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CNN Newsnight Aaron Brown

Wounded JetBlue Airbus Lands Safely; Interview With Texas Governor Rick Perry

Aired September 21, 2005 - 22:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Between planes in distress and hurricanes bearing down, Anderson, there's enough anxiety out there to fill the Gulf of Mexico.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And certainly to fill the next two hours, Aaron. And we don't say this lightly, but here, in Galveston, it's getting harder not to think about how things may look 48 hours from now.

We're standing on an island behind a seawall that's no match for what could be coming. More on the storm in a moment.

First, what's known back in the office as spot news, in this case, a wounded airliner, a skilled pilot and one incredible landing. Aaron has more on that.

BROWN: It was incredible. It was one of those things that was a wow moment, a JetBlue Airbus, 139 passengers on board, a crew of six, two incredibly skilled pilots in the cockpit, and a front nose gear that was cockeyed. As you can see there, it was perpendicular to where it's supposed to be.

They flew around for about three hours-plus, burning off fuel. They had started in Burbank, headed for New York, never got out of L.A. County, really, turned back to LAX and put it down.

John Wiley is with us. John used to fly for U.S. Airways and flew the Airbus. This was an Airbus-320.

Here's the landing. John, I mean, he puts this thing or the pilot puts this thing pretty much on the center stripe.

JOHN WILEY, PILOT: Well, you spend your whole career training for all kinds of emergencies that are in the book and then you're presented with a situation like this one, which is not in the book and the guy gets an A-plus.


WILEY: He is just dead on center line and perfect control of the airplane as it moves down the center line of the runway. A-plus.

BROWN: I just want -- just, I want to walk through maybe the last five or 10 minutes of that flight.

Just, in general speaking -- and you weren't on the plane, obviously, but if you'd been in the cockpit, how much would you be telling the passengers?

WILEY: Well, you'd certainly want to take a couple of deep breaths, because you're going to be the voice of reason and the voice of hope.

So, you're going to take a couple of deep breaths. You're not going to do your Chuck Yeager imitation, but you're just going to explain factually to the passengers what has happened and what's going to happen and paint the picture as best as you can. This guy obviously knew what he was doing. So, he would tell them that there are probably going to be some vibration and that they would prepare in case the nose gear collapsed for an evacuation.

The flight attendants would have prepped the cabin for that. Everybody would have been prepared for it, that being worst-case scenario. The best-case scenario is as you see. The passengers are calmly getting off the airplane.

BROWN: Well, let's see if we can just roll back to this thing coming down again.

At what point -- up to this point, it is a -- as you come into the approach, it's fairly routine, right? You are going through -- are you going through all of the routine checks that you'd go through in any landing?

WILEY: Oh, sure. Sure. You're going to -- what would have happened is that, when they had a failure of the retract mechanism on the airplane, they would have tried to figure out what had caused the problem there.

Failing to figure that out, no doubt that they first contacted their dispatcher, who would have been somebody back at the New York headquarters. They'd have talked to him about the maintenance problem. We have what we call resource management. And that is that you bring in all the experts when you have a problem. They would have talked to flight ops, the flight operations guys, to figure out what would be the optimum approach.

They would have talked to other people to figure out how many passengers they possibly wanted to move to the aft of the airplane to relocate the center of gravity on the airplane, so that they would have better control on touchdown. And probably, they also wound up talking to Airbus, either in France or Germany, to get Airbus' input on this.


BROWN: So, they might -- I'm sorry. They might have taken some passengers who were in the front of the plane and moved them to seats? They wouldn't have had them standing up.

WILEY: Oh, no.

BROWN: Moved them to seats in the back of the plane just to make the front of the plane -- to make the plane better balanced or just make the front of the plane a little lighter?

WILEY: Well, both.


WILEY: If you move them to the aft, then you've got a little bit better balance. You can also lower that nosewheel just a little bit more gently. And those rims are magnesium rims. And that's where you're seeing the fire come from that.


WILEY: But you'll also notice that the runway is not foamed. They don't do that anymore. It just was really a mess and it really didn't contribute to diminishing the fire hazard.

BROWN: Just two other perhaps quick questions.

One is, would the pilot have been known, would he have been told, would L.A. control have told him that there was a fire, that there were flames coming off that wheel, or the magnesium, and was that a source of concern to him, or was that just expected and no one was expecting that that would ignite fuel or anything else?

WILEY: I don't think that they were expecting the fuel would ignite.

I'm sure he was trailed down the runway by the fire equipment so that, if the flames had increased any in size, they would have immediately extinguished them. The tower may have told him about it, but, as you noticed on the film there, it happened so quickly and died out so quickly that, by the time that he would have had concern for it, the event was over.

