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CNN Newsnight Aaron Brown

Hurricane Katrina's Aftermath: Interview With New Orleans Mayor

Aired August 30, 2005 - 23:00   ET


AARON BROWN, HOST: Much of this hour has focused on New Orleans and the problems New Orleans is facing. It's appropriate that we end the hour and probably begin the next hour as well with the mayor of New Orleans. Ray Nagin joins us on the telephone. Mayor, is the city safe tonight?
RAY NAGIN, MAYOR, NEW ORLEANS: Is the city safe?


NAGIN: Well, the city is relatively safe considering the circumstances. We have probably 80 percent of our city under the water. We have a significant number of residents that are still in the city, that in these times of the aftermath of the hurricane, they're out looking for food. And they started to create some issues with looting. The police department was focused on rescue missions, and we didn't think it was that big a deal, but then it escalated into something a little different. And we're bringing it under control as we speak.

BROWN: Do you have enough law enforcement, whether it's state, local or National Guard to keep control of the city?

NAGIN: Absolutely. Like I said, most of our efforts were focused on rescue. We had thousands of residents that were trapped on roofs and in attics. We have done a tremendous job of getting them out. Now that we have done that, we are refocusing our attention back to the public safety issues. There are 3,500 National Guard officers that are on their way and should be here tomorrow. So we have enough resources to get the job done.

BROWN: Do you wish they were there tonight?

NAGIN: Yes. I would like to have them here tonight. But we face a little different challenge tonight. We have a levee breach where a significant amount of water is flowing into the city, and we -- over the next 12 to 15 hours water's are going to rise on the east bank of New Orleans to the levels where some sections of the city that are dry right now could see, you know, nine, ten feet of water.

BROWN: And that's just, literally, what's going on tonight. This was an attempt to fix a levee or repair a levee that failed, the pumping station failed. In this area where you're talking about new flooding, are there people living in that area now, or have they been moved out already? NAGIN: Well the significant amount have already evacuated, but there are some people that, you know, I fear may have let their guards down, because that area's relatively dry now. This pumping station that you're referring to, there was a breaching of the levee right near it. The pumping station got enough water in it where it's generators stopped flowing. And it's a very critical pumping station for us. So now the levee breach where the water's coming in is accelerating, and the bowl effect that everybody talks about with New Orleans -- people living in a bowl. The bowl is now being filled up.

BROWN: Several reporters have said to us tonight that it is their sense that governments, everyone involved in trying to support the rescue operation or the public safety operation, trying to get through to people, that governments are overwhelmed. Do you feel the City of New Orleans is overwhelmed?

NAGIN: I don't feel like we're overwhelmed, I just feel like forces of nature, water and wind that I don't think anyone can control but the Almighty. So we are dealing with aftermath of that.

We have a significant amount of resources at our disposal. That is providing food and water to the people that we have in shelters of last resort, in hospitals and hotels.

The issue we are having in the city, or if we've had any issue is that the people who have decided to stay back and stay in their homes and then run out of food and resources.

BROWN: Tell me how difficult the situation is in the Superdome.

NAGIN: The Superdome is a very difficult issue. There is probably 12 to 15,000 people in there. All of the rescue people that I talked about earlier have been brought there. Some of the hotels, their generators stopped working and they had some of their hotel guest to evacuate to the Superdome.

The Superdome's roof is substantially damaged. We have panels that are missing and there is lots of water in there. The sanitation is not the best. So that's a significant challenge in the Superdome and is something that we continue to work on a day to day basis.

BROWN: Mayor, do you have a plan to try and - that's a lot of people in there and that's a huge facility. Do you have - is there somebody sitting there right now trying to figure out a way to get those people out of there and move them someplace else or are they essentially stuck there for a while?

NAGIN: Well, they're going to be stuck there for a little bit longer because of the rising waters as it relates to the levee breech. But we are actively working on a plan to relocate those individuals to a much better facility, but unfortunately in the City of New Orleans, with 80-plus percent of it under water, we don't have a lot of options locally.

BROWN: Where can you possibly move 12, 14,000 people? NAGIN: That's a great question. We were thinking about moving a portion of them, maybe to some outlying parish near here, another portion to maybe Baton Rouge, which is the capital of the state and trying to figure out other locations where we may be able to move these people.

