Return to Transcripts main page


Hostage Tale; Road to Recovery; California Ablaze

Aired July 5, 2008 - 16:00   ET


RICHARD LUI, CNN ANCHOR: Firefighters so busy they have not slept in days. Thousands of people forced to get out of fire's way. We're taking you to one of the worst of California's many flare-ups. Then the perfect rescue mission. Not a drop of blood but many, many tears along the way. Sudden freedom caught all on tape. And New Orleans Convention Center then and now. The place was chaos central after Katrina. And even three years later the nightmare lingers. Hi, I'm Richard Lui.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to the NEWSROOM. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in New Orleans.

LUI: And I'm Richard Lui right here is Atlanta.

Fred will be right back with us in just a minute with more reports coming out of New Orleans. It is 1:00 p.m. in California about the time coastal breezes begin to pick up. That's not good news for the thousands of people whose homes are in the path of wildfires. The one we're watching the closest for you, the gap fire, in Santa Barbara county. CNN's Kara Finnstrom is there for us right now.

KARA FINNSTROM, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the big concern for firefighters, the big unknown as they continue to battle this wildfire is the wind. We have been watching continues water drops on these smoldering hillsides behind us as firefighters try to prepare as best they can for those big wind gusts which are expected to start up later this afternoon. I want to show you some video of what happened as those started up late yesterday. You can see some towering flames. Those force new evacuations right now. Firefighters tell us that about 3,200 homes remain threatened. Just below us here are about 35 of those homes and a small community here. And actually, the local volunteer fire department has come out and really trying to take a stand to protect this community. I want to show you some video we took yesterday of firefighters, local volunteer firefighters, about 12 of them, trying to put foam on these roofs, trying to water them down. Joining us live now is one of the gentlemen who helps head it all up, Ted Adams. We appreciate you joining us. Why the need for these local volunteer firefighters to come out and we see the big planes and the forces coming in from across the state, federal resources coming in?

TED ADAMS, HOMEOWNER: Well, at the beginning of these fires the resources are stretched to the limit. There are few local resources, not enough so that they can address the problem when there's a large frontal fire like this. So what happens is that we went head and started our own volunteer fire department. And so we can respond quickly to these disasters and help the residents evacuate and do the work we need to do to protect the homes against these frontal fires.

FINNSTROM: A lot of these men that are involved with these firefight down there that I met, these are their homes on the line. They've taken a number of steps to try to and communicate better when this type of risk confronts them. Talk to us about that.

ADAMS: Well, what we've done is, first of all, we started the volunteer fire department. And then we went ahead and got a website together so that we can advise the residents when there's a fire. They can go to the resources and find out what's going on. Then we found that we were unable to get a lot of information. So we started our own radio station. We got an A.M. radio station that covers just the mountaintop, similar to the ones that function at the airports. You know, you can tune in to the radio station and then we've got bulletins and we can talk to the people live about the things they need to do to protect their homes and themselves.

FINNSTROM: All right. Thank you so much for joining us. A very personal side for that group of firefighters. Back to you.

LUI: Kara, great interviews today. Thank you so much. Kara Finnstrom there in southern California. Let's move over now to Bonnie Schneider in the weather center watching what's happening out of southern California. Bonnie, we've got to be looking at winds as well as how much moisture we might have in the air.

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Right. And we'll start off with the moisture because we're still getting that marine layer coming in. The problem is it's not helping as much as we'd like because the winds are going to pick up when the sun sets. So sundowner winds are what firefighters are concerned about. You can see a little bit of moisture coming in to northern California. Every little will help but temperatures are very hot in and around Santa Barbara county. The winds are fairly light at this time, but they're likely to see higher gusts as we go through the day.

I also want to point out that temperatures are on the rise in the days to come. Not so much this weekend. But in San Francisco, you can see the numbers are going up, Tuesday and Wednesday. But in Sacramento, wow, the heat will really start to soar on Monday and Tuesday. So, this is not the forecast that the firefighters want to see. And also the winds pick up a bit on Monday as well. So now that is time they're trying to get the most they can in terms of getting a handle on the situation. Because the weather will get worse at the start of next week.

