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Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Aired February 28, 2006 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, CNN HOST: Mardi Gras is in full swing in New Orleans six months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast. The staggering recovery effort can't stop the celebration.
Tonight, looking back and moving forward with Harry Connick, Jr., musician, actor and New Orleans native; and, jazz musician Branford Marsalis, also born and raised in New Orleans; plus, the Governor of Louisiana Kathleen Blanco and hurricane battered families trying to put their homes and lives back together.

It's all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

It's Mardi Gras, literally Fat Tuesday in New Orleans, the culmination of an eight day bash, a final blowout before the austerity of Lent, this year nearly six months to the day after the Big Easy was battered and nearly drowned by Hurricane Katrina.

The Mardi Gras revelries are less lavish than usual. Still, local folks and tourists are letting the good times roll and tomorrow back to the real world and a difficult trek on a very long road to recovery.

We have an outstanding panel joining us. In New York is Harry Connick, Jr., the musician and actor who stars, by the way, in the revival of the "Pajama Game," which has received extraordinary reviews.

Branford Marsalis, the acclaimed saxophone player, born and raised in New Orleans. His father is the legendary jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis.

Jim Pate is also in New York, executive director of the New Orleans area Habitat for Humanity.

And, on Bourbon Street in New Orleans in the middle of it all is Anderson Cooper, the anchor for CNN's "AC 360" who has been reporting in and around New Orleans so much during the past six months, he's probably by now an honorary citizen.

Harry, you're kind of our co-host through the night. What does all this mean to you that they're doing a Mardi Gras?

HARRY CONNICK, JR.: Well, first of all, Larry, I want to thank you for having me and Branford and Jim here. We're honored to be here and we certainly appreciate your coverage of this -- of this Mardi Gras and also the awareness again of Katrina and all the devastation. I think it's a great thing that they're having Mardi Gras. Of course, there are some people who probably would disagree with that but I think for most people to begin picking up the pieces emotionally and celebrate what New Orleans has celebrated for a long, long time is -- is crucial to -- to the rebuilding of -- of the city and I'm glad that they had it.

And I'm jealous of Anderson being down there in the middle of it right now. I wish I were with him. But it's something that's got to happen and I'm glad it happened this year. I have some friends who said that it was just tremendous weather and the spirit was high, so I'm very happy about that.

KING: Governor Kathleen Blanco, do you agree that it was a good idea to do a Mardi Gras?

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: Oh, I do, Larry. I think everyone here has been working so hard and there's so much work yet to be done. We needed a break and Mardi Gras is just a perfect time to get this kind of break.

KING: But you do go back to reality tomorrow don't you?

BLANCO: Well, we certainly do. With Lent comes a time of repentance and a spiritual time for us and Mardi Gras is based in our faith and in our -- in our spiritual practices as well.

But we've got a lot of work to be done. There is a lot of rebuilding that has to happen and we are still thankful that the people of the United States are supporting us in our efforts.

There's a massive amount of destruction in terms of homes that need to be repaired and rebuilt and I don't know how long it's going to take us, Larry, but we're ready to start working today and do it as long as it takes.

KING: Thank you, governor, Governor Kathleen Blanco, Democrat of Louisiana from our bureau in New Orleans.

Let's check in with Branford Marsalis, what do you think of holding a Mardi Gras?

BRANFORD MARSALIS, JAZZ MUSICIAN: I wish I was there. I was watching CNN this morning when Miles O'Brien was talking to one of the members of Zulu (ph) and I felt really homesick and I wished that I were there. I'm a member of Harry Connick's Parade Orpheus and we would have had a really great time this year.

KING: You don't see any problem with holding it around devastation and the fact that so much money is still needed?

MARSALIS: Well, I think that when you -- when you -- if you think about revelry and the concept of revelry anywhere in the world there's always some place where money is needed and that doesn't keep people from celebrating and enjoying the fact that they're here on this planet and celebrating with loved ones and friends. And I think that given what Mardi Gras has represented for New Orleans for over 125, 130 years, I think that it's very good that they did it.

