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CNN Newsnight Aaron Brown

Thousands Struggle to Escape New Orleans; Refugees Arrive at Astrodome

Aired September 01, 2005 - 22:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again, everyone.
Someday, we're going to look back on all of this and we're going to ask the most important question of them all: How did governments, local, state, county, federal governments, in the first major test of homeland security post-9/11, how did they perform? Some time and distance will help us answer that critical question. Tonight, we will simply report the story that continues to unfold by the minute.

More than three days after Katrina struck tens of thousands of people are still struggling to escape New Orleans, a city that is in a virtual state of anarchy tonight, as it awaits enough National Guard troops to shore up the police and restore safety and order. Some of those who took refuge in the Superdome have made their way to Houston, where they will now live, for a while at least, in the Astrodome.

We will get to our reporters in Houston a bit later in the program and talk to some of the people who are living in the dome. Relief efforts continue across the entire Gulf region, though not nearly fast enough for those who have been waiting since Monday.

The Senate is convening tonight in a special session to consider a disaster relief bill. We will get to that later as well. But we will start in the city of New Orleans, where tens of thousands of people remain trapped tonight. They are desperate, angry. Sometimes, they are armed, sometimes crazed, waiting for a way out.


BROWN (voice-over): Beneath the floodwaters and the misery, there were signs the social order, the most basic rules of life, had broken down, thousands of people living in the Convention Center, a scene hard to fathom anywhere, especially, though, an American city.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We really need some help. We got babies our here. I got three kids that need water, milk, bottles.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They don't have nothing, newborn babies, premature babies, everything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is heat. New Orleans is hot. We can't take this. We have been out here for three days. And we have been asking for help. BROWN: With a dangerous cocktail of anger, fear, and desperation brewing, 88 police officers were sent to deal with matters there. A mob beat them back, according to the chief of police, and, inside, anarchy and death.

RAYMOND COOPER, INSIDE CONVENTION CENTER: You got bodies in there. You got two old ladies that just passed, just that died. People dragging the bodies into a little corner. One guy -- that's how I found out. The guy had asked me, hey, man, anybody sleeping over here? I'm like, no. He dragged two bodies in there.

BROWN: By mid-afternoon, the mayor told us: "This is a desperate SOS. We are out of resources at the Convention Center and don't anticipate enough buses. We are running out of supplies," he said, "for the 15,000 to 20,000 people there. We are now allowing people to march."

Those who tried to leave the center on their own did not get very far. It is hard to fathom some of what we report, the looting and the carjackings not so much, but how do you explain snipers firing on a medevac helicopter trying to get the sick to safety?

DR. MATTHEW BELLEW, CHARITY HOSPITAL: We still have 200 patients in this hospital, many of them needing care that they just can't get. The conditions are such that it's very dangerous for the patients.

Just about all the patients in our services had fevers. Our toilets are overflowing. They are filled with stool and urine. And the smell, if you can imagine, is so bad, you know, many of us had gagging and some people even threw up. It's pretty rough.

BROWN: The president will view the region tomorrow, but he will not see this sort of thing.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In our judgment, we view this storm as a temporary disruption that is being addressed by the government and by the private sector. We have taken immediate steps to address the issue.

BROWN: But, in truth, immediate has not come fast enough, and, fairly or not, explanations from Washington sound to many in New Orleans like excuses.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: The active flooding and the continued challenge of dealing with water levels that can be anywhere from three to four to eight feet have dramatically impeded our ability to actually get these supplies into New Orleans.

BROWN: National Guard troops have been arriving, some patrolling the streets now. More are on the way, more than 30,000 troops, active duty and reserve.

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: I have just gotten word that we will be getting all the troops we need as long as we need. They will continue to pour into the state. I have asked for no less than 40,000. But if we hit the 40,000 mark and still feel like we need more, we will get them.

BROWN: And, in the meantime, slowly, very slowly, people are being moved out, not thousands yet, but just a start.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We moved some 70 buses out of the Superdome yesterday evening with medical evacuees. And the evacuees of general population has begun.

BROWN: The National Guard began moving the ill and the frail out of the Superdome first. And we obtained some of our first pictures of what people lived through for more than three days inside, no air- conditioning, not much light, toilets clogged and mostly useless, and, ahead, a 12-hour bus ride to the Astrodome in Houston.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm -- I'm just stressed out right now. I'm tired. I need a bed. I need a bath.

BROWN: Today, thousands of other residents of New Orleans, for whom there was no transportation of any kind, simply started walking, walking away from everything they have ever known and into a future that is truly unknowable.


