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CNN Newsnight Aaron Brown

Contentious Meeting Between Senate Leaders and Bush Cabinet; Contaminated Water Endangering New Orleans Workers and Residents

Aired September 06, 2005 - 22:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
It is topic A in the southeastern part of the country. And it is topic A on Capitol Hill as well, what happened last week, why it happened, the way it happened. State and federal officials not getting -- didn't get it is the general sense tonight. And federal officials didn't get it either.

At a meeting on Capitol Hill tonight, members of Congress took Cabinet officials to task. This meeting was contentious. It just broke up a short time ago.

CNN's Ed Henry is in Washington tonight and begins it for us -- Ed.


That's right, the blame game in full swing now. This meeting was very contention, we're hearing from lawmakers who have been coming out. It lasted for well over two hours. It's really been rough, not only on Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, but, as you mentioned, a whole slew of Bush Cabinet secretaries who came in to brief the entire House of Representatives behind closed doors.

We're told that those Cabinet secretaries started out by giving relatively rosy reports about how things are turning out for the better, things are getting better all the time. The first question came from a Republican, not a Democrat. And I'm told that this Republican lawmaker stood up and basically said, all of you deserve failing grades, despite what you're saying right now. The response was a disaster.

Then a Democratic lawmaker stood up and asked Michael Chertoff, the homeland security secretary, whether or not he would give a grade for the FEMA director who is underneath him, FEMA Director Michael Brown. Mr. Chertoff ducked that question.

And what's very interesting here is, the backdrop is that, unlike after 9/11, when you saw congressional leaders coming together and even singing "God Bless America" on the Capitol steps, we're seeing Democrats really pounding this administration hard. They're taking some hits. And Republican leaders are starting to really circle the wagons.

Just a few minutes ago, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay came out of this contentious meeting and said, it's really not the federal government's fault. It's really the local government's fault in Louisiana. Take a listen to what he said.


REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: That the emergency response system was set up to work from the bottom up. And it's the local officials trying to handle the problem. When they can't handle the problem, they go to the state, and the state does what they can do. And if they need assistance from FEMA and the federal government, they ask for it and it's delivered.


HENRY: Now, Tom DeLay also said that he feels that, in Alabama and Mississippi, it was much better. If you take a look at one possible reason why he's saying that, there are Republican governors in Mississippi and Alabama, a Democratic governor in Louisiana, of course.

And also, Michael Brown, the FEMA director, earlier today, very contentious meeting at the White House as well, congressional leaders and President Bush, where House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, we are told, basically said that the FEMA director is incompetent and called on the president to fire him.

And now CNN has just obtained a memo this evening that's going to add even more grist for the mill. This memo was reported on earlier by the Associated Press. And it basically is a memo from the FEMA director, Michael Brown, to Mr. Chertoff basically asking for more than 1,000 volunteers right after the storm hit, for more than 1,000 volunteers to rush to the Gulf region in order to deal with the aftermath of Katrina.

This is obviously going to lead even more critics to say, why was he getting -- the FEMA director getting more voluntaries to respond after the storm hit, not before? Now, it's important to note that Homeland Security officials are telling CNN that this is not that significant because in fact they had some people prepositioned.

But, again, this is going to be even more grist for the mill for the people calling for Michael Brown's head -- Aaron.

BROWN: I want to go back to your meeting in a second, but just a couple more things on the memo.

I wouldn't exactly use the word rush. He gives these 1,000 Homeland Securities officials two days to arrive on the scene, according to the memo, which I looked at just before coming up. That included one day of training before they headed for the Gulf. And he said that one of their responsibilities would be to ensure that FEMA was portrayed in a positive light, some concern about the P.R. impact of the storm itself.

The memo was written five hours after the storm made landfall in New Orleans. On the DeLay point, it's a little difficult to compare Mississippi and Alabama to New Orleans. These are apples and oranges in terms of what the disaster itself was. All that said, where does this all go in the Congress? Is there going to be a move to move FEMA out of Homeland Security? Do we get the head of Michael Brown and then it all goes away? Other than the kind of sniping that's going on, where does this head?

HENRY: Well, I think, first of all, you're right. FEMA is very likely to be pulled out of the Department of Homeland Security, and here's why. Even Republican Senator Trent Lott, who lost his own home in the storm, said today that he believes it was a mistake.

Important to note, not just by the Bush administration, but by this Congress, Democrats and Republicans, who voted for the Department of Homeland Security and decided to -- instead of having FEMA as an independent agency -- as Trent Lott says, it should be an independent agency that reports directly to the big man, as Trent Lott said, so there's none of this red tape in the middle. There's a FEMA director reporting directly to the president.

Where does this go? Very interesting development as well tonight. Democratic Senator Hillary Clinton has been calling for an independent commission, beyond the sniping, to actually investigate what went wrong, so it doesn't happen again. Tom DeLay said, no way, we're not going to do that.