KING: Jim Pate, Executive Director of the New Orleans area Habitat for Humanity, do you share the views of Harry and Branford and the governor?

JIM PATE, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NEW ORLEANS AREA HABITAT FOR HUMANITY: Larry, I certainly do. I think that particularly this year Mardi Gras provides the seed, the beginning of the start of a new beginning for the rebuilding. It's a point, a line in the sand we can draw and say with this renewal and this festivity we're going to go forward and we're going to rebuild New Orleans.

KING: Anderson Cooper, are you going to make it unanimous or do you have doubts?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: I have no doubts. I got to tell you I took part in the Endymion Parade on Sunday night and it was an incredibly moving experience. You know, Larry, a lot of times you think of a party as people getting drunk and trying to forget.

This is not a celebration -- this is not a party about forgetting. This is a party of remembrance. It's a connection between the past and the present and you really feel that along the parade route.

You know don't believe that Mardi Gras is just what you see on Bourbon Street. That is a very small slice of it. This is such a rich city, so culturally rich and Mardi Gras is a family affair and it's families who are lining that parade route.

And, of the tens of thousands of faces who are out there who I saw on that parade route on Sunday night, there were many faces who weren't there and I think they were in everyone's thoughts and everyone's prayers who lined that parade route and have been lining that parade route for the last several days -- Larry.

KING: Harry, are you disappointed as everyone else is with government reaction and the way this -- the way that people have handled this?

CONNICK: Well, you know, Larry, my only response has been to try to do something, you know what I mean. People can sit around and talk about what wasn't done and whose fault it is and I just never got caught up in all of that. I think it's a waste of time.

You know, I called my friend Branford on the phone. We called our friend Jim Pate and we said "Let's build houses for some people" and we'll talk about that later in the show. But that's our way of expressing our concern about the rebuilding of New Orleans.

As far as government response and who's at fault there's too many other things to worry about and there's people with a lot more information about that than me certainly. I'm a musician and an entertainer and I'm not privy to a lot of the inside information that goes on, so it would be silly of me to pass judgment on somebody in political office about that. I think we're more concerned with getting the city rebuilt and that's what we're doing.

KING: Branford, what is this Musician's Village?

MARSALIS: The Musician's Village was an idea that we sort of arrived at when we were talking about what it is that we should do in the rebuilding process. We got together with Jim and with the members of Habitat New Orleans and decided that we, because New Orleans musicians and the musical culture has been so beneficial to my career and Harry's career, we decided that were going to focus on picking a neighborhood in New Orleans, the upper 9th Ward, part of the 3rd District and start rebuilding houses there and hope that this will spur some sort of revitalization of a neighborhood because in the midst of all of this nonstop talking the last six months and this culture of blame, like Harry said, nothing is getting done.

So, it was the idea of actually getting together, raising money and starting the process and we have a lot of musicians that have signed up. As Jim tells me, we started moving dirt on the project two days ago, so we hope to have a significant number of homes up by the end of the year.

KING: Great idea. We'll take a break. The panel will be with us throughout the program. We'll be meeting other guests in each segment. We'll be right back.



GISELLE BOUTTE SPARKMAN, RELOCATED TO HOUSTON: Well, my brother I don't know why he didn't evacuate. I mean I just don't know. I have another brother that we don't know where he is, Alvin Williams. We don't know where he is. My uncle, I don't know if it's because he was sick he didn't want to leave. My auntie, I guess she didn't want to leave her husband and I don't know why.

KING: We hope they contact you Giselle. Hang tough.

Viewers of this program will remember her on Thursday night, oh how it looked to see them all there. She was desperately searching for information about family members left behind. She has now found everyone who was missing.


KING: The power of television. Now joining us Giselle Boutte Sparkman, David Sparkman her husband, David Sparkman, Jr., Giselle and David's son, and Jasmine Boutte, Giselle's daughter.

Giselle did everyone -- everyone's OK except your uncle right?

G. SPARKMAN: Yes, Larry.

KING: he died?

