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CNN Newsnight Aaron Brown

Hurricane Aftermath

Aired September 08, 2005 - 23:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Sometimes we think it's tough to touch on every danger that exists in the New Orleans area right now, even just in the waters around New Orleans. For rescuers, for those who refuse to leave, contact with the water is unavoidable. But even once the water is gone, in a matter of weeks or perhaps months, the health hazards will remain.
Here's CNN's Rusty Dornin.


RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Whether it takes eight weeks or eight months, when the water is finally pumped out of New Orleans, it will leave behind mounds of mud, about a million tons, by some estimates, mud that's almost certain to be just as contaminated as the water.

Decomposing bodies and sewage, trash, and chemicals will make a nasty sludge. Bacteria and other pathogens live in sludge. And when it dries, it turns to dust. Breathing it could be a problem. But health officials say the drier it gets, the better.

CHUCK BROWN, DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY: As it is exposed to air and it does dry, then the pathogen levels you start to kill instantly. So you can hopefully get down to safe levels.

DORNIN: Limiting exposure would be wearing a mask and gloves, a precaution some are already taking. And when it comes to toxins, gasoline has cast its sheen far and wide over the floodwaters. That spilled fuel could pollute the soil for a long time. And that's not all.

ERIK OLSON, NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: Then you're worried about the long-term effects of these persistent chemicals and metals that can stick around for years or even decades. They can get into what's called the sediments at the bottom of rivers and at the bottom of the lake and be re-suspended every time there's a big storm.

DORNIN (on-screen): You really don't need an environmental expert to tell you the extent of the household contamination that are in these submerged neighborhoods. Just in this small area, we've got a propane can, there's pesticide sprayers, acetone, oil cans, and even a gasoline container.

Much of them have been seeping into the water and, ultimately, into the soil. (voice-over): Household pollution alone might not be enough to cause problems. But if it is combined with other toxins in the soil, in some areas, dreams of rapid reconstruction may end up just that: dreams.

(on-screen): If there are areas where it's higher levels of contamination, would that hold off their ability to rebuild?

OLSON: Yes, we would have to go in. And we'd develop a corrective action plan, which could involve, you know, digging holes or we could encapsulate it some kind of way. But we would try to limit human exposure to it.

DORNIN: No one really knows yet what's in the mud. The EPA and other researchers are only testing the waters. The state hopes to begin sampling mud this week. Like so many problems facing the city of New Orleans, for now, it's one step at a time.

Rusty Dornin, CNN, New Orleans.


BROWN: This is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT. Our coverage of Hurricane Katrina continues from New Orleans and from New York. Anderson Cooper is in New Orleans tonight.

Anderson, good evening.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, Aaron. You know, a week and a half after Katrina struck, there is so much still going on in this city, so many stories to cover. It has spread really well beyond New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, but that is where we begin tonight.

We have new evidence that the hurricane shelters, described as hell, were just that. And in fact, calling them shelters, that's inaccurate. I mean, shelters implies there was care, there was medical and safety for those people, and there wasn't. Evidence, though, now of mutilated corpses and filthy conditions in the Superdome and the convention center.

In New Orleans, the Army Corps of Engineers says it is now pumping the equivalent of 432 Olympic-size swimming pools out of the city every hour. In St. Bernard Parish, the water has fallen five feet. New Orleans still about 50 percent covered, though.

Also today, Congress passed a nearly $52 billion emergency supplemental bill to pay for recovery efforts. The White House budget chief said this will not be the last request for money from Congress. This as another top Bush administration figure paid visit to this devastated region.


COOPER (voice-over): The vice president was the White House pointperson along the battered Gulf Coast today. Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, toured devastated towns and saw firsthand the damage done by Hurricane Katrina.

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The president asked me to come down, to take a look at things, to begin to focus on the longer-term in making certain, obviously, that we're getting the search and rescue mission done and all of those other immediate problems addressed. But we've also got longer-term problems that we need to deal with from a policy standpoint. And that's the main reason I'm here today.

COOPER: He called recovery efforts impressive, and in Gulfport and throughout Mississippi, there are some signs of progress. FEMA is set to move 10,000 trailers into the area to serve as temporary housing. And the governor says power should be restored to home and businesses able to receive it by next Sunday.

Cheney also ventured into New Orleans, walking along one of the levees breached by the storm's surging waters, now in the midst of repair. But festering floodwaters still cover about 60 percent of the city's streets, and the official death count is rising rapidly.

Today, 14 bodies were discovered at the city's Memorial Hospital, found by fisherman searching for survivors of the storm. This comes less than a day after another gruesome discovery, 32 bodies found at St. Rita's Nursing Home in St. Bernard's Parish.

Still, there may be as many as 15,000 New Orleans residents refusing to leave, despite threats that police and the National Guard will force them from their homes and way from the danger in the waters that surround them.

DELIA LEBARRE, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: We would like to ask the mayor to meet with, those who are here, instead of just this forced evacuation, which I understand is actually illegal, according to our attorneys.

COOPER: Police say while they understand their feelings, these holdouts have to go.