And then it's very interesting that, even more importantly, there have been -- talk about a lot of congressional hearings. Well, Republican Congressman Tom Davis earlier tonight announced he's moving ahead with hearings in the House in order to investigate what went wrong. Tom DeLay did not know about that until word started spreading.

He just told some of us reporters that those hearings are not going forward. Tom DeLay is going to stop these hearings from going forward. That's going to leave Democrats to charge that Republicans on the Hill are trying to sweep this under the carpet and they're trying to cover up for the Bush administration. I don't think it's going to be just sniping.

I think this is going to start really boiling up as to what happened.

BROWN: I want to move on from all of this, but just two points on that. Whatever the House does, the Senate has a vote in all of this. And the Senate seems pretty much determined to hold hearings.

And the other observation, it occurred to me today that this in many respects is exactly like the post-9/11 landscape. When people were calling for an independent commission to investigate, the administration resisted, resisted, and resisted some more. And finally the weight of the moment overwhelmed them.

HENRY: It did.

And I think a lot of critics are also noting that, as you say, after 9/11, you had this independent commission. What about Congress in all this? Lawmakers, especially Democrats, but some Republicans, have had a good time in the last few days beating up on the Bush administration. But the fact of the matter is that a major job on Capitol Hill for the Congress, people in both parties, is to exercise oversight over these agencies like FEMA.

And some people are going to start wondering, where has Congress been? Not just where the administration, whether it was the Bush administration or Clinton administration, in recent years in dealing with the levees and the funding of those in New Orleans, and dealing with FEMA and its oversight, what has Congress been doing? -- Aaron.

BROWN: Ed, thank you. Good, quick work tonight. Thank you, Ed Henry, on the Hill.

So, that's literally what is happening now, Congress starting to play its part in all of this. And it does seem to be starting to break down along partisan lines. Whether the country sees it that way or not, we shall see.

As far as the broad overview of the day goes, it's pretty simple. A week and a day after the hurricane struck, there were in fact some glimmers of success, but also many reminders of the dangers and challenges that remain. The mayor of New Orleans has now formally issued an order authorizing the forced removal of people in the city.

There are about 10,000 people, they believe, still there. The federal government says about 250,000 evacuees from Gulf Coast states are now in hundreds of shelters around the country as far west as the state of Oregon, the future for them uncertain tonight.

A disaster official working with the governor's office says the state of Louisiana, that the Superdome in New Orleans was so heavily damaged in the aftermath of Katrina that they may have to tear it down; 60 percent of the city remains underwater tonight. It was 80 percent 36 hours ago, progress there. But we also learned today the water is full of E coli and who knows what else.

How conditions got so bad, why help didn't come sooner, just two questions the House leadership raised tonight, as you heard in Ed Henry's report, with members of the Cabinet, a meeting that Ed described as contentious.

The day unfolded in New Orleans and beyond, the questions that will not go away only getting louder.


BROWN (voice-over): In a city slowly now giving back its floodwater to the lake from which it came, slowly completing an evacuation where not everyone wants to leave, slowly taking measure of those for whom it is simply too late, for that city today, there were promises that answers would come, accountability would be had for the failures of last week.

SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: Katrina was the disaster that scientists, emergency management officials and political leaders had anticipated for years. Yet the initial response was woefully inadequate.

BROWN: The Congress will investigate. And the president promised to lead an investigation of his own.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I intend to do is lead a -- to lead an investigation to find out what went right and what went wrong.

BROWN: Setting aside the obvious, can the administration investigate itself, there are plenty of questions that need answering, just as there are plenty of problems still to solve. Perhaps 10,000 people remain in the city, most unwilling to leave for whatever reasons. But patience with them seems to be running out as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are trying to evacuate this city. We are in a planning stage right now to do this in the most expeditious and efficient manner. And we are going to evacuate these individuals, with or without their cooperation.

BROWN: The mayor says he believes most everyone who wants to be evacuated has been or very nearly so.

RAY NAGIN, MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: We think that we have been spanning the city in a very effective way. The amount of people that were taken out is starting to slow down, as far as distressed individuals.

BROWN: The city is unlivable, not simply because of the flooding or the lack of power and the rest. It is unlivable because of what can't be seen. The water being sent back into Lake Pontchartrain is contaminated with E coli, at least, a prescription for disease, if you drink it or even touch it and then touch your mouth with your hands. There has yet to be a widespread outbreak of disease, but the risk remains high.

There is not enough water pressure to deal with fires. This one was in the Garden District, military helicopters dropping loads of water on nearby buildings in an effort to save them. And there is this grim sign of the future. Authorities began preparing a huge morgue in a warehouse outside of Baton Rouge. A military unit, which specializes in identifying the dead is coming to Louisiana.

