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CNN Newsnight Aaron Brown

Hurricane Katrina Pummels Three States

Aired August 29, 2005 - 22:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, everyone.
When Katrina finally slammed on to land, it wasn't quite the monster everyone feared, not quite, but it was fierce by any measure. A Category 4 hurricane that pummeled three states has done an extraordinary amount of damage. Katrina veered east just before making landfall. It spared New Orleans a direct hit, which only meant that other places bore the brunt of Katrina's force.

We're just beginning to get an idea of the damage that this hurricane caused. It will be a while before the full extent is known. So, these numbers are extraordinarily preliminary. At least three deaths are being blamed on the storm. We have no idea how many other lives may have been lost. Rescue operations are going on literally as we speak.

It's already clear that, from Louisiana to Alabama, the damage is immense. Tonight, more than a million people, perhaps up to 1.3 million people, are without power, roads flooded, trees down, houses waterlogged, lives changed forever. That much, we know.

We have reporters up and down the Gulf Coast. We will hear from them throughout the next couple of hours.

First, though, a quick overview of a bad day.


BROWN (voice-over): This is what the storm looked like when it made land at about 6:00 this morning, a Category 4 storm with winds topping 145 miles an hour. This is what it sounded like in New Orleans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were literally racing against the water. The current was coming in so far this way, with the wind blowing that way was pushing the water up into the house. So, it was definitely -- it was beyond devastating.

BROWN: And, on the Mississippi Gulf, and in Mobile, Alabama. Tonight, nearly a million-and-a-half people are without power in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. There is little clean water in many places. It will be days, perhaps weeks, before there is.

ROBERT THORNTON, LOUISIANA RESIDENT: Nothing that I have been through so far in my life compares to what I'm going through now. I mean, I actually -- I'm a strong fellow. I was actually scared. BROWN: And there is much we don't know tonight, most importantly, how many people died in the storm. It is just too early to account for the missing, who evacuated, who perished.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you're never prepared for this. You know, we did a lot of our crying earlier. But there's a lot more crying to be done, because a lot of people lost their lives. They lost everything. I know my family, we lost about everything.

BROWN: New Orleans is bad. Gulfport, Mississippi, is worse, 12 feet of water in some places, reports that casinos are flooded up to the second floor. Again, no sure count of the dead, but three deaths in Mississippi have been blamed on Katrina. Rescue workers still can't get to places where they fear others have died or are trapped tonight.

GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: The state today has suffered a grievous blow on the coast. And we're not through. It's a major disaster.

BROWN: As Katrina was approaching land, it took a slight jog to the east. That move is what made things somewhat better than expected in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf worse. The governor was asked today what his worst fear is now.

BARBOUR: That there are a lot of dead people down there.

BROWN: A state of emergency is in place tonight in Mobile, Alabama, also hit hard throughout the day. And while many left Mobile, no one is sure tonight how many, so the death toll there remains unknowable as well.

There are things we do know, of course. We know it was a terrifying experience, even for the 9,000 or so people inside the giant Superdome in New Orleans, which began leaking and then part of the roof blew off, raising fears of something worse.

We also know that, in New Orleans, thousands will spend tonight either in the Superdome again or in evacuation centers and shelters around the city. And they may be there for days to come, because we also know this. While the worst of the storm is over now, what is left behind is virtually indescribable.

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: It is still too dangerous for people to return home. If you evacuated and you're in a shelter, if you're with friends and family, please, please stay there. Stay safe. It's too dangerous to come home.


BROWN: So, that's where we are and where we have been today. The best guess is that about 80 percent of the city of New Orleans evacuated. So, the city is empty by its usual standards, though it's not exactly a ghost town either.

Thousands of people did stay behind. Many are in need of help tonight. Not everyone is staying inside.

We're are joined now by CNN's David Mattingly.



DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the engine that drives New Orleans tourism, dire prediction of 20-foot flood waters in the French Quarter spelled a disaster that would have been felt for decades, but as Katrina departed, the storm instead left behind an endless parade of debris and surprises.

(on camera): What's most amazing to me as you walk around the Quarter, is how many people you see out on the streets right now.

(voice-over): People who were told to evacuate, didn't. The streets that could have been hit by catastrophic flooding, weren't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of these lights right here, the glass has been smashing against the wall and then coming down the street and everything.