BROWN: There is little or no safety in the city of New Orleans tonight. We just heard our colleague Chris Lawrence -- and we will get to Chris in a moment -- talk about being at a police station, on the roof of a police station. Down below, the police that have shown up for work say they will defend the station. That's the point they're at, simply defending the station.

And we saw a note from a Canadian tourist in the city today. "I fear I will die here," he wrote, caught in a crossfire between rampaging groups. Tourists are being preyed upon. The sick and the frail are suffering. Some are being taken to the airport, where the Army has set up field hospitals.

David Mattingly reports from there tonight.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The line for the moment is painfully long. The sick and the injured fill a New Orleans Airport, some reeling from the rescue that seems to have no end.

RONALD METOYER, EVACUEE: I've been in pain ever since before the storm started. I've been in pain since the surgery two weeks ago.

MATTINGLY: Ronald Metoyer broke his neck and was hurting too much after surgery to evacuate his home. He and his family waded through chest-deep waters and ended up with the hundreds of others wandering the elevated expressways, walking for miles to reach the Superdome. They are now getting their first hot meal and waiting for a final medical evacuation.

METOYER: I'm hurting. But I feel blessed enough not to even feel as much of the pain I was feeling trying to get to this point.

MATTINGLY: And there are many in far worse shape. As the gurneys continue to creep in, patients lie on the floor, some only in hospital gowns. Fans are running, but the air is thick in some areas with the smell of urine and feces. They're all waiting for that one last transfer to a final shelter or a real hospital and real beds. Emergency needs are being met, but some are so sick, the journey itself may prove to be too much.

(on camera): Are there people in this room right now who may not survive the next move they have to make?


MATTINGLY: How many?

JACOBY: I don't have those numbers.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Helicopter traffic is nonstop. For some, the escape from the misery that is New Orleans means a rain soaked run across a steaming tarmac. For others, it means agonizing separation. This mother is being bused away, not knowing where her newborn baby has already been sent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All these people was on a maternity ward and they had to evacuate us. And I was in ICU and I'm looking for my baby.

MATTINGLY: And yet, there are moments like this.

Ninety-year-old Edna Ramer and her 87 year-old husband Alan, survived 13-foot floodwaters, only to lose sight of each other during a frenzied hospital evacuation.

EDNA RAMER, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: Nobody knows we're alive even. They rescued us off the roof of my house.

MATTINGLY: After losing everything else, they again have each other. But with no idea where they will be going next.


MATTINGLY: But, having lost everything, like so many thousands of others and the hundreds of other patients here at the field hospital, that is one family who now is counting their blessings, saying anywhere is better than here -- Aaron.

BROWN: Just, I -- David, I apologize. I may have missed this. Were most of these people in their homes or were they in hospitals in the New Orleans area before they were medevaced out?

MATTINGLY: This is a huge variety of people in medical need. Some of them were in hospitals. Some of them were in nursing homes. They were evacuated from there and brought here. There were some people who were in shelters who needed medicine. They were evacuated to here. That couple that we saw at the end of my story, they were actually in their home. They had to be rescued by boat from their home after 18-foot floodwaters came up to the second floor of their home. They were taken to a hospital from there. That hospital had to be evacuated. They were then taken to the parish jail, where the staging area was set up to evacuate the medical personnel from there.

It was at that time they became separated, and it was here , at the field hospital, where they were reunited, one of the few bright spots we have actually seen today.

BROWN: Did you ever think in your life that you'd stand on the soil of the United States of America and see the things you've seen this week?

MATTINGLY: I'm trying not to think about that question, Aaron.


MATTINGLY: This is this -- this is not the America that I have grown up in.

BROWN: It is -- it is an unbelievable and horrible moment.

David, thank you. Your work has been extraordinary this week.

In the reporting over the last few days, in truth, we hadn't heard much about the Convention Center. We were a bit surprised, however, to hear Michael Brown, the head of FEMA, say he hadn't heard of the problems at the Convention Center either. We now suspect that, for as long as this story of New Orleans is told, the Convention Center will have a sad, desperate chapter.

CNN's Chris Lawrence worked that part of the story today and joins us tonight -- Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Aaron, right now, we are holed up on a rooftop of a police station in the middle of New Orleans. Right now, it's the only safe place to be in the city.

We were on the street earlier, but the police said, under no circumstances would you be safe on the street. They said anybody walking in the streets of New Orleans is basically taking their life in their hands.