BROWN: And just a final question here for people who may just be seeing this for the first time. For the crew, the object of the exercise, obviously, bring it in safely, was to keep that nosewheel or wheels off the runway as long as they possibly could. Did they in fact keep it off the runway a lot longer than you would in a normal landing?


Once you get the main gear on the runway, you go ahead and lower the nose and start your braking. In this case, what they wanted to do was dissipate as much speed as possible, so that they could lower the nose gear as slowly as possible, make contact with the runway.

As one of the former pilots talked about, maybe one of your best- case scenarios would have been for the nose gear to have canted back around in line, so that it would have been even more of a normal landing. That not happening...


WILEY: Best-case scenario worked out. BROWN: Yes. I don't know if -- you probably didn't think this, because you know this. But sitting here watching it, it was one of those moments where you appreciated yet again the remarkable skill that pilots have.

Much of commercial flying is on autopilot, but there are moments in takeoffs and landings where the skills of those people are tested all the time. And the skills were tested tonight in Los Angeles, John, and they did great. It was something to watch. Thanks for your time tonight.

WILEY: Thank you, Aaron. Good night.

BROWN: And we will keep track as passengers come off. And we will get some sense, we hope, in the couple hours ahead of the experiences they had, what they were told and what that landing felt like to them as we go along.

But now on to Rita. And Rita is something to move on to, a Category 5 storm, the third largest storm intensity in history, at least 300 miles across, 165-mile-an-hour winds. It may weaken slightly as it approaches land. Katrina did. But, for now, Rita is out over open water, warm water, which are steroids to a hurricane. The forecast -- and it could change as we go along -- has the eye coming ashore early Saturday somewhere between Galveston and Corpus Christi, Texas.

But hurricane-force winds may arrive a lot sooner, perhaps by early Friday, which could hinder evacuations. So, if you're thinking about getting out, get out now. It shows in Corpus Christi and in Galveston, even low-lying parts of Houston, where people are being asked, in some cases told, to leave. Today, the president declared emergencies in Texas and Louisiana, putting FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security in charge of all disaster relief operations.

And, if Rita goes where expected, get ready for gasoline prices to go way back up. Some three million barrels a day of refining capacity lie in Rita's projected path. Experts say that, if that refining capacity goes down, the price of gas will rise, perhaps to $5 a gallon, at least for a time.

We track the storm. CNN's Jacqui Jeras is at the Weather Center in Atlanta.

Jacqui, where is it and how big he is it?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Aaron, it's less than 600 miles away from Galveston, Texas, right now. And the storm is huge.

Look at the satellite picture behind me. This thing basically takes up the entire east side of the Gulf of Mexico. The tropical- storm-force winds extend out about 350 miles across. That's from west to east. And so that is just incredibly large. And, as you mentioned, the intensity on this thing, 165 miles per hour, 898 millibars. That's the pressure that we record. And that makes it number three. It's moving off to the west at this time. And it's expected to continue to do so. We're eventually going to start to see this begin to curve up on towards the north and west. And that's why we think it will be heading towards Texas. We will see some fluctuations in intensity throughout the next two days, as it moves through the open waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

It will likely weaken down to a 4, could go back to a 5, could possibly go down to a 3. But we think it will at least be a 3, if not a 4 or 5 when it makes landfall. Best estimate that that will happen we think some time on Saturday in the morning. But, as we mentioned how big this storm is, you can't just focus on the skinny line, because 300 miles across, that's going to get a lot of Texas, no matter where this thing makes landfall, with those strong winds and the storm surge.

As it heads to the north, we're still looking at a Category 1 hurricane across central Texas and then a tropical depression as it heads northward near Dallas. And then it's going to start to slow down, so we worry about that, inland flooding from the freshwater from all the heavy rainfall.

Hurricane watches were posted as of 5:00 Eastern time from Port Mansfield, extending over to Cameron, Louisiana, and tropical storm watches eastward to Grand Isle, Louisiana. So now is the time to prepare. We have got a whole day tomorrow, Aaron, before we need to really worry about feeling the effects of this storm in Texas.

BROWN: Jacqui, thank you.

It's remarkable how much just comparing the satellite imagery today from the way it looked yesterday, Anderson. Yesterday, it looked sort of disorganized, I think is the word that the meteorologists used as it came across the Florida Keys. It looks very organized right now.

COOPER: Yes, I mean, as it's sucking up that warm water. I saw a NASA meteorologist just a little bit while ago showing the various water temperatures.

