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CNN Newsnight Aaron Brown

Anarchy in New Orleans; Thousands Migrate to Texas

Aired September 01, 2005 - 22:58   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: 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.

RAYMOND COOPER, INSIDE CONVENTION CENTER: You got bodies in there. You got two old ladies that just passed, just had died. People dragging the bodies into a little corner.

One guy had acted - that's how I found out. The guy had actually - 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 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 car jackings not so much, but how do you explain snipers firing on a Medivac helicopter trying to get the sick to safety?

MATTHEW BELLEW, DR., 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 on our services had fevers or (INAUDIBLE). Falling the - you know, the stool and urine. And the smell, as you can imagine, is so bad, you know, many of us had gags. And some people even - 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've taken immediate steps to address to 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.

BELLEW: The act of 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, 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've 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.

LT. COL. PETE SCHNEIDER, LA NATIONAL GUARD: 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 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: Houston, Texas, of course, taking in thousands of the refugees, from the Superdome, tonight. San Antonio, Texas promising to do so as well. We'll have more on San Antonio in a second.

This is the scene inside the Astrodome. Tonight, the country's original domed stadium. Now it's second refugee center, I guess. Thousands of cops have been laid out. Three thousand people had arrived there earlier in the day. We suspect 1,000 or more have come since. And many more are expected to come in the next 24 hours.

How long they will stay there isn't exactly clear, but for the first arrivals, it was a very welcome scene. They got a hot meal. They got showers. As you can see, there are cots there. There's medical facilities. And many people or a good many people at least in need of medical attention.

So the -- relative to the way they have been living, I suppose we need to keep it in perspective, relative to the way they've been living in the Superdome, this was the Ritz, folks. This is about as good as it gets to have a hot shower and a hot meal.

How long they can sustain it, how crowded it will get, how difficult it will become, hard to say. But it's not going to get any better than it is now. You've got a lot of kids in there. You've got a lot of older people in there. Kids needs to go to schools. A lot needs to be done. And it's not going to be easy. And it's not going to be cheap. And what separates, I think, a lot of the worst of it from the best of it is how generous a good many people have turned out to be and a good many cities have turned out to be, including the city of San Antonio, Texas.

The mayor of San Antonio, Texas, Phil Hardberger joins us now. Mr. Mayor, good to have you with us.

MAYOR PHIL HARDBERGER, SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS: Thank you so much, Aaron. Great to be with you.

BROWN: How many people can you take?

HARDBERGER: Well, we've been told that we may get 25,000 evacuees. And if that's what they send us, that's what we'll take. And that we will take care of.

BROWN: Tell me how you're going to take care of them? Where will they live? How will they live? HARDBERGER: Well, we have set up a - our first reception area at Kelly - used to be Kelly Air Force Base, but a large base has now been closed. Does have a very large runway, which is still active and useful. And we have a very large building there. Probably can take 7,000, 8,000 people.

And that's being prepared. It is not air conditioned, but we have people out there tonight air conditioning it. They'll be working throughout the night. And we'll be ready for them when they come.

BROWN: Any idea when they will come, by the way?

HARDBERGER: Well, we're getting the actual - just people drifting in now.


HARDBERGER: We'll probably about 600 people that had just drifted in. But there is a plane load of 250 people that will be coming in this very evening. So by dawn, we'll be right at 1,000 people, which is so low number, of course, but we do expect those numbers to continue and increase as we go along.

BROWN: Let's talk about just the most basic of things. You've obviously been making phone calls to doctors to make sure there's medical facilities out there. There's food out there. There's water out there, right?

HARDBERGER: All of the above. We have four major hospital systems here in town. And the university hospital system is one - they've already cleared out an entire floor that they are going to give to the evacuees that need medical care, medical attention.

The others, the Catholic, the Baptist and the Methodist hospital systems have all just basically turned themselves inside out, to make sure that these people get the medical care that they need.

BROWN: Governor, yesterday, your state said we're going to open our public schools to the children of the state of Louisiana who need school to go to. Do you actually have space and books and desks to handle a few thousand kids in your schools?

