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CNN Newsnight Aaron Brown

Hurricane Katrina Aftermath; Troops and Supplies Begin Arriving

Aired September 02, 2005 - 23:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN HOST: We begin the second hour of the program tonight. Welcome all of you who are just joining us again. What is happening in New Orleans is not one story, but it's many stories and many respects. Certainly across the Gulf today, we began seeing some of the first detailed images of the levee repairs that are underway. The Army Corps of Engineers says it will take up to 80 days to drain New Orleans. That's actually good news. I think when we first started reporting this, they were talking about six months. So 80 days sounds like a piece of cake.
In a city filled with water, fires have become an enormous problem. Several broke out today. There was a major explosion at a factory, as well as very, very difficult to fight fires in the city.

We talked with someone in Jefferson Parish last night, who told us they had to let a mall, a shopping mall, burn down. They couldn't get fire fighting gear to it.

Today, the president signed into law a $10.5 billion relief package passed by the Congress to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Then the president got on a plane to see the damage for himself and talk to some people on the ground.

By then, a convoy of National Guard trucks had already rolled into New Orleans.


BROWN (voice-over): Today, five days after the storm, four days after it was clear the situation was truly desperate, help finally did arrive in New Orleans.

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, COMMANDER, FIRST U.S. ARMY: So shortly, we'll start issuing water and food. And then we'll bring the helicopters in and start to the medical evacuation of those that are - need to be taken to the hospitals immediately.

BROWN: Fifty trucks, food, medicine, water, security, hope. But for many still, too little, too late. They have seen too much, been overwhelmed for too long, heard far too many promises.

RAY NAGIN, MAYOR, NEW ORLEANS: I don't want to see anybody do anymore god damn press conferences. Don't do another press conference until the resources are in this city. And then come down to this city and stand with us when there are military trucks and troops that we can't even count. Don't tell me 40,000 people are coming here. They're not here.

BROWN: The president, who's administration is receiving withering criticism for its response so far, called the results to date inadequate. He has been personally criticized as well for showing too little leadership. But today, he was on the ground, on the ground in Alabama, in Mississippi. He was on to New Orleans, doing the things that presidents do in times like this.

But he also did not see the full scope of the anarchy that has captured the city.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not going to forget what I've seen. I understand the devastation requires more than one day's attention. It's going to require the attention of this country for a long period of time.

BROWN: The mayor said today that 90 percent of this city is now out of commission. 10,000 people were evacuated yesterday, he said, but 50,000 people still remain.

Perhaps no place is worse than the city's convention center, neglected by almost every agency, local, state and federal, public and private for a week. Unsafe for the people there, unsafe even for the police trying to take it back.

ALAN GOULD, INSIDE CONVENTION CENTER: We have like what I would call modern day genocide going on. They more or less corralled us in two places - the convention center and the Superdome, with no food, no water. You can say almost 90 degree heat inside. We have small children and sick and elderly people dying every day. Small children being raped and killed. People running around with guns. I'm scared for my life, my wife, and my five-year old daughter's life.

BROWN: So when the convoy of supplies and soldiers arrived today, the good people inside the convention center, if not the thugs, cheered.

TISHIA WALTERS, CONVENTION CENTER: The crowd erupted. I mean, clapping, crying, people shouting away. They were pathetic. It's like 7,000 (INAUDIBLE) in dying conditions. I'm actually sitting outside. I'm watching all the National Guard and all the police working that we haven't had in five days out here. I mean, it's amazing. They have come in full force, delivering food. They're bringing water. And they're bringing a lot of hope.

BROWN: The Superdome is only better by degree. Buses moving people out to shelters in Texas. But in the perfect metaphor for the failures of the relief effort so far, buses last night were turned away from the Astrodome in Houston. It was already too crowded.

The evacuation remains painfully slow. The sick and the injured being moved out first. 800 people an hour treated at field hospitals set up at the airport. Many flown onto San Antonio.

More choppers made it possible for the Coast Guard to increase air and water rescues. And by late today, over 7,000 people had been lifted one way or another to safety.

So a week after this awful storm and the floods that followed, there is at least the hint that a corner has been turned. But at what cost? After a week where the country has seen images like this, where people have experienced life like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just have to fight for your life. People looting, stealing things, shooting in the air, everything. You had to fight for your life. You couldn't do nothing.

BROWN: All you can say today, and it is something, is that things are better.