We also have the threat for fire danger further to the east, well into Utah, into Colorado where wildfires have been burning as well. Next stop is the tropics. And it's still early in hurricane season, very early to have a tropical storm develop here off the African coastline. But we're watching closely because Bertha is likely to become a hurricane as early as Tuesday. Richard, I'll have a lot more on that later on.

LUI: Early for Bertha, also early out west. It's really quite a season, isn't. SCHNEIDER: Absolutely.

LUI: OK. Thanks a lot there, Bonnie.

You know, overwhelmed with emotion. That's how three American contractors are describing their newfound freedom. The three were among the 15 hostages rescued Wednesday in a daring undercover operation by Colombia troops. They're now being debriefed and evaluated. Our Susan Roesgen looks at their incredible story.


SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As their small plane lost power over the Colombian jungle, American Keith Stansell made the mayday call for help.

KEITH STANSELL, FMR. AMERICAN HOSTAGE: Mutt zero one is declaring mayday. We have lost engine.

ROESGEN: Those were Stansell's last words as a free man. His captors made this video, released a few months later.

STANSELL: I heard gunshots and the FARC were on the ground. They were shooting into the air.

ROESGEN: This is exclusive CNN video obtained from the Colombian recovery team. Near the plane wreckage a Colombian intelligence officer and the American pilot Tom Janis were found shot to death. Keith Stansell and two other Americans, Thomas Howes and Marc Gonzalves, civilian workers for a defense contractor on a U.S. surveillance mission were taken hostage.

The rebels are leftist guerrilla fighters who have been trying for 40 years to overthrow Colombia's government. They're believed to have more than 700 hostages right now hidden away in makeshift camps like this one. Hostages who have escaped described being chained up in the neck, kept in the most primitive and cruel conditions.

JHON FRANK PINCHAO, FREED HOSTAGE: These chains were placed under lock and key. They put them on at 6:00 p.m.. We had to sleep in them. There were months that we had to wear them for 24 hours.

ROESGEN: Although the world knew what was happening, the tough U.S. policy of not negotiating with terrorists meant the three Americans seem to have little chance of ever getting out. And only rarely were they able to record messages for their families back home.

MARC GONZALVES: I love you too and I want you to know that I am being strong.

KEITH STANSELL: I miss my family more than anything. When I feel like sometimes not going on, I think in my mind of my 11-year-old son.

ROESGEN: Imagine that you're a son, or daughter, or wife or parent and these images are all you've seen. The hostages had even less to keep them going. After an amazing rescue by the Colombian government, the Americans are home. What we can tell them about what they've missed these last five years and what they can tell us about what they've endured, should be an incredible story.


ROESGEN (voice-over): And today here at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, the men are being evaluated. They're getting psychological and emotional evaluations and they're also being reacquainted with their families and getting reacclimated to freedom. When you think about this, Richard, in those five years that they were captive, they missed some huge stories in this country. Hurricane Katrina had not happened, there was no youtube or Facebook then. A gallon of gas when they were captured in '03 cost $1.50. And the Iraq war had not even started, Richard. So these men have a lot of catching up to do.

LUI: A good point. Culture shock for many of them there. Susan, let's talk about his. Although 15 now have been rescued, shall we say, have gotten away. There's still an ongoing war between the FARC and the Colombian government. And there's over 700 still hostages believed to be there according to the Colombian government. What does this mean?

ROESGEN: Well, what some people are saying is that you know, the code name translated in English, the code name for this rescue operation, this Columbian rescue operation was Operation Checkmate. And what military analysts are saying is that the most valuable pawns that the Colombian rebels had were the three Americans and Ingrid Betancourt. Now without them, most military analysts were saying is that the most valuable pawns that the rebels have lost a huge bargaining chip in their ongoing chess game, in their ongoing power struggle with the Colombian government. So, it's expected to help the government quite a bit.

LUI: OK. Susan Roesgen, live in San Antonio. Thank you, Susan.