CHIEF EDDIE COMPASS, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT: We're not going to be forceful to the point where we're going to be disrespectful. We're going to talk to people, we're going to get into our counsels to talk to people. Because you've got to understand, a lot of people have been traumatized. We understand the human element. We're not going to do this without any sensitivity, but you have to understand, this water is polluted, it's dangerous, they could die.

COOPER: Even in the scarred remains of what was once the country's premier party town, there are small glimmers of life. In the French Quarter, the bar that never closes is still handing out hope in a glass to those who remain behind. And all but one of the city's giant pumping stations are back online, meaning water levels in New Orleans should start receding faster.

In Houston today, confusion for some of those who left the city in the wake of the storm. The Astrodome, now home to more than 8,000 evacuees, was locked down after the Red Cross said it would start handing out debit cards. That announcement drew thousands more to the dome. The cards containing between $350 and $2,000, a small fortune to the thousands who've lost all they had just ten days ago.


COOPER: One more note about Vice President Dick Cheney's trip. After touring New Orleans today, Cheney said that tax increases will not be needed to help pay for the enormous cost of reconstruction. Now back to Aaron Brown in New York -- Aaron?

BROWN: Thank you. The president, tonight, signed that $50-plus billion bill, so there's now $60 billion on the table, and the projection is that the federal contribution level may go to $100 billion, which is a lot of money.

New Orleans authorities remain at loggerheads with the city's most entrenched residents, people defying a mandatory evacuation order, not once, not twice, now daily. These residents say, as you just heard, they are not going to leave and that the authorities have no right to force them out.


BROWN (voice-over): On Bourbon Street, some are getting out.

KAREN GUBSER, LEAVING NEW ORLEANS: It's going to be hard, but it's going to be fun. It's going to be challenging, but it'll make us better people in the long run.

BROWN: And others say they are here to stay.

DENNIS BOOTH, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: Another day in paradise, brother.

BROWN: Dennis Booth (ph) works as a security guard in a souvenir shop and bar called The Rat's Hole. Or at least, he did. He lived upstairs and he still does.

BOOTH: In anywhere else I go, I'll be homeless. I'll be part of the problem, not part of the solution.

BROWN: He has enough water, enough food, MREs, enough snacks, enough toilet paper, to last him several months. He has some running water and small battery-operated TV.

BOOTH: I grew up in the country, I was 17 years old before I ever slept somewhere with an air conditioner anyway. So this is nothing but camping out.

BROWN: Camping out in a deserted city with the 82nd Airborne just outside the door.

Soldiers patrol through the neighborhood everyday. They say they aren't trying to force people out, not yet, but to make sure they are safe and aware of their options, or more correctly, lack of them. LT. JUSTIN ALGOR, 82ND AIRBORNE DIVISION: We just let them know that now it's mandatory evacuation for them. We're not evacuating anyone forcibly. Anyone that wants to leave, we're taking out.

BROWN: In the meantime, these soldiers are keeping tabs on this tiny community. And in doing so, in an odd sort of way, they become part of it.

ALGOR: We've been around here for the last four days, so we know all these people in here.

BROWN: On that street, Bourbon Street, resident gather at places like Johnny White's to check in on one another, to spread out food and water, to spread out supplies, to chat over a beer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This has been the only bit of normality we have.

BROWN: Although it remains unclear how long this tiny community will last, residents of the French Quarter, what's left of it, are determined to stick it out and bring their city back to life.

"JOE," JOHNNY WHITE'S BAR: We want to stay here so we can volunteer to help clean it up and build it back, because nobody can build New Orleans back like the people that live here and know what it's really about.

BROWN: Others are more defiant, with enough food and water, they are talking legal action.

DELIA LEBARRE, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: We would like to ask the mayor to meet with us, those who are here, instead of just this forced evacuation, which I understand is actually illegal, according to our attorneys.

BOOTH: I'll only kicking and screaming. I can't see my life being any better anywhere else than it is right here.


BROWN: It's strange, isn't it? I mean, for a week, all we have seen are scenes of the worst of conditions people are living in. People have flooded home or in the massive shelters. But if you just looked at those scenes, it kind of looked like the French Quarter, didn't it?

In the aftermath of Katrina, many see a spotlight on a perceptible racial and economic divide in the country. We talked about that with North Carolina Senator John Edwards.


BROWN: There's so many parts of the story, but let's talk about -- we talked last night about one thing the story's done is pulled back, I think, for people to see a level of poverty that exists, and it doesn't simply exist in New Orleans, it exists in a lot of places, not just in the South, that I think is shocking to many people. Do you agree?

SEN. JOHN EDWARDS (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Oh, I'm sorry that people don't know about it, but out of this tragedy, there's actually an opportunity for something good to come. That good is for people to see that not only in New Orleans, where almost one out of four of the residents in New Orleans lived in poverty.

In addition to that, you know, we have 37 million people in this country who live in poverty. A little over a million were added to that number in the last year. We have serious need to get immediate help to these folks on the Gulf Coast, and particularly in New Orleans. But we also have an opportunity to do something really important, which is to address the long-term moral issue that is poverty in America.

BROWN: One thing that I find interesting about this is that it seems to me that good and smart people can disagree about how best to do that, how best to solve the problem. But no one ought to disagree about the fact that the United States of America is not unionizing children at the rate that many, many other countries. Or that a child in Washington, D.C., has a higher infant mortality rate than a child in Beijing.