BROWN: The days are difficult in New Orleans. The nights are worse in many respects.

Nic Robertson, a senior international correspondent, brought into New Orleans today, spent the day with police officers. Filed this report.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Driving into New Orleans just hours before President Bush's visit, we saw helicopters swarm through the sky and fires burn.

(on camera): This is one of the main highways coming into the center of New Orleans. It's completely deserted. There's a fire burning over here. It was a vehicle on fire.

But over here, there's another huge fire blazing away. Difficult to tell what it is. It appears to be a residential, perhaps part industrial area down there.

(voice-over): When we get into the heart of the city, police, National Guard, and DEA agents are discouraging, but it seems not detaining looters.

(on camera): While we've been working across the road over here, we've seen people coming into this store. I haven't had a chance to look in yet, but what I've seen the people coming out, they've been carrying what appear to be trays of drinks. I can see a bottle of whiskey down there. Looks like whiskey or rum here.

(voice-over): Suddenly, back over the road, we spot a family who look like tourists.

MARK ROSEN, TOURIST: Those who want to get out can't. And that's the worst part. You know, and you hear a story, you think - like us. We got to leave to get out. And it's sort of a dead end.

ROBERTSON: Mark Rosen tells me they'd come to show his 16-year old son Danny the university, then got stuck after Katrina hit. His wife Susan is angry. SUSAN ROSEN, TOURIST: You know, it's really - it's scary. This is a mess. The World Trade Center was handled a lot better than this.

ROBERTSON (voice-over): As we talk, their desperation to brave the streets pays off. It's the moment they've been waiting for, a private security contractor offers a ride out of town.

For others, like New Orleans resident Meshran and her family, on dry ground outside the casino, the suffering seems likely to continue.

MESHRAN, HURRICANE VICTIM: For five days, they've been telling us to go here and go there. They're saying they've been feeding us. They're lying. Them people aren't worrying about us. They ain't worrying about coming and get us.

ROBERTSON: The casino is one of the places where it seems a lot of people have been setting up home, trying to set up camp to look after their families. Loaves of bread, tins of soda, cookies, lying around. Alcohol over here. Clothes.

A lot of people are coming here are telling us that they tried going to get help in other places. And they're gathering here because they've got no other place to go to. They don't know what to do.

Hoping to get something to eat or drink, many people left the casino area and went to the convention center, where tempers are running high. But some came back empty handed and even more frustrated.


ROBERTSON: Now a little while ago, police said that they were concerned for the potential for rioting, not knowing how angry people could be that they couldn't get food, couldn't get water.

Just seen a truckload of police go by here with their weapons. They seem pretty relaxed at this time of night. And just a few minutes before that, we had somebody representing a major hotel chain came through here and told us he had managed to test one of his hotels in this area in the old French Quarter, hopes to get others up and running soon - Aaron?

BROWN: I'm sorry, he managed to test it for what?

ROBERTSON: He managed to test it, the electricity, the facility, the services. He wants to open it up so rescue workers, recovery workers can go and stay there.


ROBERTSON: And I believe that he tested it for electricity and air conditioning, that sort of thing.

BROWN: Well, that - so they've got a generator there? Because there's no power...


BROWN: Yes, there's no power broadly in the city, correct?

ROBERTSON: That is correct. He will very likely have a generator. There are several generators in this area. There's a generator in the house just behind me over here as well. Some people have them, obviously, at this hotel.

BROWN: Thank you, Nic. We lost picture there briefly, but Nic Robertson, who's in the area.

For people still trapped in New Orleans, progress is incremental. We've seen pictures of Army trucks bringing supplies in, helicopters taking survivors out. These pictures stunned us some today, but for many in New Orleans, the immediate future remains uncertain.

They've just been living by the side of the highway. And they are living there - this is by I-10, and they are waiting. And they are waiting for someone to - these buses were actually going into New Orleans. OK, now they will come out with people from the Superdome or the convention center or what have you, but they went right by these people who are living under this underpass. There's several thousand of them.

And they're waiting. They're waiting for someone to pick them up and take them somewhere. They do not have a clue when that will happen, if that will happen, or where they'll end up if it does happen. So they'll wait and watch the buses go by.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Nothing, we don't have nothing. I just want to go.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it seems like we're not even sure it's the United States. We're all treated like refugees. I don't want to be here. My wife can pick me up right here. I sent her to Texas. She's coming this way. They're telling me she can't pick me up here. I don't understand. Why do I have to be a part of this? Why do I have to be a part of this? We're all traumatized enough.


