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Katrina Six Months Later; Overlooked In Biloxi

Aired February 28, 2006 - 07:30   ET


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And there's a time when New Orleans pop the court on merriment and (INAUDIBLE) scares away. Mardi Gras time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're trying to find this thing they call Mardi Gras.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, if you can walk home straight, you haven't been to Mardi Gras.



MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to our special coverage of fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras. It is a party, but there's, of course, more to it than that -- six months after Hurricane Katrina.

Let me set the scene for you here. On St. Charles Avenue, you know, this is a part of the parade that is a little different from the, I guess, girls gone wild Mardi Gras, if you will, in the French Quarter that you might think of when you think of Mardi Gras. What you see here is just this. Families. Lots of kids. It is a family event.

As it moves closer to the quarter, it becomes a little more of a college, spring breakie event, but you need to know that Mardi Gras and the Mardi Gras I saw the other night when I got a chance to ride on Bacchus, is a wonderful family occasion. It's not a debauched thing by any stretch of the imagination. And it was the smiles of the kids and the families were something.

And as you can see, they're setting up, getting ready. It's awfully early here. It's 6:30 in the morning local time but the neutral ground, as they call it, on St. Charles Avenue is filling up with people, with tents, with barbecues and the ladders, which makes it easier to get the good throw, as they say.

Soledad is in the French Quarter where I think, at first light, I suspect it's nappy time for some of the revelers, right?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, you know, first light and suddenly it kind of clears out. They've now started -- we can show you a shot, started collecting a lot of the garbage. Cleaning up Bourbon Street.

You know, you talked a little bit about the family scene where you are. Bourbon Street tends to be the girls gone wild scene a little bit more. Now, no parade's going to come down here. People standing on the balconies, like where we are at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, and they'll throw beads down. Toss beads down.

A big tourist area, of course. And what they do is they block off the street, make it a big pedestrian walkway. But almost literally coinciding with the light coming up, the revelers started kind of meandering off, clearing out for another day of getting ready to get a little bit of sleep and getting ready to do a little more partying.

We're going to have much more from here this morning. First, though, we really want to update you on some of the top stories making news today. Let's get right to Carol in New York.

Carol, good morning again.


Good morning to all of you.

Saddam Hussein's defense team wants a new judge. The trial resumed earlier today after a bit of a delay. Hussein's chief lawyer asked for the trial to be delayed and then he walked out of the courtroom.

The situation just as tense outside the courtroom. A series of explosions have killed at least 30 people. More than 100 others are wounded.

We are expecting to hear more about that controversial ports deal. A top official for the Dubai-based company will be on Capitol Hill today. In the meantime, newly released documents suggest the Coast Guard was concerned there was no way to know if Dubai Ports World might support terror operations. The Coast Guard is now downplaying those comments.

He obsesses about me. That's what New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton is saying about Karl Rove. Rove says in a new book that Clinton will be the 2008 Democratic nominee for president. The Republican National Committee responded to Senator Clinton, suggesting she spend less time flattering herself and more time focusing on her job.

And a couple from North Dakota hopes their conjoined twins will soon be leading separate lives. The little girls are joined from their chest to their belly buttons but they have separate hearts and other vital organs. Doctors have to perform a procedure to prepare them for the actual separation surgery. We'll keep you posted.

Let's head to the forecast center. And, remember, it's only, what, 20 days till spring?


COSTELLO: Yes. It's March 20th, right?

MYERS: Actually, we have days -- our calendar says days till hurricane season. So we have different thresholds. Spring doesn't mean a lot, although . . .

COSTELLO: Well, mine's happier.

MYERS: Although it will be severe weather season.


MYERS: And for you, Miles, 75 this afternoon. Back to you.

MILES O'BRIEN: What, you could only give us 75, Chad? Geez. No, we'll take it. We'll take 75 and sunny.

MYERS: Lots of sun, too. Get that sun screen on.

MILES O'BRIEN: I have no complaints. I've got a tent over me. I've got my eye protection in case I need it. In case I run into one of these. This is a -- this is one of the official golden coconuts. I only can borrow this. A friend of ours dropped by and said, here, you can take it, but give it back. That is what will be much sought after today as Zulu begins winding its way through the streets of New Orleans.