MATTINGLY: Mike Bevis (ph) and Kathy Ebecknell (ph) felt their century-old apartment building was up to the challenge. They made it through with just some damage to the kitchen ceiling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These buildings down here, they've been here for so long and the way they were built that some of them, they're as tough as a bank vault, really.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The wind was rolling in this way.

MATTINGLY: Upstairs, Mardi Gras bead-makers Rick (ph) and Lori Eichmann (ph) stayed so they could get an early jump on cleanup.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: French Quarter residents are pretty hearty types. We're ready to start cleaning up and getting the show back on the road. We want to have the place decent by Labor Day, so everybody can come down and have a good time.

MATTINGLY: It may be an ambitious goal. Locals residents became sightseers themselves, so they could take in all the damage.

(on camera): There's one thing down this street that all the residents tell us we have to look at and it has nothing to do with all of this debris in the street. There's a lot of masonry and a lot lumber apparently blown off of roofs. It's right around this corner. In this park, we can see some huge trees that are down, crashing through the gate over here. But it isn't the trees that they want us to come look at. It's what's inside.

(voice-over): Massive oaks fell all around, but not on the statue of Jesus. The only apparent damage to the church: A clock that stopped when electricity failed. And even as the rains from a receding Katrina continued to pour, there were signs the party was coming back to life.

(on camera): What are you doing, making a delivery?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At Le Madeleine's all our electricity is out. These we're going to spoil tomorrow and so, we'll bringing them to the people who were stuck here from the hotel -- at the hotel.

(voice-over): Just off Jackson Square, we find a room full of stranded people who chose a hotel over the Superdome shelter. One tourist we spoke with was looking ahead.

(on camera): Well, we made it through the night.


MATTINGLY: What's your concern now?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Getting out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Getting out and getting back to Chicago.

MATTINGLY: Any idea how you're going to do that?



MATTINGLY: And the appeal from authorities tonight continues to be, please stay put. We are here in the darkness on Canal Street. There are many people walking up and down. The police are doing their best to enforce the curfew, to make sure everyone goes inside, where they cannot be hurt in the dark and where police can get a break -- Aaron.

BROWN: David, let me -- let's try and run down, perhaps, five or six things pretty quickly. Is there clean drinking water in the city of New Orleans tonight?

MATTINGLY: The advisory has gone out to not assume that the drinking water is clean, that people have been advised not to drink the tap water, so no.

BROWN: Is there power in any form that would allow people to boil water to make it safe to drink?

MATTINGLY: If perhaps they have natural gas cooking, they might be able to do that. But, if they're relying on electricity, they're completely out of luck. They would have to have their own generator.

BROWN: Give me your best guess here. How much of the city of New Orleans and greater New Orleans -- and we're talking about a million-and-a-half people, give or take. How much of it is accessible tonight? MATTINGLY: That is very difficult to say, because virtually every neighborhood, every community here had trees going down, power lines going down, causing roads to be impassable.

And then there were the neighborhoods that were flooded, where they had to deal with floodwaters coming up, making them impassable. Travel around here is very difficult. And that's one of the reasons why police are saying people should stay in those shelters, stay in their hotels. Don't venture out. Let them do what they have to do to get the basic essentials that people need here just to live in this city before they start worrying about going back home or getting out on the road and trying to go somewhere else.

BROWN: Let me ask you one other thing. I don't -- I honestly don't mean to make you uncomfortable by this. You're as an experienced reporter as we have, one of the most trusted reporters that works with us. Do you feel now that you have a sense of the breadth of the story in just New Orleans? Do you have a -- how big, how bad, how deadly it is?

I think we lost him.

The point here is that there is so much yet to know. There are so many areas we can't get to. As we were coming up tonight, we heard of rescues going on in particularly the Eastern part of New Orleans, perhaps several hundred people stranded, some of them been up in attics for 24 hours, waiting for the storm to pass. Now they can't get out. It's been virtually impossible to get to them.

And they're waiting for helicopters, in many cases, Coast Guard helicopters, to get to them. We will have an update coming up on that. That's the quick look at the New Orleans part of the story.

Mississippi ended up getting the bullseye in all of this. It wasn't supposed to be that way. But, as we said earlier, the hurricane jogged a little bit to the east just before it made land.