As they hustled us off the street, some of the officers told us that groups of young men have been roaming the city, shooting at people, attempting to rape young women. They directed some of the young women to get off the street immediately. So, we are here. We're seeing helicopters circling the city. And police snipers are just lining the rooftops here, basically trying to defend this police station.

So, this is an element of danger, of the human danger here in New Orleans. But it's being accompanied by this incredible human misery that we saw down at the Convention Center. BROWN: All right. Let's -- let's talk about the Convention Center for a minute here. I have got the scene that you're in tonight. And we will come back to that. I want to talk about the Convention Center.

How many people were there, Chris?

LAWRENCE: Aaron, it was so hard to tell. I -- thousands and thousands of families were there.


LAWRENCE: They went for blocks and blocks.

BROWN: And the conditions they were living in, as best you could tell, were what?

LAWRENCE: Like what you would -- it was like you would have an animal living in conditions like that, feces everywhere, putrid food, raw sewage on the street, with people basically sitting with their feet in it. These are mothers, mothers with babies, elderly people with very, very serious health conditions living in the worst possible conditions.

We saw dead bodies. People are dying there at the Convention Center. We saw an elderly woman who had died in a wheelchair. No one came to get her. There is no one to come get her. So, she sits there, pushed up against the side of the Convention Center, someone's mother, someone's grandmother. And next to her on the ground is another body wrapped in a white sheet. There's another body that's out in front of the Convention Center.

People are literally dying there. They don't have food. They don't have water. They don't have any way to communicate. And, if nothing changes in the next day or two, that body count is just going to rise and rise and rise. It is heartbreaking.

BROWN: OK. That it is.

We saw, Chris, a report that there are something like 100 armed men inside the Convention Center sort of holding the center, if you will, away from police. Do you know anything about that? Have police told you anything about that? Why can't the police go in there and take back that building?

LAWRENCE: That I don't know. It was not the case when we were in there earlier. And I'd hate to guess at that.

BROWN: Don't guess.

LAWRENCE: But I can tell you that, you know, police have said, you know, the average everyday citizen is pretty much gone. The men who are left on the street with these guns are the hardest of the hard. And one officer said, you know, they don't respect the police. They may fear us a little bit because we have guns, too, but they will not hesitate to shoot. And they feel like -- the officer said these men feel like they can take control of the city, although the officers say they're not going to let that happen.

BROWN: Well, I hope they get control of the city back, because they clearly don't have control...


LAWRENCE: Aaron, if I could just say one thing real -- really quickly. You know, in talking with some of the officers here, people have wondered, you know, why can't they do more? But one officer told me, you know, people have deserted them. Officers have deserted the force. One officer told me, one precinct, maybe 20 percent of the officers have deserted.

In other precincts or, you know, stations, he thinks as many as 50 to 60 percent of the officers may have just walked off the job.

BROWN: Well, that's certainly comforting.

Chris, thank you -- Chris Lawrence in New Orleans, on top of a roof at a police station, where the remaining police officers are defending the fort.

Coming up, the evacuees reach Houston's Astrodome. We will take a look at the conditions there and the conditions they left.

First, at about a quarter past the hour, we check some of the other news headlines of the day. Erica Hill joins us tonight from Atlanta.

Good evening, Ms. Hill.


Mohammed Sidique Khan, who was the suspected ringleader of the London suicide bombings, warned of more terror strikes, all this in a tape recorded before he died. Khan's statement aired on the Arab- language television station Al-Jazeera. The tape also included praise for the London killings from al Qaeda deputy leader Ayman Al-Zawahri.

It may be tough to believe, but it has already been a year since Chechen gunmen seized a school in the town of Beslan, killing 300 children in three days. September 1 is the first day of the school year. But school was actually delayed for a day as the town commemorated and remembered the loss.

A Dutch teenager who has been in jail in Aruba for nearly three months in connection with the disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway will be freed this weekend. Joran van der Sloot's lawyer says a judge refused prosecutors' requests, Aaron, to keep him detained.

And the California Senate has actually become the country's first legislative body to approve same-sex marriage. The measure is headed for a showdown in the state assembly next week. The assembly did vote against gay marriage in June.

BROWN: Erica, thank you. We will check with you in a half-an- hour.

Coming up on the program tonight, catastrophe across the Gulf Coast, starting with what so many people have known for so long.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have always known that New Orleans had a bullseye right smack in the middle of the French Quarter.

