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Katrina After 2 Years; GOP Leaders Call for Probe of Senator Craig

Aired August 29, 2007 - 10:00   ET


HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Tony Harris. Stay informed all day in the CNN NEWSROOM. Here's what's on the rundown. Two years after Katrina. New Orleans remembers the horror and heroes of August 29th. President Bush's remarks live this hour.

COLLINS: A senator tries to explain his men's room arrest. Can Idaho's Larry Craig hang onto his job after the sex sting?

HARRIS: And a Hollywood star with a bright future on screen. Did Owen Wilson attempt suicide? It is Wednesday, August 29th. And you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: Our top story now this hour. Anger and frustration, memorials and mourning. It is the second anniversary of what FEMA calls the most catastrophic natural disaster in U.S. history. New Orleans and the Gulf Coast marking two years since the devastation from Hurricane Katrina.

The scene beyond belief, 80 percent of New Orleans flooded. Homes demolished. Thousands of people stranded in the Superdome without food, without water. More than 1,800 people died in Louisiana and Mississippi. A somber remembrance.

We see live now Mayor Ray Nagin. Other officials are there as well for a groundbreaking ceremony on a victims' memorial and mausoleum that will hold the remains of more than 100 storm victims. They have actually never been identified.

President Bush in New Orleans to mark the anniversary of Katrina today as well. He is going to be talking about the rebuilding effort. It is coming up this hour.

HARRIS: On the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Katrina almost wiped out the town of Waveland. CNN's Kathleen Koch is in Waveland, just down the road from her hometown of Bay St. Louis.

Kathleen, great to see you. How are the people in your hometown there in Waveland marking the two-year anniversary of Katrina?

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tony, right now we are at a ceremony that's in the bright sun here in Waveland. And we are having a moment of silence. So I am going to keep my voice down. They are remembering the 57 people in Hancock County, Mississippi, who died in the hurricane two years ago.

Now earlier this morning, three hours ago, we were at a sunrise service just a couple of miles down the beach from here where about the same number of people, about 100, gathered, on the water as the sun came up.

Again, remembering, recalling what people suffered and what was lost. But you know, this ceremony here, they are calling it a celebration because people believe despite what happened that they have a lot to be thankful for. And there are remembrances like this taking place in towns along the Gulf Coast today.


KOCH (voice-over): Two years after Katrina, people in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, are surviving on faith. This little Baptist church was gutted by the storm.

ADDIE YOUNG, CHURCH CLERK: And everything was just jumbled and piled on top of everything. And the ceilings were falling in.

KOCH: Clerk Addie Young says volunteers got them through. Volunteers sent by God.

YOUNG: The lord blessed us. And he sent workers, he sent ministers to minister.

KOCH: Only half the congregation of 100 has returned since the hurricane. On the anniversary those left gathered to say thank you and look ahead.

REV. MARTIN MASITTO: We are very grateful for what has been accomplished but there's still a lot more to accomplish.

KOCH: More than 95 percent of Bay St. Louis was inundated by Katrina.


KOCH: Fifty-seven county residents died.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Christina Bain (ph).

KOCH: One family that lost four says memories are everywhere and anguish has pushed some of them to their limits.

ROSE SHAFFER, VICTIM'S MOTHER: My other son, he stays with me. He was thinking about committing suicide here a while back because he missed his brother so much.

DOROTHY PRESTENBACH, VICTIM'S SISTER: Like everybody said, get on with it, you really can't get on with it when everything is still messed up around here. We are trying our best.

KOCH: Linda Fallon discovered her mother's body in the rubble after the hurricane. LINDA FALLON, VICTIM'S DAUGHTER: You see everybody's pain. You know, you look through people and sometimes we cry alone. Sometimes we cry together. Sometimes we cry in a group. But we always hang in there.

KOCH: So ministers like David McDonald struggle to bring hope to residents still in such pain two years after Katrina.

REV. DAVID MACDONALD, CALVARY IND. BAPTIST CHURCH: It is difficult. It is, to try to convince them that things are going to get better, and they are, but it is the waiting that's the hardest part.


KOCH: Now President Bush's motorcade will be driving right down this beach road today as he heads to a meeting with community leaders. He is going to be seeing a lot of empty slabs where homes used to be, pilings, a lot for sale signs, and yes, a few rebuilt homes, but just a handful.

And certainly the people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast today, Tony, will be asking him for more federal help and for insurance for form (ph) to better protect people after mammoth disasters like Katrina.

HARRIS: Kathleen, you still have folks in Bay St. Louis?