Next hour, we'll give you an insider's look at the incredible acting job that became the perfect rescue operation. That's at 5:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

And new evidence out of Zimbabwe of alleged vote rigging in last week's president runoff. A prison guard shot some video on a camera supplied by British newspaper "The Guardian." It appears to show a man from President Robert Mugabe's party herding the guard and his co- workers them into a room. He then instructs them on who they should vote for and keeps an eye on their ballots along the way. This tape was smuggled out of the country. The guard who shot it has fled with his family. Next hour we'll have a live report with the latest on that video.

And some strong reaction to the tape from the White House for you. Spokesman Tony Fratto saying "there should be no question in anyone's mind that Mugabe was not elected by the people. He used corruption, intimidation and violence to keep this election from being free and fair, as the evidence seems to show every day." Going on to say, "the international community should stand together in recognizing that the election was a sham and Mugabe is not the legitimate leader of Zimbabwe.

OK. You know, it's day two of the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. The star-studded event features plenty of music, but it also focuses attention on many issues in the post-Katrina era including politics and the economy, just to start. Our Fredricka Whitfield is at the festival and joins us live. Hey, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Hey there, Richard. All right, entertainment and engaging dialogue all at the forefront of the 14th annual Essence Music Festival. At the bottom of the hour, a live report, a full 30 minutes from New Orleans here on all those topics that you just spoke of and much more straight ahead. Richard.

LUI: Looking forward to that. Thanks, Fred.

The Rocket's red glare sparks a ferocious 5th of July fire. 100 are homeless. The suspected cause people trying to have a blast for independence day.


LUI: And in news across America, fourth of July fireworks are suspected in an apartment fire that's left 100 people homeless. This blaze broke out early this morning in Toledo, Ohio. Eight buildings were destroyed. The Red Cross and Salvation Army are pitching in to help the residents there.

Salmonella in the salsa? That's what the FDA is now looking into. It's widening a Salmonella probe beyond tomatoes to include cilantro and some types of onions and peppers. The most recent case was reported just two weeks ago. And that's fueling fears here the outbreak has not been contained as of yet. And one thing that you can count on this holiday weekend, even higher gas prices. Sorry to tell you that. AAA says the price of a gallon of regular is up to $4.10. That's six days in a row of new record highs. That's more than $1.15 higher than one year ago.

This weekend, CNN and UNICEF present the "Survival Project, one child at a time." It's a look at efforts to protect the world's most precious gift, our children. In Lima, Peru, new mothers are now having mandatory HIV tests to protect their newborns. Here's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: In Peru, at least 1,500 children live with HIV-AIDS. As I will show you, UNICEF hopes to drive that number down starting with new mothers like Adelaida Delgado. What you're witnessing here is very, very important. What they're doing is doing a rapid test, trying to figure out if Adelaida here, is in fact, HIV positive. Just had this baby a couple of hours ago. If in fact this test comes back in 30 minutes as being positive, that means this baby new shot be breastfed and should only be formula fed for the next six months.

The first priority is diagnose and treat as early as possible. What now happens here, every woman coming into any maternal-child health clinic is tested for HIV. No questions asked, no exceptions. For Adelaida, it's good news. She tests negative. It does not mean that some of these stories aren't very heartbreaking.

For example, this little seven=month old boy was abandoned here after his mother tested positive for HIV. We don't even know if the boy has HIV or not but no orphanage will take him for the next 18 months. For the time being he's sort of stuck.

FLORENCE BAUER, UNICEF PERU: The impact of UNICEF is every child who are HIV positives, the right steps can be taken.

GUPTA: The right steps in Peru? Stopping an epidemic before it ever begins. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Lima, Peru.


LUI: You can watch the "Survival Project, One child at a Time," tomorrow night at 8:00 Eastern. The joint program from CNN and UNICEF is hosted by our Dr. Sanjay Gupta. It brings you the compelling stories of children at risk from all around the world. And we know, you would like to help too. You can read more about the global initiative to protect children at There is a special section on the "Impact your world" page dedicated to the survival project we've been telling you about.

It's a health problem striking millions of Americans. Blurred vision, weight loss, sweating, feeling panicked and moody? Who wouldn't be with those symptoms?