EDWARDS: It's amazing, isn't it? And I don't think most Americans know about it, think about it. I mean, it was very hard to ignore when they saw the faces of all these folks in New Orleans who've are in this terrible place and have now been displaced. And I think, as a result of this, though, there's a real potential for tapping into the conscience of the country.

I think people would like the idea of something to feel good about, about their country and their community. And you realize over time that most of these people are working, they're responsible, they love their kids, they want to do the right thing. You know, they're not making enough money, there's a huge income gap. They don't have any assets, they've got nothing to fall back on.

So when they get hit by a hurricane or something much less serious happens to them, they don't have a way to survive. You know, people say to me, "Well, why didn't they leave? They told the folks to leave." They didn't leave because they didn't have any way to leave. You know, they didn't have a car, they didn't have anywhere to go. They didn't have a bank account they could go and tap into to pay for a hotel room. They didn't have a credit card. I mean, so they didn't have -- they live on the edge. They live on the razor's edge every day.

BROWN: Ronald Reagan is said to have said we fought the war on poverty and poverty won. And there's, implicit in that, a kind of throwing up your hands and believing that there will be a level of poverty in the United States that will always make us uncomfortable, but that's the way it is. I don't expect you to agree with that, no idealist would agree with that. But I wonder if we have to accept that at some level.

EDWARDS: No, we shouldn't accept it. You know, I remember being, as a teenager, seeing LBJ's war on poverty. I still remember vividly seeing Bobby Kennedy go through Appalachia and show us the other America that Michael Harrington had written about.

And there's a lot of criticism on the war on poverty, there were some mistakes made, no doubt about that. Some of those have been corrected, other corrections that need to be looked at. But it's because of the war on poverty that we have Medicare today, we have Medicaid, we have the elementary and secondary education act. It cut the poverty rate in America almost in half. It had a real impact.

These are people that we as a nation should embrace and give them the kind of opportunities that they're entitled to. I mean, that's what this is about at its core. If we believe in real equality, we ought to believe in real equality of opportunity.

BROWN: Do you think that race has been a part of this? Do you think part of the way we look at poverty in the country has to do with the way we see race in the country?

EDWARDS: They are clearly connected for this reason. If you are an African-American family in America today, the average net worth of an African-American family is about $6,000. Latino family's about...

BROWN: Is that right?

EDWARDS: Yes. Latino's about $8,000. White families, $80,000. And that's a huge gap.

BROWN: We're going to give a lot of money to a lot of people, it'll probably get pretty crazy before it's all over, but I don't think a lot of these people trust the government, trust that their lives are going to get any better because of it.

EDWARDS: No, of course not, because there's been decades of inaction and indifference in terms of trying to give them the life that they'd hope for. I mean, one of the things we ought to think about, by the way, is we ought to think about a New Deal, WPA kind of project in rebuilding New Orleans.

These people that have been displaced, let's bring as many of them as possible into the city to participate in the reconstruction. Do they got the dignity of a job, and work, being able to support their family?

But the other thing we could do is set up a bank account for them, because most of them never had a bank account. They don't know how to deal with a bank account. You know, and it will help them save, and it'll help them learn to deal with financial institutions. These are really simply practical things, but they can have a real effect on these folks' lives.

BROWN: I've kept long past promised time, it's nice to see you.

EDWARDS: Thank you. It's nice to be with you, Aaron.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BROWN: John Edwards, former Democratic vice presidential candidate. All sorts of people, Anderson, were forced to flee New Orleans. Right people fled and middle class people fled. But in the end, it seemed like the poor were the ones who stayed behind.

COOPER: That is certainly the case, and it is they who suffered the greatest loss here, and continue to suffer, 250,000 in shelters across the United States tonight, Aaron.

And if the immediate task of recovery along the Gulf Coast -- I mean, it's daunting enough, and now the risks of more violent weather out there, Hurricane Ophelia, less than 70 miles off of the Florida Coast. Rob Marciano, CNN headquarters, tracking the storm for us.

Rob, what's the latest?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Anderson, the latest update out of the National Hurricane Center keep it at 75 miles an hour sustained. So still barely a category one storm, maybe jogging a little bit to the east. It's 80 miles now east-northeast of Cape Canaveral, but as you mentioned, that's dangerously close to the shoreline.

And folks across central and northern eastern Florida the past day and half really been battered with a lot of wind and waves, and beach erosion a huge issue, even if this thing doesn't get any closer to land. You see the explosion of thunderstorms the past couple hours. There's a little dry air that may sneak in here overnight, maybe that'll knock it down below hurricane status.

But the National Hurricane Center's thinking, "No, it's probably going to remain at least a category one hurricane." And this is the latest forecast as of the 11:00 advisory, which continues to nudge it a little bit farther towards the north and east, and that's good, obviously away from the land. But then it may get stuck out there and do a loop, at least that's what some of our computer models are saying.

And the official forecast track of the National Hurricane Center highlights just that. So it looks like Ophelia is going to be hanging around for a good couple of days. And until it gets further off the coastline, we'll continue to see tropical storm conditions, Flagler Beach down to Sebastian Inlet. And even if it's not windy or rainy, it's huge surf just pounding these beaches and piers there. And there's going to be damage just from that alone.