KOCH: None of my family lives her anymore. But when you grow up in a small town like Bay St. Louis, everyone here is family. So I still have dozens, dozens of friends here. And some of them are getting out of their FEMA trailers and back into their houses. So a little good news there.

HARRIS: Kathleen Koch for us this morning, Kathleen, appreciate it. Thank you.

COLLINS: We want to remind you quickly, first of all, getting some live pictures coming in. Of course, that is General Russel Honore. He said just moments ago that he was in Iraq last month and he is in New Orleans now. And New Orleans is a hell of a lot better than Iraq, is what he said.

At the groundbreaking ceremony right now for a memorial and mausoleum that will be going up. This is taking place at the Charity Hospital Cemetery. A little bit later on today, we will be having a moment of silence. It will happen at 10:38. We will honor that moment of silence for you here on CNN.

And shortly after that, President Bush who, as you know, is also coming to New Orleans today. He will be making some remarks regarding the rebuilding efforts, what has been done and what still needs to be done shortly after that moment of silence.

Once again, that will happen at 10:38. We will see Mayor Ray Nagin ring the bell to signify exactly when those levees broke. We will be watching all of that for you here today.

And there is still a long road ahead for New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. As we have been saying here this morning, our correspondents out there showing us some of the projects that still, obviously, need quite a bit of work.

If you would like to make a difference, you still can. It is part of our "Impact Your World" campaign. If you just go to, and there you will find a number of resources for the Gulf Coast recovery.

HARRIS: The other story we are closely watching this morning, Senator Larry Craig, and his men's room sex scandal. Republican leaders calling for an ethics probe into his arrest. CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash is in Boise, Idaho.

Dana, good morning to you. How is the senator's story playing there?

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, publicly, the senator's fellow Idaho Republicans here are saying, look, let's give him a little bit of breathing space. Let's wait and see kind of how this plays out.

But I can tell you privately I have talked to several influential Republicans here who say, you know, they were quite frankly disappointed with the senator's explanation yesterday, essentially saying that he pleaded guilty, yes, but didn't really mean it. And the only reason why he did is because he wanted to make it go away, and because of what he called a witch-hunt by the local newspaper here.

That's not really flying here with many Republicans in -- sort of in the unofficial sort of movers and shakers role, if you will, here. But also with some Idaho constituents. And Senator Craig certainly is and has been well respected. He has been in office here for about a quarter century. So he's certainly well known.

But what is also interesting, Tony, is what is happening on a national level, because he's feeling certainly pressure from both ends, if you will. You really did not see national Republicans standing by him at all.

In fact, just the opposite. It is almost as if they couldn't run fast enough, far enough. John McCain said that it is disgraceful what Senator Craig has apparently done. And Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate for president, for whom Senator Craig was until just a couple of days ago, the chair here in Idaho, he said that it was disappointing.

And then, of course, you have his colleagues in the Senate calling for an ethics probe and making it very clear immediately that they simply won't stand by this. And that is, quite simply, because of the fact that Republicans -- I talked to a couple of Republican aides, in fact, in Washington yesterday, and they say that they have gone through so much on a national level, the Republican Party, that they simply can't stand by and not come out very forcefully early and essentially make clear they are condemning Senator Craig.

Because this is really the only way that they have learned by experience that they can potentially get over this big political problem for them.

HARRIS: Boy. You have said it. Congressional correspondent Dana Bash for us this morning. Dana, appreciate it. Thank you.

COLLINS: New this morning now. A deal with the Taliban. Eight South Korean hostages are now free in Afghanistan. The Taliban handed them over at two separate locations earlier this morning. Eleven more, though, remain in captivity. They are among 23 South Korean Christian aide workers abducted by militants last month. The kidnappers executed two captives. Two others were freed earlier. South Korea promised to halt all Christian missionary work in Afghanistan. Seoul also moving forward with its previous decision to withdraw 200 non-combat troops from the country.

HARRIS: Also new this morning, tensions between the U.S. and Iran escalating. Tehran issuing a strong protest after U.S. troops arrested eight members of an Iranian delegation. The group taken, blindfolded, and hands cuffed from a Sheraton Hotel in Baghdad last night. They were later turned over to Iraqi authorities. Iran says the Iranians work for Tehran's power ministry and were invited by the Iraqi government to sign an electricity supply contract. They came under suspicion while driving through a U.S. checkpoint with unauthorized weapons.

COLLINS: Also in Iraq, Shiite against Shiite violence. The deadly attacks prompt anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to order his militia to halt activities. A senior aide announcing a six-month restructuring period and three days of mourning after nearly 60 people were killed and hundreds injured in turf battles in Karbala and Baghdad. Karbala is under a curfew, a massive religious festival called off.

