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CNN Newsnight Aaron Brown

Faulty Landing Gear Forces JetBlue Flight to Make Emergency Landing; Hurricane Rita Aims for Galveston; Evacuations, Early and Mandatory, Ordered Along Texas Gulf Coast; Scores of Oil Refineries in Rita's Path

Aired September 21, 2005 - 23:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. Tonight from Galveston, Texas, if you have not been following the news today, you may not know that Hurricane Rita exploded into a Category 5 storm today. Winds now at 165 m.p.h. and headed toward, well, toward where we are standing right now. Of course, that's just weeks after Katrina, a Category 4 hurricane, caused catastrophic flooding and (INAUDIBLE) for death in nearby New Orleans.
So Galveston is thinking about what happened three weeks ago, but it also thinking about what happened here more than a century ago, in 1900, when an unnamed hurricane, a so-called storm of the century, killed more than 8,000 people here, Aaron.

AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Similarly, Anderson, if you haven't been following the news tonight you may not have seen an extraordinary drama that unfolded over the skies of Los Angeles earlier this evening. It crippled JetBlue Airlines flight left Burbank, headed for New York, had landing gear problems. We will show you one of the happiest endings of an extraordinary drama, every second of it playing out on live TV.

You'll hear from some storm weary folks at the diner in Mississippi, who burst into applause when they saw the landing. I suspect they were not the only ones, indeed, I know they were not the only who burst into applause when they saw, Anderson, that plane touch down.

COOPER: Yes, it is one of those moments on television that bring people together and bring strangers together wherever you are. A friend of mine was in a restaurant in Chicago, and Blackberried me, saying, everyone broke out into applause in the restaurant they were in.

Of course, that tops the list of what we're following at this moment, the story on the airplane. I can tell you a huge, huge sigh of relief in LA, JetBlue 292, carrying 139 passengers and six crew members. It has landed safely after its front landing gear turned sideways.

Going to have to look into how that happened. The plane had just taken off from Burbank, California en route to New York City, when its pilots noticed at problem. We'll have more on their remarkable landing in just a moment. You'll hear from one of the passengers onboard that flight. People living all along the Gulf Coast are anxious tonight Hurricane Rita has become a Category 5, storm winds near 175 m.p.h.. Hard to believe it is out there and coming fast. President Bush has declared states of emergency in Texas and Louisiana. Many coastal communities, in those states, are under a mandatory evacuation. We'll also have more on that, in just a moment, from Galveston.

The National Weather Service has called off tornado warnings it issue earlier tonight in Minnesota and Wisconsin. A lot happening tonight. Weather spotters had reported a funnel cloud about nine miles east of St. Paul. Weather Service says the area is still at risk for flash flooding.

And about a dozen pedestrians were struck by a car on the Las Vegas strip. At least three of the victims have critical injuries. The crash caused part of the strip to temporarily shut down. More on all of those stories ahead tonight.

We're going to get back to the other big story of this night, in just a moment, but first there was a tense drama played out in the sky over Los Angeles.

This was the problem. A New York bound JetBlue flight, out of Burbank, California, had its nose wheel stuck sideways. Don't know exactly how that happened and that is going to be looked into. It could not be retracted however, not turned. There were 139 people on board, as I said, crew of six.

It was an Airbus A320 headed toward LAX, which is circled for hours, until at last, very, very, very delicately the pilot set the plane's nose down, tires bursting into flames, but the landing remained arrow straight and rock steady. And all of the passengers -- all the passengers, and all the crewmembers, did something they must have feared they would never do again. They stepped lightly off the plane and walked happily away.

Alexandra Jacobs is out there at Los Angeles International Airport. She is an editor at "The New York Observer". She was onboard the flight.

Alexandra, thanks for joining us.


COOPER: At what moment did you know something was wrong?

JACOBS: We knew -- well, first the flight did not ascend at the normal rate. It was -- it remained at about 5,000 feet for a long time. And at a certain point the pilot came on to inform us what was going on. At that time he said that the landing gear wouldn't retract. At that point, he didn't tell us, you know, the specific issue with front landing gear.

