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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Interview With New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin; Marine Massacre Evidence?; Iraq War Reality; Global Warming is Making Hurricanes Stronger; New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin Discusses Hurricane Evacuation Preparations; Councilman Finds Loophole to Rebuild East Biloxi Mississippi; 24 Hours in New Orleans

Aired May 31, 2006 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: You're not going to believe, actually, what I'm about to do. I'm not exactly good with heights, so I'm not even sure I believe it. But we are about to give you a bird's-eye view of the rebuilding here in New Orleans, literally.
This is what they call the man cage. I'm actually attached to a gigantic crane. I'm actually going to get inside it and go over the 17th Street Canal. They are busy working day and night, trying to rebuild the floodgates, build these enormous floodgates in time for hurricane season, which, of course, starts tomorrow. There are new reasons to worry tonight, however.

There are also new developments, fallout for the entire military effort in Iraq, fallout, by the looks of it, from the alleged massacre in Haditha.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: What happened in Haditha? Was it a Marine massacre?

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If, in fact, laws were broken, there will be punishment.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, grim new proof of women and children shot at close range and new reports of sweeping changes to the military.

Stormy forecast -- new evidence that a warmer planet means stronger hurricanes and greater damage.

And sinking city -- spending billions to rebuild New Orleans on sinking ground, is that really such a good idea in?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Across the country and around the world, this is ANDERSON COOPER 360.

Tonight, live from New Orleans, here's Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: And welcome back. We are live in New Orleans, right on the location of the 17th Street Canal, that, of course, the 17th Street Canal levee, which failed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Right now, in this spot, here in New Orleans, people are working their hearts out to prepare for the next hurricane. They are building and they are rebuilding. They are going over emergency plans, working literally around the clock, especially in this location where we're at right now.

And we're going to show that you work from high above a little bit later on. We are going to take you up in -- in that man cage up over the levee that they are building, over these enormous steel gates that they are constructing, trying to get them done in time for the start of hurricane season.

Even as the work goes on, however, new facts tonight call into question some of the bedrock assumptions those efforts may rest on, namely, the fact that parts of the city, including some of the levees, don't in fact rest on bedrock at all. They're built on ground that appears to be sinking faster than anyone thought.

In places like that, the question is, is rebuilding even worth the effort? We will look into that in a moment.

First, new developments elsewhere -- all the angles tonight on the alleged massacre in Iraqi village of Haditha -- an exclusive look at the evidence that made military investigators do a 180 and start believing the worst about what may have happened.

Also tonight, new insight into the pressure of daily bombings and insurgent attacks that some believe made a crew of Marines snap and go on a rampage.

New as well tonight, reporting from network correspondents of possible fallout, new orders affecting every single member of the military in Iraq, requiring immediate training on ethics and dealing with civilians. That's right, everyone in the military.

And, today, for the first time, President Bush publicly expressed concern about the incident -- several reports tonight there and here.

First, CNN's Jamie McIntyre.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SENIOR PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Corporal James Crossan was one of 12 Marines in a four-vehicle convoy that was hit by a roadside bomb, the incident that set other Marines of his unit on a house-to-house hunt for the bombers. He told CNN, Haditha was a dangerous place.

CPL. JAMES CROSSAN, U.S. MARINE CORPS: It's like any other place in Iraq, the -- you can't tell who the bad guy is. We found the majority of them, and we got rid of them, but the place is just crawling with insurgents and IEDs everywhere, still. MCINTYRE: The IED blast killed Miguel Terrazas, a fellow Marine who Crossan called his right-hand man. Corporal Crossan suffered a broken back and pelvis and was knocked unconscious. He said his fellow Marines were not the kind to snap, but he couldn't be sure.

CROSSAN: I don't know what happened, but they might have got scared or they were just pissed -- really pissed off and did it. But, like, just the person -- it just depends on the person. Like, after seeing so much death and destruction, pretty soon, you just become numb and really don't think about it anymore.

MCINTYRE: CNN has learned, the preliminary investigation was conducted by an Army colonel, Gregory Watt, who sources say questioned officers, including battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey Chessani and Kilo Company commander Captain Lucas McConnell, as well as Marines at the scene of the killings, the most senior of which was a staff sergeant identified by "The New York Times" as Frank Wuterich.

Sources say Watt also confirmed that payments of $2,500 were made to the families of 15 of the victims, a total of $38,000 in compensation for the deaths of noncombatants.

TOM MALINOWSKI, WASHINGTON ADVOCACY DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: A payment to a victim's family is not an admission of guilt, but it is an admission that these people were civilians and that they were killed by U.S. forces. Otherwise, they wouldn't be getting compensation.

MCINTYRE: The Pentagon is promising a full accounting once all the investigations are complete.