Anderson Cooper is in Meridian, Mississippi. It's been a windy, wet and difficult day there. And he joins us now.


I can answer for David Mattingly, because I think we -- can any reporter will give you the same answer. No, we don't really have a sense of how widespread this is, of the scope of this tragedy of this hurricane. It is simply too early for that. I don't even think officials at this point really have a sense of it. The police are only just now starting to be able to go out in a lot of these communities.

And some of these communities, even around here in Meridian, they haven't been able to really assess much damage, because the storm is still passing through. It's been downgraded in this area. It arrived as a Category 1 hurricane. It's now been downgraded to a tropical storm. As you can see, it's still raining a little bit around Meridian. As you said, though, I mean, this storm -- Mississippi really got hit hard along the shores, along Gulf Shores -- along Gulfport and Biloxi. Gary Tuchman has been reporting from there all day, remarkably, and really trying to get a sense of the damage. We don't know. There were mandatory evacuations, so, hopefully, most people were out of those communities. But there was extensive flooding along the coast.

We know of three confirmed deaths in Mississippi. Those happened much further inland. And where I am is further north. I drove, actually, up all the way from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I was this morning, to Jackson, and then across the east, just basically eastward from Jackson here to Meridian. And it was a very treacherous drive, the roads extremely crowded with fallen trees, one pickup truck, a tractor-trailer truck, just tossed like a child's toy on the side of the road, so very hazardous driving.

And it's very difficult to get anywhere off the main road. As you can see, even here right now, at this gas station, there are people who basically have just run out of gas and are just staying here because they have nowhere else to go. And they're hoping maybe the gas station will open tomorrow, if there's electricity, if the pumps work, and maybe they can get gas and get going. But no one has any answers tonight, Aaron.


BROWN: Let me go back to something that you said a moment ago. The three reported deaths in Mississippi, the only three we know about, were all inland.


BROWN: That means that whole area that got socked early this morning, Biloxi and the whole tourist area, the gambling center in Mississippi, we really don't know what's there right now, do we?

COOPER: No, we don't.

I mean, we know that most of the people -- I mean, Gary Tuchman was reporting that, in Gulfport, most of the people evacuated and that he'd driven around last night and places were deserted. So, the hope is that the people were gone. No doubt, a lot of homes have been destroyed. There is extensive flooding, as I said.

But, no, the simple answer is, we simply do not know the extent of any casualties that there may be in those areas, Aaron.

BROWN: It's going to be something, I think, tomorrow. The weather will obviously be better. It tends to be in the day after the storm. We will get a much clearer view.

Anderson, terrific work today, as all of our colleagues did down there. It's very difficult to work, as you can imagine, in these sorts of situations. For the most part, this story has dominated the last 48 hours in the news cycle. It's what we have been talking about and probably what you've been thinking about. Other things, in fact, have gone on in the world.

We want to briefly check out some of those. Erica Hill joins us from Atlanta now with more on that.

Good evening, Ms. Hill.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And good evening to you, Mr. Brown.

We are actually going to start off with where President Bush was today, spending time in Arizona and California, where he's staying tonight. When he wasn't focused on the damage of Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Bush was trying to drum up support for his Medicare prescription drug program. It begins January 1. Under the program, about 43 million beneficiaries will pay an average of $32 a month and they will be able to choose from two or more private plans that offer drug coverage.

A brutal scene near a small-town church in Sachse, Texas. Authorities say a gunman killed four people, then killed himself after a nine-hour standoff with police. Now, the gunman reportedly knocked on the door of the church and then started firing when the door was opened.

The trial of a man charged with taking part in a possible plot to assassinate President Bush is set to take place at a U.S. District Court in Virginia; 24-year-old Ahmed Abu Ali, an American citizen, is also charged with supporting terrorists. He was denied a motion to move his trial to Washington, D.C.

And eight former executives of accounting firm KPMG were charged in what is being described as the biggest tax evasion scheme in U.S. history. The Justice Department says the executives sold fraudulent tax shelters to wealthy clients that shortchanged the IRS by at least $2.5 billion in uncollected taxes, Aaron. A lot of money.