LUI: So which major city has the best fireworks? What do you think? Here's New York City, the original capital city on the fourth of July. And then we take you over to Philadelphia, the nation's birthplace. What do you think? And here's a finale for you. Fireworks above Los Angeles. They all look good, don't they? We hope everyone had themselves a fun fourth of July no matter where you did that across the country.

Do you know which gland in your body keeps you cool or hot? It's your thyroid. And maintaining a comfortable body temperature is not its only responsible. Our Judy Fortin has more in today's "Health for Her" segment.

JUDY FORTIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As many as 27 million people may be afflicted with it and only half of them know it. But the misfiring of one of your body's main hormone factory, the thyroid gland can affect you in places you would never expect.

DR. KAREN E. SMITH, ENDOCRINOLOGIST: Basically the thyroid is like a furnace and it actually controls everything from head to toe. When the furnace is off, it can either be cold or it can be overactive.

FORTIN: And an off thyroid either makes too much or too little of two very important hormones known as T-3 and T-4. While most have a problem with a lazy thyroid, one that makes too little of those hormones commonly known as hypothyroidism, about one percent of all Americans suffer from the opposite, an overzealous thyroid or hyperthyroidism.

SMITH: I tell my patients it's like a forest fire in California, it's burning everything up.

FORTIN: And the symptoms are pretty much a body out of control.

SMITH: Some people say they feel like they're crazy. Their mood can change. They're always worrying or they're very anxious. A very common symptom is heart racing. They just feel like their heart is beating out of their chest. Sweat, not gaining weight.

FORTIN: A genetic condition, meaning that you're born with it. Hyperthyroidism can affect both men and women but women are at greater risk. A blood test can determine if you have it and the problem is highly treatable.

SMITH: There's actually three ways to treat it. Surgery was a way that we treated it in the past. We don't necessarily need to do surgery anymore unless someone has a nodule and you're thinking that it's a suspicious cell or cancer. Then surgery for that individual. But normally what we're using now are thyroid medications called anti- thyroid medications which will slow down the production of thyroid production. Or something called radioactive iodine. It is actually a substance that when you give it, it actually will damage the thyroid to help put out the fire, so to speak.

FORTIN: Doctors recommend women and men over the age of 35 be screened regularly to see if those hormones are raging. Too hot or too cold. Judy Fortin, CNN, Atlanta.


LUI: New Orleans has come a long way since Katrina but the journey is not over. Our Fredricka Whitfield has been following the story all week for us. Hey, Fred, how are you doing?

WHITFIELD: Hi, Richard. We'll delve into issues impacting people here in New Orleans and across America in our half hour special taking place right after this.


WHITFIELD (voice-over): New Orleans, the birthplace of American music, is once again home to the Essence Music Festival. As this city faces its toughest challenges, so does the nation. A struggling economy, education and disrepair, and the politics of color. Issues tackled today live from New Orleans.

WHITFIELD (on-camera): Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield here in the NEWSROOM, but this time at the Essence Music Festival in New Orleans. This weekend's festival celebrates the long tradition of American music in New Orleans. But it also gives us an opportunity to take a close look at the status of African-American families here nearly three years after hurricane Katrina. So during the next half hour, we will be talking about the economy, politics and, of course, the musicians. Pretty hard to believe that it was three years ago in this convention center was the center of chaos, confusion and calamity.

Well, today conventions including this one, well, they seem to be back in New Orleans. But even though there are few visible signs of what took place here, some New Orleanians find it very hard to come back to this address.


WHITFIELD (voice-over): Raymond Cooper would rather not ever come here again. Why?

RAYMOND COOPER, KATRINA COOPER: Because it's just too much memories here. Too much looking at all the different people who lost their lives here.

WHITFIELD: For four days, he and the crush of thousands of New Orleanians withered while waiting for help here. Now, cleaned up and back in the business of hosting conventions and meetings, the convention center shows no signs of the nightmare that unfolded here.

COOPER: We wished that, you know, the convention center would have some pictures or something like that.

WHITFIELD: The nightmare he lived is still vivid -- and he thinks it's important no one ever forgets. His was a role we'll never forget.

COOPER: After I saw where help wasn't going to come, and I felt, hey, I've got to do something to help, you know, myself as well as the people that I had with me.