DONALD RUMSFELD, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We, in the United States, hold our forces to a very, very high standard. And -- and it's proper that we should.

MCINTYRE: And President Bush insists, justice will be done.

BUSH: If, in fact, the laws are broken, there will be -- there will be punishment.

MCINTYRE (on camera): Pentagon officials won't say how long it will be before the results of the investigation are made public, but congressional sources are indicating it could be some time in the next two weeks.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, if Iraqis are like most people, they care less about compensation than simply finding the truth. They want to know what really happened.

Tonight, we are getting our first look at powerful evidence of what actually did.

And tonight, as CNN's Ryan Chilcote tells us in this exclusive report, the story is being told by the living, as well as by the dead.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RYAN CHILCOTE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These are the death certificates of the Haditha victims. It's the first time they have been shown publicly, and they make shocking reading.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Most of the reports show that the bodies arrived to Haditha Hospital with bullet wounds in the head or chest or abdomen.

CHILCOTE: Among the death certificates shown to CNN by the victims' lawyer, those for 76-year-old Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali, his wife and their son. According to the coroner's report, the son's body came in totally charred.

That may be because, according to witnesses, U.S. Marines used grenades, as well as gunfire, in their assault that day. The director of the hospital in Haditha says the bodies of all 24 civilians were brought in by the U.S. military. It was 1:00 a.m., hours after the alleged massacre.

The hospital director says his night shift examined the bodies before they were released to the families.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Abdullah Hamid (ph) was only 3 years old, Hamid Salem (ph), 2 years old, Aisha Salem (ph), 2 years old, Zanab Salem (ph), 5 years old.

CHILCOTE: The mayor of Haditha says the town will never forget what happened on November 19, 2005, or how it began.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Three families and a number of college students were executed at the hands of U.S. soldiers after the roadside bomb exploded. The people of Haditha have declared this a day of human catastrophe and contend that war crimes have been committed by U.S. soldiers. It was a black day in Haditha's history.

CHILCOTE: He and others in Haditha say they immediately went to the U.S. military and demanded an investigation and punishment.

(on camera): People here say the U.S. military ignored their demands until the evidence that something very wrong had happened in Haditha became overwhelming. Now they're waiting to see what punishment is dealt out.

Ryan Chilcote, CNN, Baghdad.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Whether it's the code of military justice or plain common sense, nothing excuses, of course, the murder of civilians, not the confusion and pressure of war, not even the day-in, day-out brutality of the other side, 600 insurgent attacks a week, according to the latest figures. None of it excuses anything.

But as CNN's Arwa Damon tells us, all of it weighs heavily in the field.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was not until I went back months later and looked again at the video you're watching now that it hit me. I was with the Marines in Haditha a month before the alleged killings last November, with the same battalion that's under investigation, the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines.

It was on its third tour of duty in Iraq, having lost 30 of its members on its previous deployment during the battle of Fallujah. What I remember most are the IEDs, the roadside bombs. On the way to the operation, the Humvee that I was in was hit by an IED. If it had hit another two inches back, we would have all been dead.

The city of Haditha seemed to be a mine field of IEDs, daisy- chained up and down the main road, buried on street corners. In fact, the number of times that we were told we were standing right on top of an IED minutes before it was found turned into a dark joke between the Marines and our CNN team. It was our way of coping.

The Iraqis here were wary, not unfriendly, but keeping their distance, watching behind closed doors as Marines searched their city. It was not the first time they had seen the Marines operate here.

I have been on countless operations up and down the Euphrates River Valley with other Marine battalions, going into cities and towns where closed doors sometimes were rigged with IEDs, or had an insurgent waiting with an AK-47, or a frightened family.

And it's a split-second decision to fire or not. The wrong decision could mean a dead Marine or a dead innocent civilian. How they didn't pull the trigger at the first movement they saw sometimes, I don't know, but I did not see that happen.

I have been pinned down on rooftops with them for hours, taking incoming fire, and seen them not fire a shot back, because they had not positively identified a shooter. In this case, they thought they had a positive I.D. and fired a tank round. Wounded civilians streamed out. The Marines seemed horrified and rushed to help.

I was not in Haditha for the killings now under investigation, but, given the restraint I saw on so many operations, I found myself asking, could it really be true? Could there have been intentional killings of civilians? I don't know.

Arwa Damon, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Arwa Damon one of the many reporters with CNN who is stationed in Baghdad who spends her time, day in and day out, traveling with soldiers trying to get a glimpse of what life really is like for them and for Iraqis today in Iraq.

The Haditha investigation continues, and so does the violence in Iraq. Here's the "Raw Data."

Over the last month, 67 U.S. troops were killed in combat, making May the second deadliest month for Americans in Iraq. Seventy-six G.I.s died in April. Since the war began, 2,471 U.S. troops have been killed in Iraq.