HARDBERGER: Well, there's going to be some difficulties and hardships for the people of San Antonio. But our difficulties and hardships are nothing compared with what these people are having to go through. And San Antonio's very warm hearted city, very hospitable city. And they're being received here with open arms. We want to give them back their dignity and put some stability in their life. And whatever we need to do, we're going to do. And we'll be ready to do.

BROWN: How are you going to pay for it?

HARDBERGER: The city has decided that we are going to open our own pocketbooks, checkbooks right now. There - of course, we should get reimbursed for a lot of this from FEMA federally in due time. But we made the decision today in our city council. We're not going to wait for federal dollars to come in. We're going to go ahead and write whatever checks need to be written right now to take care of these people and let them know that people in San Antonio love them.


HARDBERGER: And they've got a home here.

BROWN: Let me ask one other question. I - have you at any point in the last four days, I wondered this about every mayor in every good sized city in the country, have you said to yourself at some level or another, there but for the grace of God go I?

HARDBERGER: Yes, I sure have. In fact, many people say it. Aren't you glad you're not the mayor of New Orleans?


HARDBERGER: Well, I'll have to admit, I'm glad I'm not the mayor of New Orleans. You know, in such a tragedy of this (INAUDIBLE), the truth is nobody is totally up to the mark. So it's pretty easy to criticize people, but after all, this is with a huge force of nature. And when nature sets its mind to it, it's probably always going to overcome the works of man.

BROWN: Well, you know, you're the mayor of a great town. And it's not surprising it's one of my favorite places. Not surprising to me that you're a generous town as well. They'll be in good hands. Thank you, mayor. Good luck to you.

HARDBERGER: Thanks so much.

BROWN: Thank you, sir. Mayor of San Antonio, Texas. Take a break. Just ahead, how to restore order to a city out of control. We go back to New Orleans. We take a break first. That's how you can help. And a reminder, a three hour Larry King special on Saturday night on how you can help.

We'll take a break. This is NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: Houses in the roads washed up from the map along the Gulf Coast, but in New Orleans, the thing most visibly absent, the thing that we have all struggled with now is law and order.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick tonight on the city's descent into anarchy.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One state senator sums up the danger. You can't rescue people when you're being shot at.

ROBERT MARRIONEAUX, LOUISIANA STATE SENATOR: Right now, the plan is to restore order, because you can't even get the emergency response personnel into the city for the evacuation purposes, for food and water purposes, as long as there's disorder.

FEYERICK: The situation's so out of control, the governor called for reinforcements. 200 military police ready to enter New Orleans. Hundreds more on the way, ready to join an unprecedented number of calls from the National Guard.

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO, LOUISIANA: I've 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.

FEYERICK: The desperate steal diapers. The dangerous steal guns and try to break into hospitals.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Those people are probably part of a criminal element. They probably caused trouble before this storm. And they are probably using this storm as an opportunity. And we're going to do everything in our power to stop those people.

FEYERICK: There have been few arrests. That could soon change.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It may be in the form of handcuffs and shackles, but we will start securing these individuals. These individuals will not take control of New Orleans.


FEYERICK: Now people are suffering that they those who want to help them can't get to them because of roving gangs of gunmen, who are shooting at them.

Well, the governor had a very strong message just about an hour and a half ago. She said that 300 soldiers from the Arkansas National Guard are now in New Orleans. They are just back from Iraq. They are well trained, battle tested to restore order. And the governor said they have M-16s. They are locked and loaded. And she said I have one message for these hoodlums. They know how to shoot and kill. And I expect they will.

Now another source of the governor's anger, very upset over comments made by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, who suggested that money should not be used to rebuild New Orleans.

Now the House Speaker said the comments were taken out of order, but the governor said she wanted an immediate apology, accusing him of destroying hope when hope is all they have left - Aaron?

BROWN: Deb, thank you.

The Hastert comment was awkward, I think, to say the least. Thank you, Deb Feyerick. The Speaker of the House basically said that given the geography of New Orleans, maybe it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to rebuild it as it was.

And then a short time later, they sort of figured out how that sounded in the midst of all that they're going through when they issued a clarification.

Another - one of the things we wanted to do tonight was check back with someone we talked to yesterday, just to ask a basic question, a kind of a simple question to us at least. Is today better or worse than the day before? Because whether today is better or worse than the day before tells us something about where we are in this.