WHITFIELD: Are you comfortable with going inside here?

COOPER: Yes. Come on. I'll show you where I slept at. It wasn't really boiling hot. It was just a stand-still type heat. We slept right up in here.

WHITFIELD (on camera): So, when you decide to walk up these stairs, at this point, you were just kind of bored and just moving around? You didn't expect to actually find anything because you weren't looking for anything, right?

COOPER: It was that and just being nosey, like, I've never been up here anyway. I walked around here.

WHITFIELD: When you passed these pay phones. Those red phones on that wall. They're not working.

Then --

COOPER: Here it is here. The phone was sitting right here where the glass is at. I just opened the door and went on in and pressed the button. WHITFIELD: It worked. He calls his old extension at his former employer, CNN in Atlanta, ending up on air live along with then FEMA Director Michael Brown.

COOPER: You got two old ladies that just had died. People are dragging the bodies into little corners.

WHITFIELD: What were you thinking, like this can't be happening?

COOPER: It was like, I've got to say, it was a blessing.

WHITFIELD: Soon after, help finally arrived. Today, Raymond Cooper counts his blessings and sees this convention center as both a symbol of all that went wrong and the potential for a city's recovery.

COOPER: It's just the beginning. You have to start somewhere.


WHITFIELD: African-American families bore the brunt of Katrina's fury. They lost their homes, their jobs and are still trying to get back on their feet. Dr. Julianne Malveaux joins me to talk about the rebuilding effort and the economic plight that many black families face now. She's president of Bennett College For Women in Greensboro, North Carolina. Good to see you, doctor. Do you think New Orleans and so much of what black families went through here is really a microcosm of the state of black families in America?

JULIANNE MALVEAUX, PRESIDENT, BENNETT COLLEGE FOR WOMEN: Absolutely. You know, it's very interesting to look at Katrina in retrospect and realize how it showed the economic vulnerability of our people.

In other words, the level of poverty meant that people weren't mobile. People had not planned for there to be so many immobile people. The level of poverty at the time that the storm hit meant that people were at the end of their month.

No money to move if they needed to. We still have very high poverty, Fredricka, as you know. It was very ironic in 2005 that the poverty data were released the day after Katrina and it showed almost a 12 percent poverty rate in America, almost 22 percent among African- Americans.

And we still see those very high poverty levels. We hadn't heard the word poverty from our Congress until 2005 and they still haven't focused.

WHITFIELD: It was almost as if it was a dirty secret. You know, people have not been publicly really talking openly about poverty, as if you just push it away and it doesn't exist.

MALVEAUX: Exactly. But now this economy forces us to talk about poverty. When you have gas at almost $5 a gallon, people are making certain kinds of decisions. Pass my prescriptions, do I go to work or not? Can I pick up my kids? I just interviewed a woman for a job who literally said I had a blessing this morning and therefore I was able to fill up my tank and come to see you. Food prices have been rising 1 percent a month.

WHITFIELD: And this is impacting the family in so many ways.

MALVEAUX: In crippling ways.

WHITFIELD: The choices that families are trying to make. Can I afford this, whether it's putting food on the table. Can I afford to take off work to take my kid to the doctor?

MALVEAUX: Exactly. And we've done very, very little to address this head-on. Of course we address in emergencies the foreclosure crisis and we've seen Congress deal with that. But what about renters who are having just as hard a time? What about people who are driving in cities where you don't have good public transportation systems? So we really see people being very distressed and we see a Congress in an election year paying less attention to this than they should. And then meanwhile, it hits home for me. College presidents, students are saying I can't come back to school because my parents can't borrow any more money.

WHITFIELD: That is heartbreaking, Dr. Julianne Malveaux, thanks so much.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, always a pleasure, keep up the good work.

WHITIFIELD: Appreciate you, thanks so much.

The black vote, certainly that will determine a lot come November. It helped Barack Obama win the Democratic nomination. Can John McCain woo any black voters into the Republican column in a big way?