G. SPARKMAN: Yes, he did. He was buried about two weeks ago. KING: And how are you doing now?

G. SPARKMAN: Well, Larry, actually we're doing good because we're at home here in New Orleans but things are moving kind of slow but we're glad to be home.

KING: David, are you back at work?

DAVID SPARKMAN, RELOCATED TO HOUSTON: Yes, I've been doing a little contracting for myself and, you know things have been going well and things have been along pretty good but like I say I'm glad to be back home.

KING: Are you back in the house you lived in?

D. SPARKMAN: No, it's still, you know, it's still -- the contractors and stuff, you know, it's so hard to get a contractor to work on your house and I've been working and I can't do nothing to the house and so, you know, I've been trying to take care of the family the best way I can.

KING: Jasmine, are you back, are you at school?

JASMINE BOUTTE: Yes, I attend Dillard University. We're now living at the Hilton Hotel and I'm real excited to be back at home with my friends and at school. I love it. I'm very happy.

KING: And little Jasmine, how are you doing?


KING: How old is Jasmine?

BOUTTE: Nineteen.

KING: And how old is David Sparkman, Jr.?


KING: How are you doing little David?


KING: Well, Giselle, we're so happy for you and the family. We'll never forget that night when you were on with us. I guess you'll never forget it either. I'm so glad that everyone could come back together.

G. SPARKMAN: Yes, I am too, Larry, and I would just like to thank you all because of your show we found our family members.

KING: Thank you all very much. That's a heartwarming story, Harry Connick, and I guess there are a lot of stories like it of people coming back to find what was once a home.

CONNICK: Yes, I think what's really tough, I mean you could hear it from the gentleman who just spoke, I mean it's tough to get not only a contractor but when I was there with Jim and Branford and the other people involved in our Musician's Village, some of the people who lived in the vicinity were saying "What do we -- what do we do? Do we -- do we continue construction on our house or do we tear it down or do we try to sell it?"

And, keep in mind, they're asking these questions to me. I don't know anything. I don't have any answers for these people and this is six months later and they still are having an incredibly difficult time getting any kind of information and that's -- when I was listening to this family speak, I was thinking how important it is for each of us, not only Branford and Jim and myself but all of the people in New Orleans.

Everybody has their own part of this process. I think our part, like for me and Branford is sort of raising awareness and trying to tell people in our business and people who maybe have the means and the wherewithal to contribute big dollars to this.

Jim is a hands-on very knowledgeable guy who's really going to facilitate this thing. And then there's the family you just saw who are just going to keep pounding the local government, the state government for answers and information, "How do we -- how do we get this thing moving?" It's moving slow.

I mean this is New Orleans, Louisiana, one of the greatest, most famous cities in the world and it's six months later and it still looks the same and I think that's profoundly confusing to a lot of people. So, I think all of us doing our little part is going to eventually bring this turnaround.

And, again, thank you for giving us coverage because it's all about -- I was in a store today and a woman said "Happy Mardi Gras, Harry." I said, "Happy Mardi Gras to you." She says, "Isn't it great New Orleans is back to normal." I said, "Oh, my goodness, no, no, no. It's not back to normal at all." So, this is very important.

KING: Anderson, how typical is that family we just spoke with?

COOPER: That family sounds like they're in pretty good shape compared to a lot of the families I talk to. I mean the man is working. There are jobs here but a lot of people have no place to live. I mean finding an apartment here is very difficult.

In St. Bernard Parish there were 45,000 homes, Larry, before Katrina. There's only about 50 homes, 5-0 homes that are habitable right now. There's just no place for people to live.

There's a boat that has police officers who have been living on it for the last couple months. They're getting kicked off that boat tomorrow, Larry, and a couple of them that we know of have no place to go. So, I mean there are stories after stories.

And, I second what Harry said. I hope and the people here hope that America and the world does not see these images and think everything is back to normal because I can take you a couple of blocks from Bourbon Street and show you people's possessions laying in the street and their home still destroyed and there's nobody picking anything up and local officials will tell you that there are still bodies laying under that debris.