BROWN: And so they're going to be there for a little while. Is a little while 24 hours, 48 hours, longer than that?

NAGIN: They will be at the Superdome for at least another week unless we decide to evacuate because of the rising waters and if there's a loss in generator power at the Superdome, it just escalates the challenge.

BROWN: I've got to - Sir, I've got to believe that people who have been stuck in that dark, difficult building with sanitation's become a problem and just people being packed together. It's got to be getting a little testy in there.

NAGIN: It is. I walked through that area earlier today. There's lots of anxious people there. They're frustrated, they're hot, they're tired. We're taking care of their basic needs with water and food and all the necessities but they're starting feel very cooped up and we've allowed them to come out on the plaza level of the Superdome to at least get some fresh air and enjoy the sunshine.

The biggest challenge they have and as we don't have a video system or an audio system that constantly gives information, so they're information starved and that's adding to their frustrations.

BROWN: We had a report earlier in the hour about hundreds of people, several hundred people, perhaps, who literally were camped out, maybe camped out is not the right word, but just sitting on the side of the interstate, waiting, hoping that someone would come by and I guess take them somewhere. It wasn't clear where they hoped to be taken to.

Do you know anything about that and whether those people are still there and what's going to happen to them?

NAGIN: Well, when the water started to rise this morning, there were a good number of people who started to walk up the interstate and they're right near the Superdome, the ones that I've seen. In addition to that, the rescuers, as they were rescuing people, would drop them off at various interstates or other high points and them somebody would come to pick them up later.

But there are significant numbers of people who are on the interstate and they basically camped out there because they don't trust how high the waters are going to get.

BROWN: Do you believe that everyone who needs rescuing has been rescued?

NAGIN: I don't think that everyone has rescued but I think that a significant, significant portion of the people who need to be rescued have been rescued.

I was in a helicopter earlier today and I was amazed at the lack of people on roofs and stuck in attics as it related to a prior trip that I took.

BROWN: Do you have any sense of how many people have perished in this?

NAGIN: You know what? We haven't even started to deal with that issue yet. We've been focused on living and rescuing that we haven't even dealt with that. We do know there are dead bodies, there are dead bodies floating in some of the waters. The rescuers basically pushed them aside as they were trying to save individuals.

We also know that there are individuals that were stuck in attics as the river was - as the water was rising and some of them may have perished and we also know that there are buildings - we at least know of 30 buildings that have collapsed and one was a major apartment complex and we're sure that there were people involved in that.

And we don't have an official count.

BROWN: Mayor, you're one of the highest elected officials in one of the great American cities. There are very few cities in this country that are more alive than New Orleans. Do you have any feeling at all for when New Orleans will be New Orleans again?

NAGIN: Before this recent challenge of this next escalation of the water I had a pretty good timetable, around eight weeks, but now I think it's going to be at least another four weeks if things go according to plan. The big challenge we have right now is to get the water out of the city and until we can stabilize the levee system, we can't really be assured of when that's going to happen.

One of the things I might want to point out to you, besides New Orleans being a tourist destination, we in south Louisiana produce about 25 percent of the nation's oil and that production is pretty much halted. So this is going to be a significant challenge not only for New Orleans and Louisiana but for the entire country and it's my understanding from looking at an Internet report not too long ago, the president thinks it's important enough that he canceled his vacation, is now back in Washington to put together a special task force to deal with this crisis.

BROWN: Do you hear any indication when, either out in the Gulf they'll start pumping again or when the refineries will start refining again, which I expect is the largest problem. Did they give you any idea when that will happen?

NAGIN: No, we have no idea because we're dealing with rising water.

BROWN: Yeah.

NAGIN: Until we get that under control, there is no oil production. We have six class A rail lines that come in and out of our port. That commerce is stopped. We're really at a standstill and it's going to impact the nation, so I'm really concerned about it.

BROWN: Mayor, this is what we call in my business a hanging curve question. Is there anything else you want to say, you want people to understand about the situation? Anything I should have asked I didn't ask?

NAGIN: The only thing I would point out is everyone knows New Orleans is one of the great unique cultural cities in the world and we are basically left unprotected right now because of coastal erosion.

Our coast has eroded to the point where it really threatens this wonderful city that everybody loves and we need some help and we need some help from the federal government.