Sadly, we will be hearing a lot more reports like that. The Pentagon says it expects the insurgency to remain steady this year. That seems to go against the more optimistic picture often painted by the Bush administration. So, who can we believe? Tonight, we're "Keeping Them Honest."

Plus, the sinking city -- a surprising new report may have you questioning whether New Orleans should be rebuilt at all -- some strong opinions on that.

And the newly reelected mayor of the city, Ray Nagin, talks one on one with me. We will have that and more, live from New Orleans, when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: It was another deadly day in Iraq. Insurgent attacks across the country today killed at least 22 people, injured at least 52, including an Iraqi journalist and a mayor.

Meanwhile, over the past 24 hours, police in Baghdad have found the bodies of at least 40 people, all of them shot in the head, some showing signs of torture. The news comes, of course, on the heels of a Pentagon report predicting that the insurgency will remain strong all of this year. It all seems to fly in the face of the Bush administration, which has often used words of optimism to describe the -- the course of the war.

CNN senior national correspondent John Roberts tonight "Keeping Them Honest."

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They were defining moments in the war for the hearts and minds of Americans on Iraq. Remember that now-famous "Mission Accomplished" banner, or how about this rosy pronouncement from the vice president that the insurgency had been all but crushed?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "LARRY KING LIVE")

RICHARD B. CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The level of activity that we see today, from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the -- in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: A year since that statement, the insurgency in Iraq is flourishing, and, according to a just-released Pentagon report, will likely remain steady throughout 2006.

The contrast between those two assessments couldn't be sharper. But it's no surprise to Republicans like John McCain, who saw huge missteps in the administration's war plans.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think serious mistakes were made from the beginning, by not having enough troops here. I think that's pretty well acknowledged by most experts now. And that caused us significantly greater problems.

ROBERTS: And the report is sure to mean more problems ahead for Republicans already facing a tough reelection. Iraq is the blanket of pessimism that hangs over their fortunes, says political analyst Stuart Rothenberg.

STUART ROTHENBERG, "THE ROTHENBERG POLITICAL REPORT": Republicans need a change in the overall mood. They need the public to get more optimistic, hopeful, to -- to believe that the administration is, in some way, succeeding. This report suggests otherwise.

ROBERTS: And if the forecast of a robust insurgency wasn't enough, the Pentagon acknowledged for the first time in the report that Sunni insurgents have joined al Qaeda in recent months, increasing the terrorists' attack options.

MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW IN FOREIGN POLICY STUDIES, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: It's horrible. It's horrible news to see that Iraqi resistance fighters may be now adopting some of the tactics of al Qaeda, suicide bombings, mass-casualty events.

ROBERTS: But not all Republicans are running for the hemlock over this report. Surprisingly, some welcomed it. About time, they said, that official assessments matched both the reality on the ground and voters' perceptions of Iraq. And the most optimistic thought, it might even present an opportunity to draw distinctions with the Democrats.

ED ROGERS, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: The best way to manage politically is to be honest with everybody, and then have a debate: Well, should we cut and run, or should we tough it out? That's a fair debate to have, and it's better than trying to convince people that things are going well, when they aren't.

ROBERTS (on camera): The report did contain some good news. The number of Iraqi forces able to take the lead in battling the insurgency is steadily increasing. But there was nothing in it to suggest that large numbers of U.S. troops may be able to come home soon. And that is the development American voters are waiting to see.

John Roberts, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, from the dangers in Iraq to the dangers here at home, what we're going to do right now -- we're at the 17th Street Canal. I have got to put on this equipment, because we're going to go into what's called the -- the man cage right here. And we're actually going to go up in the air on this crane.

Let me move out of here. All right. We are going to give you a bird's-eye view of what they're doing to repair the 17th Street Canal. They're building these enormous gates right over here. So, we will just go up. And, on the other side of this break, we will show you what it looks like on the other side.

This is -- this is -- the man cage is used to -- to take people every day, to take the workers. And the guys here have been working literally around the clock. This is the foreman here, Doozer (ph), who has been working -- he's probably had -- how many days you had off in -- since the storm?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About a half-a-day off per month, about six months.

COOPER: Unbelievable, half-a-day off, literally working around the clock.

Tomorrow, of course, is the start of hurricane season. Right now, we're -- we are floating up over the -- the -- the canal.

I don't know, Neil (ph), if you can just turn around and show some of that. This is really a bird's-eye view of what -- the 17th Street Canal, the -- the floodgates that are being built here.

We will be on the other side on the other side of this break.

Stay with us. We will have more on 360 in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All stop.

COOPER: And welcome back.

We have just gotten out of this -- the man cage on the other side of this -- this part of the levee that they have been rebuilding. It's just incredible here, when you actually get up close to it. These are 11 gates that they have built over the last several months.