You know, golden coconuts is kind of a perfect analogy for our next guest, because the city of New Orleans needs several billion golden coconuts, if you will, to get back on its feet post-Katrina. Representative Bobby Jindal, who represents a huge swathe of this part of the world, lots of folks affected by Katrina, joins us now.

Several billion golden coconuts would come in handy here.


MILES O'BRIEN: It's been a long, tough road. Where does it stand right now? Because we were just talking a few moments ago about how important it is to sort of see this place firsthand. You know, as hard as we try on television to convey it, until you've driven it, it's difficult. And I think maybe a lot of members of Congress would need to do the same.

JINDAL: I agree. And, first of all, I applaud you all for being down here, showing a little bit of the local scenes of Mardi Gras, not just Bourbon Street and the French Quarter.

Absolutely, you know there are some good signs. The port is back. You've got a lot of cargo moving up and down the river. You got the airport running at over 50 percent of capacity. You've got thousands of hotel rooms. You've got some employers returning, like Shell.

On the other hand, there are neighborhoods, as you've seen and shown on your show, you've got neighborhoods that look exactly the way they looked five, six months ago. That still have just blocks and blocks and miles and miles of destruction.

So, on one hand, you've got some commercial activity returning, you've got thousands, tens of thousands of people returning. Officially, under 200,000, but well above a hundred thousand people back in the city of New Orleans. Hundred of thousand of people still not back. So there's there's been progress but a lot, lot more work remains to be done.

MILES O'BRIEN: Early sentiment expressed in Congress, Mr. Hastert among them, saying, you know, maybe we don't need to -- you know, maybe it's not wise to bring New Orleans back. He hasn't seen it. I understand he's on his way down here.

JINDAL: We've got Speaker Hastert, Nancy Pelosi both coming down we understand this Thursday, bringing as many as 30 members with them. A bipartisan group. I think it's so important for people to see it for themselves.

I think you all do a great job showing the TV images. Literally, I think you can take members -- you've been there on the 17th Street Canal and just start drive east. I've done that several times. They all stop me, even before we get to St. Bernard Parish, they saying, I've seen enough.

Every single person that comes down here and sees it for themselves leaves changed. They all say, look, I never understood how bad it was. I didn't realize how wide scope the devastation was. And I think that's good. Regardless of whether they agree with everything we're asking for or not, I think it's good they see the devastation for themselves, they talk directly to the homeowners and they understand what it's going to take to rebuild the city.

MILES O'BRIEN: There are so many specific questions that need to be answer about who can build, who can build where and so forth. But in the broadest of strokes here, is there any amount of money that is too much money to preserve New Orleans?

JINDAL: No. Look, this is an important city for America. Economically, 30 percent of the oil and gas. You know, the country's largest ports are down here. When you look at not only economically, culturally, historically. We're talking about a city that's been here for centuries. When you look at a city that contributes so much to America's cuisine, music, history, culture, this is a very important city.

We didn't ask that question after 9/11. We said, we'll do whatever it takes to rebuild New York. And I think it is fair to make sure the money's being spent wisely. I think it is fair to say the state and the local government has a responsibility of pitching in to help. I think it is fair to say we want to put people to work. We're not going to just solve this by throwing money at it.

But after saying all that, I think it is fair also to say, this is an American city. We're very generous across the world. We're very generous in other parts of the country. It makes sense for America to rebuild New Orleans and to do it right. Not just New Orleans, but Southwest Louisiana as well.

MILES O'BRIEN: This is a city on its back financially. The cost to the city, $2.7 million we're told just to provide police protection and so for to this parade. Is that appropriate?

JINDAL: You know, originally they had said they were going to get sponsorship and I strongly supported that. I was disappointed. It seems to me there would have been an opportunity to get -- there were many private companies and charities that would have been willing to help pay for the cost. At the end of the day, they've got some sponsorship. Not all of it sponsored.

I think this is good for the city economically. I absolutely sympathize with people who say, I'm out of my home, what are they doing having a party? But I think it's good that it put people back to work. I think it's good that people who needed a distraction got it. And I absolutely think you're going to have a bigger jazz fest, it will get the tourism economy back on its feet. I would have preferred they got private sponsorship, but I'm glad that the country is looking at New Orleans again, paying attention, not just to Mardi Gras, but also coming back and looking at the destruction as well.