KING: Boy, oh boy. We'll be right back with more on this special Fat Tuesday tribute to a city hopefully on the mend. Don't go away.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our house the roof was off and the ceiling had fell so you can actually look up into the sky and see the stars. It is horrible when you don't have food, if you don't have water and then when the night come the darkness. You just have darkness.



KING: Joining us now at our CNN Bureau in New Orleans are Mark Guidroz and Ashley Guidroz. He and his wife and their two little children they evacuated did you not, Mark, you got out of town?


KING: And where did you head to?

M. GUIDROZ: We initially went to my hometown of Morgan City and then from there we evacuated to an area called Toledo Bend, which is on the border of Louisiana and Texas.

KING: And, Ashley, I understand you watched on television and saw your old neighborhood under water?

ASHLEY GUIDROZ: Yes, we watched it all unfold on TV. It was pretty awful watching our -- our city go under water and watch our house go under water but, yes, it was a crazy time.

M. GUIDROZ: It's OK Olivia.

A. GUIDROZ: We had a 3-week-old at the time.

KING: Did you lose all your belongings, Mark?

M. GUIDROZ: No, sir we didn't. We had a two story home. The water destroyed everything we had on the first floor. Everything we have on the second floor is pretty much just as -- well was just as we left it. We've since moved all of our belongings out of the home completely now.

KING: And where are you living now?

M. GUIDROZ: We've moved back to New Orleans. For the first three months we lived close to Morgan City and then we moved back to New Orleans. We're living in an area of New Orleans called Uptown, which wasn't affected by the flooding here in the New Orleans area. And we're in the process of trying to rebuild our home right now.

KING: Are you working?


M. GUIDROZ: My wife works for the NBC affiliate here and, no, I don't. I owned a business and sold it before Katrina hit.

KING: What do you make of the Mardi Gras, Ashley?

A. GUIDROZ: Oh, it's been great. It's a lot of locals, a lot of families, big crowds, happy to see people back in New Orleans having a good time.

KING: Do you worry Mark...

M. GUIDROZ: We caught a couple of the parades today. Sorry?

KING: Mark, do you worry about another hurricane?

M. GUIDROZ: Well, of course. We've had hurricanes here in Louisiana before. It's nothing that we're unaccustomed to. However, I don't think anyone is accustomed to a storm of this magnitude and the devastation that it brought with it but we are nervous about it.

I'd be lying if I said that we weren't. We're hoping that the levees are going to be restored to a strength that's going to protect us in the even we take another one on the chin over here.

KING: Ashley, how hard was it to leave?

A. GUIDROZ: Oh, I wanted to leave, you know. It gets bad, the traffic, gridlock getting out of town and I had a newborn so I was OK with leaving. In a million years I never thought the levees would break and that there would be 12 feet of water on my street and eight feet of water in my house but thank goodness we left.

KING: Thank you both very much, Mark and Ashley.

Jim Pate, what are you doing now to give these people and others a shot at better homes?

PATE: Well, Larry, I think what we're trying to accomplish is with Musician's Village and our entire upper 9th Ward project, including the (INAUDIBLE) crossroads component is we're trying to provide a model for rebuilding our damaged neighborhoods and we hope that model will be replicated all over the city.

We have the support of the Louisiana Recovery Authority, the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, a tremendous number of players, national, international, volunteers and organizations are all focusing on this Musician's Village model to show us the way to build the rest of the city.

It's also a sign of hope I think for people. If they can see one neighborhood rebuilding, then they can think, well I can do it in my neighborhood and that's the start of it.

KING: President Carter going to get involved?

PATE: I'm sorry?

KING: Is President Carter going to get involved?

PATE: Well, we're trying to entice the president down next year. Jimmy Carter Work Project is in India this fall and, of course, Operation Home Delivery, which is the Habitat International effort all along the Gulf Coast in Louisiana and Texas to rebuild. Harry is the honorary chairman of Operation Home Delivery incidentally.

But they'll be building all over the place and we're hoping we can get President Carter down in 2007 to have the Jimmy Carter Work Project headquartered in New Orleans and building all over the coast.