As far as what the radar's showing right now, not a whole lot of rain right now across the I-95 corridor. Rain dans (ph) have shifted a little bit farther offshore, and that's good news because there is some serious rain here, in the western eyewall especially.

So we'll continue to watch Hurricane Ophelia right now, 75-mile- an-hour winds right now, about 80 miles east. And hopefully, will continue to drift off towards the north and east and stay there. But that remains to be seen. That's the latest from here.

Anderson, back over to you.

COOPER: Rob, thanks very much.

You know, I know a lot of you are sitting at home right now, and you're frustrated and you wish you could do something. And you're sitting there, thinking, you know, "I hate seeing all this," and just sitting there. IN a moment, you're about to meet a woman who thought just that. She decided to get in her car. Her husband got off work, she got off work, they came down here, they're helping. You're going to meet her, find out what she's doing ahead.

Also tonight, debit cards credited with creating pandemonium at the Astrodome?

And word is, on Capitol Hill, that the hurricane aid bill is simply a blank check. This is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT, "State of Emergency."


COOPER: Welcome back, we are live in New Orleans, a city still surviving. I know a lot of you are sitting at home, and you have been for days, and you've been watching this coverage on CNN or elsewhere, and you're frustrated, maybe angry. And you feel like you can't do anything about it. And I know we're getting a lot of emails from viewers who want to do something. I want to introduce you to a viewer who decided to do something about it, Paige Benson.

You were just watching CNN and you got annoyed, basically, and mad enough to come down here. Why?

PAIGE BENSON, VOLUNTEER: Definitely. Well, when you're at home, you have such a feeling of worthlessness. You aren't doing anything, you aren't contributing in any way. You're just watching this painful event without doing anything. And so we just really wanted to be here.

COOPER: What was the moment that made you decide to come down?

BENSON: Well, for myself, it was when we saw you, we've been watching your show all week, when we saw you trying to help the animals, you know, the animals people. After just watching all the people and everything, it's just too much. We couldn't...

COOPER: That was the final straw for you. And everyone has the point where they sort of freak out and say, "Enough's enough." You came down here, you're a juvenile probation officer. You took vacation, is that right?


COOPER: And your husband is a CPA, he took time off as well?

BENSON: He did.

COOPER: You came in -- what are you doing here now? BENSON: We're down here serving meals to all the troop and to all the police officers.

COOPER: Now, you would think that there would be someone doing that. I mean, you'd think that there would be some federal, you know, meal services company doing that, but there's not. This is all donated food.

BENSON: Right. It's donated food from our small community. They sent -- three people came down here with their grills and started the whole thing. Eddie Warner (ph) got the call and he showed up here that night.

COOPER: And they thought they were going to feed a couple hundred people. How many people are you feeding now?

BENSON: Six-thousand meals were served today.

COOPER: It's incredible that there is no one -- I mean, you were saying that your eyes have been opened a little bit, that you kind of thought, "Well, the cavalry has showed up, everything must be kind of running smoothly." But that's not what you're seeing.

BENSON: No. I mean, it's just amazing to see, there's a lot of officers that no one's, Red Cross or anyone, serving food or doing any of that kind of thing to these people that desperately need it. They're eating MREs for days. You know, they need a hot meal.

COOPER: And how long can you stay?

BENSON: Hopefully as long as we can. We're bringing in more volunteers, bringing in more food.

COOPER: You told me this story, you're from Albany, Alabama, correct?

BENSON: I'm from Foley, but they're from Alberta, Alabama.

COOPER: I'm sorry, from Alberta. Who was it who donated the food that you're serving now?

BENSON: Well, the Alberta Little League was the initial donators. They had a bunch of sausage for their fundraiser, for their uniforms and whatnot. And so they ended up donating all of their sausage to cook for the meals for those...

COOPER: So that sausage, that would be paying for their uniforms and stuff, but they donated all the sausage so police officers and first responders and soldiers can eat.

BENSON: Correct.

COOPER: Paige, thank you for what you're doing.

BENSON: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: God bless you for being here. Appreciate it.

BENSON: You too.

COOPER: It's pretty incredible. This is what we're seeing, time and time again. It's individual citizens, groups of people banded together, and just grabbing what they can, you know, a spatula or a grill, if that's it, or a stethoscope or a rifle, and just banding together and getting things done. Ignoring the bureaucracy and just getting here and getting things done. And we're seeing that, Aaron, every day, day after day.

BROWN: That's terrific. That's a good one, I like that one. She's a nice lady.

In Texas, where things are running a little bit more formally, if not more smoothly, authorities have now dispensed food stamps to about 75,000 families and enrolled about 19,000 students in the local schools. The intentions are good. Sean Callebs is at the Astrodome in Houston, tonight.


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the early morning, authorities attempted to begin distribution of Red Cross debit cards. Chaos resulted. The funds were only for people staying at the Astrodome shelter complex.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a voucher that can get me to a home, but I need deposit money to pay to get in that house. But this'll help me to be able to pay a deposit, to get myself in a home, to get my children stabilized, in school, and just begin rebuilding my life.