Each gate weighs about 11 tons. And there are 11 of them that they are placing down here. The next time there's a major storm and the decision is made to -- to try to close off this area, they will bring a crane up, and they will just -- those -- those -- each of those gates will be lowered into place, sealing off this 17th Street Canal.

Back before Hurricane Katrina, the levee around here was about the -- 12 feet tall about -- was about the height of the levees. They have added another four feet on to it. So, these walls are going to be about 16 feet tall in total protection.

But, literally, this work has been going on day and night since Hurricane Katrina hit. You know, you hear a lot of stories about -- about construction problems and the like. But the guys who have been working here have literally been working around the clock.

And Doozer (ph), the -- the foreman we just talked to a short time ago, was saying, you know, he has had half-a-day off maybe once a month each month -- so, a lot of very hard-working people here.

We are going to have more from -- from this levee in just a moment.

But, first, let's check in with Erica Hill for some of the day's other top stories -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, HEADLINE NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the U.S. is willing to join talks with Iran over its nuclear program, but there are conditions. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said today, the U.S. will only talk to Iran if it provides evidence it's committed to giving up its nuclear ambitions. Now, if there's no cooperation, the U.S. says Iran will face possible U.N. security sanctions.

The Department of Homeland Security is coming under fire for cutting grant money to Washington and New York. The nation's capital will get $46 million, down from $77 million last year, while New York will get $125 million this year. That's down 40 percent from a year ago. New York Congressman Peter King calls the cuts disgraceful. DHS officials point out, New York is still the largest cash recipient.

On to money matters now on Wall Street, where stocks rebounded today, the Dow closing up 73 points. The Nasdaq gained 14. And the S&P climbed 10 points. But, for the month of May, all indices posted losses.

And over at Sun Microsystems, major cuts -- the computer server maker is slashing up to 5,000 jobs. Executives say the move will save the company up to $590 million -- Anderson, back over to you.

COOPER: Erica, thanks.

So, is New Orleans sinking more than people thought? A new report out has some startling facts in it. We will take a look at that. And we will also talk to New Orleans' mayor, who recently won reelection, Mayor Ray Nagin.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And we are back in New Orleans on the eve of hurricane season, nine months after Katrina, "Keeping Them Honest."

Behind me are the new floodgates separating the 17th Street Canal from Lake Pontchartrain. We are just a couple blocks from the 17th Street levee breach, where repairs are still being made.

The question we ask tonight: Is New Orleans ready for the next major storm? We begin with a new reason for worry. A study published today in the journal "Nature" says that New Orleans is actually sinking faster than anyone previously thought, in some parts of the city, more than an inch a year. Take a look at what the study's authors are predicting.

This map shows the coast of Louisiana today. The yellow line traces the outline of the coast. And then this map shows how much of the area could be under water by the end of the century, unless something is done.

Roy Dokka is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Louisiana State University and co-author of the report. He joins me now.

Thanks for being with us.

ROY DOKKA, PROFESSOR OF CIVIL AND ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING, LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY: Thank you.

COOPER: An inch a year, that's way more than -- than anyone had previously thought.

DOKKA: Well, we finally were able to measure it. And we have used some very interesting new technologies to do it.

COOPER: And -- and what's concerning about that is that the benchmarks that were used, then, to measure things like the levee and how high the levees should be, those benchmarks are sinking along with everything else.

DOKKA: Exactly. And that's what we're trying to do, is to fix the elevations, get a -- get a handle on what the subsidence rates are, so we can make New Orleans safe.

COOPER: Is there anything you can do to stop the sinking?

DOKKA: Some of the things. They have already done most of those things here in New Orleans over the years. But the -- the long term is not good.

COOPER: So, the -- the -- I mean, what is the takeaway from this report? It -- it sounds depressing. It sounds pretty bleak.

There have been some -- I mean, a colleague of yours suggested, you know, not to rebuild in a lot of areas of New Orleans, that he called it a death trap. Do you think that's true?

DOKKA: No. It's not a -- it's not a death trap. What we now -- we now know what we need to do. Now we just need the money to go and fix the levees and make them -- make them high enough to protect our -- our citizens.

COOPER: So, the fact that it is continually sinking an inch a year and will -- will be continuing to sink, that there's really not much you can do to stop that, that's just sort of the way nature is, the lesson is, these levees will have to be continually rebuilt over the years. DOKKA: That's exactly right. And that's -- that message is getting out, and we're going to do it. We're going to make it safe.

COOPER: The levees that were here in this area were about 12 feet. They're now being built about how tall? I heard 16 feet.

DOKKA: I think that's -- they're bringing them up to the project -- what they call the project hurricane level.

COOPER: Right.

DOKKA: And that may be adjusted because I think there's some fear that the category five may be coming. And that won't work.