WHITFIELD: Welcome back. I'm Fredricka Whitfield in New Orleans here at the Essence Music Festival. Yes, there are parties, there's music, hard-hitting panel discussions as well. And yes, lots of talk about this year's presidential race. In the Democratic primary, Barack Obama won the African-American vote by large margins. But black Americans have not always flocked to the polls for the Democratic Party candidate.


WHITFIELD (voice-over): Well before Barack Obama became the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, black Americans were solidly in the blue column. Polls show that nine out of 10 blacks vote Democrat.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I just think it's more representative of the working class people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The reason I chose to vote Democrat is because they open their arms to my ethnicity.

WHITFIELD: But before the 1960s redefined American politics, it was the Republicans who were identified with some of those same things. The party of Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist Frederick Douglas embraced blacks as equals while Democrats, especially in the south, supported segregation.

AUDRA GILLESPIE, EMORY UNIVERSITY: Also keep in mind that most former slave owners had been members of the Democratic Party. And so the Democratic Party in the south was maligned as the party of the slave's master as well.

WHITFIELD: So what changed? An upheaval in the Democratic Party after the second world war recast political allegiances.

GILLESPIE: That started in large part because in 1948, Harry Truman added civil rights to the Democratic Party platform. As you know, Strom Thurmond actually removed it from the party, thus beginning even though it really doesn't happen until the 1960s, the exit of some Democrats from the Democratic coalition into the Republican Party.

WHITFIELD: Today, just 10 percent of blacks say they plan to vote Republican. In the minority, Ken Blackwell, formerly Ohio's secretary of state.

KEN BLACKWELL, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: The reason I've been a Republican is because this is the party that believes in freedom. It believes in economic growth. It believes in the individual capacity to make a difference in his or her life. And it's individuals that are actually working in concert to change the course of history. I don't believe in big government. I don't believe in monopolies. I believe in the power of the private sector.

WHITFIELD: The economy, gas prices, the credit crunch, unemployment, all high on voters' minds this election season.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They know the voice and they know the struggle that a lot of middle income level and lower income people are going through. So with this war, with the Katrina situation, with gas prices, food prices.

WHITFIELD: Ken Blackwell, now with the conservative Family Research Council thinks the Republican solutions could appeal to African- Americans.

BLACKWELL: It would be a missed opportunity if one candidate or the other wouldn't show up and would begin to take the African-American vote for granted or in the case of a Republican, in this case John McCain, just to write off the African-American vote.

McCain is proving that he's not going to take that direction. He, in fact, is showing up, he is basically willing to stand before African- American voters and say, I care, this is what I believe.

WHITFIELD: Is this the year or the beginning of the period where there may be a new tide change?

Emory University's Audra Gillespie says that although Senator John McCain has an uphill struggle against Barack Obama, he's not turning his back on African-Americans. GILLESPIE: The fact that he's made overtures in the African-American community, in the heart of the traditional black belt in the American south, that doesn't necessarily mean that that will accrue votes for him, but it will accrue a certain amount of respect.


WHITFIELD: So how involved will African-Americans get in the upcoming election? Well, joining me are Jessica Texada and Sheena Adams. They are members of the Dillard University class of 2009. Dillard is a historically black liberal arts college here in New Orleans. Good to see you both of you. And boy, are you lucky or what? Because you're both going to be participating in the electoral process for the first time and here you have this historic vote, historic on both levels, Republican and Democrat. For the Republicans, it's the age factor. For the Democrats, it's the race factor.

So Jessica, for you, you are a registered Republican. What is it about the issues that attract you to McCain and the party?

JESSICA TEXADA, DILLARD UNIVERSITY: Actually, I'm not attracted to McCain by no means necessary.

WHITFIELD: Interesting. But the party, yes.

TEXADA: The party, yes. I am more focused on the independence issue. I don't feel as though anyone should be reliant on the government. I think you should have that individual option. As far as what attracted me to the party, it's the economic issues, the different policies that they're setting forth and as well as the Republican Party is the party of my ancestors.

WHITFIELD: It is indeed. So you're no longer married to these issues and these policies of the parties and at the same time, you're not supporting McCain or what's changed here?

TEXADA: What's changed is the education factor. I've been reading a lot and he says you should switch parties when you feel as though that party is not connected to you. You should switch parties when you feel as though they're not representing your needs. Right now, I do not feel as though the Republican Party is representing my needs as a young African-American voter. I definitely don't.

