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Update On Hurricane Katrina Recovery; Saving Baby Noor; 'Minding Your Business'

Aired January 2, 2006 - 07:30   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: That looks so pretty it should be fake. Do you know what I mean?
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: It should be but it's not. In fact, it's some of the most expensive real estate in all of Manhattan, Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN: There it is, the east side of Manhattan as sun rises here. And, I don't know -- I don't know what kind of day it's going to be at all. I haven't even paid attention. We've been focused on California.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Not so nice over the next couple of days. I know we've really been talking about the fire in the Midwest and also the rain storms in northern and southern California. Lots to talk about there as well. And update on those are just ahead.

MILES O'BRIEN: And also ahead, we're going to check in with three of our majors who we've been checking in periodically in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Excuse me, two mayors and one city council president.


MILES O'BRIEN: Well, he might not take that as a promotion. We'll ask him about that. And we'll see how they are doing post Katrina. More importantly, what they want to see ahead in 2006.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes, resolutions. I can imagine they've got a long list.

Also, we're going to update you on the condition -- this little baby. Baby Noor. We're going to show you pictures of this adorable little girl. She's three months old. She had spina bifida. And it's a fatal disease. Doctors here in the U.S. brought her from Iraq. They're going to operate on her in the next week to 10 days. We're going to talk to her doctor about what lies ahead for her as well.

First, though, an update of the top stories this morning. Kelly Wallace has those.

Hey, Kel.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Soledad, and happy new year everyone. We are beginning in Oklahoma where the governor says the fire danger in his state is definitely not over. Wildfires have burned dozens of homes in more than 24 counties since Tuesday. High winds and dry conditions are said to be fueling those flames. Meanwhile, in Texas, thick smoke rising over parts of the state. Emergency crews are now evacuating homes in the fire's path. More helicopters and airplanes carrying water will be used later today.

In Iraq now. Emergency crews at the scene of a bombing. It happened just hours ago near Baquba, a city north of Baghdad. U.S. military sources say a suicide car bomb exploded near a bus carrying Iraqi police recruits. At least seven people have been killed. More than a dozen others are injured.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is set to undergo a heart procedure this week. Doctors will be closing a small hole in his heart. It's apparently a condition that led to his recent stroke. Doctors say the procedure will decrease the risk of him suffering another stroke.

President Bush is gearing up this week to talk about the war on terror and the economy. On Sunday, the president, once again, defended the use of wiretaps, saying the program is legal and is being used properly. He says if al Qaeda is calling someone in the United States, the government wants to know why. The president is back in Washington right now after a holiday break at his Crawford, Texas, ranch.

And a Florida teenager is back home from Iraq. Sixteen-year-old Farris Hassan used $900 of his own savings to go to Iraq without telling his family. He arrived back in Miami Sunday after his three- week adventure. So, the big question, how are his parents reacting? Well, we'll be talking to his mom in the next hour to find out all that is being discussed since he returned home.

MILES O'BRIEN: Yes, I hope she will share us full details for us, Kelly. Oh, to be a fly on the wall in that household.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh, yes. Although I think we can guess what she's saying.

MILES O'BRIEN: Yes, I guess you're right. The truth is, we know.


MILES O'BRIEN: New Orleans is dedicating itself to rebirth in the new year. And in a fitting sight over the weekend, the Superdome. The sounds of trumpeter Irvin Mayfield kind of summed up the mood in an interface (ph) celebration at the Superdome yesterday. That's the first event there since it served as a shelter from the storm. He told the crowd it would be the last time he plays the mournful "A Closer Walk With Thee," which is a jazz funeral staple. It was the first song that his father taught him and his father, Irvin Mayfield Sr., drowned during Hurricane Katrina. He says from now on he will only use his trumpet for happy occasions. I'm sure our next guest were saying good riddance to 2005 as the year ran out over the weekend. They are leaders of cities impacted by Hurricane Katrina. What are their hopes for the new year besides better weather? From New Orleans, City Council President Oliver Thomas, from Biloxi, Mississippi, Major A.J. Holloway and from the CNN Center in Atlanta, Mayor Shirley Franklin.

Good to have you all back with us.

Let's begin in New Orleans with Oliver Thomas. Good to have you back with us, Oliver.


MILES O'BRIEN: What's the biggest problem you're dealing with? If you had to pick one problem, I know there's so many, what's the biggest problem you're dealing with?