KING: Are any federal funds involved, Jim, in this?

PATE: We have not used federal funds at this point, Larry. We are, in fact, hoping to work with the federal government through the Louisiana Recovery Authority and the CDBG funding to build back so much of the needed infrastructure to help us assemble land and acquire land and, incidentally, other worthy non-profits to assemble land so that we can start the rebuilding or continue the rebuilding process across the area.

KING: Branford, are you confident it's going to work?

MARSALIS: Absolutely. I think that when I was asked a similar question about the recovery process I actually said that the most logical place you should look is Europe right after World War II because not just so much the destruction but the, for lack of a better word the depopulation.

Population scattered all over the place suddenly coming back that took -- that process took years in addition to all the buildings that had to be rebuilt with the Marshall Plan and the governments that had to be installed, the tax revenues, the bases and all those things.

We're in that similar situation in New Orleans where we don't have property tax. It doesn't exist. And it's a tourist town and tourism is the only real economic lifeblood we have. So, it's all going to take a seriously long time. It's going to take minimum five, six, seven years I think, which is why I was never really eager to rush into any particular organization in the beginning.

Usually these things are hot in the first two weeks and my thinking was this is going to take a decade so there's really no rush. Let's find something that's going to work and is actually going to do the work in addition to talk the talk and Habitat is that organization and Jim is our guy.

KING: And we'll be right back with more on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE, the Fat Tuesday edition. Don't go away.


KING: The sounds of New Orleans, Mardi Gras, Bourbon Street. On a personal note, I was king of Bacchus four years ago and never had a better time than when you're regaled and they treat you like a king. When you're king of Bacchus, that's some kind of night, had a great time. Now joining us is Keith Darbonne. He appeared on LARRY KING LIVE on September 4th. He was seeking word on the post Katrina fate of his 96-year-old grandfather, New Orleans legendary Mr. Eddie Gabriel. What happened?

KEITH DARBONNE: Well, we found out some very depressing but we figured this was going to happen -- that he didn't make it. I found out a few months ago that he -- that they found his body in Gabriel, which is outside New Orleans. And we got some DNA from my mom and my uncle and aunt to verify that it was in fact him. And they verified it. Then we had some pictures of some of the jewelry that he wore. He wore very distinct jewelry that his wife had identified to be his. And that was him that was -- that they found. They had a ceremony about a month or so ago, cremated his body and basically put him to rest.

KING: Was he a famous character in the city?

DARBONNE: Oh, yeah, yeah. Everybody knew my grandfather. Dadee (ph). I call him dadee, but Mr. Eddie. And everybody who went to New Orleans who went to Pat O'Brien's saw my grandfather. I would hear stories from all over. While we were looking for him, I was getting e- mails from people from all over the world expressing their sorrow and seeing what they could do to help to try to find him at that point. We're really very grateful for a lot of help that we got.

KING: He worked at Pat O'Brien's for 67 years.

DARBONNE: Yep, worked over there 67 years. Most of that was as an entertainer. And he had a lot of stories about who he met and who he performed for and all the people he had met, from the regular Joe all the way up to the movie stars.

KING: On Thursday, March 23rd, Mr. Eddie's birthday, there will be a brief tribute to him followed by a jazz funeral procession. They'll be making music and celebrating like Mr. Eddie would. But you're not going to attend the memorial in New Orleans. You're going to do something more private in New York, is that it?

DARBONNE: Yeah. My mom and I, we decided -- we're up here in New York. We're just going to go to a mass and say a little prayer and do a little something more private, you know, just something a little more personal and just basically go through the grieving process, because up until this point, we really didn't know. And we were really on hold. Now we can start the process.

KING: Keith, did he try to leave?

DARBONNE: No. He wanted to stay. He had family there in the neighborhood and he didn't want to leave them. He never thought that it would be this bad. And he -- you know, I even talked to him. I tried to get him to leave the day before. I had some cousins who tried to get him to leave. And he just refused to leave. He just thought it wasn't going to be that bad.