CALLEBS: But word filtered out quickly. Evacuees from other centers rushed here to get in line. Overwhelmed police turned hundreds away and locked the doors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It shows that they have a lot of needs. We understand that everything that they had is gone, and it has to be a beginning point.

CALLEBS: The debit cards give families anywhere from $200 to $2,000, depending on need. FEMA and the Red Cross say they are making arrangements to get emergency funds to evacuees all across Texas.

In another area of what's now called Reliant City, another line, this one for children awaiting their first day of school, new schools in a new city. The kids may have been excited, but many parents still coping with being uprooted themselves were nervous.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, she's been in school before, she's in pre-kindergarten. Now she's going to kindergarten, going to strange place and I can't go with her. I'm concerned about that.

CALLEBS: More and more cots here are empty every day. In a week, the Astrodome complex has declined from 30,000 registered inhabitants to 8,600, as more and more families find, if not permanent housing, at least something better than an emergency shelter. Even though they are prepared to shelter people here for months, organizers are please. They always hoped this would be a short-term solution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have been a blessing to those people that have come here. We have helped them and it has been wonderful. They have been a blessing for us, too. The people of this city have rallied around a cause.


CALLEBS: And I want to revisit the problem of trying to distribute all those debit cards by the Red Cross, today. Frankly, security said it was a big security problem, it caused them a lot of concern. But we saw that one officer say, it just shows how desperate all the families are here. Well, they're concerned because it could happen again here tomorrow.

On the other side, FEMA is going to issue its debit card, but only to those evacuees still here in the Astrodome complex. Aaron, on Saturday, they're going to begin getting those debit cards out to the thousands of other families not spread out in other areas of Texas.

BROWN: Just explain to me, if you know, how it is they determine whether you are entitled to -- thank you very much, $2,000 cash is a fair amount of money -- how you're entitled to that money or not.

CALLEBS: Well, firstly, you have to go through a registration process. People can do it through an 800 number, or they can do it online, or they can do it with an individual here at this complex. The way they do it, they ask you how many people you're taking care of in the immediate family, and they break it down simply from that.

BROWN: Simply from that. Thank you, Sean. Sean Callebs, who's in Houston.

Those displaced from New Orleans are not just in Houston, they are scattered literally from Alaska to Massachusetts and across the South. Whatever their present conditions and situations, it seems a safe bet to say that the thing all of the refugees of Katrina share is that they have lost any sense of feeling that they control their own lives. CNN's Jonathan Freed tonight with one family's story.

JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Vera and Gary Williams made it out of New Orleans with what they could stuff into a couple of duffel bags, and the bags aren't even full.


(on-camera): So what's on this bed basically represents what you were able to get out of New Orleans?

GARY WILLIAMS, EVACUEE: Like I said, a couple shirts.

FREED (voice-over): Gary is a former New Orleans police officer and has a PhD in management. Vera owns a community bookstore. They're people accustomed to being in control of their lives. WILLIAMS: I really don't know what I'm going to do right now.

FREED: Now, they're camped out with their 3-year-old son in Gary's grandmother's apartment on the south side of Chicago.

(on-camera): Are you dizzy? Do you find yourself wondering what day it is?

VERA WILLIAMS, EVACUEE: It is kind of confusing trying to keep up with what day it is.

G. WILLIAMS: What was the hurricane?

V. WILLIAMS: Katrina.

G. WILLIAMS: What was the date?

V. WILLIAMS: The 29th.

And just trying to a handle on what really has happened and what steps we have to take now to put things back in order.

FREED (voice-over): Step one, actually steps one and two, calling the insurance company.

G. WILLIAMS: You know me, I had to insure about anything.

FREED: Trying to get some emergency living expense money.

(on-camera): Do you feel like they're stalling you?

G. WILLIAMS: I'm kind of getting that feeling, you know, that I'm getting the runaround.

FREED (voice-over): Vera can't believe how many times she's had to explain her situation to someone at the other end of the phone.

V. WILLIAMS: I'm from New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina. I have no documents, I have no checks, you know, deposit books, you know. It's been kind of frustrating.

FREED: One down, but not beaten, the family heads for the disaster relief center set up here in Chicago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're checking people's eligibility.

FREED: And Vera and Gary find themselves dealing with what they say is a new experience for them, accepting charity.

G. WILLIAMS: The hurricane has been the great equalizer, you. The most educated individual individuals with the least educated.

FREED (on-camera): Could you ever, in your life, have imagined that it would come to this?

V. WILLIAMS: No. FREED: For now, just finding a school bag for their son is a major accomplishment for the day.

V. WILLIAMS: Now you got a backpack you can go to school with now.

FREED: Jonathan Freed, CNN, Chicago.


BROWN: That is one of the best of what we've had at post- hurricane life from people in a week. Jon Freed in our Chicago bureau.

Just ahead, nearly $52 billion in relief funds from Congress, and concern there isn't enough red tape, enough accountability. Who will keep track of it all?

And the cries for the help when the storm surge hit and that agony for those who could not be rescued. This is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT, "State of Emergency."