THOMAS: Well, it's really housing right now and temporary housing. We would like to see an increase in community development funds, redevelopment funds for more housing so we can start with some of our non-profits again. And some of those trailers that everybody talks about. We had about 16,600 on order. We had only received about 600 as of about a week ago. So we'd like to see an increase in that. That would help us if we could get our citizens back.

MILES O'BRIEN: Only 600 trailers.

Mayor Holloway, what's the biggest issue facing Biloxi right now?

A.J. HOLLOWAY, MAJOR OF BILOXI: Well, that also is an issue facing the city of Biloxi is housing. Particularly affordable housing because so many of our poor people in this section of Biloxi was devastated. So housing is an issue here, along with getting the debris out and getting our people back to Biloxi that left here.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right, Mayor Franklin, are you going to make it a housing hat trick? A similar situation in Atlanta where you're dealing with tremendous numbers of Katrina evacuees?

SHIRLEY FRANKLIN, MAJOR OF ATLANTA: No question about it, affordable housing, just as Mayor Holloway said. And having sufficient funds to keep people in the housing so that they can establish themselves either resettle or prepare themselves to go home.

MILES O'BRIEN: You're face a deadline. A lot of folks need to get out of those hotels. What are you going to do about that?

FRANKLIN: Well, we're working hard. We've worked with some volunteers. We worked all over the weekends trying to get people into housing. Our biggest problem is that the funds that are dedicated by FEMA are not sufficient to cover our average housing costs. So we're running short. So we're having to raise private funds to supplement the federal funds. MILES O'BRIEN: Let's get back now to Oliver Thomas and talk about some priorities that, if you were making a list of the priorities, overall, for your city and in the wake of Katrina, what would be right at the top of your list?

THOMAS: Well, just the debris removal. We need to hurry up and get the city cleaned up, get it looking real good, start preparing our neighborhoods so that we can rebuild. But, you know, the number one priority for us in this area is that America would be more important than Republican or Democrat and so that we wouldn't have to deal with hurricane Congress the way we've had to deal with them in the past. And, you know, I don't see anybody questioning rebuilding northern California or rebuilding Oklahoma with the fire and the rains the way they question, we good southern folk down here about whether we should rebuild Biloxi or New Orleans or St. Bernard or (INAUDIBLE). And so hopefully hurricane Congress is over and that we'll have a good working relationship with our American government and that, you know, Republican versus Democrat won't be the order of the day, but that what happens to American citizens and how we help them recover will.

MILES O'BRIEN: Mayor Holloway, would you call it hurricane Congress?

HOLLOWAY: I don't know. I think that Congress has acted properly so far in getting -- now we just need the funds to get here. But I'm happy with the way that the federal government has responded to the city of Biloxi and I don't have any quorums with that.

MILES O'BRIEN: Despite your misgivings about the housing, you fell like they've done a good job. What do you think your priority would be? If you had to pick a top priority for 2006 in your city, is it debris as well or something else?

HOLLOWAY: Well, you know, getting people back to work. Jobs. Jobs is the thing. We had about 17,000 jobs with the casinos here in Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast and they're gone. We're very, very happy that this past week three casinos have opened. And I would never thought that four months ago that we would have at least 2,500 more people working today. So that's the number one issue is getting people back in jobs, getting their housing back, getting back into order the, you know, just the day-to-day living.

You know, Biloxi was -- we was enjoying a most prosperous time of our 300-year history when Katrina came. I mean everything was going very, very well in Biloxi. In just a matter of hours, we were decimated, you know. So it's getting back up to where we were before Katrina. And I think we'll get there and even bigger and better than what we were before.

MILES O'BRIEN: Mayor Franklin, priority list for 2006, was would it be?

FRANKLIN: Extending funding for housing beyond the three months, beyond February. Our experience in Atlanta tells us that some families will need funding for housing and resettlement up to a year. So we need six, seven, eight more months of funding at some level from the federal government for housing, for job training, for resettlement.

Many of the people will stay in Georgia and stay in Atlanta. Those who want to stay, we want to be sure they don't fall through the cracks and become homeless. But in addition to that, those who are planning to return need time to get their lives together. So additional funding throughout the year.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right, final run around the horn here. Let's get back to Oliver Thomas. What did - well, go ahead. You can pick up on that.

THOMAS: Yes, I'm glad that Biloxi is doing really well and, you know, no one wants to pick on big brother or tug on Superman's cape. But, you know, American citizens need a better response. Appropriation is one thing, and I know Mayor Holloway knows that, but getting the funds are two different things. And there have been a lot of programs that have been approved. And we had a meeting with members of the NAACP and other groups from Mississippi, they would like to see the funds come through Mississippi a little quicker. We'd like to see the funds go to Atlanta and New Orleans and Louisiana a little quicker.