We have lost our marshland and for every acre of marshland, it would allow a tidal surge from a hurricane to be dissipated one foot.

And the big problem we have with this hurricane was there was nothing to subside the tidal surge. So coastal erosion is a big challenge going forward.

BROWN: Mayor, our thoughts and prayers are with you tonight. Thank you for your time.

NAGIN: Really appreciate that and I hope the nation continues to pray for us. We will rebuild. It's going to take a while for us to do it.

BROWN: Sir, thank you very much.

NAGIN: Thank you.

BROWN: Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans. One of the things we like about the mayor is he doesn't mess around. He gave a very clear, I thought stark in some cases, description of where they are. Thirty-seven hundred National Guard troops heading to the city but they're not their yet and for those of you who came in at the top of the hour if you missed it, we asked him if you wished they were there tonight and he said, yes he does.

And one of the questions, I think, the people will be asking is why they weren't there. Was it a lack of planning or did the situation -- it's not always a lack of planning, sometimes the situation just gets beyond people's ability to anticipate and that may very well have happened here.

But clearly there are public safety questions that need to be answered and those questions are going to be asked an awful lot in the days ahead.

We have another hour, give or take, another 50 minutes of coverage here from us. We'll check in on the situation in Mississippi. We'll -- for those of you who just joined us, do a summary capping of where we are right now. It's a ways to go yet. We're glad you're with us whether you're in this country or around the world. This is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: We have a much better grasp, I think, right now, of the situation in New Orleans and the area around New Orleans. Certainly than we had an hour and 15 minutes ago, in many respects we've had in some days. That is one chapter, one act in this story. There is also the Mississippi part of the story, facing a hurricane. In truth, nothing really matters except getting to it, surviving.

Once the immediate threat passes, you may discover that just about everything else that you once had is gone. People in Louisiana have learned that and so have people in Mississippi. Here's correspondent Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This was once one of the most beautiful streets in Biloxi, lined with Victorian homes that caught the eyes of tourists. A day after Hurricane Katrina, though, Howard Avenue looks like a garbage dump.

MARY ELLA RONSONET, BILOXI RESIDENT: Two bedrooms and a bath are over there.

KAYE: Across the street.


KAYE: Mary Ella Ronsonet used to have a home at 375 Howard Avenue. It is now in pieces across the street. So is Gary Stilwell's home. He lived next door with his wife in a two-story Victorian that survived every storm since the 1800s.

GARY STILWELL, BILOXI RESIDENT: We've lost our soul, I think. This is, as any couple or family, your home is kind of your mark.

Now it's stretched all over.

KAYE: The Stilwell's and Mrs. Ronsonet have been neighbors for years, but only one of them evacuated this time. Ronsonet split, thinking her and her home had survived Hurricane Camille back in '69. She thought this time around they both would too.

But when this 65 year old grandmother returned and found her home flattened, she felt lost.

RONSONET: I lived through Camille and it was here during Camille so I didn't think it was going to ...

KAYE: Next door, the Stilwells waited too long to evacuate.

STILWELL: We watched the tsunami and we said, look at this.

We're the ones that always say, why don't they get out of town? Some people stay, some people go.

Within about a span of about an hour so, the water just rose and all of our furniture started to float.

KAYE: And what did you think when that water was starting to come up as fast as it probable did?

STILWELL: Somewhere in there I kept thinking it was going to subside somewhere.

KAYE: But it didn't so the Stilwells had no choice but to ride out the storm at home, literally.

STILWELL: Looking back at all this stuff coming and that part of the building, the house, started to float.

As we floated, this house in front of us collapsed, and it was slow, but we just kept on floating.

KAYE: Gary, his wife and their three pets, trapped on the second floor as the entire home floated for about a quarter of a mile, until it lodged in a tree across the street. And while the water was inching up, the wind was picking up.

Somehow, Gary and his wife managed to escape their crumbling home and climb into their boat, which had floated alongside them. Howard Avenue had turned into a river. Homes and everything in them, submerged.

RONSONET: We found some things, like my grandmother's sewing machine and mustaches (ph) and just things that mean a lot, but everything else is gone.

KAYE: Including a family photo album that belongs to Ronsonet's future daughter-in-law. It's the only memory Constance Bruce (ph) has of her mom, who was killed by a drunk driver when Constance was just nine.