BROWN: It was a lot of money. I don't know if -- we were having a little audio problem there, as you well know. I don't know if you mentioned it in the terror story, but the judge in that case today said he's been given by the government information that would be helpful to the defense, but can't share it with the defense because they don't have a security clearance. These terrorism...


HILL: That's very convoluted.

BROWN: These terrorism cases are going to be difficult to prosecute if those are the rules.


HILL: I would say you're right.

BROWN: We will see you in a half-an-hour or so.

We have much more on the hurricane in this two-hour special edition of NEWSNIGHT, starting with the sound and the fury.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The wind and the rain is really whipping.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Windows are continuing to break and glass is shattering.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are getting pelted by wood and metal in the vehicle.

BROWN (voice-over): In the thick of the storm, facing nature's fury, 24 hours of terror.

BARBOUR: The state has suffered a grievous blow on the coast. It's a major disaster.

BROWN: How Mississippi became a bullseye, how bad the damage is.

Why you may fall victim to Hurricane Katrina, no matter where you live.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One refinery outage caused gasoline prices to spike. Can you imagine when we have five or six or seven of them?

BROWN: It's all about oil in the Gulf.

And capturing a hurricane's fury by freezing it in time. Tonight, Katrina in still photos.

From New York, this is NEWSNIGHT.



BROWN: When Katrina -- while Katrina is no longer a hurricane, it's still a formidable storm. It's going to stay that way for a while. It's going to work its way up north. It will end up somewhere in Canada towards the end of the week. There is plenty of weather left in this storm.

Jacqui Jeras joins us from Atlanta. She deals with weather matters for us, was terrific last night and joins us again this evening.


Well, we're looking at the latest on the storm, eagerly waiting the 11:00 advisory to get a better position upstate -- update. But it is over east central parts of Mississippi right now, still a very large storm. It's weakened considerably, but we're still getting wind reports around 40, 50 miles per hour. And that in itself can still cause some damage. We're also very concerned about problems about flooding.

We have had a number of tornado reports tonight. Most of those have been in parts of Atlanta area and into Georgia. There's still a tornado watch which remains in effect. But knock on wood. We haven't had any warnings. It's been an hour right now. There, you can see the rain bands spreading all the way through Tennessee, all the way spreading into parts of the Ohio River Valley.

Our storm has already started to take its turn on up to the north and to the east. And it's moving rather quickly now. It's at about 21 miles per hour. That's actually good news. The faster we can get this thing moving to the north and east, the less flooding there is going to be. Right now, the forecast is bringing it over western parts of Tennessee by tomorrow morning, into the Ohio River Valley by Wednesday, and then spreading on up into the Northeast.

We're going to take a look at our VIPIR system now. And this is an individual computer model that we have here at CNN from the folks at Baron Radar. And we're putting that into motion for you. The yellows that you're seeing here are on average expected to be between two and five inches of rain. Locally, heavier amounts can be expected. And that's spread all the way -- here we go, if we can go through that animation, so I can show you the very end of it once again and show some of the cities that are going to be affected by some of this heavier rain, Louisville, Evansville, Indiana, extending on towards Cincinnati, Cleveland.

Even Pittsburgh could see some flooding rain. And we also have to watch out in the Appalachians, too, because you start getting up into higher elevations and the rainfall can get a little bit heavier. And then we worry about things like mudslides also. So, the worst is over with along the Gulf Coast, but problems yet to come, we think, into the Ohio Valley -- Aaron.

BROWN: One quick question or two. I won't make you change maps or anything crazy like that tonight.


BROWN: You said it's moving at about 21 miles per hour now. When it made land at 6:00 this morning, when it was a hurricane, how fast or how slow was it moving?

JERAS: It was moving a fair amount slower. It was only averaging about -- I believe it was about 14 miles per hour, maybe 15 miles per hour, it made land.

BROWN: And what causes it to speed up?

JERAS: Well, the upper-level winds. We're starting to have interaction now with a trough that has been across the nation's midsection. And that's helping to drive it and push the direction and also the speed of the storm. BROWN: Jacqui, thank you. Thank you for your work tonight. We will check back as we go along towards midnight tonight in a special two-hour edition of NEWSNIGHT.

We have been so far in New Orleans and the area around New Orleans. We have been in Mississippi, which took the direct hit, at least down by the Gulf. And we will get pictures out of there. Probably the best pictures out of there are not going to come until tomorrow. It is that inaccessible.