So we're not trying to fight with Congress, we just want our government to respond as quickly here as they have responded overseas and as they have responded in other places. So, you know, we love being Americans, but we just want to make sure that we're treated like that.

MILES O'BRIEN: Mayor Holloway, what's your biggest concern for 2006 and beyond?

HOLLOWAY: Well, it's hard to say what largest concern is. You know, I think that getting our people back home, getting the schools up and running, getting the jobs back, getting the concern of some of our east Biloxi residents in particular, being able to build back their homes with the elevation that FEMA is putting on and with the codes that we have now, these houses were built hundreds of years ago 105, 110 years ago when we had no zoning. And some of them on 30-foot lots, 29-foot lots, 40-foot lots, they won't meet the setback requirements that we have today. We're going to have to do something about that. People are just hanging around, trying to figure out which way to go, how to build back, and they are living in the FEMA trailers now and we don't want to see that become into permanent housing. You know, we need to get rid of those as quickly as possible and get our people back into homes.

MILES O'BRIEN: Mayor Franklin, quick final thought for you. What are you most concerned about as you look ahead toward the new year?

FRANKLIN: Well, we're looking for extended FEMA funding for resettlement. But we also are concerned about our sister cities along the Gulf Coast. We have sent aid, as have other cities. So we're concerned about them. But in the meantime, while they are rebuilding, we have to be sure that people can settle here and settle well. Most of the people who came to Atlanta were working, were paying mortgages, were paying rent before they came. They are not people who were living on public funding. So we have to be sure that they can reestablish their lives.

MILES O'BRIEN: Excellent conversation. Thank you all three. Oliver Thomas, New Orleans city council president, Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway and Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin. Thanks to all.

HOLLOWAY: Thank you.

FRANKLIN: Thank you.

THOMAS: Good luck, Mayor Franklin and Mayor Holloway and God bless you guys.

HOLLOWAY: Thank you.

FRANKLIN: Same to you.

MILES O'BRIEN: Happy new year to all. I wish you all well.

THOMAS: Happy new year.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Got to be a better '06 for everybody than '05 was for sure.

MILES O'BRIEN: Boy, I would think so.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Before we check on the weather, we want to remind you, Chad Myers is going to return to AMERICAN MORNING on Thursday. He had a little extended vacation but we're going to welcome him back.

First, though, Bonnie Schneider at the CNN Center. She's got an update for us.

Hey, Bonnie, good morning.


MILES O'BRIEN: Coming up on the program, you use your cell phone to talk and text message or two, but would you use it to shop?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Sure, why not?

MILES O'BRIEN: Whatever.


MILES O'BRIEN: Bargains on the cell phone. Details in "Minding Your Business."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Also, we're going to get you an update on little baby Noor's condition. This little Iraqi girl is waiting for surgery. It could save her life. We're going to talk to one of her doctors coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: We've been talking about and showing you pictures of this adorable little baby, baby Noor, the three-month-old from Iraq. She's got spina bifida and she is now in an Atlanta children's hospital. Members of the Georgia National Guard helped the little girl to get to America. It happened over the weekend. Dr. Roger Hudgins is going to be the baby's surgeon. He's in Atlanta this morning.

It's nice to see you, Dr. Hudgins. Thanks for talking with us.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I know you've had an opportunity to do the first evaluation of little baby Noor. What kind of shape is she in, outside of, obviously, her disease?

HUDGINS: She's actually in very good shape. She's bright, alert and, for a three-month-old, very playful. Smiles. A joy.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Wow, so that must be really good news to someone who's evaluating the potential for doing surgery on her. Do you have to do the surgery? I mean if she does not get the surgery, will she die in infancy?

HUDGINS: Yes, almost certainly from either the defect itself and infection or from urinary tract infections, hydrocephalus. There's a lot of things, unfortunately, that could take this child's life.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: When do you think you're going to go ahead and perform this surgery on this baby?

HUDGINS: We're tentatively planning on surgery on January the 9th.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: We've been showing pictures of little baby Noor. And I should mention to our audience, Doctor, that we've been pixelating the grandmother's face because we're trying to protect her security. They've, obviously, made this tough trip from Iraq.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: You know, three-month-olds, I've read, it's sort of old, really, to be having surgery for spina bifida. This is the kind of surgery you perform in the first couple of days of a baby's life. Is that right?