BROWN: Why do I have to be a part of this? It must have seemed like the very last straw for three generations of one exhausted refugee family, who arrived at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, only to be told there was no more room.

Then steps in Lane Garcia and her husband Charles, what followed if not exactly a happy ending, was something quite close to it. Certainly feels like it to us. Here's CNN Sean Callebs.


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Three separate families, all friends, all hitting rock bottom together. CARLOS HERNANDEZ: You see there's all the ladies. I mean, we got children. We're all crammed in one little room.

CALLEBS: Evacuated from their homes in Kennan, Louisiana, turned away when they got to Houston, hoping for shelter at the Astrodome. No money, no food, nowhere to stay.

That is until a chance meeting with this woman. Something just drew me here. It was driving me crazy ever since this happened. It was just driving me crazy. I had to do something.

Lane Garcia and her husband Charles recently purchased this 2800 square foot home, but hadn't yet moved in.

It's not much, but it would be a roof over somebody's head and a comfortable place to stay.

CALLEBS: A place to stay for this extended family of more than a dozen people. 28-year old Sandy April, her husband, and three children say they no longer feel as though they're refugees. Sandy says she's been told her home, just outside New Orleans, might be a total loss.

But for now, she's grateful just to have a place where her son can act like a kid again and she can catch her breath.

What have the last 24 hours been like for you?

SANDY APRIL, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: Better. Better. Yes, it's been better for the kids. I mean, the kids - the oldest one especially is very emotional.

LANE GARCIA: We were all crying. We were all crying out there.

CALLEBS: Lane's friends and neighbors have adopted the families. Clothes for the children, fully stocked refrigerator and cabinets. In essence, making this not just a house, but a true home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How can you not like that?

HERNANDEZ: It makes you happy. It makes you feel like you're at home, that at least you have a place to stay. You feel welcome.

CALLEBS: Carlos Hernandez came to the U.S. from El Salvador 43 years ago. A Vietnam Veteran, who carved out a good life. His son is now serving in Iraq. Today, he did something he never dreamed imaginable, applied for food stamps.

But still, he is forever grateful.

HERNANDEZ: I don't know what words to find to express my gratitude to the couple back there, because it really is very - is touching the heart when someone opens - like I said not only their heart, but their pockets.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BROWN: Story filed by correspondent Sean Callebs. We talked a little earlier about the risk of disaster fatigue or flood fatigue, whatever you want to call it. Stories like that will help us get by it, it seems to me.

We'll take a break. Our coverage continues in a moment.


BROWN: Hospital ship. I think that's hospital ship Mercy. I'm not absolutely positive in Baltimore Harbor. And it will make its way to New Orleans. And I suppose some people will say why isn't it out there already? Why isn't it on the way? But it will - it'll make its way.

Was that the Mercy? I just looked up and saw we had it written down somewhere, but you'd gone by it. The Comfort. Comfort and Mercy.

Five days after the hurricane put 80 percent of New Orleans underwater, and 90 percent of the city out of commission, the military showed up in force. Troops today bringing in water and food and hope for thousands of angry and frustrated survivors. How it all happened and why it happened in the time that it took, here's our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After days of promising help was on the way, help arrived by the truckload.

In New Orleans, CNN's Barbara Starr had exclusive access riding shotgun with Lieutenant General Russel Honore, who quickly demonstrated his take charge style.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just to paint the scene for everyone, we are standing on the city street corner with a three star Army general in charge of this operation. And he is literally directing this deployment on this street corner from his cell phone with a couple of aids. He is directing the movement of these troops.

All of these National Guard troops are armed. They all have weapons. But General Honore is going through and telling all of them to put their weapons point down. He very specifically has said literally he does not want this to look like Iraq.

MCINTYRE: General Honore is a Louisiana native. And he takes his mission of getting food to the famished personally.

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, JOINT TASK FORCE KATRINA COMMANDER: We are issuing water from bottles and individual packets of food. And if you ever had 20,000 people come to supper, you know what I'm talking about. And if it was easy, it would have been done already. But we've been a victim of the high water, which restricts our routes.

MCINTYRE: At the convention center, where thousands were hanging on in appalling conditions, the relief was met with relief.

TISHIA WALTERS, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: The crowd erupted. I mean, clapping, crying, people shouting.