The family spent hours searching for it. No luck. One of the many mementos lost on Howard Avenue.


KAYE: And tonight, Aaron, Gary Stilwell is the hero of Howard Avenue. After he floated down the street on the second floor of his home and jumped to the boat that had floated nearby, he got out into that boat into heavy rains and heavy winds and heard screaming from the trees, looked up, had a hard time seeing, but managed to see there were three people stuck in the tree and he then pulled them to safety.

So he saved himself, his wife, his three pets and these three neighbors of his as well.

But I have to tell you before we left Howard Avenue late this afternoon, there was a hearse that drove down that street and it was on its way to pick up four bodies, neighbors of Gary Stilwell who drowned in their home during Hurricane Katrina.


BROWN: Well, those are two remarkable stories. Tell me -- are you in Biloxi now or are you outset of town? Where are you, literally, now?

KAYE: We are right on the coast. We're in Biloxi right across the street from the Beau Rivage (ph) Casino here.

BROWN: And is the casino still standing?

KAYE: It is, remarkably. This is a casino hotel with a lot of window and there is only one window on the very top floor which is broken. But we have seen some of the other casinos, the Grand Casino was actually pretty much in the backyard of Gary Stilwell's home. It had traveled about a mile down and then pushed itself on the land as well. So it is a mess here.

BROWN: People aren't -- for people who aren't familiar with this part of Mississippi, it has become in the last decade or so a gambling, tourist center. It is kind of Las Vegas on the Gulf. I assume the casinos are all shut down.

Do they have power there yet?

KAYE: No. We don't have power, the casinos don't have power, and just speaking of the businesses, from what I understand, what we've been told, the casinos earn $500,000 a day for this state of Mississippi. So now they're -- they've been shut down yesterday and today so we're talking a million dollars already that this state has lost as a result of no power and no ability for these casinos to open up.

BROWN: And that's not going to change anytime soon because just setting aside the obvious issues, the power, the water, the mess. People aren't exactly going to be flocking to a place that is in the condition the Mississippi Gulf is tonight.

Randi, thanks for your efforts, I know it hasn't been an easy day out there. Randi Kaye in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Last week, Raymond Arroyo had a home, a flourishing family restaurant in New Orleans and a brand new baby girl. Today his daughter is 14 days old and her father is facing the fact that he has lost almost everything else. Mr. Arroyo joins us tonight from Birmingham, Alabama.

How did you get out?

RAYMOND ARROYO, LOST NEW ORLEANS HOME AND RESTAURANT: We -- on Saturday, Aaron, I saw what was happening. I was -- I worked in Birmingham. I was on my way back to New Orleans and got one of the last flights in and I said we've got to pack everything up and get out. We have two little boys. One is six and one is two and we had this little child who was only 10 days old at the time. And we had to get out and we did so we grabbed what we could, few clothes we could throw in a suitcase, a couple of photo albums and got on the road and look, you're talking to the most blessed guy in New Orleans, tonight, considering all we've seen in the last hour here.

BROWN: Mr. -- Can I call you Raymond?

ARROYO: Oh, please.

BROWN: I was just thinking that you must, to some degree, look at the television pictures, sitting there, I assume, relatively comfortably in Birmingham ...

ARROYO: Oh, sure.

BROWN: Looking back at your city and the condition it's in and saying, A: thank God that we're okay and B: what is it those poor people are going through tonight?

ARROYO: Aaron, look, my -- it's my grandfather's restaurant, Tony Angelo's, which locals would know. It's a venerable Italian establishment. He's had it for years. It was, by all reports, washed away by that breech in the levee we've been hearing so much about.

You know, we live this life of abandonment. At any moment in New Orleans, these things can happen. But you never imagine they'll look like this when they do and to many people watching these are rooftops, these are chimney tops and people on them. But to us these are icons of our childhood, this is our music, our culture, our life, and it's awful watching it in this state.

And I can't imagine, people are saying weeks, a few weeks. I can't imagine. The reports I'm getting and I've spoken to a few people who have just been there or who are on their way out. In Jefferson Parish, right next to Orleans where we live, in Metairie, there are floating bodies, there are snakes, there are alligators, gas leaks, and this is sitting and it is going to sit for several weeks.

So the home is the least of our worries, honestly. We got out with our lives. We were very fortunate.