HUDGINS: That's correct. And it makes it much easier when you do that. What's happened now is that in baby Noor, skin has actually grown up over the defect. Typically in a newborn, you can actually see the spinal cord on the skin. When I examined the baby, I actually couldn't see it because skin has actually grown over the top of it. That will make the surgery more complicated.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: How risky is the surgery at the end of the day? I mean, do you think she's going to survive it? Do you think she's going to be OK? What's her prognosis at the end?

HUDGINS: I think that her probability of surviving the surgery is very high. I've done this type of operation many times. The biggest concern that I have is for the function in her legs. And right now it looks as if she does not have good function of the legs.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: It looks as if she does or does not?

HUDGINS: She does not.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: She does not. Now is that something by creating a new spinal cord, which you'll do in this surgery, obviously, or putting a shunt in, I guess, is that something that you can bring back the function to her little legs?

HUDGINS: No, unfortunately not. So at this point I don't think mobility is a real option. On the other hand, she's bright, she's developmentally doing just great and our hope is that she's going to be very functional.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Well, it's all good news. I've got to ask you a question. I saw you at the press conference and you seemed almost a little overwhelmed by all the sort outpouring and the publicity. You said, you know, I was just the guy who kind of answered the call to step up and do the surgery. Have you been surprised at just how much attention all of this -- you know, a baby that no one even heard of three weeks ago is now really the center of the nation's focus?

HUDGINS: I have been, actually. Well, this is not something that I anticipated by any means. And I think that it's truly a reflection of our country, of our desire to want to do good and to show the world that we're more than just warriors and soldiers, but we're people who do well.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Well, good luck to you, Doctor. We're going to follow the surgery closely. Thank you for talking with us. We sure appreciate the update on the little baby's condition.

HUDGINS: Thank you.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: That's Dr Roger Hudgins. He's a neurosurgeon and he'll be baby Noor's surgeon in the upcoming days.


MILES O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you, Soledad.

Coming up, we're "Minding Your Business." You probably did most of your holiday shopping at the mall or online. But next Christmas, try your cell phone on for size. The next trend in shopping ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


MILES O'BRIEN: Gerri Willis is back and she's got that crack research team to work on the bellwether issue in the first week of the market. And, is it true?

GERRI WILLIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Santa Claus rally is more than just a superstition. Guess what, it's true. Last year the Dow was down 197 points. The Nasdaq was down 47. The S&P down 22. So you can see that there's a little reality here to Santa Claus.

MILES O'BRIEN: So just watch the first week and there will be something to this.

WILLIS: The end of the last year, the beginning of the next.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. There you go.




WILLIS: I know you're glad to hear that. So we came across with the numbers for you.

MILES O'BRIEN: You've got it all figured out.

And now text message cell phone shopping. This is bad news for those of us with kids with cell phones. I may have to do a little blocking deal on that.

WILLIS: Is (ph) this a good idea? Companies come up with things that you may not need, right? I mean here . . .

MILES O'BRIEN: All the time, yes.

WILLIS: So you can pay eBay $4 a month. They'll give you a shopping Web site you can peruse by your telephone. You know, I don't know. Analysts say this is the year, 2006, that people will really shop by phone. Remember retailers tried this back in 1999. It didn't work so good. Here's why. People didn't have a lot of functionality with their cell phones back then.


WILLIS: Today there are 190 cell phone users in the U.S. and 150 million of them have a color screen, which is sort of the first thing you'd want if you were going to shop by telephone. I want to mention there's one good service that may be worthwhile here. "Consumer Reports" is offering something they call Shop Smart (ph). It's also $4 a month and it delivers to your cell phone their product recommendations, which you know they do a ton of work on products.

MILES O'BRIEN: So you're out in the store, you see something, you're about to make that impulse buy . . .

WILLIS: And you're like, is that that good one?

MILES O'BRIEN: You can check. SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: I think it's brilliant. I think the more -- you know, Internet shopping was huge this year and it's only going to get bigger because people do not have the time. We're all squeezed for time. There's just no time. You've got to do it.

WILLIS: That's right. That's right.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: That's my theory.

MILES O'BRIEN: There you go. All right, Gerri Willis.

WILLIS: I'd buy that.

MILES O'BRIEN: Thank you.


Coming up this morning, we're going to check in with the mother of the 16-year-old boy who took off for Baghdad. He, of course, is this kid from Florida. Didn't tell the family. His mom will tell us what she had to tell him when he arrived home safely. There she is right there giving her son a kiss on the cheek. That story is a ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. A short break. We're back in just a moment.



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