousand people decided to stay. That's both good and bad.


CHO (voice over): The traffic alone is still a nightmare. Then there's the overflowing schools and the crowded supermarkets. Six weeks after Hurricane Katrina, Baton Rouge is a city bursting at the seams.

MAYOR KIP HOLDEN, BATON ROUGE, LA.: Drives that would normally take about 10 to 15 minutes are taking up to 90 minutes right now. At the same time, the interstate is bumper to bumper. It's become a parking lot.

CHO: Baton Rouge Mayor Kip Holden says he needs to build more roads. He's asked FEMA for help, but says the federal agency has not responded.

HOLDEN: We're saying S.O.S., send help.

CHO: Holden says he needs $176 million to fund city projects. FEMA officials say reimbursing the city will take time. Time East Baton Rouge school superintendent Charlotte Placide says she doesn't have.

(on camera): Are you stretched to the limits?

CHARLOTTE PLACIDE, E. BATON ROUGE SCHOOL SUPT.: Well, I'm not going to say I'm stretched to the limits, but I'm doing a lot more than I was doing in August.

CHO (voice over): Post-Katrina, there are 6,000 extra students in the school district. Placide says that has forced her to hire 154 more teachers. With salaries and benefits, the cost is $8 million.

(on camera): That's staggering.

PLACIDE: That is. And it can't continue for a long period of time.

CHO: You're running out of cash.

PLACIDE: We will be soon.

CHO (voice over): And she still needs more bus drivers and more classrooms.

Baton Rouge realtor Carol White says she needs more sleep.

(on camera): How busy are you? CAROL WHITE, REAL ESTATE AGENT: Busy enough that I probably lost weight. Busy enough that it's enjoyable when I get the opportunity to see family. We have been inundated.

CHO (voice over): Larry Wink is her client. The former New Orleans resident lives in Baton Rouge now and is also moving his company here. He's bought 34 homes in Baton Rouge to house his workers and his business.

LARRY WINK, BUSINESS OWNER: In my view, Baton Rouge has become a miniature Houston.

CHO: Mayor Holden says if that's the case...

HOLDEN: The federal government has to step in and provide some help.


CHO: The mayor also tells me that the city's convention center will close tomorrow. It has been used as a shelter, but the mayor says the city needs it. It has lost $100,000 in revenue in just a month. It also needs $900,000 in repair, Miles. We'll have more on what happens to the people tomorrow morning.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, Alina, we're going to talk to the mayor live in a little bit. What should I ask him?

CHO: When you talk to the mayor?

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

CHO: Well, you should ask him about FEMA dollars.

M. O'BRIEN: FEMA dollars.

CHO: He will tell you certainly that he has not received one dollar from the federal government. He also wants money from the state. But, of course, the federal government will say that that money and the grant process will take some time.

M. O'BRIEN: Alina Cho, giving me a little cheat sheet. Thank you there. Appreciate that.

We're going to take a break.

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, we're actually going to talk also to a former hostage who spent 10 days in captivity in Iraq while his girlfriend was feverishly working to get him released. He's going to share his story with us just ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: There is a tale to tell there.

And next, as well, back to New Hampshire we go. Is the state getting help that it desperately needs? We will ask the governor that question ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

We've been talking all morning about the terrible flooding and weather, really, in New Hampshire as rain continues to pound New England. We are told that the three people are dead now. That number could go higher. Several people still missing in New Hampshire.

The governor of New Hampshire, John Lynch, joins us. He's in Manchester this morning.

Thank you for your time, sir. Appreciate it.

You've toured the area that's been most hard hit. Give me a sense of what you saw there.

GOV. JOHN LYNCH (D), NEW HAMPSHIRE: There's really been incredible devastation and destruction. Roads completely washed away, and the foundations on which the roads are built are completely gone. Bridges destroyed.

We had over a thousand people evacuate their homes over the weekend, a couple hundred people staying in emergency shelters. And as you say, there are three confirmed fatalities, and three or four individuals still missing.