Meanwhile, the effort to resettle tens of thousands of people goes on. Some will end up as far west as Oregon, as far north as Minnesota, to the east in Massachusetts. In all those places, plans are being made to take in, to house, to support, to educate, to absorb the largest displacement of American citizens since the Civil War.

These people arrived today in Washington, D.C., many not knowing until the last minute where they were headed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once we got on the plane, that's when I found out where we were going.

BROWN: Through it all, it will be a long time before the stories of New Orleans disappear. Sandra Reed (ph) certainly has her share. She took some photos of her journey to and from the Superdome.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My grandchildren, they had no water, no nothing, anything. And they kept on saying, mama, I'm thirsty. I'm thirsty. I said, just go to sleep.

They put us up in here with murderers, criminals. How could they do that to us? They couldn't even protect us.

BROWN: Which brings us back to where he we began tonight. Of all the questions that need answering by the Congress or the president or some commission not yet named, Ms. Reed's questions rank first. How could planners, local state and federal, have failed to understand that thousands of people would be left behind to fend for themselves in conditions like the Superdome, the Convention Center, the streets? How could they have allowed that to happen?


BROWN: There was this as well today. The superintendent of schools in Louisiana said schools in New Orleans and in neighboring Saint Bernard Parish may be shut down for the entire school year, affecting nearly 200,000 students.

Buildings, of course, with time and money, can be rebuilt. Lives are another matter.

CNN's Anderson Cooper is in New Orleans tonight and joins us from there.

Good evening.


You know, I heard in your report you saying that a special unit from the military is coming to help identify bodies. It is coming. I mean, there are bodies, but no one is picking up bodies at this point. There are bodies just floating out there that we drive by in boats every day. They're laying out on top of cars. And there's no telling how many bodies are in these homes once this water goes down.

It is remarkable. I mean, there are so many first-responders here from small towns all across Louisiana and all across the south and all from different states who want to help and start picking up these bodies. Often, it seems like the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing here. And there's a lot of duplication and a lack of communication.

And we're hearing that every day from all the first-responders that I talked to privately. They don't want to say it on camera because they don't want to get in trouble. These are small-town guys who don't want to make waves. But they are incredibly frustrated. I talked to a young doctor, a psychiatrist, who came here on his own with a backpack full of some medicine and a Glock with hollow-point bullets strapped to his waist.

He wasn't ordered here. He just came here because there was a need. And he looked around. He was like, where is everybody else? Where are the medical professionals that are desperately needed? And this guy was working, helping New Orleans police officers, who didn't really have any medical care for themselves.

Here's some of what he said about his experiences and what he's seen over the last couple of days.


DR. JEFFREY ROUSE, PSYCHIATRIST: Where was the help for the helpers?

And if a psychiatrist has to come in on his own with a gun and a backpack to do it, that's not a failure of an individual, that's a failure of the entire system.

COOPER: And that's what you did, you came in with a gun and a backpack of medicine?

ROUSE: And a backpack of supplies for myself, including medicine, bandages, you know, scalpels, I mean, just anything I could get my hands on.

COOPER: Do you carry the gun with you?

ROUSE: It's right here. I was not coming back to this town without this. I was not coming back in this town checking my house without this. I have a sworn oath to help. And the last thing I want to do is hurt somebody. But I had to get here to help.

COOPER: And so, the heroes of this disaster and this continuing disaster are -- I mean, you're modest, you wouldn't say it. But I mean, I would say it's you and you would say it's the other people who just ignored the bureaucracy and just decided to come down and do what you could, even though no one -- there was no organization?

ROUSE: Yes. The heroes of this disaster are the local officials, some of the state officials, who were here working under deplorable conditions and continuing to do their job, even as their families were unaccounted for, their homes destroyed and they kept going.


COOPER: So, earlier, Aaron, you heard Tom DeLay talking, blaming basically the very same people, from the low levels, I believe was the term he used, from the bottom up. This man who has been working on the bottom, he sees it, of course, the reverse. He sees it as the heroes are the people who work, were working and continued to work throughout this storm and in these dark, difficult days ahead, Aaron.

BROWN: Some day, we will understand all of this, it seems to me. Clearly, local officials made some miscalculations. State officials did. Federal officials did. But hardly anyone can blame, Anderson, the first-responders, the people who probably have virtually -- have not slept, hardly eaten, and who lost homes in all of this, and whose families also have been evacuated in all of this.


And who, by the way, are out there in this water all day long, getting -- drinking this water and getting it in their eyes, without protective -- much protective gear. I mean, some of them have latex surgical gloves on. But, I mean, this water is just -- it's a health hazard. And one doctor I just talked to who responds to these medical personnel all the time describes it as a crime, what is happening here.

He describes it as a crime, the response to this, and the fact there are first-responders out there without the right gear, risking their lives every day still.

BROWN: Thank you. It's good to see you. You've been terrific, by the way, Anderson Cooper in New Orleans.