COOPER: Joining me from New Orleans tonight where sometimes the state of emergency looks like a state of siege. CNN's Jeff Koinange.

Jeff, you've been out there talking to people who are refusing to evacuate. Why don't they want to go?

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Two reasons, Anderson. I just realized this today and it makes so much sense. A. People have pets. If they leave town what's going to happen to their pets? Will they be allowed to go with their pets? The other reason, in the rich part of town where the people have nice million dollar homes, they don't want to leave those homes because they don't know -- who are they going to leave those homes to? In fact, ran into one gentleman, a very smart lawyer, maritime lawyer, his name is Austin O'Dwyer (ph), and he was very adamant about not leaving his place. Let's take a look.

COOPER: Let's take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They bundle me up and carry me off, there will be gunfire. Why do they think that I am any more susceptible to disease than the soldiers that they're ordered to come evict us?


COOPER: People don't trust the authorities here.

KOINANGE: They don't at all. And this is typical of a lot of people. Mr. O'Dwyer there, speaking for a lot of people who don't know what to say or don't want to say this. A lot of people are going to go to a standoff. It may come to a head.

COOPER: How does this compare, I mean, you work normally in -- how does this compare to -- and we were just Niger together -- some of the disasters you've seen?

KOINANGE: This is so disappointing, Anderson, never thought I'd see anything like this in the most powerful nation on the planet. A. the response was so late, B. everyone's scrambling around, nobody seems to know who's in charge or who's doing what. And people, on the ground, the residents here just want to go on with their lives. It's such a sad situation and it could come to a head.

COOPER: It's going to be weeks, if not months, I mean we're going to be talking about this for years, there's no doubt it, but any sense of when these forced evacuations will actually take place?

KOINANGE: Yeah, don't be surprised by the weekend if a decision is made that people have to leave, because A. those waters are getting more and more contaminated, B. officials here don't want an outbreak of disease. If there's an outbreak it could spread like wildfire, that's going to cause more problems and New Orleans doesn't need anymore problems.

COOPER: And when there's bodies -- when that water goes down those bodies are going to be removed and then we'll know the true horror that this city is facing. Jeff thanks very much.

It is a grim sight and it -- as you know, Aaron, it's only going to get worse over the next couple of days as that water goes down.

BROWN: Yeah, it is -- I just, in talking to people in New Orleans, today, I've had no sense that they're on any timetable or, in truth, have much desire to forcibly remove anybody. Do you?

COOPER: Yeah, you know, it's weird, it depends on who you talk to, I mean, some people I met were removed and they said soldiers came to their home, banged on their door and said, "Look, you got five minutes, you're packing out, you're getting out." Then I've seen other people told, "OK, it'll be a couple days, you can, you know, work on your house, get yourself together." So, often, you know, here the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing and so there's conflicting reports. And this thing Jeff mentioned about pets is a huge deal. Some people are being told you can bring your pets...

BROWN: Yeah.

COOPER: I've seen pets being loaded on to helicopters, others are being told, "No you can't" and they're staying.

BROWN: Uh, well the evacuation story, when it happens, will be interesting. It's one thing to be told you have five minutes to leave, and then another thing, if you say "No, I'm not going" then they don't really know what to do, and nobody wants to be pulling people out of these houses, regardless.

Anyway, there's now, tonight, at least, we can tell you, a whole lot of money, $52 billion more, to pay for whatever it is that needs to be done. The money approved by Congress, today. Simply put, $52 billion is a ton of money, even for the federal government, but Katrina hit a lot of people. The Census Bureau says 10 million people in one way or another have been impacted. So suddenly $52 billion is only about $5,000 a piece, 10,000 people have already put in unemployment claims. This is how you get to $52 billion. CNN's Ed Henry on the flood of dollars.


ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As if the nation needed another sign of Katrina's devastation, $10-and-a-half billion in relief from Congress has already evaporated in less than a week, so they rush through another $52 billion.

REP. DAVID DREIER (R), CALIFORNIA: We want to make sure that that continued flow of assistance can more as expeditiously as possible.

HENRY: But lawmakers in both parties are starting to fret Congress is moving too quickly and is writing blank checks.

REP. MIKE PENCE (R), INDIANA: Let's figure out how we're going to pay for it. Congress must insure that a catastrophe of nature does not become a catastrophe of debt for our children and grandchildren.

HENRY: When four hurricanes slammed Florida last year, Congress ponied up over $14 billion; after the 9/11 attacks it was $40 billion; Katrina's price tag has already topped $62 billion with leading republicans predicting the final price tag may hit $200 billion.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have much more work to do, but the people have been hurt by this storm know that -- need to know that the government is going to be with you for the long haul.

HENRY: A unique disaster that clearly begs a massive federal response, but the bulk of the new funds, $50 billion, is going directly to an agency under fire for alleged incompetence.

SEN. HARRY REID, MAJORITY LEADER: After everything that has happened with FEMA, is there anyone, anyone, who believes that we should continue to let the money go to FEMA and be distributed by them?

HENRY: Congress does give FEMA some suggestions for how to spend the money, such as $23 billion in housing assistance and direct aid to victims, 4.6 billion for FEMA operations, three billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, 1.6 billion for trailers for temporary housing. But the bill specifically gives FEMA wide latitude to shift those suggestions as it wishes.