KING: Thank you, Keith. Keith Darbonne on his grandfather, Mr. Eddie. Harry Connick, did you know him?

CONNICK: I may have met him but I think had I spent too much time in Pat O'Brien's, I probably wouldn't be talking to you here right now. But I'll tell you what, one thing, he probably survived -- he spent 67 years at Pat O'Brien's, he certainly went through a lot more hurricanes than anybody else in Louisiana. Our prayers are with him and the community will certainly miss him very much.

KING: Branford, did you know him?

MARSALIS: No, I didn't spend any time in Pat O'Brien's at all, actually. I was in an R&B band and we worked almost every weekend by the time I was 15 years old. When I did go to Bourbon Street, my father was playing at a club called Storyville (ph) just down the way and not nearly as many long lines and not nearly as many ornery tourists. So I tended to go to Storyville and the music clubs.

CONNICK: Plus, Larry, Branford's dad wouldn't have approved of us being there. His work ethic was pretty high. We had to spend a lot of time practicing so Pat O'Brien's was off limits.

KING: By the way Anderson, is Pat O'Brien's back? Is there a Pat O'Brien's?

COOPER: Like those guys, I don't spend a lot of time in bars down here, unfortunately. So I don't even know. I assume it's back but when you're working, I can barely get a meal in. So I don't know.

KING: Anderson, you met so many people there now. Was Mr. Eddie very typical of New Orleans?

COOPER: Absolutely. You know, I mean, there is such a richness here and such history. The past is so alive in New Orleans. It always has been. You know, everywhere you go, they don't -- what's fascinating about New Orleans is, even buildings that have been renamed -- my dad graduated high school here in 1944. It's named after Governor Nichols. But the school has been renamed the Frederick Douglass Academy. I went to the school the other day and it still has Nichols' name on the building and this guy was a segregationist, a pretty well known, hard core racist. He was a Confederate soldier. His name is still on the school even though it's been renamed. History here matters and it's very much alive.

KING: Jim Pate, would you concur?

PATE: I think the history in New Orleans is found not only in places like the French quarter and the great Mardi Gras tradition, but it's found in our neighborhoods. New Orleans is a community of neighborhoods with fierce loyalty, longtime family ties. And that's why people in the upper ninth ward, lower ninth ward, Gentilly Terrace all of the city, want to go back and rebuild their community. That's a part of history that's been there for decades if not longer and we're going to bring it back. It will take the people and all of our friends from outside to do it.

KING: We'll be back with more on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


KING: Joining us now in New Orleans is Zina Eugene. Her home was in the New Orleans flood devastated 13th ward and she didn't evacuate until the last minute. She and her family had been living together in a small house near the Grambling (ph) University campus. Her son Zorie (ph) is there. Now, Bruce, Zina's son, played quarterback for the Grambling Tigers, was named the 2005 southwestern athletic conference offensive player of the year and is hoping to be drafted by the NFL. Zane is her daughter and DJ is the son. Zina, why did you stay so long? Why didn't you evacuate earlier?

ZINA EUGENE: Because normally when they say hurricane, it really doesn't affect us. We're so used to running to either the projects to get away. So I just felt like I would sit this one out. I have done two of them before.

KING: What finally convinced you to go?

EUGENE: My mom convinced me to go because she say -- she's 4'11" and she say she couldn't drink all that water. So I got up and left.

KING: Zorie, was it hard to leave?

ZORIE EUGENE: Well, not really. I left to go to college in July, so I was already at Grambling already. So it wasn't really hard for me.

KING: Now, Bruce, where are you all living now?

BRUCE EUGENE: We're staying in a three bedroom apartment up in Russton (ph), Louisiana. I've been staying there about a year and a half now. It's kind of good for my mom and the rest of my family to move up there.

KING: So are you right near Grambling?

BRUCE EUGENE: Yeah. We're five miles away. Russton and Grambling are like sister/brother towns, similar to (INAUDIBLE) and New Orleans, the east bay.

KING: Zina, do you want to go back to New Orleans?