HARRIS: Another U.S. troop killed in Iraq. The military says the soldier was killed during combat operations near Kirkuk. That raises the U.S. death toll in Iraq to 3,733.

COLLINS: No evidence NASA astronauts were flying drunk. Sources tell CNN the new findings are outlined in an internal NASA review. It is expected out today. A NASA committee had reported two alleged cases where astronauts were intoxicated. And flight surgeons or other astronauts had raised concerns. NASA sources tell CNN the report does not include any names.

HARRIS: A new Web site gives some of Katrina's forgotten victims a chance to share their experiences. We will hear from two contributors to Voices from the Gulf. They are live in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: The president on the pace of Katrina recovery. This hour live coverage of his remarks from New Orleans on the second anniversary of the disaster.

HARRIS: Also one of Hollywood's most successful actors, police say he attempted suicide. What's behind Owen Wilson's troubles?

COLLINS: And real-life wedding crasher. While the bride and groom danced the night away, this guy was taking their gift cards away. Going to the chapel and getting ripped off. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: The horrors of Katrina through the eyes of those who lived through it, is a new Web site where Katrina victims can share their experiences. It focuses those who have been forgotten in the aftermath from the storm. With us now from New Orleans, two people who contribute to the Web site, Joe Butler with Unified New Orleans Plan.

Joe, great to see you. Good morning to you.

JOE BUTLER, UNIFIED NEW ORLEANS PLAN: Great. Thanks for having me.

HARRIS: Our pleasure. And Katrina survivor Kawana Jasper.

Kawana, great to see you.

KAWANA JASPER, KATRINA SURVIVOR: Hi. Thanks for having me.

HARRIS: Hey, Kawana, let's start with you. Let's start with your contribution to the site filmed in the St. Bernard Parish Housing Development in which you actually want to return to. Let's hear this and let's talk about it. All right?


JASPER: My grandmother lived in here prior to my mom moving in here. This is where I lived 3041 (ph) (INAUDIBLE).

We are not welcome. They are trying to make it more for tourists. Trying to make it like Las Vegas where all the rich people stay within the city limits and all the poor people, poverty-stricken people live on the outskirts of New Orleans.

Deep down in my heart I know this is what they want to do. They have been wanting to do this. And they are just using a natural disaster to do their dirty work.

I have only been back five going on six months. And sometimes I feel like what I came back for is so much corruption with city elected officials. You know, to me, we are not getting any help down here, any.


HARRIS: Kawana, first of all, let's talk about that clip. You believe that there is actually a plan to push poor people, minorities to the edges of the city? Why do you believe that's the case? JASPER: Well, prior to the hurricane, for us, a lot of businesses in the downtown area that -- you know, that employed a lot of lower-class people. You know, a lot of lower-class people lost their jobs because they were closing businesses, making such things as casinos, putting condominiums in different places, you know, just making things, you know, more viewable for the tourists.

HARRIS: You also say you're not welcome. What does that mean? You're not welcome? This is your hometown. What are you talking about?

JASPER: Yes. It is my hometown. And I was born here, you know. My roots are here. My roots are here. And I'm from the St. Bernard Housing Development in Orleans Parish. And it is still standing, but the residents are not there. You know, we are struggling for housing. We are struggling for resources. You know, just different opportunities. We are not getting any help.

HARRIS: Joe Butler, Joe, you are with Unified New Orleans Plan. And let's hear a bit of your clip from the Web site. And then we will talk about it.


BUTLER: My immediate response was to come home. You know, when home is sick, you go there. And I have been working in South Africa for the last eight years doing urban planning and economic development. And I just thought if ever New Orleans needed its native daughters and sons, it was now.

The city needs help in ways that on a national level the dialogue isn't prepared to hear. But the question is, what will it take to get us up off of our sofas? When will it matter?

My future New Orleans is one in which we address some of the systemic inequities, where we have talked about schools, and we have done modern futuristic school design, and we have addressed some of the issues that have led to the levels of poverty and incarceration that we see here.

None of this is short term. None of it is now. And it is frustrating. It is really frustrating. But sometimes home is frustrating.


HARRIS: Joe, put some meat on that bone for us, why are you so frustrated?

BUTLER: Well, you know, I think it is important to realize that we have got an amazing civic process going in New Orleans and that we have great groups working together from the state, the LRA, the Office of Recovery Management, the Unified New Orleans Plan.

What we see is civic groups really working hard to establish a presence and do the hard work. But, you know, at the end of the day we feel like we need a domestic Marshall Plan. And we would just like to make sure that the attention of the nation, and the intellectual capital and resources we need to rebuild this great city continue to flow in.

We are appreciative but we don't want you guys to forget about us. The work continues.