BROWN: The -- a short time ago, I'm not sure you were able to hear it, but a short time ago we were talking to the mayor. He talked about three months before New Orleans becomes New Orleans and I thought, well, that's about the most optimistic number I've heard. I think if New Orleans is New Orleans a year from now, that will have accomplished a great deal.

You talk about sort of at some level living with this reality. If you live in the city you know the geography of the city, you know every late summer you're at risk of something or another but as you think about those things, do people really believe that when it happens it's going to look like this?

ARROYO: No. I don't think anybody does, Aaron. You know, when I look at this I think of our great music, the great food, the wonderful, warm people of New Orleans, which was the reason we came back, and as many people my age, you know, in their mid 30s, who came back, grew up in New Orleans and returned because we wanted our families to experience what we did and it's a wonderful place to grow up with its own dialect and its own great cuisine. You look at this and you can't imagine that returning any time soon.

My little son, my Lorenzo (ph) last night woke up at about 2:00 in the morning and we, as I said, we are blessed to be here in Birmingham and safe. He woke me at about 3:00 in the morning and he said daddy, are we home. And I hesitated for a minute and I took his brother and he in my arms and I said, "We are home, Honey."

And I think there are a lot of New Orleaneans with that same feeling. We carry home with us and some day we might be able to go back to the place.

BROWN: Well, yeah, and we all look forward to when that is going to be but it's not going to be for a while. Raymond, thanks. Nice job tonight. You've helped us understand this in a couple of different ways. We appreciate that. Thank you.

ARROYO: Thank you for your fine work.

BROWN: Thank you, Raymond Arroyo, who is in Birmingham and as he said, the most blessed person around the be safe with his family, including three children, one two weeks old. Safe and dry in Birmingham, Alabama tonight.

We'll take a break and our coverage continues in this special edition of NEWSNIGHT in just a moment.


BROWN: Phil Archer is a reporter with KPRC. A CNN affiliate in Houston Texas. Very good television station it is. He is in Kenner, Louisiana, which is just what, about four miles east of New Orleans. What are you seeing there?

PHIL ARCHER, KPRC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, we're at a staging area set up four miles east of downtown and all day a steady stream of helicopters has been bringing evacuees here. You can see they are loading them on buses, they are headed to points north, places like Baton Rouge, Houma, anyplace they can get out of the floodwaters.

The governor's evacuation order means that a new wave of refugees is going to be headed this way. So far we're not getting a lot of details, exactly, how they're going to do that. She really didn't have much choice because tonight New Orleans is an unlivable city.


BROWN: Are people actually moving out or are they just sitting there waiting to move out?

ARCHER: Well, they're a little of both. They've been -- a lot of these folks have been waiting for hours to get out of here and the buses actually only began showing up about three hours ago, so they had a backlog of several hundred. I would say as many as 500 at one point. And now they're finally getting things moving. But a lot of these folks have been in floodwaters, having had any sleep, haven't had anything to eat in the last couple of days, so everybody is tired. Some people are angry. Everybody ready to get out.

BROWN: I'll bet they are. Phil, thanks for your effort tonight.

Phil Archer with KPRC in Houston, Texas, who has moved over to the New Orleans area to do some reporting and help us out. Our coverage continues after the break.


BROWN: We mentioned earlier in the program, probably about an hour-and-a-half ago, that the president will travel to Louisiana, to the New Orleans area on Friday. The president was out West today talking about Iraq. He was talking about Social Security yesterday and was heading back to Washington a couple of days early from his vacation.

He will make his way to Louisiana to land what is mostly in fact moral support. And I'm sure it will be welcomed by people there to know that the president and federal government is taking time to come see their situation. I don't think that's in any sense political. It's just a reality.

There are about 3,700 National Guardsmen and -women who are making their way to New Orleans tonight. There are already National Guard troops in, a few hundred, more headed to provide some civil affairs assistance, public safety assistance.

Some National Guard troops, about 3,000, I think, is the right number, from Louisiana, are actually in Iraq. The military says it has plenty of National Guardsmen and -women to supply the effort that is needed in and around the Gulf.