COOPER: Right. And -- why can't the one inch a year, why can't that be slowed? Why can't that be stopped?

DOKKA: Well, it's called nature. It's the geology. I mean, this area --

COOPER: I mean, you hear stories about Venice is sinking and that they're doing things to try to stop that.

DOKKA: Well, this is occurring all along the coast. We had a report a couple of years ago that showed that the sinking starts in south Texas and doesn't stop until we get to Florida.

COOPER: So this isn't just a New Orleans problem or a gulf of Mississippi problem. This goes all the way to Florida.

DOKKA: Absolutely.

COOPER: Wow! Something to keep in mind. Appreciate you joining us. Thanks very much. The report is brand new, thanks so much. We appreciate it.

The national weather service is predicting six major hurricanes over the next six months. Not as bad as last year. The worst hurricane season on record. But certainly bad enough. Tonight, new evidence that global warming may be making hurricanes stronger. Here's CNN's Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Global warming is making hurricanes more intense. That's the conclusion of new studies that some scientists find compelling. Their argument is simple. The atmosphere is getting warmer, oceans too, and since hurricanes feed off of warm water, the storms are getting worse. What's more, they say, the impact is coming quicker and is more severe than they expected.

MICHAEL E. MANN, PENN STATE: Many of us who have studied the science of how the climate works in the past are frankly very surprised at what we're seeing. We didn't really believe that we were going to see, in our lifetimes, the kinds of impacts we already are seeing.

FOREMAN: The new Al Gore movie swings that claim like a sledgehammer.

The temperature increases are taking place all over the world. And that's causing stronger storms.

This is the biggest crisis in the history of this country.

FOREMAN: The problem is, many scientists say this information is inconclusive at best, not true at worst. Researchers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration generally agree global warming is happening. But, they say, something else is causing wind and water to brew deadly storms.

CONRAD LAUTENBACHER, NOAA: This convergence of conditions in the ocean and atmosphere is strongly related to something we call the multi-decadal signal.

FOREMAN: That's a fancy way of saying they believe world weather patterns have always produced cycles of strong, then weak, hurricanes. And we're in a bad cycle now.

GERRY BELL, NOAA METEOROLOGIST: It's reasonable to expect ongoing high levels of hurricane activity for many years to come. And importantly ongoing high levels of hurricane landfalls for the next decade and perhaps longer.

FOREMAN: The U.S. has suffered terrible hurricanes in the past, long before global warming was an issue. But believers in this possible connection with global warming say they are gathering evidence to prove their case. This, we know. The debate over what causes these monster hurricanes is itself a gathering storm.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And Tom Foreman is in Washington tonight. Tom, a lot of conflicting information no doubt in the fact that storms are worse now. There seems little doubt of that.

FOREMAN: Well, there's little doubt of that depending on what frame you put that in, if you look in the past few years. Are they worse now than they were 10 years ago? Yes, absolutely. But part of the problem is, our overall weather records are not great, once you go back 50, 60, 100 years. Beyond that, it gets kind of sketchy as to exactly what was happening. And when you talk about the impact of storms, you know what? We didn't have nearly as many towns of people living on the coasts years ago, so it didn't do so much damage. There's a big debate out there over this. Are the storms much, much stronger, and why? We just don't know yet, Anderson.

COOPER: Tom, thanks.

Researchers at Colorado State University today predicted a 38 percent chance of a hurricane striking the gulf coast this hurricane season. A lot of reason for concern tonight, certainly if you're the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin was re-elected mayor earlier this month. He joins me now. First of all congratulations on being re- elected.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, (D) NEW ORLEANS: Well, thank you.

COOPER: We just had a scientist from LSU on saying that there's this new study in the Journal of Nature saying that New Orleans and the rest of this area is actually sinking about an inch a year, that's more than they previously thought. How big a concern is that for you?

NAGIN: Well, you know, the area always has been sinking. It's just a matter of the rate of sinkage. I haven't seen this new study, but I do know the Corps of Engineers has been building the levees as high as 20 feet when the standard is only 17 feet. So they are taking into account some subsidence.

COOPER: How prepared is this city? I mean you guys have put out a plan. Are you confident? What is the plan?

NAGIN: Well, you know, this time around it's a much more mobile community. So at the drop of a hat --

COOPER: Fewer people.

NAGIN: We have fewer people, they're much more mobile. They're ready. We've talked about the evacuation plan. And I think we will be able to get people out much quicker this time.

COOPER: The devil, of course, is in the details. Some have criticized the plan already saying look, you know, you talk about Amtrak trains, there's no real contract. Amtrak says they don't have enough trains. Talk about buses, the city doesn't have enough buses according to (INAUDIBLE) LSU. How do you plan on getting -- you don't plan on having shelters like you did before in the city.