MCINTYRE: Honore not only earned the gratitude of some victims, he also disarmed the president's sharpest critic, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.

RAY NAGIN, MAYOR, NEW ORLEANS: And I give the president some credit on this. He sent one John Wayne dude down here that can get some stuff done. And his name is General Honore. And he came off the doggone chopper. And he started cussing. And people started moving. And he's getting some stuff done.

MCINTYRE: There are now some 15,000 National Guard troops in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, a number that will double to 30,000 within a few days.


MCINTYRE: And at the end of the day, Aaron, there are still thousands of people who desperately need help, but there is one difference at the end of this day. For the first time in a week, there is a perception that perhaps things are getting a little better instead of worse - Aaron?

BROWN: Well, I think that there is no question in my mind that we can and we no doubt will talk for months or years about why it took until Friday morning, and whether that's appropriate or not appropriate, OK.

But the fact, when those 50 trucks came in today, you had a feeling that a corner had been turned.

MCINTYRE: You definitely got that feeling. And actually, one thing we didn't see was at 2:00 this morning, early in the morning, a similar convoy of trucks actually made it to the Louisiana Superdome and brought supplies there.

I think when people look back on this, they're going to see that these were a lot of smart people, who had compassion and the best of intentions. And they came up with a plan that in the end fell short.

And why did it fall short? Probably because of a lack of imagination. Maybe some initiative, some ingenuity, trying to figure out something beyond the standard way to get more help there faster. And the other turning point I think really was significant was the admission from President Bush that this response was not adequate. That is something that none of his subordinates would say, even as late as yesterday, they all said everything was going relatively well. Couldn't really expect a better response.

BROWN: Right, well...

MCINTYRE: And when the commander in chief says that... BROWN: I know. But you know, at some point, you know, these guys, I mean, I shouldn't say this, but you hear these people in Washington saying oh, no, this is - things are going fine. It's OK. And you want to say what planet are you people on?

I mean, come on. Now I've vented that. And I'll stop. Jamie, have a good weekend.

MCINTYRE: Thanks, you, too.

BROWN: Good work.

I apologize, sort of. Vital help did get to New Orleans today. And we're grateful for that. Food, water, and medicine as we've shown you throughout the evening is being distributed. It's not clear to me, to be honest, how widely distributed it all is. And it was very disquieting to note that Charity Hospital is yet to be evacuated and all the problems that are going on there and all of the other things, honestly, that that suggests.

In any case, there are a bunch now of field hospitals set up at the airport, being run primarily by the Army, I believe. And a lot of people are being treated there.

There are enormous public health risks out there. They are there tonight. They will be, in my respects, with us for a long time and get more complicated in some respects.

Dr. Irwin Redlener of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness is with us. I'm sorry I had to vent in front of you that way.


BROWN: But there is something, you know, the - you see the standing water there for 80 days. And you say this is a incubator for disease? Right?

REDLENER: There's no question about it. And I think that's the - one of many problems actually that people are going to be facing now. And they're very, very difficult.

There's also the fact that the whole healthcare system is gone. The hospitals are destroyed. And the outpatient clinics, the doctors' offices, all the usual places where people might go for healthcare are out of commission.

The Army's not going to be able to stay there forever. So what happens when tomorrow, somebody gets chest pain and needs to go to the hospital? Or people with diabetes...

BROWN: They die, that's what happens.

REDLENER: You know, children...

BROWN: If it happens tomorrow, they die.

REDLENER: Exactly, which is rather extraordinary six days after this disaster. And we have in America, people who are going to die like that.

BROWN: Look, I mean, I think we're all frustrated in many respects, but in some context, I mean, part of the problem is the joint is flooded. And you can't move around.


BROWN: You can't get an ambulance to 38th and Elm.


BROWN: I mean, that's a real problem. And that's not going to go away soon. And that's part of the healthcare delivery system, those medic units. Is there a risk, a high risk for a serious outbreak of disease?

REDLENER: Well, it's hard to say what the level of risk is, but there's clearly a major risk. We thought, for example, there was going to be major cholera type risks after the tsunami. It didn't really exactly materialize.

In this situation, where we have standing water for the next, you know, I don't how many - they're saying 80 days, maybe it'll be 180 days. Whatever it is, we're going to be dealing with all kinds of problems that might come from mosquito born illnesses.