MILES O'BRIEN: Final thought here. The way seems to be cleared for you to make an announcement, running for governor once again. The lieutenant governor is going to run for mayor. A senator who expressed interest, David Vitter (ph), has now moved away. And what he said was that a prominent, conservative member of Congress from this area is going to run for governor. That sounds like you.

JINDAL: You know, we'll have plenty of time for politics. We have two years before the next governor's race. We've got to focus on rebuilding. I was very proud the governor who I did run against came and endorsed one of my bills last week. That's the kind of bipartisan support we need to be showing the rest of the country right now. There will be plenty of time for a governor's race two years from now. I'll make a decision then. We've got to focus on rebuilding right now.

MILES O'BRIEN: All right. I guess I didn't get my golden news nugget.

JINDAL: But you got a golden coconut.

MILES O'BRIEN: I got my golden coconut, but no golden news nugget.

Bobby Jindal, always a please. Thanks for dropping by.

JINDAL: Thank you for coming back.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Yes, that was a little bit of a dodge there to that question, wasn't it, Miles? You know, it's interesting, though, Congressman Jindal talked about people being divided. Should this city be celebrating? Should people not be celebrating and spending the money, frankly, on the parade and the good times? Coming up this morning, we're going to talk to our good friend Julia Reed (ph). She's checked in with us a lot over the last six months. She's got some very strong thoughts about that very debate. That's ahead.

Also, a conversation with rock star Lenny Kravitz. You know, we did a tour through the lower ninth ward yesterday and to hear his thoughts on what he thinks it's going to take to bring the Gulf Coast back is just fascinating. That story's ahead as well.

A short break. We're back in just a moment. Stay with us.


COSTELLO: Google, is just keeps on expanding, doesn't it?


COSTELLO: And now it has something new that might help the consumer even more.

SERWER: That's right, Carol.

If you're familiar -- if you're an eBay customer you will know all about PayPal, which is a system where a buyer and seller can do business without the seller having a credit card processing capability. So in other words, if you're a small person selling cookie jars, you don't need to get a whole credit card deal going, you just set up through PayPal.

Now Google is setting up a rival system. It's called Google Account. And it will be available at Google Base, which is Google's classified ad site. So if someone's selling a car on Google, they don't need to have a credit card system. They can just set up something through Google Account and pay them that way.

COSTELLO: Do a lot of people buy stuff like through Google?

SERWER: It's a growing business for them. You know, it's not as big as eBay. EBay just dominate this business.

COSTELLO: Oh, yes.

SERWER: I mean so many people now make a living selling their stuff, their junk, their new stuff on eBay.

Another Google thing to tell you about this morning. You know Google is a giant in Internet advertising and now it appears that it will be going back to old school ways in advertising in print. COSTELLO: No.

SERWER: Yes. Well listen to this. It really is strange how it all converges, isn't it? They're going to be buying bulk ads in magazines, say like "Martha Stewart," "Car and Driver" and "PC World" and then auctioning them off to would-be advertisers, companies that want to advertise juice or cosmetics, and those companies hope they get it at a lower price. So it's interesting the way all these businesses are coming together and competing with each other in ways that you would think . . .

COSTELLO: Yes because you would think magazines are going to go by the wayside and people are just going to read them online. But that's really not happening. Maybe it won't happen?

SERWER: I hope it doesn't because I work for a magazine.

COSTELLO: That would be bad.

SERWER: Right.

COSTELLO: Thank you, Andy.

SERWER: Thanks, Carol.

COSTELLO: Let's head back to New Orleans to check in with Miles.

Hey, Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, Carol Costello. More of our special Mardi Gras coverage in just a moment. But as we have been telling you all along here, this is kind of a mixed bag. We'll take you live now to Biloxi, Mississippi. Kathleen Koch is standing by.


KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm here in east Biloxi in a working class neighborhood with a story of two best friends trying to rebuild. AMERICAN MORNING continues after this.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: You know, with all of the partying and all the revelry, and all the drinking and all the celebrating, sometimes, just sometimes, you can't forget the tragedy, the devastation that has really taken place here. Talking about forgotten. Well, some folks in Mississippi, specifically at Biloxi, feel that they have been utterly forgotten in many ways, shapes and forms. Kathleen Koch has our report this morning from Biloxi, Mississippi.