There's some hope that it may slow down, because the water closer to Galveston, in this area, closer to shore, is a little bit cooler. So, as it sucks up cool water, the hope is maybe it will lessen in intensity. That's something of course we will be watching, Aaron.

We're going to show you a computer model of what a Katrina-sized storm could do to Galveston island. It was put together at the university of Texas using data from storms in the past. Basically, it shows the island simply disappearing. There is nothing simple about that. It explains the urgency that we saw here today.

CNN's Deborah Feyerick: has that part of the story.


DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They carried their bags, their babies, their fear.


FEYERICK: Have you ever been to a shelter before?

ROGERS: No, I never have. This is going to be my first time.

FEYERICK: There were the old, the young, the frail, without their own transportation, boarding the buses to join the exodus from Galveston. Julia Marshall (ph) and her five children only settled on the island this summer. They moved, you guessed it, from New Orleans, because they were tired of the floods.

JULIA MARSHALL, GALVESTON EVACUEE: I'm prepared to be gone if need be at least two weeks or more. And I have medication and everything that my kids need to, you know, prepare myself for that.

FEYERICK: When Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas saw the latest hurricane threat, she sent teams of volunteers into the city over the weekend to figure out who of the population of more than 58,000 would need a ride. Two thousand people signed up.

LYDA ANN THOMAS, MAYOR OF GALVESTON, TEXAS: We have called for evacuation many times on the island. We're a sand bar and we're storm ridden fairly often. But this is the first time that people have responded the way they have.

FEYERICK: From the time the first bus pulled up, to the time the last of the 80 buses left just before lunch, it took just two hours to get everyone on board to head north. Also emptied, Galveston's four nursing homes and both hospitals. For those who fled Katrina, this latest evacuation wasn't easy.

ANN SELTZER, FEMA: For some of them, they're taking a deep breath and saying, OK, we can do this. I've just done it. I've done it before. And others are just physically and emotionally exhausted and it's just gut-wrenching for them to have to move on.

FEYERICK: Move on to safety. For some, not knowing when or if they'll come back.


FEYERICK: Now, Anderson, one of the things we were told by the police chief, that is, he told his staff, make sure you get your families out early in the week, because, if you don't get them out, it's going to be trouble. You're expected to start working at 12:00 on Friday, early in the morning Friday, and stay for 12 hours in different shifts, making sure that everybody...


COOPER: Well, it's good to hear that they have a plan. The police didn't get that plan in New Orleans.

Who else is going to be here during the storm? FEYERICK: About 300 city officials are going to be riding out this storm. They're going to staying at the San Luis Hotel. That's built on top of a World War II bunker. And so, they're about 3,700 feet above the tide. They really feel that they will be able to weather at least some of most the powerful waves.

COOPER: All right. Cool. Deborah Feyerick, thanks very much. We will be watching closely -- Aaron, back to you in New York.

BROWN: Thank you.

Rick Perry is the governor of the state of Texas. And I'm almost certain he spent the day looking at satellite maps and preparing for the worst.

Are you doing anything differently than you would have done because of the responses, local state and federal, successful or not, to Katrina?

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: Well, obviously, Katrina gave a little extra emphasis to what can happen when a major Cat 4 storm comes in. We have had some models generated so that the mayors and the county judges in Galveston, Houston, Corpus Christi, can see exactly what that storm surge looks like and what's going to be under water in their cities.

So, between Katrina and between our preparation for this, people understand that this isn't something that you're going to play around with. When a Cat 3, 4, and 4 for sure, start making landfall in Texas, particularly in a major metropolitan area, we have got to get those people out and we have got to evacuate early on.

And that's why we have made this effort, and I think successfully so, starting to evacuate a substantial number; 1.3 million Texans are being asked to evacuate back inland. And it's working so far.


BROWN: Governor, where are they going?

PERRY: Well, we have a hub set up.

And these are places that we have prepositioned a lot of support into Huntsville and to College Station and to Austin, San Antonio, on all the way up into Dallas. A lot of people are going and staying with families. But one of the most important things, Aaron, is that people who still have needs to move, nursing home people...


PERRY: ... our elderly, that they yet haven't heard from a transportation company, I have got the Department of Public Safety on notice today with an 800 number, 1-800-525-5555. They call that number, and we will get transportation to them and to move those elderly or assisted living individuals to a place of safety.

BROWN: That was 800-525-5555, if you're in the state of Texas and you need transportation.

One of the things that we learned from Katrina is, some people simply -- some people are stubborn, frankly, but some people don't have the means to move. Will they be forced out?

PERRY: Well, the fact of the matter is, I can't help the hardheaded ones.