Deano Bonano is the chief emergency officer in Jefferson Parish, which is just outside New Orleans. And he joins us again by the telephone - by telephone. So is today better or more difficult than the day before?

DEANO BONANO, CHIEF EMERGENCY OFFICER, JEFFERSON PARISH: Actually was a little better from the perspective of restoring government services, but I think the anarchy continues. And I don't think I know.

BROWN: So it's a little of this and a little of that. The anarchy in your parish or the anarchy down the road?

BONANO: Actually in our parish, because realize the criminal element is taking advantage of the opportunity when there's no lights, no electricity, and no one around to burglarize and loot. And also, we're having to deal with supporting a population of people in New Orleans who continue to evacuate from New Orleans into Jefferson Parish.

In fact, believe it or not, unfortunately this afternoon, because we have a lack of water, we can't fight fires. And a major shopping mall was burned down today.

BROWN: My goodness. How large a mall?

BONANO: It contained four major chain stores.


BONANO: It was like the stores in between.

BROWN: And there's no water to fight fires at all? So if a house goes up, it's gone?

BONANO: We have lost numerous houses because we cannot fight the fires. When the trees - when you have that many trees and telephone polls go down, as they go down, they're scooping everything under the ground under them, and pulling them up to rip up all our water lines. And we lose more water than we can actually produce at our plant.

Now that is changing day by day. We're gradually gaining water back as we repair more and more breaks, but we did not have enough water pressure take to fight a fire that size. You know, when you have a major fire. And believe me, it had to be often because two of the stores went up at one time.

BROWN: That's unbelievable. BONANO: Fighting a fire. Yes. And to fight a fire that large, it's difficult.

BROWN: And just because I talked over what you said, I think, you said it's probably arson because two stores went up at the same time?

BONANO: Correct. You had two of the stores simultaneously on fire.

BROWN: I know how you're going to answer this, because we actually talked about this earlier yesterday. Do you have any sympathy at all for any of the looters in your city or our city parish or in the city of New Orleans?

BONANO: Well, initially, you know, the sympathy was there. These are desperate people because they have lost everything in their lives. Their homes, their livelihoods, they're being displaced in states that are foreign to them, not knowing when and if or if they will ever be able to return home. So those that were just looking for food, one thing.

But now we're seeing people robbing stores for TVs, robbing houses for jewelry. In fact, Jefferson Parish law enforcement officials today actually shot two looters. They were involved with running gun battles with them.

BROWN: How many police officers do you have in the parish?

BONANO: There are several thousand with our municipal and parish police departments. Today, however, up to 1,000 police departments from around the country sent officers to support our law enforcement in Jefferson Parish. And those policemen will be on the streets tomorrow, hoping to curtail the violence and the looting.

BROWN: Are you still out manned? Are you out gunned?

BONANO: It's not so much that you're out manned, but Jefferson is such a huge geographic area...


BONANO: can't be everywhere at every time. And many areas are still inaccessible because of the, you know, the telephone poles and trees and what not.

Now today, we started our debris clearance. Not removal, but clearance process in earnest. And that's some of the things that are positive.

Just about all of our east, west and north, south major two lane and greater roadways were cleared and are now passable by traffic. And we will begin tomorrow moving into neighborhoods to clear the trees and at least push to the side the telephone poles and trees, so the traffic can flow through those areas. BROWN: Just one more question for you tonight, and we'll let you go. Are the people you're taking into custody, people you're arresting, are they residents of the parish? Or are they people who have come, you know, who sort of see the low hanging fruit and come to Pickett?

BONANO: Both. Both, absolutely both. The residents of the parish and criminal elements that exist in the parish...


BONANO: ...and some criminal elements from New Orleans who have escaped the waters in New Orleans and have just taken upon themselves to take advantage of the opportunity here, when again, they had some neighborhoods that are virtually vacant residents and are dark because there's no light.

BROWN: We hope tomorrow's a better day than today in every respect. We once again, sir, appreciate your time.

BONANO: No problem.

BROWN: Thank you.

BONANO: Thank you.

BROWN: Thank you very much.