ZINA EUGENE: I would like to come back to New Orleans because of all the history and all the memories I have. But, no, I'm relocating to Humboldt, Texas.

KING: Why?

ZINA EUGENE: Well, my daughter, Zane, she's about to graduate, and I always say when she graduate that I would leave New Orleans and try somewhere new. Katrina then pushed me that way, so I'm going to go ahead on and try. I know I can make it in New Orleans, so I feel like I can make it anywhere.

KING: Do you miss New Orleans?

ZINA EUGENE: Oh, I miss New Orleans. Being here today with family for Mardi Gras and seeing everybody you haven't seen in six months, yeah, I miss New Orleans.

KING: Zane, do you know to school?

ZANE EUGENE: Yes, I go to Grambling High.

KING: Are you going to stay in the area or are you going to Texas?

ZANE EUGENE: No, I'm attending Grambling State University once I graduate.

KING: So you'll stay in Louisiana?


KING: Hey, Bruce, have you heard from anybody yet in the NFL?

BRUCE EUGENE: No. I talked to a couple of teams this past week. I was invited to attend the national NFL combine, which is held every year in Indianapolis, which includes supposedly 300 or more of the top college players. So, you know, I was invited to go there. And it was a great opportunity. I got a chance to show case my talent in front of many NFL teams. And hopefully I've done a great job for them and they'll maybe give me a phone call. But I have a date coming up March 10th I have to work out in Grambling for the scouts. So I'm looking forward to that date.

KING: Yeah, that's a big time. Good luck to you and good luck to all of you. Zina and Zorie and Bruce and Zane and little DJ moving to Texas. I guess we can understand that, can't we, Jim?

PATE: Yeah, Larry. There's a lot of places where the neighborhoods are -- there's so much indecision about what's going to happen. As Harry was saying earlier, we've got challenges with the return of basic services -- water and electricity and things like that. Everyone is struggling. A lot of people don't realize that our important city services -- city government services, sewage, water and sewage board, all of those -- they lost probably 50 percent of their work force to Katrina evacuation and then another 25 percent, due to the economic blows to the area. The area is completely devastated economically. So every department is working at about 25 percent of capacity. And that kind of challenge can be very saddening and disheartening to people who are trying to get back and rebuild or equally important, make a decision on whether they want to come back and rebuild.

KING: Anderson Cooper is leaving us now because he's got to go host "AC 360." What are we covering at the top of the hour Anderson?

COOPER: Obviously, we're coming to you from Mardi Gras tonight. We're going to show you the side of Mardi Gras you probably haven't seen -- the families, the friends, the locals, the way locals here see Mardi Gras, not so much the tourists. What you see on Bourbon Street, those are the images you probably know very well, that whole "Girls Gone Wild" image. The real Mardi Gras is very different in the ninth ward and some of the other communities. We'll show you that tonight on "360" and a whole lot more Larry.

KING: Thanks Anderson, we'll be watching. Anderson Cooper at the top of the hour. We'll be back with Senators Vitter and Landrieu and then more from Harry Connick, Branford Marsalis, Jim Pate. You're watching LARRY KING LIVE on the fat Tuesday edition as we cover the New Orleans six months later. Don't go away.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tonight so many victims of the hurricane and the flood are far from home. You need to know that our whole nation cares about you. And in the journey ahead, you're not alone.



KING: We'll be back in a little while with Harry Connick, Jr., and Branford Marsalis and Jim Pate. Want to spend a couple of moments with the two senators from the state of Louisiana, Senator David Vitter, a republican and Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat. Senator Vitter, this city coming back?

SEN. DAVID VITTER (R) LOUISIANA: Yes. It's not going to happen overnight. We all know it's a marathon, not a sprint. But we're definitely going to do it. The spirit you see particularly today, Mardi Gras, is there. It's rooted in our culture and our people. So we're absolutely coming back. There's no question about that in my mind.

KING: Senator Landrieu, you disappointed in the way this government handled things?