HARRIS: Well, Joe, do you feel like you have an effective partner in the public sector, state, city, federal government?

BUTLER: Well, yes, this is -- yes. I hear your question. This is a difficult time and we are all making up the solutions as we go. But, you know, the frustration is that it does not seem as if we have a lack of resources to be able to do the job. It is just sometimes we wonder whether or not the full commitment is there on a federal level...

HARRIS: What does that mean?

BUTLER: ... to do it to the degree...

HARRIS: What does that mean? Give me an example of why you would question that?

BUTLER: Well, you know, we are very appreciative of the Bush administration, and the commitments he made in Jackson Square. But it is difficult to see the money on the ground here. And what we need is to be able to get to the capital and to make sure that it is flowing quickly and really into the hands of civic groups who are doing the heavy lifting.

HARRIS: Kawana, let me ask you, where are you living right now? And what does your future look like to you?

JASPER: Well, I'm living in the 7th Ward, I'm living at St. Anthony Street, not too far from the St. Bernard Housing Development. My future is very bright within because I'm going to fight. And I want the people to know that I'm going to fight as far as, you know, getting our displaced residents home and getting our units open and available to us because they are just sitting there deteriorating.

Katrina didn't do that. It is being done by HANO, you know, it is ridiculous. They have numbers of homeless people and we have buildings standing that are standing that are in good shape.

HARRIS: Does Joe understand your frustration? Joe seems to be telling us that things are working, but working slowly. Do you think he has a full and accurate picture of what someone like you is going through?

JASPER: No, I really don't think he has a full picture. Because HANO reached the media, they are not telling everything that's going on. They don't tell that they are not informing us of things that's going on with them such as proposals that are being made to tear down the development and putting up 170 units to (INAUDIBLE). Prior to Hurricane Katrina, they had 1,200 units, and 800 of them were available.

But like I said, it is just painting a picture, you know, that's not there.

HARRIS: And, Joe, I'm not trying to pit you against Kawana here. And I know you won't take the bait, even if I wanted to. But respond to her frustration, if you would, please.

BUTLER: Well, I think it is important to know that we are all in this together. And when the citizens spoke about what they want in the recovery of this city, it was clear everyone understood that public housing was important and that you can't build a city without a mixed income group of people.

But I think the issue more importantly is that the dialogue has to be continuous in a way such that she knows what's going on and I know what's going on with her. And it is not a blame game, but instead to say that we are dealing with significant issues that need everyone's attention.

And unfortunately, from a civic perspective, we haven't been able to clearly articulate a single path in a program yet. And I think that has hurt us on a national level. And I agree with her, the political corruption is disappointing.

But again, we are going to keep to the fight and what is most important is that we have opportunities like you are giving us to continue this dialogue.

HARRIS: Joe Butler, Kawana Jasper, boy, that was great. Thank you both, thanks for your time this morning. And keep up the talking.

JASPER: Thanks for having me.

BUTLER: Thank you.

HARRIS: We are watching. We will check in.

You will want to check special coverage of the Katrina anniversary at See your I-Reports of rebuilding, 360 panoramic views of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and much more. Just go to

In addition, you can go to today for live coverage on the net of many Katrina-related events happening throughout the day.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: I'm Gerri Willis. Frustrated by the credit crunch? I will give you the tools you need to make your credit (INAUDIBLE) shine. That's next on "Top Tips" in the NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: Bad credit. One study says more Americans are worried about that than terrorism. How to max out your all-important credit score with CNN personal finance editor now, Gerri Willis. Gerri, nice to see you today.

WILLIS: Good to see you, Heidi.

COLLINS: So a lot of tips here to talk about. People do worry about their credit a whole lot.

WILLIS: That's right. As we have said before, you are entitled to a free credit report every year from Information like your past employers, tax links, bankruptcies, that's all listed on the report and you will be able to see who has pulled your credit report. Every time that happens, it affects your score.

And the most important part of your credit score is the account section, where all your accounts and debts are listed. You have got to make sure everything on that is right and up-to-date -- Heidi.

COLLINS: You also need to probably bump up your minimum payments, eventually you have got to get this thing paid off.

WILLIS: Well, you know, paying your bills on time is about one- third of your FICO score. However, you should concentrate not only on paying on time but paying more than the minimum payment. If you are only making minimum payments, you are losing points because your balances are slowly creeping towards your credit limit. To really improve that credit score you should only spend within 10 percent of your credit limit.

COLLINS: How about just saying no? Don't buy it. Don't charge it.