BROWN: For years, there were warnings of a catastrophic storm in New Orleans. So, why wasn't the government prepared? And where, if anywhere, does politics fit in?

They went to the Superdome for shelter and instead found a hell on Earth -- how they survived.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Five hundred people waiting, paid tickets, everything, waiting in the streets for five hours. Buses didn't come. We understood that the military commandeered them as they entered the city.

BROWN: They were tourists trapped in New Orleans. They would still be trapped tonight if not for the kindness of strangers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were lucky enough to run into this gentleman.

I don't even know your name.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm Tim. You saved my life.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He saved my life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, how you all making out? We have got some help coming.

BROWN: The island that Katrina almost washed away, almost, and not for the first time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And my people coming up to me, what are we going to do? And I told them, we're going to start all over again.

BROWN: Revisiting Grand Isle after the storm.

From New York, a special edition of NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: Several thousand refugees from New Orleans have now arrived at the Astrodome in Houston, a giant complex they'll call home for some time to come. It'll get smaller and smaller. The buses have been arriving at the Astrodome most of the day. It will continue most of the night. In fact, expect an awful lot of people, many thousand more, to arrive between overnight tonight and overnight tomorrow over the next 24 hours.

When they get there, they are greeted warmly, we were told earlier today, and I imagine that felt great. They're looking forward to a hot meal and a shower and a bed. And they'll find some combination of those things. They also would like to get on the phone and contact loved ones. I think phones have been set up.

Valena and Eliseanne Coco are two of the several thousand. And they walked outside to talk to us for a little while.

It's good to see you. It must feel as -- Valena, as displaced as you must feel, it still must be good to be there, rather than where you were.

VALENA COCO, REFUGEE: Oh, yes. Everything has been very warm and comforting. And it's a pleasure, and we appreciate the invitation, for you all to have extended it to us.

BROWN: Let's talk about the Astrodome first. What is life like inside there? Are there doctors there? Is there -- the toilet facilities work? Is there a shower?

V. COCO: There are facilities available here, the showers mainly, that were not available at the Superdome. There's a triage center here.

And if you need further care, you could go over to the clinic area that has been set up. And there's additional medical help available. And even if you have more severe injuries or ailments, you can be forwarded to a hospital.

BROWN: Eliseanne, what was -- what was life like in the Superdome in New Orleans?

ELISEANNE COCO, REFUGEE: It was hard, because you had people going crazy, like them -- with -- running around with their neck cut off, because everybody is worrying about family members and where their family members are and trying to find everyone. And it was just -- it was -- it was getting hard.

BROWN: Were you frightened?

E. COCO: At times.

BROWN: What was it that was frightening? What was going on that was frightening?

E. COCO: That my life has completely changed after this. I'm a student at Delgado Community College. And it's like I don't know if I'm going to have to start over or anything like that, because education is the number one thing, and that's what I'm worried about. I mean, my family's here with me. So...

Valena, how do you find -- did you find yourself in this situation in the first place? The evacuation order went out. You didn't leave. How did that happen?

V. COCO: I did not leave to remain behind with my mom, who had a triple bypass a couple of weeks ago. She felt that she would not be able to make the trip out of town. So, we remained behind. One of my brothers stayed. And we were going to protect her from the storm. Of course, we did not plan -- we had not experienced a Category 5.

But, of course, I should have known that a 5 is not a 3 or a 1. So, that was a bad call on my part. We did make preparations to be in a two-story building, but, again, had no notion that water would cover the truck that we attempted to get out of town with in a matter of seconds. We were overpowered by the flow, glass -- eyeglasses blown off her face.

And, as I said, a Silverado was covered in a matter of seconds. And that was a very scary and horrific thing to experience. Worse yet was, once you went to the second story and you saw the water creep up to the second floor, you realized how powerful it was. And sitting on the roof of the second floor with an elderly parent, it was quite frightening, to say the least. And we will never, ever ignore or not heed in some manner a mandatory evacuation.


How's your mom doing?

V. COCO: She's doing OK.

I mean, she -- you know, you have to take the vein out your leg. That leg should have been extended. In the dome, we were in seats. There were some cots available for the extremely ill. And, of course, she didn't categorize herself as extremely ill. So, we sat in the seats. And being walking in the water, the incision, you know, that water wasn't clean. So, both yesterday at the dome and all day today, she stayed at the triage center here at the Astrodome.

She's been receiving the care until we can figure out how to get in touch with her doctors.

BROWN: Eliseanne, do you have any idea how long you're going to live in the Astrodome?