Jamie McIntyre did some reporting on that from the Pentagon tonight.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The military relief effort is shifting into high gear. Six minesweeping helicopters from the amphibious assault ship USS Bataan, now off the coast of New Orleans, are being used for search and rescue. Five more Air Force search helicopters are heading to Mississippi, while the Navy is dispatching a task force of four ships from Norfolk, headed by the USS Iwo Jima, which also have helicopters, hospital facilities, construction equipment, and water purification capabilities.

In addition, the hospital ship Comfort is leaving Baltimore to provide more hospital beds. And sources say the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy could also be added to the relief armada, but that hasn't been decided. Job one for the Army Corps of Engineers is to help repair the New Orleans levee so that water can be drained from the city back into Lake Pontchartrain.

COL. PERRY "JEFF" SMITH, LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD: Now we're talking about sea-land containers and filling it with potentially sand or very, very heavy material, then lifting those containers and plugging the breach that way.

MCINTYRE: The Pentagon insists there are sufficient troops still at home to fulfill the National Guard's traditional role of disaster, rescue, and relief despite the fact 75,000 National Guard troops are deployed to 40 countries and make up half the U.S. force in Iraq.

MAJ. GEN. RON YOUNG, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL GUARD JOINT STAFF: There are plenty left here at home to respond to these emergencies. Made a commitment to the governors that we would have forces available for the federal duty, the away game, if you would, and the home game here in the continental United States. And no state across the country, none of the districts and the territories, are below 50 percent.

MCINTYRE: Of the affected states, Mississippi has 60 percent of its Guard troops. Louisiana, 65 percent. Alabama, 77 percent. And Florida, 74 percent. A total of more than 31,000 troops available for call-up.

So far, more than 10,000 Guard members for the four hardest-hit states have been activated. Many called up before the storm even hit, among those, 200 troops at the Louisiana Superdome. In 17 other states in or near the storm path, there are nearly 124,000 more troops who can be called on if needed.

Meanwhile, in Baghdad, members of one Louisiana National Guard unit in its last week of deployment are just now learning if they have homes to come back to.

LT. COL. JORDAN JONES, LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD: Obviously, they're anxious to return back to the States. But we are citizen soldiers. So our first primary mission is our federal one, and we're serving that now. But we're also prepared to change hats and return home and help the community as much as possible.


BROWN: That was Jamie McIntyre. As I was coming up tonight, I saw where the secretary of homeland security was activating 500 Coast Guardsmen and -women, an involuntary activization, if that's a word. I may have made one up there. So that will be added, those 500 folks will be added to the mix.

Jamie McIntyre joins us from the Pentagon now I believe. There you are. It sounds like they've got plenty of people if they need them. Are they a little sensitive to -- I know there has been in the blogs and in this highly-charged political time in which we live, a lot of questions about where the Guard has been and whether there is -- those people ought to have been there already and all the rest. Are they sensitive to it tonight?

MCINTYRE: Well, they're very sensitive to the idea that the National Guard ought to be restoring security to the extent that they might be used because of the looting or other lawlessness.

The military is very sensitive to the idea that its job is to support law enforcement but not to necessarily be the front line of law enforcement. So they want to focus their efforts on humanitarian relief.

And I also think there's some sensitivity to the perception that perhaps this is so overwhelming to the local authorities that only the military can step in and solve the problem.

And again, they're in a support role. They respond the very specific requests from state, local, federal authorities. And so they sort of take a slight backseat. But it is true the military has some capabilities that nobody else has and they're really trying to mobilize to make sure they can do that.

This is -- the enormity of this has really unfolded during the course of the day, and that is factored into the planning.

BROWN: I think anyone who watched the men and women on board the Eisenhower off the coast of Indonesia as they ferried water into the tsunami survivors have some sense of how -- of the kind of wherewithal that sometimes in fact, only the military can bring to a situation like this.

And whether it's drinking water or hospital beds or, in fact, MPs, if it's needed, I think that the people on the ground would say, get it there.

MCINTYRE: Yes. And I think -- but there's also the understanding here that this is not a foreign country. This is an area that is surrounded by America and that there are a lot of people rushing to help.

And you know, we focus on the military. We're here at the Pentagon because that's what we see, but there are also all of these law enforcement agencies, volunteer fire departments, people all mobilizing and converging on the area.

And the key in this kind of thing is coordination to make sure that the military does the things that it alone can do, and they let the other tasks that can be done by other Americans who are going to rally around this region, be done by that too.