After some prodding, the president did add $15 million to help and inspector general monitor FEMA's spending, but some say that's not enough. REP. STENY HOYER (D), MARYLAND: No hearings, no oversight, not questions, no examination of when and how and where and who will spend the money and who will get it.

HENRY: Despite their reservations though, democrat, Hoyer, and republican, Pence, both voted for the $52 billion in new relief. It's hard to say "no" to people in such need of help.

DR. DIANE ROUSSEL, JEFFERSON PARISH SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT: (INAUDIBLE) and I guess we are asking for federal help, state help (INAUDIBLE)

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Just take your time (INAUDIBLE). This all very difficult to talk about and we all understand that.

HENRY: We understand in Congress-speak, means more money is on the way.

Ed Henry, CNN Capitol Hill.


BROWN: Still to come on the program tonight, the cry for help, the helpless rescuers, the 911 calls when the storm surge hit. And, as hard as it may seem sometimes, on the road to recovery coming from all over the South to get lights turned on in Mississippi.

We'll take a break from New York and New Orleans. This is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT: State of Emergency.


BROWN: This kind of thing, I honestly dread in life, if it were to happen to me. Mike Brown, who runs FEMA, of course, has been a dominate newsmaker now for almost two weeks and one of the things that reporters do when you are in the news all the time and there is any controversy attached to you, is actually look at your resume and check it out, which is what "Time" magazine did on Mr. Brown and is raising some questions. Carolina Miranda is one of the reporters who worked on the story and she joins us now.

So, what did you find?


BROWN: Hi, what did you find?

MIRANDA: Well, we found several things and they're kind of complicated discrepancies, but discrepancies, nonetheless. The most significant of which is that in a 2001 press release from the White House it lists Brown as having worked for -- as an assistant city manager in the city of Edmond, Oklahoma, from 1975 to 1978, quote unquote, "Overseeing the Emergency Services division."

Now, what we found is that during that time period, he was not an assistant city manager, he was an assistant to the city manager, which is a purely administrative position and did not have oversight over anybody or anything, or certainly not any city agencies in Edmond.

BROWN: Actually, the way -- I mean, the way of -- just skimming the article, which is on the website, it describes it as almost an intern's position.

MIRANDA: Yes, that's exactly as it was put to us, the head of public relations there said that it was -- it's a position for a recent college grad or a college student interested in learning about city government, this would be the job they take.

BROWN: And Mr. Brown, through his P.R. people says what to this?

MIRANDA: Well, he says that he did begin at the city manager's office as an intern, but that he eventually became an assistant city manger and he went on to oversee several other things, but we, according to the records, and according to the spokespeople at the city manger's office, we -- all we have on record is that he was an assistant from 1977 to 1980. That's all we have.

BROWN: Um, did you find any other significant discrepancies, Carolina, between what Mike Brown says he did in his life and he certainly doesn't claim to have run any gigantic emergency services in his life -- any significant discrepancies beyond that on his resume?

MIRANDA: Well, the other things are defiantly smaller things, but I think they're still curious because they are fairly significant discrepancies. One on his FindLaw profile, which is a legal website where attorneys update their profiles, he says that he was a professor of political science at Central State University in Oklahoma, and according to the university, he was never a professor there. And he also says that he severed as director for and old folks home in Oklahoma in Edmond called the Oklahoma Christian Home and we've spoken to several people at them, including people who've been at them home since 1981 and they say they have no recollection of ever dealing with Michael Brown in any way.

BROWN: Miranda, can you talk about -- Carolina rather, can you talk about how he actually got the job as head of FEMA? (INAUDIBLE)

MIRANDA: As head of FEMA?

BROWN: Yes, so people understand this.

MIRANDA: Well he -- this was certainly a political connection job, like a lot of political jobs, he is the former college roommate of Joe Alba. And Alba is a major republican figure, he use to be head of FEMA, he hired Michael Brown as his deputy and his general council at FEMA. And when he retired from the agency in 2003, Michael Brown was promoted to that post. It was all through a college roommate connection that they had.

BROWN: Thank you Carolina Miranda of "Time" magazine who worked on the reporting on Mike Brown's resume, and people can decide how significant it is.

Anderson, what Mike Brown has always said is that his principle experience in managing crisis came during the time he was council at FEMA, but apparently there's a little squishiness in the resume, as well.

COOPER: Hey, has he been -- have you interviewed him at all lately?

BROWN: Not lately, but he's don the briefings, I know. He's -- he hasn't been hidden away. I mean, I think there was some talk, last week, that basically you'd never seen Mike Brown again, and that hasn't, in fact, been true. He has done the briefings. He was out there yesterday, CNN reporters, as least two of them, talked to him yesterday, and he's not running an hiding, the way some people thought, that the administration might tuck him away.

COOPER: Well, her certainly -- I guess after this tonight, after this "Time" report, has some more questions to answer and those will probably be put to him tomorrow.

Aaron, thanks.

Coming up, Ted Rowlands takes a look at what happened in Biloxi. The 911 calls as the storm came in. We'll be right back.