The other area that was hit pretty hard today is the area around Mobile, Alabama, again, another Gulf Coast city.

Kathleen Koch has weathered the storm, literally and figuratively, in the Mobile area. And she joins us now.

Kathleen, nice to see you.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, it's going to be a long, dark night here for the many, many residents who made it through this long, rough storm.

The entire downtown Mobile area, as you can see behind me, is completely dark, not a light, not a streetlight working, at least 186,000 people, we are told, in the southern Alabama area, without power, one of the many reasons that there is a dusk-to-dawn curfew tonight and every night for the foreseeable future. There are power lines down, trees down, limbs down. The roads are very difficult to maneuver.

Much of the downtown area was entirely flooded. We were lucky. We were spared where we are, where -- the hotel where we're staying. We picked it because it was on higher ground. But, in some areas, as much as four feet deep, the water in the Mobile downtown area.

One of the big problems right now is communication. No one can reach out to other parts of the Alabama, Mississippi, Gulf Coast, even into New Orleans. And this was a major evacuation spot for a lot of people from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, from New Orleans. Really, tonight, they want nothing more than in the morning to start heading home.

But we have been advised that the major arteries going west from here into Mississippi have been closed. That's I-10. That's highway 90, and, again, people trying to call friends and relatives. I used to live in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, Aaron, and I have been trying to call my friends there, trying to reach my brother in Biloxi. And you just can't get through on the lines.

So, a lot of distress, a lot of concern tonight on the part of people who have homes, who have loved ones, just wondering what they'll find if and when they can get back -- Aaron.

BROWN: Kathleen, let's run through a couple quick ones. Is there clean drinking water available to the people in Mobile and in the area around Mobile? KOCH: There is clean drinking water, though, the (AUDIO GAP)

BROWN: Pushing my luck here on some of these things, guys. Sorry.

We will check back with Kathleen. But at least we know they have drinking water. They don't have power there. And it's going to be some time, we suspect. It wouldn't shock me if it were the end of the week before all of these affected areas get power, get phone service, whether it's land lines or cell phone service. It's a mess down there, as you can see.

Still ahead tonight on the program, the dangers of driving on a highway that isn't there anymore. This is going to be the -- this is one of the most seen shots of the last 24 hours, isn't it, this one and the helicopter, Coast Guard helicopter rescue we showed you earlier.

And pictures that show us why you probably shouldn't take pictures in a hurricane. We will take a look at the hurricane in stills, because this is NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: A quick recap of where things stand tonight along the Gulf Coast of the United States, where Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore around dawn today. The Category five monster everyone was expecting was a category four storm when it finally made landfall.

It was plenty bad enough: 145-mile-an-hour winds. In Louisiana, in Mississippi and in Alabama, the damage is immense. That we are certain of. Insurance analysts are estimating the damage could run from $9 billion to $26 billion, which is to say no one realize really knows. It's going to be a long time, days for sure, perhaps weeks, before we can put a number on that. And these insurance estimates are exactly that.

We know of at least three deaths. Those occurred in inland Mississippi, which is to say that the areas most heavily impacted haven't really reported yet and part of the problem in a place like New Orleans, for example, is thousands -- tens of thousands of people evacuated.

You've got a lot of people who are unaccounted for tonight and so, no one knows really how many of those people are alive and in shelters or somewhere and how many may have perished. There are rescue operations going on, particularly in the eastern part of New Orleans.

Several hundred people trapped on rooftops, in their homes or in attics in their homes and authorities are trying to get to them as we speak. More than a million people throughout the part -- throughout that region are without power.

If there's a silver lining in all of this, it seems a little silly to say it that way. New Orleans, a city that lives below sea level for the most part, dodged a direct hit, sparing it a catastrophic day in devastation than many people just 24 hours ago feared.

But its good fortune, in fact, turned into other people's pain. Mississippi -- Gulfport, Mississippi, Biloxi, Mississippi, became the bullseye instead. Katrina is now a tropical storm, but for 12 hours today after coming ashore, it was a full-force hurricane with all the fury it could muster.