But all this really reflecting a tremendous flaw in the way we've been thinking about preparedness in America. It's just amazing actually.

BROWN: That's really - you know, we raised this question rhetorically last night, that we're going to look back at this as the first major test of governments.


BROWN: Local government, which hasn't exactly dazzled anyone here, state government, federal government in the post 9/11 era, when we're supposed to be able to turn on a dime and evacuate entire communities because someone just dropped a dirty bomb in the neighborhood. And it hasn't been very reassuring.

REDLENER: Well, you know, the thing is, Aaron, I think we're pretty good about the small things. If there's a major fire, an explosion, all kinds of small events, I think we can probably handle.

Where we've utterly failed in our preparedness thinking, actually, is in dealing with catastrophic problems. We're not prepared for a pandemic flu, this avian flu that people have been talking about. We're not prepared for major bioterrorism. And we're certainly, as we've just seen, not prepared for a major natural disaster. And it's in a way, the cover's been ripped back. And we're seeing what's underneath it. And there's not much there, there. And all of this happening in a glaring international spotlight, where all of us are just transfixed, watching the system not working. And it's just incredible.

BROWN: Can you think that - I think you're right, that something's been pulled back. Do you think the inclination of policymakers and to some extent maybe media, I don't know, we'll find out, I guess, is to quickly put the cover back on the bed, if you will, so we don't see what's underneath there?

REDLENER: Well, I think if your impression does its thing...

BROWN: We're working on that.

REDLENER: ...and the aftermath, I think maybe we'll keep the spotlight on what needs to be looked at. And maybe we'll fix some of this, but we have a long way to go really.

BROWN: The problem honestly is that there's so many unknowables in dealing with government. They do these exercises. And they, you know...


BROWN: ...they've very visual. And they tell you, yes, it was great. Everything worked great. You don't really know. You don't really know.

REDLENER: I'll tell you everything is not great. And we've spent billions of dollars since 9/11 on preparedness. There's been no accountability whatsoever. There isn't anybody in Washington who could tell you what that money's been spent on.

I've been working in public health for 30 years. I've never seen so much work with so little accountability and so little to show for it. It's actually stunning.

And one of the problems is, you know, one of my - on my wish list is five minutes with the president. I think he's getting sanitized information. I think his chiefs that are running the various systems are giving him some kind of information that's not relevant to the reality of what we're dealing with.

America is not prepared. And somehow, we have to face that. It's going to cost money. It's going to take organization. It's going to take a federal effort that is unprecedented. And it's not - certainly not the way government usually does its business.

BROWN: I want five minutes with the president, too. Maybe I'll give you mine if I get it. I don't know.

REDLENER: I'll share mine with you.

BROWN: Thank you. You're very kind. Nice to meet you. REDLENER: My pleasure.

BROWN: Thanks for the conversation.

Just ahead, the task of fixing the levees and the cost of that. We'll take a break first. This is a special two hour edition of NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: A quick reset for those of you who just maybe joining us. A half past the hour. We said earlier that numbers aren't the entire story in the Gulf Coast hurricane, but they are a part of it. And they tell us a lot.

Five days after Katrina, nearly 725,000 people in Mississippi, Louisiana still have no power. In New Orleans, 90 percent of the city is out of commission, though it's not entirely clear to us what that means. 350,000 homes have been destroyed or damaged. Thousands have died. Many thousands is the question that no one can answer. How many thousand, at least not yet. We'll find out some day how many people died in New Orleans.

More than 94,000 people have been taken to Red Cross shelters that are now in nine different states. Thousands have gone to the Astrodome in Houston. About 5,000 when they shut the doors down there.

As storm refugees arrive, Houston and Baton Rouge and other cities are swelling. Life will not be anywhere near normal for the storm's survivors for any - for a very long time.

We'd like to think that natural disasters are random acts of nature, but random implies unpredictable. And in this case, unpredictable really doesn't fit.

After every disaster, there are inevitable inquiries to what went wrong and why. And hindsight as they say has the clarity of 20/20. But this is not one of those stories. This is a story of a disaster and terrible consequences that were mapped out very precisely years ago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are the police in there? Where are the National Guard?

BROWN (voice-over): If you only listen to officials, local, state, or federal, you would think it never occurred to anyone that this could happen in New Orleans.

LT. RUSSEL HONORE, COMMANDING GENERAL OF FIRST ARMY: None of us, nobody was clairvoyant enough to perceive the damage that was going to be brought by this storm.