We will have more on the water coming up. Also coming up, another storm is on the way. The degree to which we need to worry about it, we will get to that.

But, first, a little past a quarter after the hour, about 18 minutes past tonight, Erica Hill joins us in Atlanta with some of the other headlines that made news on this day -- Ms. Hill.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Mr. Brown, this one kind of taking a few people by surprise. Saddam Hussein has confessed that he ordered thousands of Kurds executed in the late 1980s. That's according to Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. In an interview on Iraqi state television, President Talabani said the Iraqi special tribune judges have signed confessions from the former dictator. Saddam Hussein's trial begins on October 19.

Measures to curb traffic are soon to begin in Baghdad. The Iraqi government says vehicles with odd-numbered plates won't be permitted to drive in the city on the same day as those with even-numbered plates. Traffic police say congestion has built up following many road closures in the city.

Bob Denver, the actor who played on Gilligan on the hit TV series "Gilligan's Island," has died following a struggle with cancer. He was 70. Denver's first big break, the role of Maynard Krebs in the comedy series "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis."

And President Bush was one of the mourners who paid his respects to Chief Justice William Rehnquist, as the body of the former chief justice lay in repose at the Supreme Court today, two days of public mourning proceed Rehnquist's funeral. It takes place on Wednesday, Aaron.

BROWN: Erica, thank you. If all goes Well, we will see you in a half-an-hour.

HILL: Sounds good.

BROWN: Thank you.

Coming up on the program, much more ahead, starting with three young college students who saw a tremendous need and did something about it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They weren't trapped by hurricane damage. They were trapped by red tape.

BROWN: They found a way to cut through the red tape.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We saw 150 empty busses driving the other way on I-10 as we were going into the city.

BROWN: They got into the city and they brought people out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if we could drive right in there in 20 minutes, there's no reason why help couldn't have gotten to them sooner.

BROWN: I would like everybody to get out because it's a health risk. There are toxins in the water.

BROWN: Billions of gallon of filthy water full of bacteria, possibly viruses, and who knows what else.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Any kind of illness can be potentially deadly.

BROWN: Who is at risk and does the danger go beyond New Orleans?

And off Florida's coast, another tropical storm is brewing. What might it bring to the coast of the United States?

From New York, at the peak of the hurricane season, a special edition of NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: I wanted to talk to someone from the New Orleans Police Department tonight for a couple of reasons, first, to get a better feel for the security situation there, and, second, to understand much better how the first-responders are holding up.

Twice today in conversations -- we just heard this from Anderson, too, a moment ago -- we were told the real heroes of this story are the people who stayed behind to fight the fight.

Lieutenant Darryl Albert of the New Orleans Police Department is one of them. He joins us on the phone tonight.

Lieutenant, good to have you. Just a couple of questions on security. There are -- there are not that many residents left in town, but there are a good many recovery workers who are in town doing all sorts of things, from fixing levees to helping evacuate people, a lot of reporters in town. How safe is it?

LT. DARRYL ALBERT, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT: Well, we're doing much better now.

It's really looking good here in the city. We have got tons of support now. And support is pouring in from all over the country. We have got plenty of military personnel, thousands and thousands of military personnel, all over the city. They've blanketed the city. We have got support from neighboring jurisdictions, state, federal, local. We have lots of law enforcement here. And it was definitely something that we needed.

We got that support here. They came here ready to work.


ALBERT: They came here very positive. And we are just happen to have them here. It really makes the city safe and letting us do our job a little bit better.

BROWN: There's a story on the wires tonight about a photographer for the Saint Petersburg newspaper who was stopped at an intersection. And a guy walked up to him with a gun in his hand and said, give me your money and then shot him. Those kind of things are still happening, though, right?

ALBERT: I have no knowledge of anything of that sort happening.

Now, I can tell you, everywhere you look, everywhere you turn, we have law enforcement and military out there on the streets, pounding the pavement, walking door to door, walking every neighborhood that we can actually access.

And they're out there. And we got them out there. We divided the city into sectors and grids. And we are taking this city back street by street. I will tell you, the support that we have from the military and the neighboring jurisdictions and the jurisdictions across the country is overwhelming. We have what we needed from the beginning.

BROWN: What do you make of the people, the 10,000 or so people, who won't leave?

ALBERT: Well, those folks are here. They're here.

We're having to deal with them. We're still going out doing rescue missions. We have got wildlife and fisheries from quite a few states here. They have boats here for us. We're going out. We are offering those folks a ride out. We are giving them some food and some water. We are getting them out of here. And that hasn't stopped. We are still doing it. We're getting folks on these boats. We are getting them to transportation centers and we are getting them out of the city.

BROWN: The mayor said tonight, if I read the order right, it's no more. We want to you leave. You have to leave. It's -- we're going to take you out. I can't imagine anyone is looking forward to going into these homes and dragging people out.