NAGIN: Right. That's true. There will be no shelter of last resort. We will pre-stage buses to get people to the convention center and out of the city.

COOPER: And are those city buses?

NAGIN: They will be city, they will be a combination -- Secretary Chertoff was just here, and he committed to us to have 3,000 buses available for us when we need them.

COOPER: So in some sense you're really still relying on the state, on the federal government to come in and help?

NAGIN: Well we're going to move as many people out as possible with the buses that we have and we have a little less than 100. So we'll utilize those to the maximum capacity, then we'll utilize Amtrak and planes and whatever else we have.

COOPER: Are you worried, though? Because I mean one of your big criticisms early on was, you know, you were waiting for the cavalry to come, and the cavalry didn't come for days. Do you think they'll come this time?

NAGIN: I'm not as concerned this time because most of the people that heavily depended upon public transportation are not back yet. So the majority of the citizens can get out. And the ones that need assistance, I think we can accommodate them.

COOPER: And then where do they go, I mean I just heard a report today that -- in terms of actual shelters for people staying elsewhere in Louisiana, they're saying there's only room for about 60,000 people. Last year there was room for more than 100,000.

NAGIN: Yeah, well, the issue with the shelters is basically the state has identified the shelters. They have just -- they haven't really announced them to the public yet. I think we're going to be okay with the shelters also.

COOPER: You've also said when you got re-elected, in the next 100 days you're going to be sort of refocusing on the plan. And everyone I meet who comes down to the lower ninth ward, you know, always comes home saying the same thing. I can't believe all this stuff is still out there. I was out there today. Someone's photo album was laying in the street. You see it every day. Is there a plan? I mean, what's going to happen to lower ninth ward?

NAGIN: Well let me just remind everyone, 80 percent of the entire city was under water. And we have been systemically going through the city and cleaning it up. The lower ninth ward was hit twice, and we ran into some legal problems removing debris. So that's the area that's probably going to be the last one that we will restore.

COOPER: What can you do in this next 100 days that you haven't been able to do in the last several hundred days?

NAGIN: Well, there's a renewed energy of volunteers and people who want to come in and help us in city government. They realize that we're at the down size, we're at half our staff, so we're going to need to replenish and get some bright minds back into city government, helping us to figure these challenges out.

COOPER: You -- I've always given you a lot of credit because you were really the first politician who came forward and admitted personal mistakes that you made. And a lot of people still haven't done that frankly. What have you learned from the experience before that you're putting to this coming season now?

NAGIN: Well, I think the shelters of last resort is a big issue. Being more mobile and allowing for our citizens to be more mobile and to be able to respond. Communicating more effectively, making sure that we have a communication network that can survive a storm. That's another thing that we've learned. And then just being in a position now to make sure that every available resource is focused on the evacuation and then post-storm, we have the National Guard ready to go.

COOPER: You're like the comeback kid. You know Bill Clinton used to be the comeback kid. You are the comeback kid, aren't you?

NAGIN: Well, you know, as it relates to the election?

COOPER: Yeah.

NAGIN: Yeah, most people wrote me off. You know, I wasn't going to make the primary, I was going to be third, and then I wasn't going to win. We shocked the world.

COOPER: I'm convinced no one knows anything about politics. All the alleged experts don't know a thing. I'm totally convinced of that.

NAGIN: Well particularly here because, you know, people in the Diaspora came back and voted, and they really couldn't poll that, we had a good sense for it. And then locally people really were tuning into the fact that they wanted to see consistent leadership and us continuing some of the progress. And with hurricane season approaching us, they didn't want a change.

COOPER: I wish you luck. Good luck to you.

NAGIN: Thank you.

COOPER: Ray Nagin thanks very much. You've got a busy season ahead.

Of course the government can do only so much to protect people. Take Biloxi, Mississippi, a contractor there has become a hero to homeowners who want to rebuild despite the flood risk. He's found a loophole that's let them. We'll have his story.

Plus dispatches from Katrina. A look back at the infamous squalid convention center where the doctor played a key role in trying to help evacuees. When the special edition of 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And we're in New Orleans tonight near the new floodgates along the 17th street canal. They're being built literally behind me as we speak all night long. You're going to recall that Katrina also hit Biloxi, Mississippi, all along the gulf coast where it destroyed or damaged nearly every building in Biloxi. So you might expect Biloxi residents to welcome some new FEMA guidelines -- guidelines that will revise how high the homes need to be built in order to qualify for flood insurance. Well you can forget that. Some folks are looking for loopholes, and Randi Kaye met a man who has found one.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's a one-man, rule-busting wrecking ball crew on a mission, rebuild East Biloxi, Mississippi, before FEMA orders new housing elevations.