BRIAN ANDREWS, WFOR REPORTER: This is how difficult it is covering the hurricane. We're coming out of the hotel and this is the motor lobby here. I'm going to cross -- I'm just looking to make sure we're not going to get whacked in the head with anything. We're just making our way over here. Come on. Let's go this way.

This is the kind of thing that can cause real problems. This crane is now flying loose. It was pointed completely in the other direction about half hour ago. It is now been untethered and this crane with a ball is just flopping around.

CHAD MEYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The words that we got from the National Weather Service, from New Orleans, many reports are coming in stating total structural failure in the New Orleans metro area.


ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: This is the worst squall we've seen yet. This hotel is literally coming apart. Amazing to watch as the power of Mother Nature takes its toll on manmade structures. We're just absolutely no match.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is that white dome for which this is so famous and it is shredded. That white membrane that covers the Superdome is hanging off or has blown off. The winds have just picked up appreciably. They have been absolutely punishing at some points. Never have I seen anything like this.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We've been doing reports -- live reports from our vehicle that we named have named Hurricane One, that allows us to drive around and show live pictures. We can't drive in the road right now, because literally projectiles are coming in our direction. It feels like we've got to dodge artillery.

And I want to give you a look at what's happened to our vehicle. Our cameraman Steve (inaudible) is going to show -- five minutes ago a piece of wood crashed into our vehicle, crashed into the window and it's put a hole in our window. So, it gives you an idea of what people are facing here.

KIMBERLY CURTH, WKRG REPORTER: We are in downtown Mobile, right by Royal Street. If you look behind me, that is Water Street. You can't stand up. You don't want to come down here. Guys, we're in store for one nasty storm. Stay inside. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excuse me. I didn't see the water. It blends in with the gray of the road and I just drove right into it. So, you know -- but it was my fault. It was a stupid thing to do and I did it.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A major bridge here is right now being evaluated. It goes across the Mobile River and it was struck by an oil rig, a portable oil rig that came loose and crashed and it wedged itself underneath the west side of the bridge.

MESERVE: There's a neighborhood here and every house that I can see is up to its rooftop in water. There is one man who I can see who has punched a hole through the roof of his house and half of his body is out. He's clearly waiting for rescuers. I just can't describe this to you. It just goes on and on and on. It's just ghastly.


BROWN: That was Jeanne Meserve reporting at the end. I want to go back if I can, Michael, to that piece of tape with the Coast Guard helicopter, because we saw just the beginning of what was a dramatic rescue and I believe this is the eastern part of New Orleans.

A Coast Guardsmen in the red has grabbed on to a man and they are pulling him up. And I guarantee you, that that young man who is being pulled is holding on tight and so is the Coast Guardsman in the harness and they're going to pull him aboard that big helicopter. And he's going to say thank you very much for the ride.

There are literally several hundred people in the New Orleans area tonight who are in that sort of situation -- they've been stuck in attics all day, pull 'em up, just like you were trained to do -- who are in that situation, they're in attics, they are on rooftops, the Coast Guard trying to get to some of them, local police trying to get to some of them.

The water -- the flood waters making it impossible, obviously, to take cars in there. So, small boats are being used. In some cases, helicopters where you can get to them, but these are time-consuming operations.

There's a lot of power lines. They're not easy to pull off, though they made it look pretty easy. God bless them for that and at least one man safely rescued tonight and dramatically so. We're watching the tape that we were running before that. It makes me think that when we reporters are hired, no one asks us if we have any common sense, because it doesn't look like it.

Michael Brown is the director of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management folks, now part of the Department of Homeland Security and he's in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Michael, I asked this of one of our reporters earlier. Give me your most honest answer. You're getting a lot of information from a lot of sources: From police sources, from the Coast Guard, lots of people. Do you feel you have the, what we call on television the wide shot, of how big, how bad, how deadly, how devastating the last 24 hours have been?

MICHAEL BROWN, FEMA: Well, Aaron, I'm just beginning to get that wide -angle view and I've got to tell you, it's very, very sobering. I've had some folks out on the reconnaissance helicopters, in fact, some of them were on the helicopters that started doing the rescues from the rooftops.

And I think what we see is, sure, New Orleans dodged the bullet, in the sense that the catastrophic disaster we thought would occur downtown, moved slightly to the east, 30 or 40 miles. But what that meant is that we now have literally neighborhood after neighborhood that is totally engulfed in water.