PERRY: But those who need transportation, we're going to get them and get them to safety. So, this is Texas and there's going to be some folks you could come in and threaten them and they're still going to say, sorry, we're going to ride this out. That's their business.

But, as the mayor of Galveston told them very clearly, and she told them right, you're on your own.

BROWN: Just quickly, do you know how many National Guard troops you have at your disposal, if you need them?

PERRY: We have got over 5,000 that are already prepositioned. We have got over 1,000 Department of Public Safety troopers that are ready to move in as soon as this makes landfall. So, we have a substantial number of not just National Guard, but also Texas State Guard. Our Texas State Guard is one of the finest in the country. They performed admirably for the Louisiana evacuees and they haven't had much of a time to catch their breath, but they're ready to go again.

BROWN: Governor, I think everybody who -- which is just about everybody who has watched -- the last three weeks, watched all of the sorrow caused by Katrina, are sending prayers your way and good thoughts your way tonight. It's obviously going to be a rocky few days. But if preparations are set, then it will be the best it can be.

Good luck to you.

PERRY: Well, it will be. Thank you, Aaron.

BROWN: Thank you, sir, Rick Perry, the governor of the state of Texas.

Coming up, a searing moment in the aftermath of Katrina.

But, first, at about a quarter past the hour, give or take, Erica Hill joins us in Atlanta tonight with some of the other news of the day.

Ms. Hill.


And we start off tonight actually in Washington, where the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee is asking for an explanation from the Pentagon, saying the Defense Department today blocked testimony about a secret military unit code-named Able Danger. Now, the unit is said to have discovered a link between al Qaeda and four of the 9/11 hijackers more than a year before the attacks on the World Trade Center. The Pentagon said it was worried about revealing classified information in an open hearing.

Hundreds of Iraqis marched in the city of Basra to protest what they called British aggression. Now, this protest follows a clash between British soldiers and Iraqi police on Tuesday. British forces used a tank to storm an Iraqi police station and free two British soldiers. In London, British Defense Secretary John Reid and Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said the incident wouldn't undermine relations between the two countries.

And the anti-war Gold Star Mother Cindy Sheehan is setting up camp again. This time, she is outside the White House on the National Mall in Washington. You may recall, Sheehan's son was killed in Iraq. She set up a protest camp outside the Bush family ranch in Texas over the summer. Sheehan led a small protest today. She is organizing a larger protest march, Aaron, for Saturday.

BROWN: Erica, thank you. We will get back to you in about a half-an-hour.

Much more ahead on the program tonight, starting with a study in contrasts, what a difference three-and-a-half weeks can make.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have got to be ready for the worst.

BROWN (voice-over): From the White House:

RAY NAGIN (D), MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: We're a lot smarter this time around.

BROWN: To New Orleans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's at your risk that you stay here.

BROWN: To Galveston and beyond.

DAVID PAULISON, ACTING FEMA DIRECTOR: We are comfortable that Texas is going to be ready for this storm.

BROWN: The lessons of Katrina, will they be enough?

DR. CLARK GERHART, SURGEON: And the floor was just puddles of urine. Every patient had soiled themselves.

BROWN: The airport that became a holding place for the sick, the injured and the dead.

PASTOR TOBY NELSON, PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER: And she knew. I was persuaded that she knew she was in the morgue and she looked at me with eyes that still haunt me.

BROWN: Did she get the care she need, or was she simply left to die?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I said, not again.

BROWN: Katrina made them refugees. They fled to Galveston.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Confused, sad, angry. I mean, I'm just wondering why. Why does this have to happen?

BROWN: And now they're fleeing once again.

From New York and Galveston, with two months to go in the hurricane season, this is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT.



BROWN: Galveston, Texas, tonight, literally in the island city that it is, the calm before the storm. The weather will get progressively worse. And by some time late Friday night, perhaps early Saturday morning, it will be whacked by the third most intense storm, at least at this moment, in history, Hurricane Rita, the hurricane that is coming.

But there is Katrina, the hurricane that was. It is a picture that is impossible to forget, elderly people, terribly sick, covered only in thin hospital gowns, sprawled on a baggage carousel at the airport in New Orleans, others lying on the ground. After Katrina struck, the New Orleans Airport became the holding spot for the sick, the injured and the dead, a holding spot from hell, some would say.

Two nights ago, we talked to a doctor, a surgeon from Pennsylvania, who said FEMA officials turned him away when he tried to help at the airport. This is one of the many unfinished stories from Katrina, where each day, we learn a little bit more.


BROWN (voice-over): It was not until Wednesday, two days after Katrina hit, that FEMA opened its field hospital at the New Orleans Airport. And, even then, it was at best chaotic in the baggage claim area.