WILLIS: Well, that's another option. You know, one of the biggest mistakes people make is opening up retail store credit cards every time you open an account with a store to get that 10 percent discount. You give the retail store permission to pull your credit score. And this can be damaging to your report, especially if you have only had credit for a limited amount of time -- Heidi.

COLLINS: And finally, keep those cards? I'm not sure. What do you mean by that?

WILLIS: Well, I've got to tell you, don't close credit card accounts if you want to improve your score. Now that's because your score takes into account the difference between what credit you have available to you and what you are using. So if you shut down a credit card account, the total amount of your available credit is lowered and your balances look larger in comparison.

Plus, there is a chance your credit history will appear shorter than it is if you close down old accounts and that would have a negative impact on your score.

COLLINS: All right. And finally, you say that we should really be thinking about making sure that our debts are erased after a few years. I mean, you can really sort of redeem yourself, if you will.

WILLIS: That's -- well, bad things happen to good people. But, most debts, except for bankruptcies, are erased after seven years. If you had a few delinquent payments you can raise your credit score to above average. Just think, if you raise your credit score, Heidi, only 45 points you can save over $82,000 in total interest charges on a $230,000 fixed rate mortgage loan.

So, big savings out there for you if you do the right thing. And, if you have a question you would like answered, send us an email to We answer them here every Friday and we love to hear from you.

COLLINS: All right, Gerri. Thanks so much. Sounds good.

WILLIS: My pleasure.

COLLINS: Good morning, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins.

HARRIS: And, I'm Tony Harris. Welcome back everyone to the CNN NEWSROOM. Remembering the horror, New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast to mark the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. This sunrise service taking place in Waveland, Mississippi.

Other services are being held across the region this morning. Including this memorial ground breaking in New Orleans as part of the anniversary. President Bush is visiting both areas today. On that dreadful day in 2005, Katrina made landfall early in the morning south of New Orleans.

It flooded 80 percent of the city then took aim at coastal Mississippi. It's high winds and incredible storm surge flattened much of the states 70-mile shoreline. After it was over the body count was shocking. More than 1,800 people killed in Louisiana and Mississippi. Katrina, the worst natural disaster in American history.

COLLINS: Just moments from now, we expect to hear from President Bush. The President in New Orleans this hour, and so is White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux. Suzanne, good morning to you. Tell us about what is on the President's agenda today.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Heidi really this day is all about the President trying to show that he is ultimately going to deliver on that promise he made at Jackson Square two years ago, bringing this city back. Back and better than it was before here. This is his 15th visit, but a lot of people here in New Orleans, residents believe that this is really just a show.

We have heard from aides of the White House who say look or (ph) point to the federal dollars in the tune of 114 billion dollars going towards recovery in the region, as well as the levees rebuilding, refortifying those levees. We saw yesterday those pictures that they want to show, the pretty pictures of progress.

We saw the kisses and the hugs between the President and Governor Blanco, as well as Mayor Ray Nagin here. But, there is still a great deal of skepticism and frustration here, Heidi, from the residents that recovery has taken so slow.

What we are going to see in a couple of minutes here is a moment of silence by the President and the First Lady at one of the charter schools that's just beginning to open. Again, trying to point out the progress that has taken place in the last two years -- Heidi?

COLLINS: Suzanne, I know that you have a lot much personal ties to New Orleans. Tell us a little bit about -- so we get a better picture of people of -- your relatives, what they are doing. How they are feeling two years later.

MALVEAUX: Sure. You may remember it was -- Vernon (ph) the artist we did a little feature on him. He lost moments of his paintings, his life work inside the house under eight feet of water. It was restored by a group of people, volunteers who were kind enough to do that. Well, I went back, I visited with Vernon and his brothers, Adrian (ph) and many of the cousins there.

The most frustrating for them here, two years later is, they are doing all the right things here. They are working hard. They are applying for grant money. And what you see here is one of those brothers lost his home, four-bedroom home, completely gutted. And, they are living in trailers that are on the front lawn, the back lawn of the property there.

Waiting for some grant money from the state to come through that will allow them to finally rebuild and get their lives going forward. That is the most frustrating thing. It takes a lot of patience and hard work, Heidi. Simply to stay here in New Orleans. It is a big price to pay. But, ultimately this is their home. They want to feel like there is a place they can call home again -- Heidi?

COLLINS: Yes, wow. Such gorgeous artwork as well. Such determination. We appreciate it. Suzanne Malveaux for us from New Orleans today. Thanks, Suzanne. Also want to remind you about the moment of silence that we will be honoring here at CNN. It will happen at ten 10:38 coming up shortly. This now, more pictures live from the memorial groundbreaking.