We still have water coming into those neighborhoods and so my honest assessment is, is that we have a major disaster here where people are not going to be able to get into their homes for weeks, if not months. Right now as we speak, I just talked to some swift-water experts that I brought in from California, the California Urban Search and Rescue Teams. They've now deployed down to the Superdome area to start staging. They are very, very sober right now. They think they have a very daunting task in front of them.

BROWN: When you start talking -- let's just focus on greater New Orleans for a minute. We'll move out to Mississippi in a moment. But when you start talking weeks and months, you've got to find places for these people to live.

In some cases, they can stay with friends and relatives and that sort of thing, but this becomes a very daunting task for a local government to literally find space to put people.

M. BROWN: That's exactly right. And think about all of those folks who evacuated across bridges that you may no longer be able to use. Maybe some of them are with relative and they can stay for a while. Many of them may be in hotels, some may be sleeping in cars in parking lots.

So, what we have to is put together a housing group that's going to every possible mechanism that the federal government can bring to bare, to get those folks at least in some sort of shelter until we can get control of the situation in New Orleans. And who knows how long that's going to take.

BROWN: Let's talk just sort of general kind of FEMA triage. There needs to be clean water. There needs to be food. Is there enough bottled water in the area, is there enough -- are there enough food rations, I assume, meals ready to eat, that sort of thing, available to people to at least get them fed?

M. BROWN: Right. And let me tell you what happened. Last Friday or Saturday, as I started getting my reports from the National Hurricane Center, my gut just told me this was going to be bad. So I instructed all of the FEMA staff to not only predeploy assets into the possible areas that would be hit by the Hurricane Katrina, but to jam those supply lines all the way back to Ft. Worth, all the way back to Atlanta, and keep those supply lines completely jammed up so we constantly have supplies coming in. I'm glad I made that decision, because I can tell you, we're going to need an awful lot of those commodities for an awful lot of time.

BROWN: All right. Talk to me about -- this is a kind of a shot in the dark question, honestly. Are there medical concerns in a moment like this? Are you worried about the outbreak of anything?

M. BROWN: We're not so much worried about outbreak yet. But, generally, yes. We have serious medical concerns. First of all, you have people who aren't in their homes. They may have left their medication. They're under the stress of these storms. You have elderly, you have people who are disabled. And so what we have in addition to the urban search and rescue teams is, I've brought in the National Disaster Medical Teams. I can literally put up miniature hospitals comprised of doctors and nurses and anesthetists, logisticians, janitors. Everything you need to run a hospital. I've brought the teams in, because I think we're going need those. We've put one down the Superdome just now just so we can take care of the day-to-day medical needs of the some nine/ten thousand people in that facility.

BROWN: One of the things that happens in situations like this is all of us tend to focus on the big cities, on the New Orleans, on the Biloxis, what have you. But particularly as you get outside the suburbs of Louisiana and certainly into Mississippi and in Alabama to some extent you've got a lot of small towns, sometimes very small towns. Are you confident you can get assets, as you all call them, whether it's food, water, rescue help, medical, psychological, the whole nine yards, can you get it to everybody who needs it in cities large and small?

M. BROWN: In fact, that's what we learned in Florida last year when Florida got hit by four major hurricanes. You know, there's lots of places in Florida that I can tell you a tourist has never been to. Small, thriving little communities, but they're out in the middle of nowhere in Florida.

And so what we have to do is we have to literally deploy people to all of those areas. So I have put out a general call to not just FEMA, but to the entire Department of Homeland Security, that those who are not in otherwise critical mission jobs right now, I want them to bring their expertise here, bring just their bodies and their hands to help us do distribution, to help us get the word out, to make sure that we actually infiltrate all of those communities. And remember, it's not just Louisiana. We're talking about Mississippi, and Alabama. And as the storm continues to track, probably through Tennessee and Ohio and Kentucky.

BROWN: Michael, this is what your people plan for, think about, train at, the whole thing. We wish you nothing but the best of luck, and get a good break along the way, some good weather will help. And we hope that when we finally know what the numbers are, they're small. Thank you.

M. BROWN: Thank you, Aaron.

BROWN: Michael Brown who runs FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency -- or administration, I sometimes confuse that.