GERHART: The baggage belts were basically lined with elderly people, primarily, who were just too weak to move, too weak to lift their head off the terrible. The floor in between the belts was lined with people laying next to each other, laying on -- some of them on stretchers, most of them on floors. The floor was just puddles of urine. Every patient had soiled themselves. None of them had been in contact with even, you know, sanitary facilities for the last few days.

BROWN: It was there they placed the near-dead right next to the already dead. This was the Thursday after the storm.

NELSON: In fact, one woman reached her hand out to me and put a grip on my hand, like a football player would hold on to someone, and it was something like a death grip. And she knew. I was persuaded that she knew she was in the morgue and she looked at me with eyes that still haunt me.

BROWN: Pastor Nelson was part of a FEMA disaster assistance team flown to Louisiana from California.

NELSON: It was wrong that these living people should be and, in some anticipation fashion, placed in the morgue, expecting them to die, when they could have easily been treated, even with just a cup of water, and they would have been fine.

BROWN: When he was finally able to contact a doctor, the pastor says only four of the living patients were removed.

NELSON: The only follow-up was the medical doctor that I was able to get to review these patients. And the next day following, they were all gone. I don't know where they went.

BROWN: That part of the airport, according to FEMA, held what's called an expected center. Those brought there were expected to die very soon.

Interviewed off camera, a Coast Guard spokesman said he didn't know if living patients were placed next to the dead. And, as for the living, he said -- quote -- "These people were in grave condition. They were getting the treatment they should," treatment complicated by sheer numbers.

GERHART: They had helicopter after helicopter dropping dozens of people at the airport. And they were, you know, pretty much left there to be triaged. And they hadn't really arranged for the field hospitals that we later helped set up and staff. They hadn't arranged for those yet. So, the people were just piling up at the airport. So, there was really just a mass of humanity. It was -- it was staggering.

BROWN: Dr. Gerhart and his colleague, Dr. Mark Perlmutter, say they wanted to stay at the airport and help. But they were turned away by a Coast Guard doctor in charge because they did not have medical licenses issued by the state of Louisiana.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was an atmosphere of following orders, not really any reason or -- behind the decisions that he made. I asked him specifically, well, why don't I just go back there and help triage and save more lives until a FEMA-registered doctor comes and taps me on the shoulder, says I'm here to replace you? He says, I'm sorry. That won't do. You just have to go.

BROWN: The Coast Guard confirmed that Drs. Gerhart and Perlmutter were not permitted to stay on and help. The medical officer says the spokesman was not there to process credentials for those who showed up to help. GERHART: And, in America, we rely on volunteerism. And we have to come up with a system to incorporate volunteers into this type of disaster management very quickly and efficiently, so that, the next time, when Americans respond like we are used to and volunteers flood in to an area to help out their fellow Americans, we have got to incorporate that much more smoothly. And I think that's probably the biggest lesson to learn from the difficulty that we had in New Orleans.


BROWN: Just keep in mind, this wasn't a day or even two days after the storm hit. It was four days after the storm.

Just ahead, back to Rita, growing into what could be one of the most intense hurricanes ever to hit American shores.

And a family on the road again, as evacuees find themselves fleeing yet another monster storm.

This is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT from New York and Galveston.


COOPER: Welcome back. We're live in Galveston, Texas.

What began the day as a serious storm has turned into the third most powerful hurricane yet measured, on track for the Texas Gulf Coast.

Again we turn to CNN's Jacqui Jeras for the latest on Rita -- Jacqui.

JERAS: Hi, Anderson.

It looks like the storm is continuing to strengthen, which is hard to believe, with a storm this powerful, Category 5 with 165 mile per hour winds. Less than 600 miles east-southeast of Galveston where you are. It is heading off to the west and it's a very large storm.

This is the wind fields of the storm and how far across it stretches. Tropical storm force winds stretching out about 350 miles across. And as it brings it in towards the Texas coast, you can see those winds will cover much of Texas and even head into parts of Louisiana when it makes landfall. And we think that's probably going to be happening sometime on Saturday morning.

A powerful Category 5; could weaken a little bit back to a 4, but it also could go back to a 5. So major hurricane when it strikes -- Anderson.

COOPER: Jacqui, thanks very much.

BROWN: Jacqui, thank you very much. Anderson, thank you very much. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Henry Garrett joins us, the mayor of Corpus Christi, Texas. Corpus Christi, Galveston, all those cities, all of your cities along the coast are bracing. How many people have you moved out, if any?