COOPER: Welcome back to this special edition of NEWSNIGHT. The death count in Mississippi, tonight, 196. Many, if not most, perished during Katrina's initial impact. Biloxi, Mississippi was among the hardest hit in that region. Tonight some of the most harrowing moments of the storms' impact on the town. Ted Rowlands has that.


911 OPERATOR: Biloxi Police and Fire.

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When the hurricane came ashore, 911 dispatchers in Biloxi, Mississippi, had been moved to the city's storm proof operations center. They were ready for a long night, but had no idea what they were about to go through.

DESIREE DUFRENE, 911 DISPATCHER: The calls kept getting worse and they kept getting more serious, with people actually starting to die and starting to drown in their own homes.

911 OPERATOR: Your house is underwater?

ROWLANDS: At the height of the storm, police and fire crews were pulled off the street, it was simply too dangerous for anybody to be out.

911 OPERATOR: Just get to the safest part of the house, sir.

ROWLANDS: Unable to send help, dispatchers tried to get people to save themselves.

911 OPERATOR: They need to get as high as they can...OK, but I mean they, you know, it's just right now, we can't get out.

HEATHER GRAF, 911 DISPATCHER: And then you get the same people calling back over and over and they keep saying "the water's rising, the water's rising."

911 OPERATOR: You need to do what you need to do to save your life.

DUFRENE: Well, they were begging for their lives. They were saying, "You have to come get me out of my house, I have children, I'm elderly, you have to come get us, we're drowning."

ROWLANDS: At one point, a dispatcher had explain to a caller that is was even too dangerous for police boats.

911 OPERATOR: We can't ma'am...we were in and boat and the wind gusts and the waves got too much for our boat to put our officers at danger...and we're taking addresses and as soon as it calms down a little bit we're going to try to get back out...we have about 60 homes that people stayed in.

ROWLANDS: Dispatchers say the most difficult calls came from children.

GRAF: You know, there was a couple of children that called that and you hear the mom in the background just screaming.

911 OPERATOR: Are you only 12? Where's your parents?

ROWLANDS: It got so bad, according to dispatchers that some people knew they were going to die and asked that the dispatchers contact their loved ones.

DUFRENE: There were giving us the next of kin, they were telling us, you know, call this, call my family, this my mother, this is my father, this my aunt or uncle, you need to tell them that I said goodbye.

GRAF: There was no help we could send them, we didn't have anything that's the type of thing we have to live with and we feel like it's you're fault. What could you have done?

DUFRENE: Knowing that you're the last person they talked to and -- it's hard. And I hope their families understand that we tried. And that we did the best we could.


ROWLANDS: Dispatchers not only in Biloxi but across the Mississippi Gulf Coast and in New Orleans have been working around the clock. Many of them have still not had a day off -- Anderson.

COOPER: And Ted, I mean, a lot of people in Biloxi, in all fairness to the 911 dispatchers, I mean, they had been warned, look at the height of this storm, if you call 911 we're not going to be able to help you.

ROWLANDS: Yeah, and they -- all of the folks who were calling had been -- had refused mandatory evacuations. They were not supposed to be in the city and made the choice to be there, but still, it doesn't make it any less difficult for those dispatchers that had to deal with those people pleading for their lives.

COOPER: And as we know, so many people unable to leave, don't have cars, can't get out as easily as some folks. Ted Rowlands, thanks very much, from Biloxi.

When we come back, Aaron has "Morning Paper's" Dr. Love.


BROWN: I hear the band. Time to check morning papers from around the country and around the world. Just a couple of them are worthy of mention and a few more we'll throw in.

The "Christian Science Monitor": "Where do Gas Prices go Next: A few critical factors will govern how far gas prices fall from last week's record levels." We shall see.

The "Washington Post": This may be, in some respects more significant than a line on him on a resume, "Lacking -- Leaders Lacking Disaster Experience, Brain Drain at FEMA that agency sited." I think when we look at what went wrong, if you believe something went wrong -- I do. One of the things you have to look at is that, was there administrative experience at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, that manages an energy? Pretty simple, huh?

"Rocky Mountain News" out in Denver: "CSU, Colorado State University, Busts Greeks." OK it's not the most important story in the world, but it makes this story seem really big.

A real bedside manner, that's Dr. Love, "Suite charges marriage fertility doc lured up to six women into affairs."

Really? I mean, he's not debonair, is he? But there you go.

Um, 15, the weather tomorrow in Chicago, I have no idea. I think it's going to be OK though.

We'll wrap up the hour. Our coverage continues all night long on CNN. We hope you'll stay with us, but our portion concludes shortly.


COOPER: That just about concludes this special edition of NEWSNIGHT: STATE OF EMERGENCY. Tomorrow we're going to take you inside the New Orleans convention center to see how it looks now and how it looked back then. Today some grisly discoveries. Some photographs released to the media -- leaked to the media, of bodies at the convention center. We're going to take you with a doctor who was there, one of the only medical personnel to treat 15,000 people. His story, tomorrow on "360" and on NEWSNIGHT -- Aaron.

BROWN: Anderson, thank you. Thanks for joining us, we'll so you tomorrow. Catherine Callaway takes you the rest of the way as CNN's coverage of the hurricane continues.