I think we all felt, oh, well, it won't retract, but that is not as much of a problem as it not being able to go down. So I don't think there was much fear in the cabin at that point. COOPER: And as I was watching, as the country, as the world was watching, I mean, I was realizing JetBlue, I fly it a lot. They have televisions on every seat, I mean, were you watching this, once television stations started picking it up?

JACOBS: That's exactly right. No, that was, I think -- that was when the fear began to mount. We were watching TV. Everyone was watching their different programs and I happened to see a gentleman, a couple of rows in front of me, had was tuned to, actually I'm sorry -- a rival network, MSNBC. I don't know if CNN is available on JetBlue, on Direct TV.

But anyway, he was watching it and I think that's when the panic sort of began to accumulate. Because people realized it was a national event or it was being treated as a national event on, you know, the same as the Rita storm, which I think made us scared.

COOPER: Yes, no one wants to be part of a national event.

JACOBS: Exactly right.

COOPER: Did -- I mean, you saw someone -- you saw out of the corner of your eye, someone watching this on television, did you suddenly say, wait a minute, that's our plane or --

JACOBS: Well, then they all started tuning in.

COOPER: Or did people start talking?

JACOBS: Yes. That's exactly right. We all started tuning in, or those of us who could stomach it, began to tune in. Because also we wanted information, and the pilot was very good about giving us information, but you know, clearly on the ground you had experts and analysts, and all the people you bring in to inform your news reports.

COOPER: So, how long were you listening to this on TV and then -- I mean, did the pilot start talking about you watching it on TV? At some point did they shut off TVs?

JACOBS: Well, no, the pilot. Yes, the pilot at one point acknowledged that the TVs were on and he -- I think, my memory may not be working completely right. But I think he acknowledged that that was probably unfortunate, because it might alarm us, and he tried to soothe us.

But, you know, I would say, again, memory not being completely all there, it was -- we were watching it for at least an hour, maybe a little more, as we circled to get rid of the fuel.

COOPER: A friend of mine was watching it in a restaurant in Chicago and was talking to all of the people around her in the restaurant. I mean, were you talking with the other passengers? Was there silence just watching these images? What?

JACOBS: We just couldn't believe -- we were talking -- yes the passengers were talking. I mean, some were upset. For the most part they were wonderfully brave. You know, there were people laughing and calm. There were some people who were very scared. I mean I was scared.

But, I think we were just -- we couldn't believe --

COOPER: I was scared watching it, I don't think --

JACOBS: Yes. We couldn't believe the irony that we might be watching our own demise on television. That seemed a little bit post- post modern, if you will.

COOPER: You're spoken like a true New Yorker. And a true reporter, post-modern. I'm thinking you were the only one on the aircraft who was remarking on the post-modernist of it all.


COOPER: When did you -- did you watch the landing on the plane? Or did they shut off the --

JACOBS: No, no, no. They shut it off. They had the intelligence -- or the whatever -- the sense to shut it off I think about half an hour before we landed. And that might not be the exact right time. That's what it felt like.

COOPER: How -- just, it's everyone's worst nightmare. We've all been on planes, we've all worried about this sort of thing. I'm sure you've worried about that as you've gotten on planes in the past. Going through it, how did --


JACOBS: Oh, please, more than the average -- I'm scared.

COOPER: I'm sorry, go ahead.

JACOBS: Excuse me? No, I was going to say --


COOPER: I said, how does -- sorry, I'll let you speak.

JACOBS: No, no. I am famously afraid of flying. So, you know, this was -- I actually felt worse for my husband than I did for me, because I kept thinking of him watching it and worrying about me. And, you know, I didn't want to use my cell phone to call him, because of course you're not supposed to do that, because it interferes with the pilot communications, as I know.

COOPER: How was going through it actually different than you -- I'm sure in the past you've imagined going through something like this. How is actually going through it different?

JACOBS: Well, there is no -- I mean, first of all, you know, there wasn't screaming or anything. People were calm. And there was a sense of preparedness. I mean, I think, you know, obviously circumstances would be very different if it were an actual plane crash, as opposed to a landing -- you know, an emergency landing.