S. O'BRIEN: The thousand people that were evacuated, have they been brought back into their homes? You look at those pictures of damage, you can't imagine it.

LYNCH: A number have been brought back into their homes, but some have no homes to go back to because the homes have been completely washed away.

S. O'BRIEN: As the weather continues to be bad, and the reports indicate for at least the next 48 hours they're going to be bad, what's the strategy for those folks, some of whom are in and some of whom are not?

LYNCH: Well, one of our first priorities is to restore power and communication to those homes which have been without power and communication since last weekend. And we've made a lot of progress. I've been working very closely with the electric companies and the communication companies to make sure we're doing everything we can to restore power and to restore communication, and we just about have that job completed.

S. O'BRIEN: I know you were on vacation, I think, in Europe when you were called back because the storm damage was so bad. Were you shocked when you first started taking your tour?

LYNCH: Well, first of all, I wasn't on vacation. I was on a trade mission for the state of New Hampshire. And I had flown to Frankfurt and then to Berlin, arrived in Berlin at 3:00, and then was on a 4:00 flight back. And I was shocked. We've never seen anything like this in the history of our state in terms of the destruction and devastation that has occurred.

S. O'BRIEN: What can you tell us about the folks who are now being searched for? There are a handful of people who are missing, and as you mentioned, a dozen homes that are utterly destroyed. What do you know about the status of that searching?

LYNCH: Well, we're very concerned. There was one couple in a home, they refused to evacuate. And now the home is gone. The home has been washed away.

So we continue to search very closely and carefully for these individuals who are missing. But part of the problem is there's so much debris, that it's going to take a while for us to get through all of the debris to try to locate individuals.

S. O'BRIEN: Assess for me the help that you've been getting from the federal government. Are you happy with the help you've been getting?

LYNCH: Well, first of all, we didn't wait for the federal government. We took on this challenge ourselves.

One of the things that we do here in New Hampshire is we work together to solve our problems. And again, we pulled together all the different agencies of state government. There's been strong communication between all of the levels of state government and the people on the field, the first responders.

I've been working very closely with the civic officials, with our department of transportation, health and human services. I called up the National Guard right away and deployed about 500 to the area. So we took on this challenge ourselves, and we've made real progress.

Yesterday, FEMA officials came to New Hampshire. I toured the site with them. They now have five teams assessing the sites, and when they finish that assessment they'll get back to us. And hopefully we'll be able to make financial assistance available to families, communities and to businesses very quickly.

S. O'BRIEN: Hopefully on that front, and hopefully the rain over the next 48 hours not as bad as it's been predicted for you guys.

New Hampshire Governor John Lynch joining us this morning.

Thank you for your time.

LYNCH: You're welcome.

S. O'BRIEN: Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Still to come on the program, more on that population boom in Baton Rouge. There are thousands more residences there because of Katrina. The question is, is FEMA doing enough to help the city handle this crisis? We'll ask the mayor that question.

Alina Cho told me to ask that question, so I will coming up on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: A reminder to our viewers. In about 22 minutes' time, the president of the United States will address U.S. troops in Tikrit and elsewhere in advance of that big referendum on the Iraqi constitution. Of course the president will be in the Oval Office, not in Tikrit. But through the metric of teleconferencing, we'll do that, and we will have an opportunity to listen in live here on CNN. So we invite you to tune in for that.

Meantime, let's talk about Baton Rouge.

Baton Rouge, when you were there, when I was there, hard to get...

S. O'BRIEN: Things were tough.

M. O'BRIEN: Hard to get a tank of gas and a meal.

S. O'BRIEN: Traffic was bad, things were crowded. And I've got to tell you, you go to the local drugstore, you go to the local, you know, little shopping mart, and people were a little bit angry about the long lines. And a lot of frustrations with the influx of all of the evacuees. At the same time, they felt badly for all the people who clearly need help.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. Testing people's patience.

The mayor joining us now, Kip Holden, who you saw just a moment ago talking to Alina Cho.