There is going to be a memorial and mausoleum that is going to be erected here. This is at the Charity Hospital -- excuse me, Charity Cemetery. So, shortly after the moment of silence, the President will also be speaking. He will be talking mostly about the rebuilding efforts and what happened and what still needs to happen on his 15th trip to New Orleans. We will bring it all to you here on CNN.


COLLINS: On this two-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we are watching Mayor Ray Nagin and General Russell Honore preparing for a moment of silence and ringing of the bells. President Bush is also nearby. We are looking at this -- shots coming to us out of Charity Hospital Cemetery. We will hear a series of bells that will ring. We believe the mayor will be doing that.

It is supposed to signify when the levees broke. Just about ready to get underway, and then a moment of silence shortly after.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Place of hope, and that's the school. And so, we are honored that you would welcome us. We love being with your teachers and your students. Thanks for being here. Governor, thanks for coming. Governor Kathleen Blanco is an educational reformer, she has done what leaders are supposed to do.

When she sees a problem, address them head on, and pass law and budget necessary to achieve educational excellence. And, you've done so governor, congratulations to your leadership. I'm proud to be with the Congressman. Jeff (ph) thanks for coming. We care deeply about the students of this district and we are glad you are here.

I do want to thank Don Powell for joining us. Don is the recovery man who represents the White House and the administration here in Washington -- in Louisiana from Washington. I thank you for your service. I appreciate the state education superintendent, Pastorek. Superintendent, thanks for coming. He has got a vision of excellence for the schools in New Orleans and for Louisiana. He shared that vision with us earlier.

I appreciate Paul Vallas, superintendent here in New Orleans for his willingness to take on this challenge ...

MYR. RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: We will ring the bells today for the 1,700, 1,800 people who have gone on to a better place. We ring the bells for a city that's in recovery, that is struggling, that is performing miracles on a daily basis. We ring the bells for hope that the promise that was made at Jackson Square will become a reality and will restore confidence in government at all levels.

We ring the bells for our elderly, those who suffer and continue to try and come home. We ring the bell for our young people, for the young who cry every time there is a hard thunderstorm, because they are afraid that another storm is coming. We ring the bell for the unborn kids who will be here in the future and will be part of this great city.

COLLINS: As we heard the final words from Mayor Ray Nagin there on this series of bells to signify when those levees broke and also to remember the nearly 1,800 people who's lives that were lost.

We transition over to President Bush, who is at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology. He's been talking with education officials, and we expect him very shortly here to make a statement about New Orleans and the rebuilding efforts that are going on. Let's listen in for just a moment.


BUSH: ... resources, allocated -- about 80 percent of the funds have been dispersed or available. And, of course, Don and I will try to work through the bureaucracy in Washington, just like folks down here are trying to work through the bureaucracy to make sure that there are adequate plans for the money.

And so we're working through this kind of collaborative effort of federal, state and local folks working together to make sure the taxpayers' money is spent wisely on priorities.

But there's been a commitment and a strong commitment. A lot of people down here probably wondered whether or not those of us in the federal government not from Louisiana would pay attention to Louisiana or Mississippi.

In other words, it's one thing to come and give a speech in Jackson Square; it's another thing to keep paying attention to whether or not progress is being made.

And I hope people understand we do. We're still paying attention. We understand.

One of Don Powell's jobs is to make sure that the federal government understands the hurdles that remain for recovery. One hurdle was the levee system. We fully understand that New Orleans can't be rebuilt until there's confidence in the levees. It's one thing to plan, it's another thing to convince people that the levees will work.

And there's been a lot of effort by the Army Corps of Engineers. As a matter of fact, Don Powell announced the other day that we're going to complete work to improve storm and flood protection infrastructure to a 100-year protection level by 2011.

That's a commitment. And it's an important commitment to make.

We're also going fund a $1.3 million network of interior drainage projects to ensure the area has better hurricane protection. It is our federal responsibility -- the levee system is a federal responsibility and we'll meet our responsibility. And obviously we want to work together with the sate and local governments as well. It's a collaborative effort.

One of the things Kathleen and I have been working on a long time is wetlands restoration. In order to provide more protection for the folks down here, we gotta get a bill out of the Congress. And there's an opportunity now for Louisiana to have the cash funds necessary to begin a serious and subsidy -- wetlands restoration program.

I appreciate the fact that Al Gonzales was down yesterday talking about how the federal government can help on local law enforcement matters. I firmly believe that local law enforcement is just that: local. It requires a commitment by the local folks to hold people to account for crime.

But the federal government can help. So Al was down yesterday announcing an opening of a family justice center to help the victims of domestic violence.