HENRY GARRETT, MAYOR OF CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS: Well, we -- today, we ordered a total evacuation of the city. We started evacuating yesterday. First, we went and got our high profile vehicles out, the motor homes and the travel trailers off the island, Mustang Island (ph), Padre Island, North Padre Island and out of Port Aransas.

And today, about 6 p.m. today, we ordered a total evacuation of the city. And it started -- it's moving along pretty smoothly.

BROWN: Hospitals being cleared out, nursing homes being cleared out. Are those people already out or are they getting out tomorrow?

GARRETT: We have the hospitals are -- have their own plan. They're moving them to different floors and we do have a several buses in town taking care of special need people.

And yes, sir, we are in the process right now of moving the ones that need to be moved or relocating them.

BROWN: I want to make sure, mayor, that I understand that. People who are in hospitals are not necessarily being evacuated. They're being moved to higher floors in those hospitals? Because as you know, that actually did happen in New Orleans, and it didn't work very well, because those hospitals lost power.

GARRETT: Well, we're moving -- the hospitals feel confident that what they're doing is go to work. We're moving them to different floors. We are moving some of them completely out of the city, but most of them are just being relocated within the hospital.

BROWN: Tell me how you're managing the police force in the city. How large a police force is it? How many will stay on duty? Have their families been moved out already?

GARRETT: Yes. We have a special shelter of last resort for the police officers or the employees' families who cannot leave the city. A lot of them have already left.

We have 400 police officers and they, all the police officers have been called to duty regardless of where they work or they've been put into uniform. They're work 12 on and 12 off, starting -- that started at 6 p.m. today.

BROWN: Have you talked to FEMA officials today?

GARRETT: No, sir, we talked to them yesterday afternoon, through our EOC in Austin, Texas, our capital. And everything we've asked for, we've asked for buses. They sent us -- we got about 40 buses in town. They said we had 200 available for us to move people with special needs and people who are unable to evacuate on their own.

So everything that we've asked FEMA for, they've been pretty well -- they've been very responsive, and we appreciate that.

BROWN: Just -- I think we'll probably ask this question for years to come, are you doing anything differently because of the response or the lack of response to Katrina?

GARRETT: Absolutely. I think that we learned a lot. We watched the operation very carefully. And one of the things that we realized that we needed to do here in Corpus Christi was to look at our evacuation plan. We felt that we needed to do evacuate a couple days earlier than what we had planned on.

And that's -- we paid a whole lot of attention to what took place and we think that this evacuation that we called for today is right on time. It gives people an opportunity to get out of the city.

We did it kind of in sections. Like I said earlier, we evacuated the high profile vehicles and then we come back and made mandatory evaluation of the islands and our Fire Bluff (ph) area and our Corpus Christi Beach area. Today, at 6 p.m., we finished up our complete evacuation.

BROWN: Well, Mayor, we wish you nothing but good luck. You're going to have some difficult, probably -- difficult week ahead, a few days, certainly. And we will keep an eye on it. We wish you only the best. Henry Garrett, who's the mayor of Corpus Christi, Texas, which is just down the gulf a bit from Galveston and right in the center of what is likely to happen.


BROWN: We're worried a little about those hospital patients.

Still to come on the program tonight, the power of words. He dialed 911, convinced he was dying. The voice on the other end of the line saved him.

And the latest on Rita, of course, where the storm is heading, where it might go next. What are the influences and how did it become so powerful in just 24 hours?

We'll take a break first from New York and Galveston, Texas. This is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: Just quickly here. The 11 p.m. update from hurricane centers has come in a bit early. Jacqui Jeras, I gather, it gives us no good news?

JERAS: No. Bad news, actually, Aaron. The storm has strengthened the further, the winds now at 175 miles per hour. Still in Category 5 status. That's as top as it gets. And at this point, the maximum sustained winds are equivalent to what Katrina was at its greatest strength. So these storms looking all too familiar, unfortunately. And the outlook is not good.

This is a look at the forecast track. And our computer system here automatically updates the coordinates as they come in from the National Hurricane Center. And I've not had the chance to read their discussion. But just by eyeballing this being, take a look at where the center of the cone is. Unfortunately, it does look to me right now, that that is closer to Galveston -- Aaron.

BROWN: And people would see on the map where Galveston is, where Corpus Christi is. We just talked to the mayor.

Jacqui, thank you very much.

Hurricanes past and present. It was quite a day for news. And quite a night as it turned out.

You might have seen this earlier Jetblue Flight 292. The captain lowering the broken nose gear on to the runway at LAX. The flight left Burbank. It was headed for New York. Instead, mechanical difficulties and an emergency landing and a remarkable landing from where we sat and watched it, holding our breath. We suspect you did, too.