Just outside of New Orleans, this isn't just New Orleans. The problem in the city, obviously, for a variety of reasons is much more complicated, much more difficult, but it is not isolated to New Orleans.

We'll take a break. This special edition of NEWSNIGHT continues in a moment.


BROWN: Things are so political these days, it seems to us that if you ask why government responded this way or didn't respond that way, one side says you shouldn't ask the question at all. And the other side says you're not asking the question enough.

The fact is reporters ask why. In this case, why didn't the military get to New Orleans sooner? Why weren't there enough soldiers to support the police on the street, to stop the looting and the violence when it broke out on Monday and Tuesday? Here's our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The Army is rushing in 4200 military police to Louisiana, 1400 a day for three days to help stem the rising violence in New Orleans and try to calm the seething masses of angry, frustrated, hungry victims still stranded in squalid conditions. PAUL MCHALE, ASST. DEFENSE SECY./HOMELAND DEFENSE: Over the next three days, the National Guard, through the cooperation of the governors and ultimately under the command and control of the governor of Louisiana, will be deploying into the New Orleans area a force the size of the New Orleans police department each day, every day, for the next three days.

MCINTYRE: That will bring the number of military police in Louisiana to about 7,000. And the overall total of National Guard troops deployed in the disaster zone to 30,000.

But Louisiana's governor says she's asked for 40,000 in her state alone and may ask for more. Still, what many simply can't understand is why it's taking so long.

In a telephone briefing to reporters at the Pentagon, the three star general in charge of military coordination admitted a failure to plan for the worst.

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HOMERT, COMMISSIONER OF TASK FORCE KATRINA: All last week, we were collaborating on developing options. None of us, nobody was clairvoyant enough to perceive the damage that was going to be brought by this storm.

So it was off the worst case scenario that any of us might have envisioned of happening.

MCINTYRE: The U.S.S. Baton, which was off the coast of Louisiana, has moved to Biloxi, Mississippi, where its six helicopters will assist search and rescue along the Gulf Coast, where many people are still stranded in isolated areas amid widespread destruction.

The aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman is being dispatched from Norfolk to serve as a floating command center, and will pick up additional helicopters from Jacksonville, Florida before arriving next week.

Within days, nearly 50,000 U.S. military personnel, both Guard and active duty troops, will be involved in the relief effort, the largest ever military response to a natural disaster in the United States.


MCINTYRE: Today, the head of FEMA, Michael Brown, said he thought in his opinion things were going relatively well. He said compared to the tsunami relief operation last year, that this was more effective and more efficient.

That might be a tough sell to tell the people on the ground, who are still waiting for help four almost five days after the hurricane hit - Aaron?

BROWN: Yes, there were a couple of things actually said in there. I mean, on the one hand, I suppose - I understand when people say no one could have anticipated this, but the fact is that three years ago, two reporters to New Orleans Times Picayune laid out exactly this scenario.

That aside, I said introducing you that everything seems political to people these days. I know this will be perceived as a political question. It's not meant that way. To what extent does the fact that there were 135,000 troops in Iraq and troops in Afghanistan, to what extent, if any, impact, the ability of the military, the Pentagon, to respond to this crisis?

MCINTYRE: Well, clearly, if all the troops - all the National Guard troops were in their home base, they could probably be mobilized a little bit easier. That said, we analyze this pretty carefully today. And we have to say that the impact seems to be very marginal.

The troops, for instance, from Louisiana that are deployed to Iraq are combat unit. They're an armor infantry unit. They're not the military police if they really need to help restore security.

And as to your question about political, I talked to a lot of people at the Pentagon today who were very frustrated about the fact that the perception was being created that the military didn't move fast enough. And they did it somewhat as political. They thought that part of the motivation was the critics of the administration to make the president look bad.

And they seemed to question the motives of some of our reporters who were out there and hearing these stories from the victims about why they had so much sympathy for the victims, and not as much sympathy for the challenges that the government met in meeting this challenge.

And I have to say thinking about that, it doesn't really seem all that unusual that you would tend to understand the plight of the victims a little more than the bureaucrats in Washington.