Mr. Mayor, good to have you with us. Alina told me to ask you about the FEMA money, or more accurately, the absence thereof.

HOLDEN: As of today, we have received zero dollars from FEMA. We have costs that are rising, basically. I think right now we're about $19 million already in the hole. We've asked them for the money, and we have not heard from them as of today.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, what are they saying to you? Are they saying, no, you can't have the money because you weren't affected by the hurricane? I mean, you're as every bit as affected as any place that received the brunt of the flooding.

HOLDEN: That's correct. And I went to Washington for three weeks in a row and talked to chief Paulison. They said that they would take a look at all of the things that we had talked about.

They also mentioned the fact that they would try to look up our application and get that application expedited. And really, those were words. And I appreciate the chief taking the time, but when it comes down to time for paying the bills, you know, talk is one thing, money is another.

M. O'BRIEN: I've got to tell you, Mayor, I'm getting tired of doing this FEMA not responsive story. Why is this happening time and again?

HOLDEN: Well, I think one of the things that we found out, there's been a constant change over in personnel. There also has been people have -- who have come in, and virtually they are trying to figure out what the rules are. So each day you get a new playbook, and you don't have time to learn the playbook before they change personnel.

S. O'BRIEN: Mr. Mayor, what about the people in Baton Rouge? When I was there, you know, five weeks ago, I noticed tempers were already starting to get a little bit short and people were starting to feel a little bit frustrated.

Have you seen that worsen a lot?

HOLDEN: There is some frustration because the level of traffic is at an all-time high. In a two-week period we exceeded the 25-year traffic projection in Baton Rouge.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow.

HOLDEN: And we're not asking the federal government for help and say that we're not going to participate. On this Saturday, we're pushing forth a half-billion-dollar bond issue to take care of some road projects. But we noticed that in order to alleviate the traffic problems not only in Baton Rouge, but surrounding parishes, we desperately need another $176 million.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, you know, Mayor, there may be a silver lining in all of this. I mean, in a sense, this has ultimately -- a lot of what was in New Orleans is going move to Baton Rouge. And what was sort of a Baton Rouge, even though it is the capital, a sort of second city, you become the preeminent city in Louisiana, in southern Louisiana.

Have you thought much about that and the implications for your city?

HOLDEN: Yes, we've thought about that, and that's why the cry and call to FEMA is so desperate because of the traffic backups. You can imagine going from a 10-minute drive to an hour and a half drive. And that's what we're seeing happening right now.

But I have to say that at least the Federal Transportation Authority has stepped up, Commerce is stepping up, because they're seeing the influx of businesses. And they are they are scheduling a meeting on November 1. Housing and Urban Development is stepping up.

So there are some agencies within the federal government who are not waiting, and they're trying to make resources available to us. Even at the River Center, I think, Soledad, where you were, right there we have to have about $900,000 worth of repairs based on damage done as a result of people and traffic in terms of evacuees coming in.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, I was going to ask you that.

HOLDEN: So there is a silver lining.

S. O'BRIEN: That's money, sir, from just having the shelter set up and people living in really a place that wasn't meant to house people?

HOLDEN: That's money from the wear and tear on the building and money from some vandalism that occurred in some of the restroom facilities. But the bottom line, we're moving forward.

We still want to make people in New Orleans and the surrounding parishes know that we welcome them. This is home for now. We cannot cure the disaster that they've been through, but at least emotionally we can help them try to piece together their lives.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Mr. Mayor. We hope somebody at FEMA who has the juice was listening this morning and will help you out.

HOLDEN: Well, just send out an S.O.S. to chief Paulison and say we need you.

M. O'BRIEN: I think we just did.

S. O'BRIEN: He just did that.

M. O'BRIEN: I think we just did.

S. O'BRIEN: Thank you, sir.

M. O'BRIEN: Mr. Mayor, always a pleasure.

HOLDEN: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: Just about 15 minutes from now we're expecting to hear from President Bush. He's going to be addressing U.S. troops in Tikrit. We're going to take you live to the White House for a preview of the president's message to the troops just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



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