Everybody, all 145 people on board, as best we know, are safe. They walked off a stairwell. They didn't even go down the slides. Thelma Gutierrez is in our bureau in Los Angeles -- Thelma.

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Aaron, you're absolutely right. I mean, what a big sigh of relief everybody breathed the moment that aircraft landed safely; 139 passengers, six crew members, for a total of 145 people who are now safe and sound.

We understand they are at LAX. They are preparing to meet with loved ones who, of course, were very, very concerned about this whole situation.

As you had mentioned, Aaron, this Airbus 320 was headed for JFK. The nose gear was caught at a 90 degree angle, and it could not retract into the body of the aircraft. And so the pilot had to circle above Los Angeles for more than three hours to burn fuel to be able to lighten the load on that aircraft and to land safely.

Now, typically, they would fly over the Pacific. They would dump that fuel over the Pacific in order to land. In this case with this particular aircraft, they were not able to do that, because this Airbus does not have that kind of a dumping mechanism.

And so after three very long, tense hours with everybody watching, that pilot circled above Los Angeles, finally was able to make a very safe landing.

You mentioned the word "gingerly." That absolutely explains just how carefully this plane touched down. At that point, one of our colleagues had called Jetblue. They had called the headquarters in New York, and she says that she heard a huge applause go off in that building, that people were extremely happy. And of course, so are we -- Aaron.

BROWN: It was something to watch. The pilot holding that plane up in the air long enough or just keeping the two rear wheels on the runway. But keeping the nose gear off the runway for as long as he or she possibly could.

Newsrooms, I will tell you, can be pretty jaded places, but it was dead silent in our area as that plane touched down. Everybody holding their breath, watching it happen.

Thelma, thank you for your efforts tonight.

Ahead on the program, packing up again. They went to Texas to get away from Katrina. Where are they going to get away from Rita? We'll take a break on a very busy night. This is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT.


In a moment, the voice that saved a life. We also hope to talk to a passenger aboard that Jetblue flight.

But first, at around a quarter to the hour, time to check on the headlines again. Erica Hill in Atlanta -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Hi again, Aaron.

In Washington, they're already counting up the votes for Judge John Roberts as chief justice of the United States. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the senior Democrat, on the Senate Judiciary Committee, saying today he would vote for Roberts. Democratic opponents include Senator -- Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid and both Senator John Kerry and Senator Edward Kennedy, both of Massachusetts. The judiciary committee vote is scheduled for tomorrow.

A federal judge, meantime, OK'ed legal settlements today to return more than $6 billion to investors who lost money in the massive WorldCom accounting fraud. Former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers, sentenced to 25 years in prison, will ante up much of his fortune. But most of the money will actually come from payments from Citigroup and J.P. Morgan Chase.

A little more trouble for Amber Frey, the former mistress of convicted murderer Scott Peterson. It turns out DNA tests show the man who's been paying $175 a month in child support for her 4-year-old daughter was not, in fact, the father of that little girl.

And maybe a lot more trouble for supermodel Kate Moss. Scotland Yard is now reviewing reports Moss was caught on camera using cocaine in pictures printed by a London tabloid. Fashion giant H&M dropped Moss from a campaign for a Stella McCartney fashion collection after the pictures came out -- Aaron.

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

Alexandra Jacobs was a passenger aboard that Jetblue flight that took off from Burbank this afternoon in Los Angeles, headed for New York. She's about five and a half, six months pregnant to top it all off. And she's on the phone with us.

What was it like on board the plane?

ALEXANDRA JACOBS, PASSENGER: Well, actually, I'm six and a half months pregnant, but that's -- I -- it was -- it was stressful, but there were sort of oases of calm.

I think, though, that most of the real aspect of it was that, as you know, Jetblue has these little -- it's famous for having these little televisions on the back of their seats.


JACOBS: So we were all kind of, I think, when the alarm reached a fever pitch was when we all saw what was taking place on national news.

BROWN: So you were able to watch. You were able to see that front nose wheel...

JACOBS: We were able to see shots of our -- we didn't see -- I can't -- I don't remember any shots of the trucks, but we were able -- I think they cut off the direct TV at about half an hour before we landed, which is good, probably.


JACOBS: But before that, we saw sort of more establishment, you know, shots of the plane as it was circling and the sort of feet underneath. And that was scary, because, you know, we were being compared -- we were on the same little tagline as Hurricane, you know, Rita. So that was alarming.

BROWN: I would think so. Was the -- were the pilots and the flight attendants talking to you all the time, telling you what was going on?