BROWN: Yes, I mean, I'm glad you told us that. And they have every right to believe they believe and think the way they think. I mean, and I mean that. But you've got people who have been living as refugees. It is not hard to understand why our first heart beat goes in their direction. We'll worry about the bureaucrats later.

Jamie, thank you. That's a tough beat you got. We'll take a break. When we come back, we'll have more from the Astrodome in Houston. That really does speak to - that's a scene out of the Astrodome tonight. By the way, several thousand people there - what Jamie just said just speaks to how political events are perceived in this day and age. We got a lot of mail on these sorts of questions.

And the one question we throw back at people a lot is if the president were named Clinton, would you expect us to ask the question? And the answer, generally speaking, when people are honest, is yes.

Our coverage continues in a moment.


BROWN: At the bottom of the hour, a quick reset for those of you just joining us. Across the Gulf Coast, relief hurricane efforts continue tonight. It's daunting work everywhere. No more so than New Orleans.

Today, it became clear the city is near the breaking point. Social order breaking down, lawlessness impeding the relief efforts. Snipers firing at hospital workers, who are trying to evacuate patients.

Some National Guard troops have arrived. 300 out of Arkansas with shoot to kill orders. They are working the streets tonight trying to take them back. That's a bit of good news we can report tonight. They'll be joined by tens of thousands of more troops in the days ahead. Probably not 'til early next week before they all get there.

Tens of thousands of people still stranded in the city, tired, hungry, frightened. Many angry, some armed. Lots of people wondering why help is taking so long to get there.

Today, we begin hearing about horrific conditions at the convention center in the city, where thousands - 10 to 15,000 have been staying. Little food, little water, no one in charge. Some considerable violence, we are told there.

Thousands of evacuees arriving in Houston tonight consider themselves lucky, as well they should. They have no idea how long they will stay in the Astrodome, which will be their home at least for now.

Sean Callebs joins us with the dome to dome exodus, if you will. Good evening to you.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Aaron. The conditions here, hot, muggy, been a long hot day. But you know, the people making the 350 mile trip to the west, this is paradise to them.

We've seen it in their faces as they get off these buses. A lot of people simply overjoyed. However, that is also masking a certain degree of people who are suffering from post traumatic stress after what they endured in that dome over the past several days.

We talked to the Red Cross, one of the organizations monitoring this facility here. And they say some people get off these buses, they look at the Astrodome, they suddenly flash back to the Superdome and they refuse to go inside. They have to be talked down a bit, brought inside.

We have some fresh pictures just coming in. Authorities here allowed one full camera to go in, at a very high level, and shoot.

Now yesterday, when we went in there, all these cots were spaced out in a perfect line. Everyone had been chalked off. Well that's changing a little bit, as people come in. They want a little bit of privacy. They want some breathing room. They're beginning to move the cots around. There are more than 5,000 people inside the Astrodome at this point. So Aaron, certainly this little city behind me is beginning to take shape.

Now once people get here, first we give them food. If they need a doctor, there's medical staffs. There's medical personnel inside. They're also offered a fresh change of clothes and the showers.

Inside both locker rooms, inside this former pro sports facility are running around the clock. So people can go in, get cleaned up when they want to, and come back out and try to have some semblance of a normal life.

BROWN: Sean, I'm a little squeezed on time. So as quickly as you can on some of these, how many people - it's starting to look kind of crowded down on the floor there - how many people can it hold on the floor?

CALLEBS: Very difficult to say. We know that they say they're prepared, the whole 24,000. So on the floor, we know there are only about 5,000 to 6,000 in there now. And it's almost crammed in.

People telling us they feel crammed in like sardines. They're starting to flash back to what they experienced before the storm hit the Superdome.

BROWN: Is it the Red Cross that is running the operation?

CALLEBS: No, FEMA is running the operation. However, the Red Cross is kind of the point personnel. They bring out to talk to us periodically.

BROWN: And just - they're having obviously to serve a lot of meals. Are they getting hot food? Or are they getting MREs?

CALLEBS: They are getting hot food, three times a day. In fact, we talked to one 61-year old woman who actually rode out Betsy years ago. And she actually smiled for the first time in a long time and she started her day with biscuits and grits.