ALBERT: Well, it's not at that stage yet. We haven't reached that stage yet.

We are still -- it's still voluntary. We're still asking folks to leave. We are still offering them transportation out. And that's what we're doing. We're going in the neighborhoods. Like I say, we divided everything into sectors and grids. We're going into the neighborhoods that we haven't touched yet.

And even en route to some of those neighborhoods that we hadn't touched, we're double-checking with the folks that was left behind. We're offering them a second chance and a third chance to get out. And many of them are taking us up on that offer. And they are leaving.

BROWN: Just a final question.

When you look around you and you look at people you've worked with for a long time and the work they've done, how are the members of the department holding up, honestly? They have families. They have -- many of them live in the city. They've gone through all of this. How are you and they holding up?

ALBERT: Well, I will tell you, the idea with the guys that was here from the beginning -- you know, we were here from the beginning. We have stayed here. We have put our minds together.

It was tough initially. But, together, minds together, you can get anything done. You can get anything accomplished. What we have done, we came up with some comprehensive plans. We had to have a plan. And we came up with some plans, and we put those plans into effect. And we started doing things that we needed to do as a department as a whole. We had the support of the superintendents, Mayor C. Ray Nagin. We had everyone on our corner -- in our corner.

And they knew what we needed. And they got the support we needed. You know, the folks that's here, they have been here in the trenches. Nobody turned their back. The guys that we have here, men and women of this department, have stood the front lines. And we have taken that stance, and that we let people know that we're here. We're here to serve them and we are here to protect them. And that's exactly what we're doing.

BROWN: Well, may you continue to get the help you need and eventually get the rest I'm sure you want. Thanks for your time tonight.

ALBERT: Thank you very much.

BROWN: Lieutenant Darryl -- thank you, Lieutenant Darryl Albert with the New Orleans Police Department. It's been a tough time for them.

Out in the Atlantic, there is another storm brewing. It's good to remember we're still very much in what has been a very active hurricane season. We will check on that.

We have much more to go. This is a two-hour edition of NEWSNIGHT on CNN.


BROWN: We'll have a talk about disasters coming in threes. I'm not sure the people in the southeastern part of the United States can handle another disaster this hurricane season, but there are storms out there that bear watching. Jacqui Jeras joins us from Atlanta tonight -- Jacqui?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hey, Aaron. Three storms out there right now. The one we're most concerned about, just a tropical depression at this time. It's called T.D. 16, but it is forecast to become Tropical Storm Ophelia likely sometime tomorrow.

It's just over 100 miles away from Cape Canaveral, right now, to the north of Freeport and it's just kind of drifting. It's sitting and spinning, so there's a lot of uncertainty as to exactly where it's going to go until the steering winds start to pick up a little bit and start to drive this somewhere, basically.

It has been bringing in some heavy rain across parts of Florida all day long; 1 to 2 inches in some of the heaviest bands. We're expecting an additional 1 to 2 tomorrow and another 1 to 2 the day after that. We have a lot of confidence that it's going to start to drift on up to the north. It will be bringing in some gusty winds, we think, in the next 24 hours.

Tropical storm warnings have been issued from Titusville, extending down toward Jupiter Inlet. The forecast has it kind of drifting up to the north and the west and kind of hugging the coast over the next three days.

Beyond that, there's still a lot of uncertainty. Some of the forecast models bring it across Florida and into the Gulf of Mexico, some of them bringing it up the coast and on up toward the Carolinas and other still just kind of bringing it straight on up into Florida and just kind of dying out across parts of the deep South.

So, we'll have to wait and see what happens after that. Certainly bears watching and certainly going to be a big rain maker across the Sunshine State -- Aaron?

BROWN: Rain, we can deal with.


BROWN: Just quickly, what are the chances that this will turn into a full-blown hurricane?

JERAS: Well, right now it's not looking that way.

BROWN: OK. JERAS: But as I mentioned, a few of the models do develop it into a hurricane, possibly into the Carolinas, possibly along the Gulf Coast. It's just too early to tell.

BROWN: We'll keep an eye on. Thank you, Jacqui Jeras, in Atlanta.

In severely flooded areas like New Orleans, it is a cruel fact that those trapped are in danger of dying for a lack of water and at the same time, the water surrounding them is a threat to their lives. In truth, few of us were surprised today to learn that the water covering New Orleans is filled with E. coli. That said, it remains a sobering fact. Here's CNN's Elizabeth Cohen.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This water is so filthy that the Centers for Disease Control is telling people who've been in it to get vaccinated against Hepatitis A. and the New Orleans Police Force, including Chief Eddie Compass, are getting vaccinated against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B and tetanus.

Of course, you don't really need a test to tell you this water is contaminated, but we had one done just to figure out how contaminated it is. The analysis of this New Orleans water shows it's full of bacteria from animal and human feces.