Kathleen, good morning.


And right now I'm in The Point. It's the eastern most tip of town that jets out into Biloxi Bay. The storm surge here went over the rooftops and people are still struggling to recover.


KOCH, (voice over): Shelia McIntyre's house in Biloxi, Mississippi, looks far better now than it did August 29th after 10 feet of water surged through.

SHELIA MCINTYRE, BILOXI RESIDENT: A lot of mud. A lot of stuff turned over. It was just a mess. It was a mess.

That looks nice.

KOCH: McIntyre gives credit for the improvements not to government aid, but to volunteers using supplies she bought with her flood insurance money.

MCINTYRE: What really made my house get back together is the volunteers that have been coming in from all over the world. If it wasn't for them coming in, with our government, waiting on our government, it's a lost cause. They have not did anything.

KOCH: Her neighbor, Lucy Williams, had no flood insurance, so she can't afford to buy the drywall, nails, other materials volunteers need to do the work.

LUCY WILLIAMS, BILOXI RESIDENT: They helping but they want me to get the material and then they'll come in . . .

KOCH: And that's expensive.

Williams lived here with her husband and one of her 13 grandchildren.

WILLIAMS: That was my dining room, kitchen, and another room that I had back in there. I've been praying. I've been praying that somebody will come in and see it and want to help me. I don't have any money.

KOCH: Williams has been out of a job since the hurricane destroyed the elementary school where she was a janitor.

WILLIAMS: We worked hard to pay for this house. We finally got it paid. We finally got our car paid for and our furniture were paid for.

KOCH: Now all that's left is a dining room chair.

WILLIAMS: I have one chair. This is all. This one chair here.

KOCH: That's the only furniture you have left?

WILLIAMS: Yes. I'm going to keep it to remind me.

KOCH: Of what you used to have?

McIntyre and Williams' shattered working class neighborhood called The Point is touched between casinos that are quickly being repaired and reopened. Limousines pass through but never stop.

WILLIAMS: Oh, yes, we see it a lot.

KOCH: VIPs. WILLIAMS: They'll be going to the boats.

KOCH: They say the neighborhood feels forgotten.

WILLIAMS: They still don't care.

KOCH: The government doesn't care?

WILLIAMS: The government don't care. The mayor don't care. The president don't care. No, nobody care.

MCINTYRE: They making sure the casino is secure. But what about our future?


KOCH: Shelia McIntyre and Lucy Williams are hoping to raise their concern with the Biloxi mayor in a meeting here in the neighborhood on Thursday. In the meantime, these brave ladies meet every morning on Lucy's porch to pray and to, Soledad, thank God for their blessings.

Back to you.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Oh, gosh, what a brutal story. Kathleen Koch with an update for us. What a terrible and brutal situation for them and, obviously, as we all know, they are not alone.

You know we're going to continue this morning talking about that very difference. The people who feel overlooked and forgotten feel they shouldn't (ph) be celebrating Mardi Gras at all considering how far some people have yet to go to recover. We're going to talk with Julia Reed, a good friend of AMERICAN MORNING. She's got some pretty strong thoughts about that very topic.

Also, New Orleans might be getting a lot of the attention. But believe it or not, the big easy is not where Mardi Gras got its start. We're going to take you to the city where it all began.

Stay with us. That's ahead.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: And good morning and welcome back, everybody. Happy Mardi Gras. We're celebrating Mardi Gras right here in New Orleans. I'm Soledad O'Brien coming to you live from the balcony of a Royal Sonesta Hotel right on Bourbon Street, right in the French Quarter.

Hey, Miles, good morning.

MILES O'BRIEN: Good morning, Soledad. I'm Miles O'Brien.

We're live along the Mardi Gras parade route. St. Charles Avenue is our location. Welcome to a special fat Tuesday edition of AMERICAN MORNING. It's a fat edition of AMERICAN MORNING. We'll be going till 1 p.m. Eastern time. So stay with us as we bring you every step of the way on a very special, historic Mardi Gras here in the Crescent City.


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