BROWN: I'll bet that's pretty good if you're a Southerner and you've been in the Superdome for a long time. Biscuits and grits. Sean, thanks for your efforts. Now you've been there for about 24 hours. We appreciate that very much. Sean Callebs outside the Astrodome in Houston.

As we look on the scene of chaos and misery that is New Orleans tonight, it's clear that confusion and fear are major factors. Today, the mayor of the city issued an SOS. Thousands still wait to get help.

Sidney Barthelemy is a former mayor, 1986 to '94. And he's in our Atlanta newsroom. And we're pleased to see you.

You can't prevent a natural disaster. I mean, hurricanes come. And it's not the first one to get New Orleans. Do you at any sense believe that what followed was preventable?

SIDNEY BARTHELEMY, FMR. NEW ORELANS MAYOR: I do, Aaron. I believe that the response could have been better. And really should have been better, particularly when they saw the size of the hurricane and the ferocity of the hurricane.

And the federal government should have been ready to respond the very next day. And I'm very, very happy that they're responding now. And I thank God that they get it.

And I just want to say to you, Aaron, you have done a great job in showing what was really happening out there. I think many people were just doing fluff stuff in the media and were not really showing what was taking place in the city.

And so people didn't - you know, they were comparing New Orleans to the Gulf Coast. And there was a tremendous difference in what was happening.

But you did show some sensitivity. And finally, the president and the federal government got the message. Still, I think they needed to triple the efforts. And hopefully, we'll bring some sense of order to the community and begin the evacuation.

BROWN: Let's talk about one or two other things. We talked to a resident of the city, a fellow of some means. I would say more so than middle class, who left the city. And wonders if he'll ever come back, if this city has now in some ways been irrevocably changed.

What everyone says in moments like this is that we're going to build it back the way it was and it's going to be great again. But do you think, in fact, that the city has been changed forever?

BARTHELEMY: Oh, I can't see how you can't feel it hasn't been changed forever. It's going to be changed. It's got to change. I mean, we cannot go through the same thing again.

And that's the urgency to getting the help to the people because there are more hurricanes coming in the Gulf.

So we have to get ready and start making a better city. We have to deal with the levee situation and make them better, make them higher. And we have to restore the city back to the great city that it really is.

BROWN: Do you think in any sense that the social order, which has been broken down, the relationship between people with means and the people without means, to some extent issues of race, do you think any of those things have been altered by the tragedy that has befallen the city?

BARTHELEMY: Let's hope, Aaron, that it will be changed. I think the fact that we have haves and haves not in America to the great extent that it is, it's got to change.

I mean, we have very, very poor people. Good people, solid people. And unfortunately, I think, the thugs and the hoodlums are taking advantage of this situation. And they're the ones causing all of the havoc in the city. Not the good people. The good people are frustrated. And of course, in many instances, they've lost hope, but they're good, decent people.

They don't have much means. If many of them would have a car or had the way to get out of the city or a place to go, they would have left. And I think that's why we see so many people still in the city.

BROWN: Mr. Mayor, I don't want to appear not gracious for your kind words earlier. Thank you, we appreciate that. It's good to talk to you.

BARTHELEMY: Thank you.

BROWN: Thank you, sir.

BARTHELEMY: Keep up the good work.

BROWN: Thank you. We'll keep working. Thank you, sir.

Just ahead, an update on trying to fix the levees the mayor talked about. It is a complicated engineering task, made more difficult by the law and order task.

We'll take a break for this. This is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT on CNN.


BROWN: A scene from the airport in New Orleans. Helicopters been coming in all night long. Some of them have been medivacing patients. There are a number of field hospitals set up there. Others are bringing supplies. In any case, there's a great deal more activity out at the airport tonight than there has been. A runway's clean and clear. And they're able to do a lot more work. And as we've been watching it, it's a busy place, which is good to see, because busy right now is much needed.

The law and order situation in New Orleans is holding up quite literally in this case. Efforts to even get the levees repaired. The Army Corps of Engineers plagued by the same security problems everybody else seems to be plagued by, armed gangs roaming the streets trying to separate people from their vehicles and anything else.

Still, the work goes on. Colonel Rich Wagenaar is the district commander of the Corps of Engineers in New Orleans. And the colonel joins us by phone.