V.A. is going to build a medical center in downtown New Orleans as part of the federal commitment to helping people here recover. And so I come telling the folks in this part of the world we still understand the problems. And we're still engaged. And Don will continue to make sure that we listen and respond when possible.

But let me talk about the school system. There is nothing more hopeful than a good school system. And I firmly believe that excellence in education is going to be the leading edge of change for New Orleans.

Margaret Spellings, who's the secretary of education, understands this concept. The government has provided Louisiana with more than $700 million in emergency education funds to help not only the public school system but also the parochial school system. And that's money well spent.

It's money spent on construction. It's money spent on creating incentives for teachers to return. It's money to make sure children who went to other school districts -- those school districts got reimbursed.

It was good money spent. Because education needs to be the number one priority of the state, just like Kathleen Blanco has made that the priority.

New Orleans is about to open 80 schools, nearly 80 schools this fall. That's a remarkable achievement. Nearly half of which happen to be charter schools.

I believe in freedom to manage and accountability to make sure everybody learns. And that's the essence of the charter school movement -- freedom to manage, but accountability to make sure no child gets left behind. And that's the spirit of the superintendent -- both superintendents here.

They believe in high expectations and measuring. It's what I call challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations. If you don't believe that somebody can learn, you'll set low expectations.

If you believe every child can learn, you'll raise the expectations, and then you'll insist upon measurement to make sure that each child is tracked, that we disaggregate results -- that's a fancy word for making sure that we understand whether or not each school is meeting certain standards. And then help for those that aren't, changes for those that aren't, and praise for those that are.

And we're at MLK and we're here to heap praise.


This will be the first public school to open in the Lower Ninth Ward. It is a tribute to volunteers, concerned parents and citizens who care about education.

It is a tribute to the fact that there's teachers who taught in makeshift classrooms during renovations. In other words, they care about the buildings, but they care more about education and were willing to teach no matter what the circumstances may be. And they -- it's a tribute to a principal who had a clear vision.


And so we're here to herald excellence and to thank the good folks in this community for supporting this school with the understand that this school is one of the great beacons for hope.

I what to thank the educational entrepreneurs who have joined us, those who are in the process of helping find new teachers, teachers -- there was a great concern, obviously, when schools reopening as to whether or not there'd be enough teachers. And people responded. People responded to the call to help provide at a grassroots level the support necessary to encourage people to teach; teachNOLA is such an example. If you're interested in being a teacher from around the country, get on the Internet on teachNOLA and you'll find opportunities to come here to Washington -- to New Orleans to teach.

We've got somebody from Washington who came down to help rally support for the school system.

Teach For America is active in this community.

Charter school system, by the way, spawns all kinds of different opportunities for people to be involved with schools. I think of Kip McDonough (ph) (INAUDIBLE) School. It's a high standard school.

It is a school that says, you know, "If there are rules that prevent us from teaching, we'll try to figure out how to get around them, because what matters more than anything is teaching a child."

I was in impressed that when they got in the school system there -- when they first got going in this particular school, they extended the school day with class every other Saturday.

They said, "What does it take to catch up? What do we need to do to meet standards?"

And the principal -- the former principal put it this way: It took a hurricane to speed up and really jump-start the reform efforts in New Orleans.

In other words, a hurricane was disastrous in many reasons, but it also gave a great opportunity for a new way forward seized by the governor and the superintendents and the principals, by the way.

Now, Laura and I care a lot about the libraries. That's why we're dedicating books. We're proud to be a part of the rebuilding of this library. Laura's got a foundation and has established a Gulf Coast Library Recovery Initiative, all aiming to make sure that these libraries are stocked with these books.

You ought to apply to her foundation, by the way. I think you...


(APPLAUSE) I think you'll have a good opportunity.


I'll try to work it for you.


I'll never forget one time when I was governor of Texas, a woman looked at me and she said, "Reading is the new civil right." It had a profound impact on the policies that we have pursued since I have been in public office and Laura's pursuit as a life-long reader.

And that person was right. We got to start making sure these youngsters can read at grade level and stay reading at grade level. No better way to send a message that that is a commitment by making sure the libraries are stocked.

I want to share a story with you about a woman named Rebecca Johnfreau (ph) who is here.

Where are you Rebecca?

There you go. Thanks for coming.

She was a Boston architect. She studied to become an architect.

And she was in a firm. But she is from New Orleans. And she started thinking about the community she loved.

And so she said: I needed to act and I'm ready to act. And she came back to be a teacher. She left a promising career as a architect to come back to a community that is dear to her heart.

It's that spirit, by the way, that is going to allow me to predict with certainty New Orleans' betters days are ahead for the New Orleans people.