So a lot of this is coordination, and when ever there is coordination on this kind of a scale, then it's also the inevitable lack of coordination, and we also see that as well.

BROWN: That happens sometimes, doesn't it? In every business. Thank you, Jamie. Jamie McIntyre over at the Pentagon tonight.

One of the realities is that for every soldier that comes in to do some background work, it does free up someone else to do -- whether it be civilian or law enforcement in the New Orleans area, or Mississippi, Alabama, to do more front line work. And so whatever role they take on will be helpful and you certainly get the sense tonight, much appreciated.

Still to come tonight, they call New Orleans "the city that care forgot." Someday, not soon, but someday it will be carefree again. It is one of the great towns. But first it has got to work its way back to dry ground. And that's not going to be easy, as we've heard just how hard it will be after the break.

This is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: Christine (ph), go back to that last picture. There have been some incredibly powerful pictures, still photos taken. We saw the -- someone sent me this one, actually. It was the front page of the Pascagoula, Mississippi, newspaper today. And it is an incredibly powerful picture. It tells you a lot about what has gone on and, unfortunately, it tells you a lot about what lies ahead.

Making life a bit easier for all of the people who have been impacted by this extraordinary and horrible storm will fall on the shoulders of not just governmental agencies, but will fall on the shoulders of the Red Cross among other private groups that will be in for the long haul.

And the long haul in various places looks like it's going to be quite a while. We're joined now in the Biloxi area by Peter Teahen, who is with the American Red Cross.

Peter, it's good to see you. How many people have you got on the ground?

PETER TEAHEN, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Well, we have over 2,000 Red Cross volunteers who were staged in Houston and Birmingham and are now en route to the coastal areas to begin serving and addressing the needs of those who are affected by the disaster.

BROWN: How many -- you've got 2,000 coming, I want to -- I guess I'm trying to figure out how many are there now?

TEAHEN: Well, we had local volunteers who were -- of course, were here before the disaster, and immediately started the shelters. That was a major operation. So several hundred, I believe, up to around 1,600 local volunteers who manned the shelters.

We had 230-some shelters housing over 43,000 residents the night of the storm. So the national responders are now coming to join the local volunteers to make sure we have enough people on the ground to handle the large area and the massive destruction which causes such human suffering.

BROWN: How many of those people are still in shelters tonight? TEAHEN: Well, that number varies because what we're seeing is people are -- who tried to stay at home are giving up and wanting to go somewhere else where they have companionship. So every night that number increases and will change. And day after day, the -- we anticipate that we'll see some growth.

And of course, as the federal government said, there is about 10,000 residents who have no place to go and Red Cross shelters and long-term housing with FEMA cooperation will address those needs.

BROWN: There -- that's a great point. We've only got about a minute to make it, but you've got a short-term problem which is just kind of getting food and water to people immediately. But in a lot of cases here we're going to have a long-term problem of finding housing and lives for people.

Is that the Red Cross' business or is that going to be someone else's business?

TEAHEN: Well, the Red Cross has the lead for the mass care, the feeding, and providing the water, and then the mental health counseling. We get all the non-profit agencies in a cooperative effort to make that happen on such huge projects.

Now the long-term housing is a problem of the federal government. The Red Cross assists the families in getting that type of assistance from the federal government. But our focus is meeting emergency basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing, and water, which is so critical down here. That's the major thing we're focusing in on right now.

BROWN: And I know, because I pay attention to this sort of thing, that you guys always look for whatever help you can get and people can go to your Web site which I assume is, is that right? There it is.

TEAHEN: That's right, And our 800 number is so important, the 1-800-HELP-NOW. This is going to be a multi-million dollar response. We need the Americans -- our great American citizens as our greatest partners on this disaster.

BROWN: So if people are so inclined, that's something they can do, either go to Web site or call the number and people will guide them from there. Peter, thanks for efforts.

TEAHEN: Thank you, Aaron.

BROWN: And we hope the days ahead get a little brighter, thank you very much.

TEAHEN: Thank you.

BROWN: Peter Teahen, who is with the American Red Cross. We'll take a break and our coverage here on CNN continues in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BROWN: Hurricanes are all about motion in many respects. Violent motion, an ideal subject for video. But as we showed you with that picture, the still photo of the mother and child, sometimes a still can capture the event and the impact of the event as powerfully as video can.