Full, meaning this test by Louisiana State University, shows that it has more than 20, 000 colonies of fecal coliform per 100 milliliters. Water runoff into rivers is normally supposed to be no more than 200. That's why Mayor Ray Nagin gave this warning Tuesday.

RAY NAGIN, MAYOR, NEW ORLEANS: I would like everybody to get out because it's a health risk. There are toxins in the water.

COHEN (on camera): So what does this mean for the people of New Orleans who were in this water day after day? A week later, the water still smells. It's full of trash and debris, but of course, what's really dangerous is what you can't see: Viruses and bacteria.

(voice-over): Dr. William Shaffner, who serves on an advisory committee to the Centers for Disease Control, says the signs of Hepatitis A won't show up for about a month. He said the vaccine can still work, even if it's been given after someone has been exposed to the virus.

A more immediate concern: Some people could become severely ill if they swallowed the bacteria and viruses in the water.

DR. WILLIAM SHAFFNER, CDC ADVISER: Older people, people who are frail, immuno-compromised and of course, the tiny infants, they don't have the margin of safety, right? So any kind of illness can be really serious and potentially deadly with them.

COHEN: For everyone else, being in this water could mean acute diarrhea. SHAFFNER: We're hearing about small outbreaks of gastrointeritis: Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

COHEN: Bacteria and viruses aren't the only concern. Johnyup Kim is an environmental engineering PhD student at LSU. At our request, he's also testing the water for various chemicals. Results should be back within the next few days. The government says they're working on it.

JOHNYUP KIM, ENVIRONMENTAL PHD STUDENT: I can clearly see the interface between the water the oil, indicating some volatile chemical has leaked through this area. It could be fuel or any kind of chemical.

COHEN: And all the people who spent days in the water are waiting to find out what it could mean for their health now and later.

Elizabeth Cohen, CNN, New Orleans.


BROWN: Vice Ad. Richard Carmona is the surgeon general of the United States. He's back from the area. He's been talking to lots of people today and he talks to us tonight. It's nice to see you, sir.

I know there are some things you want to say. Let me try a couple that -- you may not be the right person on this one, but all this water that we just talked about and all the water that you looked at -- and you know what's in that stuff -- is being pumped back into the lake, ultimately it will make its way to the Gulf. Do you think anybody has anybody has any idea of the long-term implications of that?

VICE ADMIRAL RICHARD CARMONA, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: We can only postulate what they may be. As you heard from some of the people that have been reporting -- we know the water's contaminated. My colleague, Julie Gerberding, who runs CDC as part of our Health and Human Services, has dispatched a specialist to the area to do assessments.

So, we're assessing the degree of contamination, which is why it's safest to evacuate all people from that area and advise people not to drink any water in the area, use bottled water and get so a safe evacuee center where you can be cared for and assessed.

BROWN: And I know that's the message you've been sending out today as often as you can. For people, if they have access to TVs, I'm not sure they do, is to get out. What's the phone call that worries you most right now? I mean, what is the thing that hasn't happened yet, but that you worry might?

CARMONA: Well, what we're talking about is the natural history of any disaster and what generally happens in most disasters is when you start to recover -- there's an infrastructure there. Social services are there. The hospitals are working. This disaster is unprecedented because the infrastructure of the community is gone. There's no support services there anymore. Hence, people have to be evacuated to other communities to receive the services they need.

We know that there's a long-term consequence of any of these issues, such as public health implications, mental health implications that often don't manifest themselves until later on.


CARMONA: So, we're talking months and years. But we have a team together. Secretary Leavitt has directed to us make sure that we're dealing with the spiritual, that we're dealing with the medical, that we're dealing with the public health implications and we're meeting 24 hours a day to deal with the issues and supplement the support services that are at all of the evacuee centers.

BROWN: Just on the subject of mental health for a second, there was a story tonight about an evacuee who apparently tried to commit suicide on an airplane who was being evacuated to somewhere. Clearly, the people in Houston and elsewhere are under enormous stress.


BROWN: Their lives have been incredibly disrupted. What are symptomatically are your people and the people who are working for your people, which is really the way this works, what are they looking for?

CARMONA: Well, we're looking for the fact that we recognize there are risk factors. And before I even answer, let me just tell you, we are suffering through this. We see those pictures and the passion that's driving all of us in Health and Human Services and our federal partners, is the pain and suffering that our fellow citizens are going through.

None of us are sleeping. None of us are doing anything but staying focused on how to help these folks. The mental health consequences are well known after a disaster. You see an increased rate of suicides, divorces, work problems, substance abuse goes up. Because of that, our Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is right square in the front of this.

When we traveled the last few days, Mr. Curry was with us, assessing the support services for mental health and substance abuse in the short term and the long term, to make sure that we can supplement the community's resources with any federal resources that will help to enhance recovery and bring hope to these people who are struggling.