E. COCO: Hopefully not too much longer, because we want my grandmother to be safe. And she's uncomfortable. And we don't want that, because we don't want her to be, you know, uncomfortable in any situation or for her to get sick and then have to worry about anything. We don't want any stress. We don't -- we want her to be safe and to be in a home.

BROWN: Do you think you'll be there weeks or days or months?

V. COCO: We have family that we are contacting in Lake Charles. And we're hoping to make arrangements to go out there with our sister there...


V. COCO: ... who is hopefully on her way to get us as we speak.

BROWN: Well, you know what? I think everybody watching hopes you get there soon. You've been through a lot. And we appreciate your indulging our questions tonight. Thank you.

V. COCO: You're welcome.

E. COCO: You're welcome.

BROWN: Thank you.

BROWN: Valena and Eliseanne Coco.

Eliseanne looked, what, 19 years old? Wondering if she'll ever get back to college, her mom taking care of her mom.

A lot of people talked about, including the director of FEMA, talked about the people who didn't evacuate. It's -- some people didn't evacuate. They were careless. Some people couldn't evacuate. And that's a good thing to keep in mind in all of this as well.

Our coverage continues in a moment.


ANNOUNCER: This week in history, in 1996, after Iraq invaded the Kurdish safe haven, the U.S. launched cruise missile attacks against Iraqi defense bases.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Princess Diana has died.

ANNOUNCER: On August 31, 1997, Princess Diana was killed in a car crash in Paris.

And Swissair Flight 111 plunged into the ocean off Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, on September 2, 1998.

And that is this week in history.



BROWN: A quick reset now for those of you just joining us at the bottom of the hour. What we saw and heard out of New Orleans today almost defies imagination. More than three days after Hurricane Katrina smashed through the region life, in a word, in the Big Easy is wretched. Today we began to get a much better idea of what people lived through at the giant Superdome. We also heard for the first time how bad it's been at the Convention Center. Somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 people have been staying there. We are living like animals is how one person put it today. There aren't enough supplies there. There aren't enough buses to get people out of there. Bodies of the dead are literally piling up. The mayor issued an S.O.S. today saying they don't have the supplies or buses to ferry people out of the city, a city that tonight stands in a virtual state of anarchy.

Search and rescue operations have been slowed by the lawlessness. Everything has been slowed by the lawlessness. Hospital evacuations halted because of sniper fire. Trying to make sense of that one. Patients dying while waiting to be evacuated. Help is beginning to arrive is the best news we can report. National Guard troops are patrolling some parts of the area now. More than 30,000 troops are on the way. They won't be there tomorrow. Not 30,000, at least. But tonight 300 members of the Arkansas National Guard, trained MPs arrived with shoot to kill orders should they need them. It's a mess. There are few roads out of the flooded city, but people are slowly being moved out, some by bus, to Houston, Texas. Others are finding their own way out.


BROWN (voice over): Through sheets of rain it is the slow exodus of the lucky ones, those who are getting out.

TIM SHEER, NEW ORLEANS EVACUEE: We walked, probably 200 people, about a two-hour trek. We got to the top of the bridge, they stopped us with shotguns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police were shooting guns to keep people from crossing the bridge getting out of the city.

BROWN: They were tourists trapped in a hotel in New Orleans. They thought they'd arranged a bus ride out of town.

SHEER: Ten buses. They paid 25 grand. And we were waiting, 500 people, waiting, paid tickets, everything, waiting in the street for five hours. Buses didn't come. We understood that the military commandeered them as they entered the city.

BROWN: After hearing the shots fired by police, they were saved by a good samaritan, a man none had ever met before.

SHEER: We were lucky enough to run into this gentleman. I don't even know your name. I'm Tim. You saved my life. He saved my life. He saved my life, my wife's life. There's eight of us. He got us out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I seen beaucoup Army trucks, convoys, and it's too many to say they can't move around. If I can move around, then they can move around.

BROWN: Where they wound up was here, a tiny gym owned by the town of Kenner, Louisiana, just beyond the boundaries of the airport in New Orleans. They knew what they had experienced. They had heard stories of what others had.

SHEER: And it is a war zone, an absolute war zone. People are getting killed and raped. BROWN: In Kenner itself officials were distributing ice and water courtesy of the Wal-Mart. And like everywhere in the area, they were concerned not just with public health but with public safety in a society breaking down.