BROWN: In fact, emergency services, people at all levels of government knew or should have known, this is exactly what would happen.

WALTER S. MAESTRI, DR., DIR. JEFFERSON PARISH EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: Many people who chose not to leave are going to simply drown in their beds.

BROWN: A major hurricane in New Orleans has long been near the top of the government's list of most likely catastrophes. And journalists have warned of a doomsday scenario in the Gulf. Three years ago, the New Orleans Times-Picayune published a five part series on what could happen if a major hurricane hit New Orleans. It reads like a screenplay for what's been unfolding in the last week.

JOHN MCQUADE, STAFF WRITER, TIMES-PICAYUNE: Our article said that you would have rising waters, and that people would be trapped in their houses, would have to climb up on rooftops because there would be no way to get out of the city, and thus have to be rescued by helicopter or boat.

Most of the things we talked about in our article, regrettably, did come true.

BROWN: For instance, the paper reported "If enough water from Lake Pontchartrain topped the levee system along its south shore, the result would be apocalyptic. Vast areas would be submerged for days or weeks until the engineers dynamited the levees to let the water escape."

The lake did just that. And now engineers are scrambling to plug the brakes and drain the city where the levees are now holding water in, rather than keeping it out.

The paper also predicted, "A large population of low income residents do not own cars and would have to depend on an untested emergency public system to evacuate them."

The faces of the left behind are of those people. Mostly poor, overwhelmingly black, people for whom evacuation would have been difficult, if not impossible.

The reports warned of a human storm. "Amid this maelstrom, the estimated 200,000 or more people left behind in an evacuation will be struggling to survive. Some will be housed at the Superdome." We have witnessed now this week that hellish struggle for survival at the Superdome.

The paper also quoted Red Cross estimates that tens of thousands would die.

MCQUADE: I would expect that - and hope that the death toll would be lower than the Red Cross prediction, but of course, nobody really has an accurate count right now.

BROWN: So while officials, local, state and federal, can say they are doing all they can, and they can promise to do more, what they can't say is that they didn't know. MCQUADE: It's pretty obvious to everybody that there was not an adequate plan to deal with this scenario. There was not an authoritative play book on everything everybody should do to move material and personnel into the city, rescue people quickly enough so that the breakdown in order would not have occurred.


BROWN: There was a plan to shore up the levee system that protects the city. The levees were breached in three places as you now know, but there was a plan to shore them up long before. At one point, money was sent on the table. And then, money was lost.

Mike Parker was the head of the Army Corps of Engineers three years ago when he criticized the administration for its, I guess, budgetary priorities. He was forced to resign over his opposition. He's in our Washington bureau tonight.

If the money had been spent, if the levee project had been completed, I don't think you believe, do you, that the city would be dry?

MICHAEL PARKER, FMR. HEAD, ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: It would not be dry. No, no. In fact, the president of the United States, when he first came into office, and we'd given him $100 million. It would not have made much difference as far as this incident.

BROWN: Why would it would not have made much difference? I thought the idea was to take it sort of raise the level of its strength from - to withstand a Category 5 hurricane?

PARKER: But you have to understand, these projects are huge in nature. And they take a long time to build. I think we need to put it in perspective. Infrastructure is not something that we build for ourselves. We build it for our children and our grandchildren. Just like the infrastructure we have in place, we owe that - we own it simply because it was given to us by our parents and our grandparents.

If you look in New Orleans, in 1965 when Hurricane Betsy came through, the Congress of the United States passed legislation. And in that legislation, it was supposed to be protecting the city of New Orleans. And it was the Pontchatrain, the Lake Pontchatrain New Orleans Levee and Hurricane Protection Plan.

The fact of the matter is, is that Congress wanted to have that paid for - completed by - in a 10 year period of time by 1975.

We are now at 2005. 40 years after the inception, 30 years after it was supposed to be completed. And it is only 80 to 85 percent complete.

BROWN: And that is because why?

PARKER: Well, there are a variety of reasons. And a lot of them, the American people don't quite understand because there's a - it's a little secret in Washington how information gets to people. The fact of the matter is is that infrastructure has a direct bearing on the standard of living of the citizens of this nation. And too many times, we have placed emphasis on things that are - that individuals, politicians look at it as self gratification, instant gratification. They turn around and say let's take care of this now, so we can look at an election because these projects going to be too long term in nature.