I think people were calmer than I expected them to be. And there was even, you know, there was a sense of humor. There was banter. As we were landing the pilot said, flight attendants prepare for arrival, which, you know got a laugh out of the plane, because, you know, clearly that's the thing you say during a normal landing.

And I think that was probably reassuring.

COOPER: Did they say the tray table thing?

JACOBS: Excuse me?

COOPER: Did they say to lift up your tray tables?

JACOBS: Oh, forget about, I mean, nobody had their tray table up, we assumed the brace position. There was an automated message that said brace, and then the flight attendants were repeating that, as we landed. They were, which was probably the most frightening part was the flight attendants were saying, Brace! Brace! Brace! as we landed. And that felt a little scary, because it felt a little, you know, like a prayer, or a mantra, if you will.

COOPER: Well, I'm so glad that you are safe and the other passengers are safe. And the pilot did a remarkable job of landing that plane.

JACOBS: Thank you.

COOPER: And you have a story to tell your --

JACOBS: He really did, I forgot to say that.


COOPER: No, that is clear to everyone and you have a story to tell your child and your grandchildren, when you have them.

JACOBS: That's right.

COOPER: So, Alexandra appreciate you joining us, and it is great to see you safe and sound and all the others.

JACOBS: Yeah, sure.

COOPER: Thank you, Alexandra.

JACOBS: Thank you.

COOPER: Joining me now to discuss this remarkable landing is a man who knows a thing or two about landing planes, former airline pilot Jim Tilmon, he is in Chicago.

Jim, thanks for being with us. How did this pilot do? I mean, it looked extraordinary. It looked picture perfect to all of us. JIM TILMON, FMR. AIRLINE PILOT: It looked like a training film. He did this so well, until it was as if it was all just designed to help us understand the expertise and the skill and training of JetBlue pilots. I don't think anyone could have done that job any better than what he did.

COOPER: Does it -- I mean have you ever seen a wheel like that twist? You know, when you see that close up picture of the plane flying with that twisted wheel. It's a sickening image.

TILMON: Well, I've never seen one twisted quite like that, but I understand it's not the first time it has happened. There have been a couple of other times that its happened, and on the landing, it was kind of an uneventful situation. Just about like today was.

However, the potential was there for some kind of really bad scene. So, in handling it the way he did, I think, he protected the passengers, the airplane, and us from a real disaster, because he put that thing down as gently as you could set a baby down on its cushion.

COOPER: As we see it makes it landing, the key was to keep the nose up as long as possible, correct?

TILMON: Yes, well, the idea there is, first of all, burn off all the fuel that you can, so you're as light as possible. That would give you a lower touchdown speed. And that's what you want. Speed is what you don't want to have. And then as you allow the speed to dissipate, with the nose in the air, then you gradually lower the nose.

You don't allow the nose to fall, because you want it to be a controlled descent with the nose. You lower it very, very gently and just kind of tickle the runway. And when you see this happening, you see that's what he did. And he just barely touches the runway, allows that tire to begin to just fall apart, burn, come off the airplane. That is perfect. It couldn't have worked out any better.

COOPER: And when the plane actually came to a landing, I mean, they didn't have those slides that we've all seen in the safety films and in seen in other instances. Why was that? It is just that there wasn't a fire so there wasn't a need to immediately evacuate? Is it true that people actually get injured on those slides a lot?

TILMON: People do get injured on the slides generally because they don't follow instructions. But the thing is there was no need for it. I mean, the airplane was perfectly intact. They had all the emergency equipment around and people to make certain that there wasn't going to be any kind spark that would create a problem. And as soon as they got the green light from the ground people, then of course, they could bring the stairs up and let people walk down the stairs just like they would if there had been no problem whatsoever. And it was a smart way to handle it.

I can't think of any part of this, whether the flight crew in the cockpit and the cabin, did do exactly what they should do. COOPER: It was a remarkable event and one of those events, as I said before, they are really -- everyone who is watching it was sort of drawn together and feels very much a community while watching it. And everyone, bursting out into applause, really around the country and I'm sure around the world, when that plane was brought in.