KENT DENAPOLIS, KENNER CITY COUNCILMAN: There's been looting, you know, in the city. There's been quite a bit. I mean, I think they hit the convenience stores first. They've been hitting some of the homes in the neighborhoods. We've been hearing reports with that. You know, they're hitting, you know, the stores that have, you know, like drug stores and things like that that have some of the basics that they need.

BROWN: Outside of Kenner this is a place called Laplace, little signs of better days. The grocery store opened today. The lines were long, and the supplies were limited, but it was open. And everywhere it seems there and in Kenner and beyond the need is great.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have electricity. We don't have water. We don't have fuel. We don't -- we don't have anything.


BROWN (on camera): Baton Rouge now, where numerous shelters are housing thousands of refugees, local citizens being asked to open their homes to more. We heard someone say tonight that the city of Baton Rouge has essentially doubled in population with the influx of all of these people. Sergeant Mark Mix is with Louisiana State Patrol, and he joins us on the phone from Baton Rouge. Nice to talk to you. Are there emerging problems in Baton Rouge because of, just the explosion in the population?

SGT. MARK MIX, LOUISIANA STATE POLICE: It's very isolated, if any. Any problems that have happened, it's very isolated. The Baton Rouge City Police, the local sheriff's office, the East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office here has done a fantastic job of heightened alert, if you will, and they're really looking for any and all troublemakers.

BROWN: When you, Sergeant, when you hear -- you're hearing the same stuff we're hearing coming out of New Orleans. You hear about the state of anarchy. You hear about people getting killed, people getting shot at, helicopters getting shot at. What do you make of all this?

MIX: It's, literally, it's almost surreal. You really can't believe it until you hear it from fellow officers who are down there. I can tell you that we are mobilizing a large contingency of officers from around the state. Texas, Arkansas, Kentucky. Sheriff's deputies from Michigan have arrived. The National Guard is coming in tomorrow with more troops. FBI. What I can say, the state of civil unrest is probably going to come to an abrupt end in the very near future.

BROWN: Do you think that -- let's talk about that, because, first of all, in and of itself it's simply horrible. But beyond that it's making everything else impossible. You can't move people around. You can't levee. MIX: That is correct.

BROWN: You can't do anything. Do you think that 24 hours from now we'll see a noticeable difference in the degree of lawlessness in New Orleans?

MIX: I think you will. As -- you hit the nail on the head. We have had to take people away from search and rescue to deal with this civil unrest caused by, you know, sporadic individuals and sporadic instances of violence. And of course you cannot get in and do any search and rescue if you have these violent criminals roaming the streets. If we have all these troops in here tomorrow, possibly the next day, this is probably going to -- we'll probably quash it, and we'll get on with the search and rescue efforts.

BROWN: Is it -- I'm curious -- I'm curious how police officers view it all right now. We had a correspondent tell us he was in a police station in New Orleans on the roof. Basically, the police there were reduced to defending their station. I mean, they couldn't do any more than that. It's got to be maddening.

MIX: It's very disheartening. You see the desperation on the faces as they come back from the city. But above all the morale is high. We have trained for this. We have -- the morale -- everybody -- central thought process, if you will, is everybody is there to help the people in New Orleans. Any way possible, we're going to go down there. We're going to take this city back, and we're going to get these innocent people to safety.

BROWN: Well, we wish you nothing but safety and good luck and Godspeed, and it can't happen soon enough.

MIX: Thank you for your concern.

BROWN: Thank you, sir, very much. Mark Mix is with the Louisiana State Police. He said at one point that they've trained for this sort of thing. I don't know how much anybody imagined this sort of thing, but one of the things we did learn today is that in terms of the hurricane itself -- or a hurricane itself coming through, the kind of damage it could do actually was anticipated. Right down to the number of people who would be -- who would stay behind, either because they had to, or they were foolish enough to do so. We'll talk about what we knew before after the break.


BROWN: In the "help is on the way" category tonight, how tiresome has that phrase become, the U.S. Senate tonight met quickly, approved a $10 1/2 billion aid package for the states hit by the hurricane, the three of them, probably Florida too, so four of them at least, the House will meet tomorrow afternoon, members coming back from their Labor Day break, or whatever they call their August break, early to vote on that. The Senate has passed it. The House will tomorrow.

We read today a remarkable piece of reporting by two reporters with the New Orleans newspaper "The Times-Picayune." It was a five- part series they wrote back in 2002, and it laid out in detail exactly what would happen if the area was hit by a hurricane like Katrina.