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D) LOUISIANA: Well, Larry, we all could have done better. I agree with David. We're going to come back even stronger than before. But it's going to take a strong Federal partnership with the state government and the local government. It's not going to happen overnight. But there are some new tools we need because the same old sending money through FEMA is not working. We have got to think of new housing corporations as Jim alluded to earlier and -- I saw the segment. It was terrific. Fixing our levees and really investing in coastal restoration efforts and levee protection. David and I have particularly worked hard on that. So we've got a lot of work to do. It's never happened, Larry, in the history of the country where a major metropolitan area has flooded in this way. So we've got some new tools to fashion and get to work in a partnership.

KING: Senator Vitter, what do you say to -- and there are some people who say this, that it isn't worth doing, that New Orleans will always be in peril and that its value as a city is no longer important. I'm sure you've heard that.

VITTER: I have heard that. And those folks are just dead wrong. Now, we need to rebuild better, stronger, different -- I think we need a reduced footprint to make sure we don't build in areas that may catastrophically flood again. But having said that, we absolutely need to rebuild, not just for some parochial Louisiana issue but for the national good, because New Orleans is a great city, history, culture, Mardi Gras like we see today. But it's so much more than that for the nation. It is an energy hub that keeps prices far below what they would be and provides so much of the nation's energy all through the Louisiana coast. And, also, maritime commerce, an enormous set of ports -- five of the 15 busiest ports in the nation that get our farmers' goods to a world market. So those are national interests. Those are economic interests that we simply cannot ignore.

KING: And how prepared are you, Senator Landrieu, for the next hurricane season?

LANDRIEU: Well, we're getting there. But, you know, David is absolutely correct. When we talk about the value of New Orleans to the nation -- and it's more than New Orleans. It's the region. It's south Louisiana, the Gulf coast of Mississippi. It's America's only energy coast Larry. Twenty five percent of all of the imports and exports in the nation come through the port of New Orleans and south Louisiana. Over 50 percent of all the grain from the Midwest could not find markets anywhere without coming through that port.

KING: True.

LANDRIEU: So I think that, you know, the country as it sees the real value of this strategic location will understand we're not asking for charity, just an investment to give this region a chance to stand up again.

KING: Plus, it's one special place. Thank you both very much. Senator David Vitter, Republican of Louisiana, Senator Mary Landrieu, my pleasure, Democrat of Louisiana. It's great to have both of them with us. When we come back, Harry Connick Jr., Branford Marsalis and Jim Pate will wind things up and a little musical treat from Harry as well. Don't go away.


KING: That's the Empire State building live tonight and that's a salute to the Mardi Gras. It's lit up that way as a salute to New Orleans. Isn't that a great idea, Harry?

CONNICK: I love that. That's fantastic, purple green and gold.

KING: Perfect. Branford Marsalis, that's a pretty good idea, isn't it? MARSALIS: Having lived in New York for 20 years, I always was curious about when they would pick the colors. So I think it's marvelous. I think that it's great to see that a lot of places around the country have a sense of solidarity with us the way that we rallied around New York during 9/11.

KING: Jim Pate, we only have about 30 seconds. Can people who can't donate money, do you need help? Do you need engineers, draftsmen, architects?

PATE: We need all of the trades, Larry, plumbers, electricians. We need volunteers who can swing a hammer. We need design help on everything going forward. The important problem we're having right now is housing people. And that's a real challenge. So a lot of folks are contributing from outside the New Orleans area with our house in a box program. I'm working with the Texas road house organization and we're doing nine houses with them. They'll be shipped into New Orleans.

KING: Thank you, Jim.

When Harry Connick Jr. was here on the show last September, he sang a tune that's considered an American classic. And tonight we thought it appropriate to play it again, Harry. Here's Harry Connick, Jr., and "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans."

KING: Our fat Tuesday tribute to New Orleans.

Tomorrow night, in tribute to Don Knotts, our guest right here will be Andy Griffith, Jim Nabors and Ron Howard, all tomorrow night on LARRY KING LIVE.

Right now let's go back down to New Orleans and Anderson Cooper to host "AC 360." Anderson, quite a night, quite a day.


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