We hurt as they hurt. I walk among the people there. I spoke to them. I feel their pain, as did my colleagues. And we are doing everything we can to mitigate the tragedy here and help to bring these folks to recovery.

BROWN: Admiral, thanks for your time. I know you've had a very, very long day and several long days. We appreciate a few moments of it. Thank you, sir.

CARMONA: Thank you, Aaron.

BROWN: Ahead on the program, Hurricane Katrina has pumped up gas prices all over the country to record highs. Has that wave peaked? We'll take a break first. This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.


BROWN: New York Senator Chuck Schumer is demanding a federal inquiry into price gouging at gas stations. A gallon of gas has gone up on average 60 cents a week -- rather, in the last week, and he wants an inquiry into price gouging. He says retailers are getting some of that money, while the getting is good, more or less. In any case, what is gouging and what is capitalism can sometimes be a fine line. We're in a supply and demand sort of situation. As for where prices are headed, here's CNN's Allan Chernoff.


ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): No relief at the pump yet, but at least prices appear to have hit a plateau. The national average for regular gas Tuesday was $3.04 a gallon, according to AAA. Down about a penny from Monday's record high. Gas stations have yet to pass along their lower costs, even though wholesale prices are down more than 20 percent from last week's peak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're still at the mercy of, you know, of the stations, of what they want to charge us.

CHERNOFF: Gasoline is moving out of the Gulf again. The two key pipe lines that carry gas up the East Coast are flowing at full capacity, after having shut down due to the storm. And crude oil production in the Gulf is approaching half of normal capacity.

JOHNNIE BURTON, U.S. MINERALS AND MINING SERVICES: The vast majority of facilities could be ready to come back on line in days and weeks rather than months.

CHERNOFF: Tankers filled with gasoline will be arriving from Europe in the coming weeks as well. At the New York Mercantile Exchange, crude oil settled under $66 a barrel, the lowest level just before Katrina hit the Gulf as fears of further supply disruption eased.

But at least four major refineries in the Gulf remain severely crippled, with no plans yet for restarting. And distributors in 45 states are rationing gasoline to stations.

GUY CARUSO, ENERGY INFORMATION ADMINISTRATION: Gasoline supply is particularly in the southeast is -- it remains constrained and we expect it will remain that way for the next several weeks.

CHERNOFF: There is no rationing, though in California. The state gets no gasoline from the Gulf of Mexico, which is why the state attorney general is investigating price gouging at stations that jacked up pump prices in the aftermath of the storm. Allan Chernoff, CNN, New York. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Well all this talk of price gouging and looting and this and that, you can leave these programs feeling that everything is horrible and everyone is horrible. We'll change your mind after the break. This is NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: A little past the quarter to the hour. Time again to check on some of the other things that made news today, which means time again to check with Erica Hill in Atlanta -- Ms. Hill.

HILL: Hello again, Mr. Brown.

We actually start off in Asia where a Typhoon Nabi hit Southern Japan and South Korea today killing several people and forcing tens of thousands to leave their homes. We know at this point at least 15 people are reported missing, after 78-mile-an-hour winds and storm surges engulfed coastal towns.

A school bus carrying disabled students overturned on the San Diego Freeway today injuring about ten people. Two other vehicles were involved in the collision.

And it turns out retirement ain't all it's cracked up to be, at least for Lance Armstrong. The man who won the Tour de France seven times says now he's thinking about getting back in the saddle following French claims he used a performance-enhancing blood booster. Go for number eight, maybe?

BROWN: What's he think he's a boxer? You retire, you retire. Thank you. We'll talk to you tomorrow.

Coming up, the three college students who could. Saving New Orleans one carload at a time. A terrific story. We'll take a break first. This is NEWSNIGHT on CNN.


BROWN: I don't know how many stories there are like the one we're about to tell. This is the story of three young men, college students at Duke University who, while watching us late last week, decided to get in a car, drive to New Orleans and save a life or two, ending up loading relief supplies at a TV station. And in doing so, they were generous and ingenious and energetic and a little larcenous. They left behind good deeds and brought back some wisdom. We talked with Sonny Byrd, Hans Buder and David Hankla late today.


BROWN: Million -- literally millions of people, tens of millions of people, were sitting around the other day watching all of this play out. What is it about you or the three of you that made you think, you know what, let's go there and do something? HANS BUDER, DIKE UNIVERSITY STUDENT: You know, I've always criticized myself for dreaming big, but not having the initiative to go through with it. And just this one time I decided I'm not going to be an armchair humanitarian. So I just talked to Sonny and Hankel and we went down.

BROWN: And, Sonny, when he turned to you and said, let's go there, did you think for a second, that's crazy?

SONNY BYRD, DUKE UNIVERSITY STUDENT: That did cross my mind, but the first thing that left my mouth was I'll be there in five minutes.

BROWN: David, you're on the road now, you're heading towards the great unknown, and I suppose to some extent, a great adventure. Did it feel like you were off on a great adventure?