It is amazing how accurate it turned out to be. Almost everything that has happened was predicted or predictable. The city knew that many people wouldn't leave -- 136,000 people. The city knew it couldn't get everyone out, even if they wanted to get out, there weren't enough buses. The city and the federal government knew that the levees were at risk. They didn't act. Here's CNN's Ed Henry.


ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Stunned by the utter devastation in his home state of Louisiana, former senator John Breaux says warning signs were everywhere.

SEN. JOHN BREAUX, FRM. LOUISIANA SENATOR: We've always known that New Orleans had a bull's eye right smack in the middle of the French Quarter.

HENRY: But people in power have been running from the problem, literally, as far back as 1927, when a flood killed 200 people.

Decade after decade, the alarm bells rang. In 1965 Hurricane Betsy flooded the city: death toll 61, and 60,000 left homeless. Shortly before 9/11 the Federal Emergency Management Agency declared that among the most likely disasters in America a risk nearly on par with a terror attack in New York, was a catastrophic storm in New Orleans like Katrina.

DR. SUSAN HOWELL, UNIVERSITY OF NEW ORLEANS: It was a perfect storm, because everything went wrong. You have a city in a vulnerable area. The levees were sinking. The city was sinking. Coastal erosion brought the Gulf closer. And really not as much has been done to stop that as could have been done.

HENRY: After six died in a flood seven years ago, Congress created a massive project for the Army Corps of Engineers, to renovate the 13 levee systems which protect New Orleans. But the Bush administration cut funding for the flood-control project known as SELA at a time when the Army Corps is also stretched thin from rebuilding Iraq.

LT. GEN. CARL STROCK, CMMDR, U.S. ARMY CORPSE OF ENGINEERS: Certainly if more funds were available, we could finish the project more quickly. In this case, I'm not sure that had the SELA been completely intact that it really would have helped this, because this was about a levee breach.

HENRY: That levee ruptured because it was designed to withstand a category 3 hurricane, despite all the dire warnings that it was only a matter of time before New Orleans got slammed by a category 4 or 5 like Katrina.

STROCK: Given what we thought was the probability of an event like this, we and the other decision makers felt like we were making the prudent decision.

HENRY: Federal officials have also ignored pleas to protect Louisiana's coast, which acts as a barrier for storm surges. But because of ongoing erosion, experts say this year alone Louisiana will lose another 25 to 30 square miles of delta marsh, an area as big as Manhattan.

JOHN RENNIE, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN: That means that if you didn't do anything to try to stop that rate of disappearance, by the end of this century New Orleans would be exposed right to the open ocean, at which point there is no New Orleans anymore.

HENRY: For years, the coalition to restore coastal Louisiana has been pushing a plan to restore the coast. The estimated cost is high: $14 billion. But a drop in the bucket compared to the tens of billions of dollars it will cost to recover, repair and rebuild New Orleans.

Ed Henry, CNN, Washington.


BROWN: We saw on the map that went by sort of quickly in Ed's piece Grand Isle, Louisiana, which is a small town, or a small island, that's why they call it Grand Isle, Aaron -- goodness. Anyway, we were there reporting out of there three weeks, a month ago. We'll go back to there, coming up tonight, and see how they did.

Erica Hill joins us now from Atlanta to update us one final time on some of the other stories that made news tonight.

HILL: Hi, Aaron.

We start off with the storm on the other side of the world. Nearly 600,000 people evacuated as typhoon Talim hit Southern China today. And that storm did lose strength at landfall where it became a severe tropical storm with winds of 73 miles an hour. Still pretty destructive, though.

Saddam Hussein will be tried next month. Iraqi leaders say they plan to put the former leader in the dock within five days of the referendum on the new constitution. That vote takes place on October 15.

Travelers from Canada and Mexico along with other allied nations will now require a passport or other secure document to enter the United States. The departments of State and Homeland Security say they expect to adopt the policy by the end of the year, although it won't affect travelers right away.

An FBI test that matches crime scene bullets by lead content is now being stopped because of its high rate of error. The bureau is advising now 300 state, local and foreign law enforcement agencies who have received positive matches from the test, Aaron.

BROWN: Erica, thank you very much. See you tomorrow. Thank you. Erica Hill in Atlanta.

The focus, understandably, is on New Orleans. Obviously, there's all of the damage that was done in Mississippi and in the kind of outer islands just off the coast of Louisiana, got whacked by the hurricane as well. We'll visit Grand Isle, one of those spaces, after we come back. This is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT on CNN.