I want to talk about the security thing for a second, but let's talk about what matters most here. Have you made much progress on the repair effort?

COL. RICH WAGENAAR, NEW ORLEANS CORPS OF ENGINEERS: Aaron, we've made progress today. We are over 50 percent complete on closing the end of the canal totally to any flow into the canal.

BROWN: Now is that - just help - you know, we've talked about this some, that there are three separate breaches, I think, in the system. Is that right? WAGENAAR: Yes, sir. And this - the - we're 50 percent complete, closing the end of the 17th Street Canal. That was the canal that breached first.

BROWN: OK. So that's one of the three. And then there's a lot of other work still to be done. And the way you're doing this is what?

WAGENAAR: We're closing the end of the canal right now with sheet pile. We dropped over 120 or 140 sand bags, 1.5 ton sand bags into the hole today at the breach. And there's been a road that's been built all the way to the breach at this point. And we're preparing to dump rock into the hole and push it into the hole with a bulldozer slowly, closing that hole, as well as closing the canal on the 17th Street Canal.

BROWN: And is the plan to sort of finish that one and then move onto the others?

WAGENAAR: Well, the - there's an effort right now by one of the levee districts, the Orleans levee control district, to close the other one, the London Avenue Canal. They are working at closing the entrance of that canal, vicinity at Lake Ponchatrain by placing rubble and other types of material into the mouth of that canal.

BROWN: Does each of these present a different engineering challenge? Or is it - are they all essentially the same?

WAGENAAR: They're major challenges, different - the one - the London Avenue Canal is going to be more complex to close the hole because it's completely surrounded by water with no possibility of getting road access to it until the water is much, much lower. So we'll either have to figure out how to get there by water, or once again, start a significant air lift operations to get those sand bags - larger sand bags, 10 ton sandbags, into those breaches.

BROWN: Do you have enough helicopters?

WAGENAAR: We've got quite a bit of helicopters today. I think we have plenty of helicopters. It's a very confined space. And trying to get them all moving around in there is a challenge in itself.

BROWN: All right. Have you got enough help? Have you got enough sand? That's a lot of sand, and a lot of sand bags, a lot of rock material?

WAGENAAR: Well, we're using all the rock we can. We're being very, I guess, ingenious. We're digging up streets and roads and whatever we can to fill these sand bags.

BROWN: Is this - this is not a permanent fix. This is triage in the engineering business?

WAGENAAR: Right. Right now, the goal is to get the hole fixed. And then what will come in with a semi permanent solution, that will last a little bit longer. And then once we've got time to catch our breath, we'll come in and look at and analyze a permanent solution.

BROWN: All right. Now I'm going to ask the security question, because it's a real question and it's been a problem. But I think in truth, to some degree, I'm tired of talking about it. And I suspect you are as tired of hearing about it. But even in your efforts, it has made things harder, hasn't it?

WAGENAAR: It's made it much harder, yes, sir.

BROWN: Just explain how.

WAGENAAR: For example, we typically - I just had to send a crew out of here at night. But the last couple of nights, I won't anybody leave the compound to travel to the site at night. We've had to establish rules of engagement when dealing with crowds of civilians. And how my people operate is causing me to have to triple my vehicle usage. I can't - I have to send at least two vehicles out at any given time. At least three people in those vehicles, certain other rules that I have to establish in the event that they encounter a crowd or criminals.

BROWN: Well, we hope that that situation over the next 24 hours calms itself down. So all of your energies can be applied where it ought to be applied -- those three breaches in the levees. And you can get that done. And it doesn't solve all the problems New Orleans faces by any means. That water still has to go some place, but at least it stops it from coming in.

Colonel, thank you for your time and your good work.

WAGENAAR: Thank you very much.

BROWN: Thank you, sir. Live coverage of the state of emergency in New Orleans and the Gulf continues all night long on CNN. Hope you'll stay with it. We'll take a break and our contribution to it continues in a moment.


BROWN: Sometimes, the best things a reporter can do is just listen to people. So we had a reporter today sit and listen to tape that had come in. This is what she heard.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New Orleans is hot. We can't take this. We've been out here for three days. And we've been asking for help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So at night, it got...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody went to sleep.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And everybody went to sleep. Was it scary?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, uncomfortable.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Uncomfortable, yes.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not knowing who's walking up on you. You know, can't see the person. Can't recognize the person. That was frightening.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are here. And we are in dire straits. And we need someone to know that we're here, to come in and help to get us out of here.