JACOBS: Not all the time. The pilots came on several -- several times made a very, you know, informative announcement. He wasn't equivocally reassuring. I mean unequivocally. Sorry, I'm a little spazzed out here.

BROWN: That's OK.

JACOBS: He wasn't unequivocally reassuring, but he was very calm and informative.

The flight attendants were absolutely wonderful. They were, you know -- they were jolly. They were business-like. They didn't have an alarmed look on their faces at all. And I think that was very reassuring. BROWN: Did they say -- was there a point just as this thing started to end, I mean, you could look out the window and see you're getting lower, where they said, "We're going to try..."?

JACOBS: We couldn't look out the window because we had assumed the braced position, which involves putting your hands on the feet in front of you and so we weren't really looking out the window, which I have to say I was pretty grateful for.

BROWN: Did they say, "OK, we're going to try and bring it down now"? And what did that landing feel like?

JACOBS: They warned us about five minutes before landing. They actually said, "Flight attendants please prepare for arrival," which, you know, is the classic phrase they use on every single -- which I thought was bitter -- not bitter, but, you know, dark laughter throughout the plane as the pilot said that, because it seemed so normal.

Then we got an automated message to brace ourselves. Then the flight attendants began repeating that message in front of an incantory -- I'm using the wrong word, incantatory, whatever. They started chanting, "Brace, brace, brace." That was scary, because it felt like a prayer.

The landing itself was like the best landing I've ever had.


JACOBS: Seemed like a very gentle -- you know, we smelled burning rubber, but it wasn't -- it wasn't at all like a normal landing where you bounce at all. I just, you know, it was very calm and very smooth.

BROWN: People applaud?

JACOBS: People cheered, applauded. There were tears, euphoria. It was wonderful.

BROWN: I'll bet it was.

JACOBS: Life affirming.

BROWN: I think you'll know exactly what I mean when I say it is very nice to be able to speak with you. I hope the next two and a half months are very uneventful.

JACOBS: Thank you.

BROWN: Thank you.

JACOBS: Thank you so much. Take care. Bye-bye.

BROWN: Thank you. Alexandra Jacobs who was on board that Jetblue flight as it made its way to LAX today. We'll talk to the mayor of Los Angeles after a break. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Not all arriving passengers are greeted at LAX by the mayor of the city, but these passengers were. The crew, as well. The mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, is with us now on the phone.

Well, when you think of what this conversation could have been like, it is remarkable, isn't it?

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, MAYOR OF LOS ANGELES: It is remarkable, Aaron. I'll tell you, we prepared for the worst and hoped for the best, and we got the best.

The pilot, Scott Burke, who I got to meet on the plane, was just cool as a cucumber. He said -- he joked that the -- he was disappointed because he was six inches off the center line and he thought he could do a little better. This was his first visit to Los Angeles. So...

BROWN: He'll remember it.

VILLARAIGOSA: ... very interesting (ph) experience.

BROWN: Yes. He'll remember his first trip to L.A. How long after -- how did you find out the plane was in trouble? Someone call your chief of staff.

VILLARAIGOSA: Chief Bratton, Bill Bratton, who you know well, called me and we got on a helicopter and went to the site, the command center. I tell you, I couldn't be prouder of the men and women of the L.A. Fire department, the chief and the L.A. Police department, the airport police there. They worked and coordinated.

As I said, we had just about 250 police officers, a like number of firefighters. We had all our assets there, prepared for the worst. And thank God everything worked out.

BROWN: Were they saying to you, look I mean in some ways, this looks a little bit worse than it is. They know how to handle this situation. And it's just going to take some time to bring it in but he, you know, these are skilled people and know how to bring them down?

VILLARAIGOSA: Yes. That's exactly what both chiefs shared with me, and they shared that at the command center. But as you know, something could go awry and wrong, and we had to be prepared for the worst.

And I'll tell you, you know, we have first responders second to none. And I've been saying for some time that it's very fortunate here in Los Angeles to not only have a great fire and police department, but they work excellent together. And no jurisdictional issues. They just -- the fire department, of course, was you know, the commanding department because of the nature of the incident, but they just worked hand in glove. Very proud of them tonight.

BROWN: Mayor, nice to meet you. Quite a night.

VILLARAIGOSA: Nice to talk to you too. I see you all the time on CNN, so it's good to finally talk to you.

BROWN: Thank you, sir. Congratulations.


BROWN: It's a nice way to meet. It's one of those stories that, it's been four years, I think, since there's been a plane crash in this country, thankfully. And it was a little dicey tonight, but that's all it was.

We'll check on Rita, an update there. From New York and from Galveston, Anderson with us, of course. Take a break first. This is NEWSNIGHT, state of emergency.