BROWN: Grand Isle, Louisiana has always known it was at ground zero for a hurricane. A few weeks back, as we mentioned, we reported on how blase they were about the prospects of a major storm. "We are always warned, always told we're going to get wiped out," the people there told us. Tonight, Rusty Dornin goes back to Grand Isle.



RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If any one place seemed like a target, it was Grand Isle, Louisiana, the last inhabited barrier island and one of the most exposed pieces of land in the state. It wasn't ground zero, but it looks like it.

MAYOR DAVID CAMARDELLE, GRAND ISLE, LA: I've been getting help. I just...

DORNIN: And right now, the only thing Grand Isle Mayor David Camardelle can do is try to calm shattered nerves.

CAMARDELLE: Hey, how are y'all making out? We've got some help coming. (INAUDIBLE) got a bunch of cops coming. We're going to protect the property.

DORNIN: Grand Isle may be in the same parish, but it's a long way from New Orleans, and that means Camardelle is having a tough time getting help.

CAMARDELLE: We got people drowning, dead people. We got 10 feet of water in New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, and telling me to do what I have to do and take command...

DORNIN: So he did. The first thing was the bridge to the island. The storm surge shoved the middle sections four feet.

CAMARDELLE: The wave energies come out of the northeast, and you could see how the current's moving. What happened is this panel here belongs right even on top of this pipe right in here.

DORNIN: The engineers told him no cars. So now shell-shocked refugees walk the span, use four-wheelers with trailers, figure out more creative forms of transportation. Anyone with a house built on the ground lost it, shattered like matchsticks against the levee.

CAMARDELLE: You're doing all right? Everything's OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, yeah. Well, the bottom -- you know, we lost a lot of stuff in the bottom. But we've made it.

DORNIN: Across the way, even the dead were not spared the indignities of Hurricane Katrina. The rising water popped several coffins out of the graves, including Camardelle's former supervisor.

Before the storm, the mayor tried to get everyone off the island. But he couldn't talk Maurella Veneble (ph) and four others into leaving, so he gave them the keys to city hall and told them to ride it out there. They all survived.

(on camera): Why did you want to stay outside?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wanted to see it.

DORNIN: Camardelle hadn't had time to check his own house. So we went with him for his first look.

CAMARDELLE: This is my home here. I don't know what I've got left.

DORNIN: One of the lucky ones. But Camardelle worries about those who weren't.

CAMARDELLE: Hopefully, in the outside, they will see what's going on. And we need help.

DORNIN: This is what Grand Isle looked like back in July. CNN visited with Camardelle then, as he worried about Hurricane Dennis. That storm missed the island.

CAMARDELLE: Now, looking at this today, and my people coming up to me, what are we going to do? And I told them we'll start all over again.

DORNIN: What was once a sleepy Cajun fishing village and tourist Mecca, a paradise lost, at least for now.

Rusty Dornin, CNN, Grand Isle, Louisiana.


BROWN: You know that there is nothing to suggest that this whole thing won't happen again, I mean, that this area's not going to get whacked again by a hurricane. We're not nearly at the end of the hurricane season, and it's supposed to be an active season.

Coming up at the top of the hour, we'll review the events of yet another extraordinary day in an extraordinary week of coverage. Take a break first. This is a special two-hour edition of NEWSNIGHT.

BROWN: As we approach the top of the hour, for those of you just joining us, a quick recap of where this day has gone. It's been almost four days since Hurricane Katrina came ashore. Somehow it seems longer, doesn't it? Think about that for a moment. Almost four days since all the people still stranded by the storm have had a hot shower or a bath, slept in a bed, had a hot meal, had water, had the medicines they need. Tonight, tens of thousands of people are still struggling to escape from New Orleans, a city that has spiraled out of control, a city awaiting enough National Guard troops and police officers from neighboring cities and around the country to restore order and restore safety.

What we saw and heard from the city today was almost beyond imagination.


BROWN (voice-over): Beneath the floodwaters and the misery, there were signs the social order, the most basic rules of life, had broken down. Thousands of people living in the convention center, a scene hard to fathom anywhere, especially, though, an American city.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We really need some help. We got babies. I got three kids that need water, milk, bottles. They don't have nothing. Newborn babies. Premature babies. Everything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is heat. New Orleans is hot. We can't stay, because we've been out here for three days, and we've been asking for help.

BROWN: With a dangerous cocktail of anger, fear and desperation brewing, 88 police officers were sent to deal with matters there. A mob beat them back, according to the chief of police. And inside, anarchy and death.