Still to come on the program tonight, the Superdome. It's usually home to football fans or conventioneers. But shrieking winds gave it all it could handle. Hardly looks like the Superdome, does it? And the Mississippi coast, where Katrina did her absolute worst. We'll take a break first. Around the world, this is NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: Coming up towards a quarter to the hour, a little past that, actually, Erica Hill joins us from Atlanta. Some of the days other news. Erica, did you have a desire to grab your Headline News poncho and race towards Louisiana.

ERICA HILL: In all honesty, I kind of did. Is that bad?

BROWN: No. That's -- in our weird world, that is normal.

HILL: I know it kills me. I'd really love to be there. Well, maybe the next one. You never know.

BROWN: Go get 'em.

HILL: For now, though, I'll give you the headlines. The spike in energy prices continue and Katrina is only making things worse. Concerns about Gulf energy productions sent wholesale gasoline prices surging by 15 to 20 cents a gallon since Friday. And you could begin to feel the pinch at the pump by the end of the week. Natural gas prices also increased because of the storm.

In Mosul, Iraq, a suicide car bomber targeted a U.S. military convoy. Two civilians died, but no U.S. forces were killed. There were also attacks on an oil pipeline near Mosul and the Iraqi general was one of two victims of assassination in Baghdad today.

The KPMG accounting firm has agreed to pay a $456 million fine in that investigation into fraudulent tax shelters. Nine KPMG execs also face charges of conspiring to fleece the IRS out of $2.5 billion.

And six people have pleaded guilty to selling bogus Lance Armstrong bracelets in New York. But investigators seized $112 thousand, and it will all be sent to Armstrong's Livestrong Foundation. That's just terrible.

BROWN: Well, I think both things, the tax shelter things are terrible, and that bracelet deal is not a bad deal. That's not a good thing either. Thank you. Go grab your poncho. There's still a chance to do that. You gotta cover these hurricanes while you're young.

Just ahead, the terrible beauty of Katrina captured in freeze frame. This is NEWSNIGHT and we'll show you the storm in stills after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BROWN: That's a look at New Orleans just before darkness set in tonight. Gives you a sense of how much water's in the city. How high that water runs in some cases. What it doesn't tell us, what we can't know yet, whether it's in New Orleans or Mississippi, parts of Alabama, is what lies beneath. How many people may have perished, how many homes have been lost. It has been a very difficult day. We have seen already some extraordinary pictures of the storm across the Gulf states. AP photographers were in the middle of it all as they always are, taking the still photos that make the morning papers and make our memories as well. Freezing moments in time, sometimes moments of fear, sometimes of relief. Powerful moments put together tonight by news night's Beth Nissen.


BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It is hard to capture in one snapped frame, rain that blinds, winds that shriek. It is easier to show what forces this fierce, this powerful can do to glass and steel and stone. What forces this powerful did in New Orleans, in Mobile, Alabama, in Pascagoula, Mississippi, in Pensacola, Florida.

In the high winds, high drama of the storm, there were few humans to be seen, except for wet be-ponchoed TV reporters, and rescue workers and a few residents like these men, thinking better of their decisions to ride out the storm, belatedly heading to the Superdome in New Orleans for shelter. Only to find the storm had clawed away sections of the great dome. It is too soon for the most crucial measures of this storm. How many lives lost. How many wounded. How many homes gone and lifetime memories destroyed. How much time it will take and toil and resilience to rebuild. Beth Nissen, CNN, New York.


BROWN: A couple of newspaper headlines after the break.


BROWN: This is what we call a one story day. Quickly, three headline. Whether you were in New York, the New York Daily News, Swamped, says the headlines.

Or you went all the way out west to The Oregonian out in Portland, Oregon. Big Easy escapes the worst, is their headline in Oregon.

All the way to Australia, Katrina made news. This is The Herald Sun out in Australia -- or over in Australia, or down in Australia. Millions Flee Fury. We'll have more newspaper headlines coming up in the next hour. Another hour of coverage here on CNN. This is Special Edition of NEWSNIGHT. We take a break first, on this day after the storm.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BROWN: Well at 11 o'clock here in the east, eight o'clock out west, for those of you just joining us, take a moment or two to recap where things stand along the Gulf Coast...