BILL STALLWORTH, COUNCILMAN, EAST BILOXI, MISSISSIPPI: I'm really frustrated, and I'm panicking. I am literally panicking because I've got to get these people back in their homes. There's no if, ands or buts. We've got to do it.

KAYE: Councilman Bill Stallworth is up against the clock. FEMA has reassessed flood risk and drawn up new flood insurance maps. Thousands here assumed the only way to qualify for federal flood insurance now was to rebuild based on the new elevations. That was until Stallworth found a loophole.

STALLWORTH: These are advisory elevations. We already have adopted elevations. There is no law that says I have to act on an advisory elevation.

KAYE: FEMA expects to finalize the new elevation maps by year's end. Stallworth is racing FEMA to the finish line because existing structures are grandfathered in. So even if the homes he rebuilds don't meet the new height requirement, 22 feet above sea level, the homeowner will still qualify for federal flood insurance. This is how high FEMA would like them to be.

STALLWORTH: It's going way overboard. It's going to the point of just being stupid.

KAYE: Stallworth relies on grants. Fixing a home, he says, costs about $20,000. But if people wait for the new elevation standards, it could cost another $50,000 to elevate the home.

STALLWORTH: 40 percent of the people in this community right now make under $15,000 a year. Typically, 65 percent of them make under $35,000. So you can kind of do the math.

KAYE: FEMA's Todd Davison's says Stallworth's actions, while noble, are risky.

TODD DAVISON, FEMA: The science bears out that the flood risk has increased significantly since the last time we did these maps. And all we're saying is to allow that better risk information to guide reconstruction.

KAYE: FEMA says the way that you're choosing to rebuild the homes isn't safe. Do you agree with that?

STALLWORTH: No, I don't agree with that at all. These homes have been here for years. They have been safe, and I know that they can be safe again. I would never put anybody in harm's way.

KAYE: 93-year-old Frances Burney's home was rebuilt. Your home is on the ground level. Do you feel safe not having it raised high up?

FRANCES BURNEY, EAST BILOXI RESIDENT: There's nothing I can do about it. And that worrying is not going to help you any.

KAYE: The only thing that would help Bill Stallworth, time. With 4,000 homes needing repair, he sure could use it.

STALLWORTH: We're going to do it. I don't know how, but I'm putting faith in God, we're going to do it. (END OF VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: So Randi, how much time does this guy really have to get all these homes rebuilt?

KAYE: He has some time. Actually, December is when the final maps should be out. And then once those come out, there's a 90-day appeals process. And then the community actually has another six months before they have to adopt the new regulations. So we're talking about well into next year, the fall of next year. Sounds like a lot of time, but Bill Stallworth is actually looking at repairing and rebuilding 4,000 homes. It's really not a lot of time to do it.

COOPER: And I hear you ate at Mary Mahoney's in Biloxi.

KAYE: It was excellent. They send their best to you.

COOPER: It's a great restaurant. Glad to see they're back up and running.

In our next hour on the eve of hurricane season, we're going to take you through 24 hours in the life of this great city. As part of that, we'll but on you Bourbon Street which could use a bit of the vibe in tonight's "On the Rise." Here's Erica Hill.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

I love rock 'n' roll

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Female guitarists like Joan Jett are few and far between in the male-dominated rock world, but one woman hopes to level the playing field. Musician Tish Ciravolo founded the original girl guitar company six years ago.

TISH CIRAVOLO, FOUNDER & PRESIDENT, DAISY ROCK GUITARS: The easiest way to explain what a girl guitar is -- is that it has a slimmer neck profile. Meaning that when a girl puts her hand around the neck it's easier for her to push the strings down because it fits her hand better. It's (INAUDIBLE) in weight. They come in fun colors, in fun shapes. One day I was drawing with my daughter, and she drew this little daisy on a piece of paper. And I drew a neck onto this daisy and I put a head stock on it. And I thought, wow! This would make a really cool guitar for girls. I started the company for my daughters. To me, society should see a girl playing guitar as a normal thing to do.

HILL: Today, artists like Heart's Nancy Wilson and Lindsay Lohan strum Daisy Rock Guitars and revenues rocked the house at more than $2 million last year.

CIRAVOLO: My ultimate rock fantasy is to see a girl getting a Grammy and to say I did this because of Daisy Rock Guitars because I found a guitar that I could play.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Well, nine months ago it became an emblem of everything that went wrong after Katrina. The convention center that turned into a hellish nightmare for thousands of Katrina evacuees. We'll introduce you to the doctor who saw the worst of it. We'll look back at the report I filed last year and see where the convention center is today.