WHITFIELD: What is it about the Democratic Party that appeals to you?

SHEENA ADAMS, DILLARD UNIVERSITY: Well, I feel as though the Democratic, as Jessica said, the Republicans have been in our history before. And I feel like the Democratic Party is a good party as far as representation of minorities. They've been doing a good job thus far as representation.

And with the new election that we have, like you have stated before, it is a historical event. We do have Barack Obama, a male and a black male for president and a woman for the president. Both of them are on the Democratic ticket, which brings more attractiveness to the Democratic Party. WHITFIELD: And clearly education is very important to Jessica, as I imagine it is for you too. But what are the paramount issues for you that you need to hear either candidate or both talk about this election season and follow through with once elected?

ADAMS: Well, as far as education goes, I feel it is extremely important because going to school in New Orleans, you look at the public school system and they're lacking in a lot of areas as far as books, supplies and things that are necessarily need to give an adequate education. So I feel as a candidate, it is their job as far as running for president, that they need to ensure that we'll be getting a valuable education because that's what we paid for. And if you look at America's values, education is one of those high and top priorities.

WHITFIELD: And I'm getting from both of you that you're very excited about this election season.

TEXADA: Definitely.

WHITFIELD: And that's so good to see, so inspiring because for so many years, we always talked about the youth apathy when it came down to presidential elections. But I don't think we're seeing it at all this year. And the two of you certainly exemplify that. Jessica Texada and Sheena Adams, both at Dillard University, making your university proud, thanks so much for your time, appreciate it.

TEXADA: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: And all the best and congratulations as you enter your final year.

ADAMS: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Well, when it comes to the music in this town, the sounds of silence is what Katrina left in New Orleans. But the horns, pianos and the dancing is back to a degree.


WHITFIELD: Hurricane Katrina silenced the city's famous and boisterous music scene, but only temporarily. Plenty of bands are back and few are as welcome as the rebirth brass band. The 9th ward was the cradle for many bands. And musicians are still hopeful that the neighborhood will experience its own rebirth.


WHITFIELD (voice-over): Back home as regulars at the Maple Leaf Bar, blowing their signature punk rhythm, Rebirth brass band. After Hurricane Katrina nearly silenced this nine-piece ensemble, by forcing them to scatter to different cities and states. Together again, their message rings loud.

VOICE OF PHILIP FRAZIER, REBIRTH BAND MEMBER: The message we're trying to get across is we're alive, we're still here, still going strong. And that's a true song. Rebirth's true state.

WHITFIELD: That's Phillip Frazier on tuba. He started the group 25 years ago. The name Rebirth never before more fitting. Now symbolic of the road ahead of each of these members and their beloved city. Before show time --

How are you doing?

WHITFIELD: Hi. Fredricka. Nice to meet you.


WHITFIELD: So what do you think? Is this your first time back?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm shocked to see it go. WHITFIELD: Frazier's 19-year-old daughter Philane and 16-year- old son Dezel can't believe this was the house they shared with their mother. Here to visit dad for the holiday, home is now Arkansas. Has it been hard, though, that you're no longer a few blocks away from dad but now -

PHILANE FRAZIER: Yes. Just like everybody, this feels like some people live down here. The others live in Texas. It's a ten-hour drive. It's really different now. It used to be blocks and blocks, 15 minutes drive and now it's like 12 hours, five hours drive. So, that's different.

PHILIP FRAZIER: It's tough on everybody. The band together performing. Nine different families. So many families are here. So many families are away. But it's hard. You know, everybody knows somebody here tonight. And my mom used to go to a hairdresser around this corner, on the side street. A long time ago, this club right here, we used to perform at this club, Club Desire.

WHITFIELD: You are encouraged when you see these gentleman over here who are working. Right down the street there, tearing down or demolishing what's left of the school. Did that make you feel like all those things that have been scattered about just really might be coming back?

PHILIP FRAZIER: Seeing it tearing it down, it's like they're tearing it down. You have to tear it down to build it up. That's the thing that hurts sometimes.