DAVID HANKLA, DUKE UNIVERSITY STUDENT: It wasn't so much a great adventure as a great opportunity. Everything that's we can do and everything that's available for us to do to really help people, we need to do that.

BROWN: Did you have any idea, not so much what you'd find, because you'd seen picture of it, so you had some idea what you'd find. Did you have any idea of what you'd do?

HANKLA: We'd hoped to do basically what -- exactly what we did.

BUDER: What we did. That was our plan. We got to the Convention Center.

HANKLA: Exactly. Our goal was to get to the Convention Center, where no one else seems to be going, and find a way to get people out. Just get our way into the heart of the city and find people who need help and find a way to help them.

BROWN: Hans, let's talk a little bit about getting to the Convention Center itself. Actually, driving there wasn't the hard part. I guess getting past the security along the way was. Whose idea it was to steal the press passes?

BUDER: This was Sonny Byrd. We actually took a business card, an AP pass and also a television shirt with the embroidery from the station. And we scanned in the business card and the press passes and changed the names to our names. And we went past the military blockade, just waved, and didn't even roll down the windows, and they let us through.

HANKEL: It was unbelievable. Literally, like, we're sitting there, working at the station, and we were just like, I really wish there was some way to get past. And Sonny was like, yes. Seems like a lot of press people seem to be going. I was like, I wish we had a pass. And Sonny just kind of paused, walked out of the room, came back a couple of minutes later and said now we do. What can we do with these?

BROWN: All right. You get to the Convention Center and, in truth, things are better than they had been the day before. But they're hardly pleasant. Sonny, what did you see? What do you remember? How did it feel?

BYRD: The first thing, we were extremely surprised when we came upon the building, because we really didn't think we would be able to drive right up to it, but we were able to do that. And there were military helicopters flying through the sky, there were National en and women all over the place with guns and military supplies. And just the entire Convention Center was trashed. It was just a disaster. And we walked up to it, and we walked right inside. And there was just the impression that we got, the smell was overwhelming, there was feces and urine everywhere, and it was just an absolute nightmare.

BUDER: We saw a kid on the corner who had a sign that said need food and water. One gentleman had been stranded in a tree when the flood waters came up, he didn't know how to swim, so he was trapped in the tree, and fire ants devastated his face, welts on his face, all over his body. Took him out and three women the first trip and then we came back the next morning at first light.

BYRD: When we were leaving New Orleans, the ladies in the back seat were jubilant when they saw street lights. And we passed a dumpy little strip mall and they were just like oh my God, look at this, look where we are. They were crying. They said at last we're free, God almighty we're free. And we were just leaving the city, you know?

BROWN: Where did you take them when you took them?

BUDER: We took them to Baton Rouge to reunite with family, and eventually to get them on buses to Texas.

HANKEL: If we'd had another day to run people in and out, we probably could have gotten appreciably more people. I mean --

BUDER: A hundred.

HANKEL: Yes. We could have just gone in and out, in and out all day. I mean, we found places to get gas. It really was not that big of a -- it wasn't that hard once we actually got in there and had a plan in action.

BROWN: Are you shocked that it was -- I don't want to say it was easy, you guys went to a fair amount to do it, but it wasn't swimming across the ocean either. But it was no harder than it was to do what you did and that there were so many people who needed to be moved that weren't moved?

BUDER: Yes, shocked.

HANKEL: Extremely, extremely shocked.

BUDER: The overarching question that we had was, how did we get in there, we've never been to New Orleans before, how did we get in there where these people have been stranded for four, five days with no food and water, living in a lawless anarchy environment, how do we get in there in 20 minutes in a Hyundai Elantra? And why did they not get out four days before that?

HANKEL: Why couldn't anyone else allegedly get in when we could, with such relative facility. I mean, once we were past the National Guard, it literally, it was a direct drive.

BUDER: We saw 150 empty buses driving the other way on I-10 as we were going into the city.

HANKEL: As we were driving in, bus after bus after bus that was completely empty, no people they were evacuating, driving away from the city or parked roadside.

BYRD: A lot of people, including the people at the Convention Center, they weren't trapped by hurricane damage, they were trapped by red tape. And if we could drive right in there in 20 minutes, there's no reason why help couldn't have gotten to them sooner.

BROWN: Well we're lucky to talk to you and we're pleased at what you did. Don't be so hard on yourself. You went out and did a great thing. Good for you.

BYRD: Thank you, Mr. Brown. Thanks very much.

BROWN: Nicely done, guys.


BROWN: So imagine getting a call from your kid saying, I want to go to New Orleans and help. Hope you'd say yes. Hope I'd say yes. Coming up, the waters of New Orleans receding revealing dangers of a different stripe. There are dangers in the waters. Much more ahead on this Special Edition of NEWSNIGHT. Break first.