Also, 24 hours in New Orleans. Our reporters spread out across the city to take its pulse. Nine months after that catastrophe struck and hours away from the next hurricane season. All that ahead on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: We return to a story I filed from New Orleans nine months ago. It is one of the stories I write about in my new book which just came out last week, "Dispatches from the Edge", a memoir of war disasters and survival. After Katrina hit and the floodwaters began swallowing New Orleans, as many as 20,000 people tried to cram into the Morial Convention Center. What happened there became a glaring symbol of failed relief efforts. When I arrived, the stranded evacuees had finally been rescued.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: New Orleans' convention center is now empty. The piles of trash outside, the only evidence of the horror that happened here.

DR. GREG HENDERSON, PATHOLOGIST: Got in here, the smell is -- you get a little bit of it right now.

COOPER: Yeah.

HENDERSON: You multiply it by about 10.

COOPER: In the days after the hurricane, the scene here was desperate. 15,000 to 20,000 evacuees, young and old, frail and infirmed, stuck, no medicine, no help, no way to get out.

HENDERSON: That's where the real hell was. This is where hell opened its mouth.

COOPER: Dr. Greg Henderson, a pathologist, came to the convention center two days after the storm. He'll never forget what he saw inside. No air conditioning.

HENDERSON: Nothing.

COOPER: People crying.

HENDERSON: Crying and dying. Crying and dying.

COOPER: Dr. Henderson came to the convention center thinking he'd find other doctors who might need help. He discovered there weren't any other doctors.

HENDERSON: It was just me walking through this crowd with a stethoscope. And that's where I told you, I'm not sure if I was really being more of a doctor or a priest, you know? Because there's not a hell of a lot you can do, you know, for people this sick with just a stethoscope.

COOPER: Wandering through this empty hall of horrors, Dr. Henderson can still hear the cries of those in need.

HENDERSON: You had thousands of voices saying, "Is there any help coming? Doctor, I need you, doctor, doctor, doctor, doctor, doctor, over here, over here."

COOPER: He can still see the faces of those he couldn't help.

HENDERSON: A shoe over there. You see it, hope he got somewhere good. Just breaks my heart. Symbols like that, little kids' shoes. I don't remember how many of them there were here. God, there were kids everywhere. And like I said, some of them were laughing, playing. Hey, school's out. Some of them were laying on the floor seizing.

COOPER: The convention center has now been evacuated. Only two abandoned dogs remain inside. Dr. Henderson doesn't want anyone to forget what happened here, doesn't want anyone to forget how he says bureaucratic failure and officials' mistakes left so many stranded for so long together alone.

HENDERSON: No one in this country should that ever have to happen again, nowhere. Learn from this. Who's ever listening to this, who's ever in power, whoever wants to do something, learn from this. If you don't learn from this, it's going to be very ugly, this is going to happen again.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: The convention center stretches more than 10 city blocks and it's more than a 3 million square feet of space. Cleaning it and making it usable again has been an enormous task. Parts of the building reopened February 17th. Since then 10 events have been held in it. Before Hurricane Katrina, convention center averaged 95 events a year. Tomorrow, the mayoral inauguration will take place there. Some more numbers for you. The center's website says that about 70 percent of the restoration is completed. The rest will be finished in November. Three of its 12 halls are now open. Five more will open in June. Well, let's never forget what happened there.

And when we come back, a closer look at the rebuilding and the challenges simply aren't going away. Stories unfolding around the clock, 24 hours in New Orleans. A special hour of "360" is next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Racing to be ready, facing hard facts on the eve of hurricane season. 24 hours in New Orleans, a special edition of 360 next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: New Orleans still wounded, still shaky, racing to rebuild and racing for survival morning, noon and night. (ANNOUNCER)

24 hours in New Orleans, a city still in shambles and a medical system on life support. How to get help with so many hospitals still closed.

Still missing, those who simply vanished after Katrina, yet their families refuse to give up hope.

We're just there wondering, is he out there, or did he make it?

Tonight, we follow the ongoing search for the lost victims.

Working 'round the clock to fix the levees. With 14 named hurricanes predicted, it's a life and death race. Will the walls be sealed before the next hurricane hits?

And it survived the floods, but it's dying in the aftermath. Tonight we head to Bourbon Street where the legendary nightlife is now almost lifeless. This is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360. "24 Hours in New Orleans." Here's Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: Thanks for joining us on this special edition of "360." You're looking at a live picture on Bourbon Street, a very different Bourbon Street than perhaps what you're used to seeing. Not very crowded tonight. We're compressing a day in the life of this city into an hour tonight, an hour of heroic efforts at making this city whole again or at least whole enough to take another hurricane.

But also an hour full of reminders of how just how badly New Orleans and the gulf still are. How badly they were wounded. We begin just after midnight, you need a doctor, yet half the area hospitals remain closed. Imagine that. Fewer people in the city since Katrina yes, but as 360 M.D. Dr. Sanjay Gupta discovered, still plenty of people, enough in fact to stretch local E.R.'s to the breaking point.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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