I mean, this is a -- and there stories like Rebecca all over this community; people who've heard a call to come back and help. No better way to help, by the way, than to teach.

But there are all kinds of different ways people can help the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast recover. You can contribute to the NGOs or the local organizations that are still helping heal hearts. You can help with sending books to schools. You can get on Web sites to determine where the needs are.

And if you're a citizen of this country who cares about making sure this part of the region fully recovers, please participate. Please find a way to help and continue to do so.

Governor, I'm honored you're here. Laura and I are thrilled to be in this school. We're really pleased that the MLK School has given us an opportunity to herald excellence. We care deeply about the folks in this part of the world. We ask for God's blessings on the families who still hurt and suffer. And we thank God for recovery efforts that thus far taken place.

Thank you for your time.


OK, thanks for coming.

Step up here; let's get a picture. Come on.

COLLINS: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology. Talking mostly about schools, he did say nothing more hopeful than a good school system. Again, visiting this school for science and technology in New Orleans.

Does say that, "We're still engaged," meaning the federal government, I understand. Also asking people to contribute to various charities if they would like to help with the rebuilding and reconstruction of New Orleans.

Just a few moments prior to this, we've been telling you about the moment of silence. Let's go ahead and take a look at that as the president observes.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please stand and bow your heads and join in a moment of silence as we reflect on the events of the past and look toward the rebuilding and renewal of the future of our beloved city.





COLLINS: Moment of silence there observed by the president and first lady lady and several people at the Martin Luther King Jr. Charter School for Science and Technology.

HARRIS: CNN's Soledad O'Brien live from the site of this morning's Katrina Memorial groundbreaking ceremony, remembering the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Soledad, great to see you. Good morning.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you very much, and likewise.

You're hearing behind me the sounds of the one New Orleans choir. There have been intermittent musical interludes as they continue with this memorial service, this groundbreaking. We're on the grounds of Charity Hospital Cemetery. A long time ago, Charity Hospital actually was located here. It's a cemetery where the poor, the indigent were interred, and they're doing the groundbreaking today because they're going to inter the remains of 100 people who's remains were never claimed. In some cases, never identified after Hurricane Katrina.

A moment ago, we heard something quite remarkable which was the bell ringing ceremony. They handed out, on every chair, a bell like this. If you come back to me, and that's not the shot you're looking at, I'll tell you, it's a little blue bell. And to hear everybody shake their bell, it was a most remarkable sound. It went on for two minutes to commemorate the time when the levees failed. It was quite a remarkable thing to hear.

As has been -- I have to tell you, the music. Of course, New Orleans is known for its music. At the same time, they're laying wreaths on the levees at the points of the breaches -- same reason, to really mark the terrible failure that affected the city in such a tremendous way.

They are wrapping up this event here and they're going to continue with a number of events across the city today. It's been a pretty -- interesting thing to see some of the key issues that keep coming out. You saw President Bush talking about education. New Orleans public schools were a mess before the storm. Some people have seen it as an opportunity to rebuild.

A lot of what we heard here was coming back. Lieutenant General Russel Honore was here, and he spoke a little bit about that. Take a listen.


LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, CMDR., KATRINA JOINT TASK FORCE: You made a choice, and you've come back home. This notion of rebuild and recovery is one that will require a lot of teamwork. And as we look to the future, let us remember the lessons of Katrina, and say to ourselves never again.


O'BRIEN: We also heard from Mayor Nagin who also talked about the people of New Orleans, and the -- his estimate is 300,000 who have come back.

But for people who are here, here's the issue. Will the levees be safe? Is it worthwhile to return, invest your money in your house, your family and your business if the levees aren't safe? And will the crime problem here be solved?

Again, if the crime problem spreads into really affecting innocent civilians, will people move back if the middle class here does not come back, the city is doomed to failure. It truly is regardless of what the mayor says and regardless of what the president says. Back to you.

HARRIS: Huge, huge challenges, Soledad. I got to tell you, in my book, it's great to see Russel Honore there -- and he feels like ...

O'BRIEN: He ...

HARRIS: ...a hero to me in those initial days. You know it as well as I do, he is the guy who stepped up, knees, elbows, feet, and toes, jumped into the mess and tried to bring some sense to it all.

O'BRIEN: And to see him, I mean his speech today ...


O'BRIEN: ...riveting, riveting.

HARRIS: Great to see you. Soledad, great to see you.

COLLINS: There is still a long road ahead for New Orleans and the Mississippi coast. And if you would like to make a difference, you still can, it's not too late. As part of our Impact Your World Campaign, just go to There, you will find a number of resources for the Gulf Coast recovery.

We will be following the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, two years ago for the rest of the day here on CNN.