The fact of the matter is...

BROWN: So we want, what, the spending equivalent of a sugar fix. We want to build something that we can look at and say ain't that swell, vote for me? Is that what you're saying?

PARKER: No, what I'm saying is, is they say let's do an entitlement program like prescription drugs. And let's not put money into a long term project that you don't, you know, not a lot of people see a lot of benefit from.

You have to understand whenever you talk about the situation that we had in New Orleans, New Orleans has known - people in New Orleans have known...

BROWN: Sure.

PARKER: ...a lot of the citizens didn't know, but they knew we were going to have a problem at some time if the right circumstances came about.

And we actually two incidents. We had not only the hurricane. Then we had the levees break.

BROWN: Right. Let me - I want to ask one question looking forward. Can a city with the geographical challenges that New Orleans has, because the Speaker of the House kind of suggested this, then ran away from it after sort of thought about what he was saying, can it in fact be safely built? Can it be built - rebuilt protected in such a way that the people don't have to worry that the next hurricane season, they're going to get blown off the map again?

PARKER: I believe that it can be built and it should be rebuilt. And I disagree with the speaker. I believe that it should be done. And it is in the best interest of the country that it be done.

But let's talk about how decisions are made. And this comes to the very heart of it. If you'll give me just a couple of minutes, I think it's important for the American people to understand.

You've got a gatekeeper in Washington that's called the Office of Management and Budget. I believe that if you deal with Congress, and they're going to be making the decisions, they have to be given all the information. And then they can prioritize what they want to do. And I believe that the agencies need to give the president all the information.

But what is happening now, and this has been happening over a period of time, is the Office of Management and Budget has become more and more powerful. And what occurs in the normal operation, this is every federal agency, what they have to do is go through this gate keeper...


PARKER: ...which is OMB. They have to give them the information. Then OMB says well, these are the numbers that you're going to take to Capitol Hill.

BROWN: Right.

PARKER: Then the agencies go to Capitol Hill. And they have to justify those numbers. Not what they need, but what OMB told them to. Even the testimony that they give, they can't give testimony to Congress and tell them what they truly believe. They have to give testimony by what the - corresponds to what OMB wants them to tell.

BROWN: Well, I think that's called loyalty to the administration in which you serve, sir.

PARKER: Well...

BROWN: I think, I mean it's a kind of a crazy way to do business, but that's where we are. It's good to talk to you, Mr. Parker. I don't think there are 10 people in the country in Washington that know what's in the budget and how it's being spent. It just ends up there.

We'll take a break. Our coverage continues in a moment.


BROWN: Remember reporting on Sunday that if the hurricane hit, it's just a normal bad hurricane hit. It was very likely you'd feel the effects no matter where you live because about a third, as I recall, of the nation's oil supply, natural gas, has a way of making its way through the Gulf that the refineries or the rigs off the coast. What did you pay for gas this week?

Peter Beutel is an oil analyst. And he joins us tonight from Stamford, Connecticut.

Can you explain to me, other than reaping more profits, seriously, what changed between Sunday - between Monday morning and when I bought gas yesterday, that made that gas go up a buck?

PETER BEUTEL, OIL ANALYST: Basically, we lost 10 percent of our refining capacity and the major pipelines went down that carry a lot of that gasoline...

BROWN: But that gasoline - the gas I bought yesterday, they didn't drill that oil, you know, four days ago and put it in the refinery on Wednesday and send it to suburban New York. So what - that's been in the system. That's been sitting in a tank somewhere, right? BEUTEL: You are correct, but if you were going to go say Munich for Octoberfest, it wouldn't matter that the bank had bought Euros a year ago at a higher price. You would pay today's rate for the Euros.

It's called commoditization. And we're seeing it a lot more on gasoline. It's been kind of a 20 year process. And it's really hit home here this week.

You know, same as with gold or interest rates or anything else. It's today's prices, when people are doing that.

BROWN: Fair enough. But just to be clear, not you know, supply and demand, I live by that. I got that. I've done well by that. Just to be clear, that product didn't cost them any more. They're simply making more money on it. Correct?

BEUTEL: Yes, that's true.

BROWN: OK. Are they going to make more money still? Do you expect gas will go to $4 a gallon?

BEUTEL: I'm hoping not. Right now, today, we saw gasoline prices sell off about 22 cents. We now are - we have about half the refineries that were lost earlier this week coming back. We've got pipelines carrying about half what they can carry.