WHITFIELD: So, will New Orleans ever be home? I mean truly home for you again, like it was before?

PHILIP FRAZIER: Well, it will always be home as home is where the heart is. Like my kids visit me for the holiday and stuff. When they go back, I'm going to feel sad again. They'll be back in Arkansas and I'm back in New Orleans.


PHILIP FRAZIER: It's really lonely. It's an empty feeling inside your heart. Really. WHITFIELD: So what makes it feel less empty again?

PHILIP FRAZIER: Playing music. And at least I'll get a chance to see them put smiles on other people's face every time we're performing. Just to watch them, yes, rebirth, rebirth. Thank you, Phil. Thank you, Rebirth for coming. Sometimes the feeling goes away.


WHITFIELD: Among those who say let's go get 'em, Lolis Eric Elie. He has helped to document the city's slow recovery. He's a columnist for the "New Orleans Times-Picayune" and is currently working on a film about the city. So good to see you. Talk to me about I guess a sense of obligation that you had as a New Orleanian to tell this story of this city and really how this kind of was pulling at your own heartstrings.

LOLIS ERIC ELIE, NEW ORLEANS TIMES-PICAYUNE: Well so much of what people know about New Orleans now is seen through the lens of Katrina, when in fact our history, our food, our music, our architecture, all these things of great aspects to New Orleans that the country needs to know more about and in part of appreciating what we almost lost.

WHITFIELD: Because for a long time, people associated this city with - and I guess I shouldn't use past tense, music, jazz music, the birth place of jazz music. And in recent day, in the past three years now it is New Orleans synonymous with Katrina. Trying to reclaim what was is so hard on so many levels. How do you do that as a writer? How do you do that now as a documentarian?

ELIE: Well, I'll tell you. The film that I'm working on, that I just completed, "Faobourg Treme is all about the Civil Rights Movement in the 1800s.

WHITFIELD: And Treme is a neighborhood where so many jazz greats came out of, just for a lot of folks who are hearing that for the first time

ELIE: George Lewis, Sidney Bechet came from there. Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton played there. But the other thing is that the Plessy vs. Ferguson case of 1896, that came out of Faobourg Treme. So we talk about civil rights in the United States, everybody thinks it began with Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. And as great as they were, they were not the first. A lot of activity took place in New Orleans, took place in Faobourg Treme, and that's what our film tried to document.

WHITFIELD: You are helping people to look back to understand what is today, what this city is all about. As you look forward to New Orleans, its potential again, the reclaiming of this city, what do you see and when?

ELIE: I tell you, we understand the preciousness of our resources a lot more than we used to. People are more active about trying to keep the music alive, trying to keep architecture happening. The truth is though, that it's got to be a marathon because we don't want to come back quickly without having put the infrastructure in place to make sure that people are safe.

The story of what happened in New Orleans parallels to the bridge failure in Minneapolis and the floods in Iowa is I think a failure of our national infrastructure. We have to work on that as a means of insuring we will come back and are able to sustain our comeback.

WHITFIELD: And do you see parallels between New Orleans and other major cities in this country that if you don't invest in New Orleans, then you really are failing an entire country on other levels as well, other cities?

ELIE: Sacramento, California, is perhaps the best example. Just like New Orleans, it's protected by levees that are built, designed and maintained by the federal government. The failure of the federal government to do this is a potential danger to all Americans. It wasn't just FEMA's failure after the storm. The real failure was when the levees let the water through that allowed the city to be flooded.

WHITFIELD: Lolis Eric Elie, thanks so much, "Times-Picayune," we look forward to the documentary as well. Reminder on that, "Faobourg Treme" is the name of the documentary to look for.

ELIE: It will be on television in February, PBS.

WHITFIELD: Excellent, thanks so much.

ELIE: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Appreciate your time. We've enjoyed your city as well. Rick Sanchez is coming up next with the day's headlines. Sadly, Rick is coming from Atlanta whereas we're going to be wrapping up out here from New Orleans. Rick? All right, Rick Sanchez is going to be talking about fake wedding cakes as well. You're looking at the images right there. Much more of the CNN NEWSROOM right after this.