So here's NEWSNIGHT's Beth Nissen


BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Finally, sweeping views of what the storm had done, erased the line between the sea and land, between neighborhoods and harbors.

New Orleans was submerged, its downtown businesses, its uptown homes. Coast Guard helicopters picked up scores of the stranded, winching them up off rooftops, flying them high over the floodlands.

Others waited then waded toward higher, dryer ground through brackish, blackish water, waste high, through oily water neck deep. The water blurred the mapped lines from here to there, the roads and ramps, the streets and highways, cutting bridges along dotted lines in New Orleans, hyphenating highways in Biloxi.

Katrina crushed that city's barge casinos, swamping them at their moorings, rolling them like dice inland, tossing ships ashore into a sea of debris. Pascagoula, Mississippi, looked like that, too, and Spanish Fort, Alabama, and Roopville, Georgia.

So much damage, so much confusion, so much yet unknown, so many friends no one has heard from, family no one has seen since Sunday. So hard to believe that life will ever seem all right again.

Beth Nissen, CNN, New York.


BROWN: I love that picture. We're going to take a break. When we come back, we're going to -- there has been some extraordinary reporting on this by our colleagues here, perhaps no reporting more dramatic, more powerful, more riveting, and more important than reporting done last night about this time by correspondent Jeanne Meserve. And we're going to revisit that reporting after the break.


BROWN: In my view, it was about this time last night that I think all of us, those of you on -- out there and us here, began to understand the real dimensions of this story and how it was not going to get better, it was going to get worse.

We began to understand that in a conversation with Jeanne Meserve who had been out reporting on rescue operations in the 9th Ward of New Orleans, and her crew. It started out as what we would call a standard debrief of a reporter, but from almost the first words, it was clear to all of us it was going to be anything but standard. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't -- make sure you keep your head away from those (INAUDIBLE), OK?

BROWN: It has been quite a -- we don't use this word lightly, but quite a dramatic and difficult night down there, hadn't it?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has been horrible. As I left tonight, darkness, of course, had fallen. And you can hear people yelling for help. You can hear the dogs yelping, all of them stranded, all of them hoping someone will come.

As we were driving back, we passed scores of boats, they were in horrible shape, some of them. We watched one woman whose leg had been severed. Mark Biello, one of our cameramen, went out in one of the boats to help shoot. He ended up being out for hours and told horrific tales.

MARK BIELLO, CNN PHOTOJOURNALIST: I accompanied these three gentlemen in their boat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you upstairs?

BIELLO: They would call out to ask if anyone was there, and you could hear the people yelling or screaming from the attic areas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you have any (INAUDIBLE), broken bones?




BIELLO: Now those are just the audible ones that were close to the boat. This neighborhood spans for miles.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's no more. There are people on the roofs. So many (ph) people had to be rescued. It's no more.

MESERVE: Because this had happened before in Hurricane Betsy, there were many people who kept axes in their homes and had them in the attic in preparation for this. And some people were able to use those axes and make holes in their roof and stick their head out or their body out or climb up completely. But many others clearly didn't have that. Most of the rescuers appeared to be carrying axes, and they were trying to hack them out as best they could to provide access and haul them out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Feel better? You all right?

BROWN: The -- you talked about all the water there and that there are boats there. Do you have any sense of how deep that water is?

MESERVE: The water came up to the eaves of the house. And I was told by several rescue workers that we were not seeing the worst of it, there is another part, inaccessible by road at this point. The rescue workers also told me that they saw bodies in that part.

But you stand in the dark, and you hear people yelling for help and no one can get to them, it's a totally different experience.


BROWN: Of course, our Jeanne Meserve and photographer Mark Biello last night.

Just let me say that how warmed we are by the hundreds of people, several -- about 600 e-mails when I came in today commenting on that, on Jeanne's work, and not only the depth of her reporting, but the obvious humanity with which she reported that story.

We've been a part of lots of storytelling in our lives and I don't know that I've ever heard a better piece of work than that. And I suspect that will stay with me and you for a long time to come.

Tonight the waters are rising again in New Orleans. Tomorrow is not going to be a good day. It's going to be a more difficult day very likely than today. CNN will continue our coverage of this terrible disaster throughout the night.

We'll see you again tomorrow, until then, good night for all of us.