So my hope is that perhaps the worst of it will be over by this weekend. But here's a big but, we are right still in the heart of hurricane season. We are having one of the most active hurricane seasons on record.

If we have another storm head through that area, and I'm hoping obviously I'm not alone, that nothing like that happens, then who knows what could go on.

But assuming that nothing else catastrophic happens, I'm going to say that I think that probably the worst will be behind us after this weekend, and that maybe by Columbus Day or even the end of September, we could be back to prices that we saw just one week ago.

BROWN: So if we're lucky, let me just see that I got this, if we're lucky, we'll get back to the highest gas prices in our memory.

BEUTEL: In our lives, well, on record ever. Yes, that's true.

BROWN: Now eventually...

BEUTEL: Yes, I know, it doesn't sound like much fun.


BEUTEL: Eventually, we will see oil prices go back below $20 a barrel in my opinion.

BROWN: Yes. BEUTEL: Now I know a lot of people don't agree with me, which makes me happy, actually. But it was going to take us probably four or five years.

Right now, people are discovering oil in a lot of places that nobody's even hearing about.


BEUTEL: Alberta has the tar sands. So they have more oil in that than Saudi Arabia has.

BROWN: Well, I hope you're right. You know, that's - I hope this is the time you're right, Peter. Thank you.

BEUTEL: Thank you.

BROWN: Thank you, Peter Beutel, who's an oil analyst. If we're lucky.

Race and this tragedy after the break.


BROWN: Some number of times over the years, we think the most difficult issue in American life is race. We don't really know how to talk about it, let alone deal with it. And once again, race has become a part of the national story.

It's certainly part of the tragedy of New Orleans. Here's NEWSNIGHT'S Beth Nissen.


BETH NISSEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the face of this tragedy. And this, and this. Poor people, poor, black people, facing race and class at elements of this tragedy raises questions, some hard, some ugly, few simple.

Why so many African-Americans among the stranded, the sick and wounded, the dead? This is one of the simple answers. Two-thirds of New Orleans residents are black. Many of them poor. And in poor health. Many of them crowded into parts of town where their rents were lowest and the water table highest.

Why didn't they get out when so many others did, before the storm? Some were surely careless, heedless. But many more had no car, no money for a ticket out, nowhere to go, except to the Superdome and the convention center, where thousands sought refuge and found a hell on earth.

Their stories have emerged with them in a chaotic mess, stories of heat, stench, a down spiral of breakdowns in plumbing, emotions, resilience, morality. With tens of thousands of people living like animals, some small number began behaving like animals, preying on the weak. Foraging, some taking what they needed. Some taking anything they could.

Millions of Americans watching from a distance shook their heads and asked how could people come to this? To mob and shoot at rescue helicopters, to invade hospitals? Those still stranded in this swamped city answered with desperate angry questions of their own. How could no one come for us for days? Why so long before the National Guard appeared, before the chartered buses came, before rescue?

Would help have come sooner if they'd voted more often or differently, had stronger leaders, better local government? If there wasn't a war on and National Guard troops were home? If this tragedy was different on the face of it?

Beth Nissen, CNN, New York.


BROWN: There are a lot of uncomfortable questions in this story. It's on national - homeland security and national preparedness and race and class.

Morning papers after the break.


BROWN: Quickly, some morning newspapers on this Friday, working our way towards Saturday, decided shifting the tone from the headline writers, indicating a shift in the story, at least as we in the news business see it, which is always an interesting way to look at this, isn't it?

"Rocky Mountain News", "Help At Last" is the lead. "San Antonio Express News" San Antonio taking in a lot of people down there. "Help Finally Rolls In" is their lead. Help, it seems to be the thread that is holding these newspaper headlines together. "The Washington Post", "Guard Troops Descend on New Orleans: Food, Water, Distributed to Victims."

Now not all headlines were that way. "The Cincinnati Inquirer", "Escape from New Orleans: They want us to Die Here: Buses Pour In, But May Take Days to Evacuate."

A few headlines. We'll wrap up our part of the night after a break.


BROWN: Catch up on that. Quick reminder, a three hour "LARRY KING LIVE" tomorrow. Some ideas on how you can help the victims of this American catastrophe. CNN's coverage continues all night long.

Catherine Callaway up next in Atlanta. Have a wonderful weekend - holiday weekend for all of us. We'll see you next week. Good night.