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO, LOUISIANA: I know there are dead bodies. We know that. We know that at lot of people lost their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of the people you see at the Superdome now and at other locations in New Orleans, is a success story that a life was saved.

In some cases, people couldn't get out in time. And this caused a lot of perish. And it was a sad sight to see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bus after bus after bus...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On our way out of New Orleans, there was people that was saying let us on. Hitting the bus with sticks on the I-10, as we pulled out. They had sheriffs and guys with guns pushing them away.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, everybody's going absolutely insane. Sad faces. People who need help. Bread, water, clothes. You know...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Katrina has absolutely wreaked havoc throughout the entire area. We've been talking about how do you come back from something like this? How do you rebuild after something like this? The damage is so absolutely widespread.

JAMES CARVILLE: Is this going to be this way for a long, long time? I mean, there's no cavalry that's going to ride in and fix this thing. And it's not going to return to normal for some time. So it's very important to remember that we're in a really long haul situation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE). Monday we lost contact. And we just got the news that they did make it out. And they're all right.


BROWN: The sweet note to end a tough day. Break first.


BROWN: Quickly back to the Astrodome. We were talking about this. Sean Callebs joins us. We were talking about this, what, 10, 15 minutes ago. The place was starting to look crowded. It's apparently too crowded?

CALLEBS: Too crowded, exactly right, Aaron. Officer and Jay McDoul just over there came out and spoke with us a short time ago. Astrodome was not taking in any more evacuees.

In fact, these buses here that have been on the road for more than a dozen hours have just been told, you know what? Go find another city. So at this point, after these people have been on the bus for all these hours, and you can imagine how frustrated and upset they are, they're now heading out somewhere else.

We don't know what other city. Could be San Antonio.

BROWN: It's - this unbelievable. Somebody said, because you reported it, somebody said that place could hold 25,000 - 20,000, 25,000 people. Now that to me seemed pretty cockamamie, but they're not even close to that.

CALLEBS: Well, we thought if by using every nook and cranny, if they were going to use the various club levels, things of that nature, they're nowhere near 25,000. And if this is the way they're planning, boy, these people who have come in from New Orleans, who've been through so much, are just going to be boiling once they hear all this information.

Also got to tell you that the officers just told us a minute ago that he just had report of a death inside. They are now trying to figure out what happened. And we saw somebody being carried off one of those buses. There was no air conditioning. The windows wouldn't open. They literally carried this elderly gentleman off. Really ugly situation here.

BROWN: Now just - I want to go back to the original reporting here. These bus drivers, the people on them, were told they had to go some place else. Do you believe that they know where it is they're going? I mean, it's one thing whether we know where they're going. It's another thing if they know where they're going. Did they know?

CALLEBS: Well, they have been told to go somewhere by some officer who was not speaking with us. I can only, you know, I know you're mantra. Let's report what you know, not what you think you know.

BROWN: You got it.

CALLEBS: And at this point, I can only tell you, they were talked to by the officers. And they turned around and went somewhere. So we can only presume they know where they're going, but they're going to be going with a busload of hopping mad individuals.

BROWN: And how many buses?

CALLEBS: Well, there were three right here. And let alone, I mean they said - in fact, I talked to the Red Cross spokesman a few hours ago. And she said tomorrow as going to be the big day for bringing people in. So what's going to happen to all those people? They (INAUDIBLE)...

BROWN: And - I'm sorry, Sean, what are there, about 40 people on a bus?

CALLEBS: No, I counted. There are about 12 to 15 rows. And there are at least sometimes 8 across. So they can hold somewhere between 50 and 75 as near as I can tell.

BROWN: They're not very happy. They've been on a bus a while. That's an amazing...

CALLEBS: This one gentleman got off and went...

BROWN: That's amazing. Sean, thank you for good, quick work. Obviously, that has - Sean will have more on that. That's going to develop all not long. And our coverage continues all night long with Catherine Callaway in Atlanta.