Jim, thanks very much for your perspective. Now, on to our other top story --

TILMON: My pleasure.

COOPER: Yes, and it is a pleasurable experience to report something like that. Some good news.

We want to turn to our other top story Hurricane Rita, which quickly became a Category 5 storm today as it picked up over the warm waters of the Gulf, the winds now nearing 175 m.p.h. Before we do anything else let's check in with Aaron Brown in New York -- Aaron.

BROWN: Thank you, we'll get to the hurricane, just one more quick thing, on the plane. Just key, the pilot, the man named Scott Burke (ph), and he tells the mayor of Los Angeles he did one thing wrong. He was six inches off the center line when he put it down.

They were on a JetBlue flight and the guy says, Captain Burke, relax he knows what he's doing.

Jacqui Jeras knows what she's doing. She's tracking Rita, down in Atlanta. It is now the third most powerful storm since they started keeping records of these sorts of things. I don't know how far back that goes, but I'll bet Jacqui does -- Jacqui?

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, back in the 1800s, Aaron. This certainly an unusual storm in terms of how strong it is and how big it is. This is a monster storm. Not just intensity, but in size. Check out the eastern Gulf of Mexico. Basically covered up by Rita right now.

And just when you don't think the storm can get any stronger, it does. Those winds are up from 165 now, to 175 m.p.h. They have to be greater 155 to be a Category 5, so this is a very healthy 5.

She's 570 miles east-southeast of Galveston, the heading westerly at this time. And there you can see the projected path. This has changed a little bit since the 5 o'clock Eastern Time advisory. It has shifted ever so slightly on off to the east. And unfortunately that brings it closer to a more populated area towards Galveston and near Houston.

The intensity forecast keeping it as a very powerful 5 or 4, as it travels the next two days through the Gulf of Mexico. We think by late on Thursday night or early Friday morning you'll start to feel some of these outer bands along the Texas and Louisiana coastline.

We still can't rule out some showers and thunderstorm that could hit New Orleans and bring maybe just a few inches of rainfall here. We'll see up to a foot of rain in the path of this storm as it makes way inland; we'll still need to worry about this storm well after it makes landfall, Aaron. Because it's so big the hurricane force winds going at 100 plus miles, maybe from the center of the storm and then we'll worry about flooding as it heads into northern Texas and Oklahoma.

BROWN: Jacqui, thank you. We'll check back with you before the hour is over and see if the path changes and get the update there.

Still ahead, Galveston, a barrier island in a bull's eye doing everything it can to avoid being flattened again. It was once before.

And are you ready to pay $5 bucks a gallon for gas? You may. There are refineries in that part of Texas and they could get hit too. We'll take a break. This is STATE OF EMERGENCY.


COOPER: Welcome back to this special two-hour edition of NEWSNIGHT: STATE OF EMERGENCY.

You know, for a small city Galveston has experienced enormous devastation. In the year 1900, as you probably know by now, an unnamed hurricane killed more than 8,000 people right here in what remains to this day the deadliest weather disaster in American history.

I mean they had virtually no warning. You can imagine people just standing, it was in September, September 8, when it happened. So, it was like this storm of death just coming out of nowhere.

Now, comes Rita, a storm to be taken very seriously indeed. Deborah Feyerick, my CNN colleague, you have been spending a lot of time here.

They don't have shelters here in Galveston. Why?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That was a decision that the mayor made and she warned everybody that if you stay, you stay at your own risk. She made it clear that if you're stranded we're not going to be able to send police, not going to be able to send firefighters. Call 9/11 but nobody may answer.

COOPER: Of course, we now know in New Orleans 100,000 people didn't have access to cars, city government knew it, the state government knew it. They didn't provide buses, they didn't provide bus drivers. Are there buses to take people who don't have access to vehicles, to safety?

FEYERICK: There were 80 buses today that took all those people. As matter of fact, they had people registering these people folks, who didn't have access to cars, we spoke to a number of them. And they really said, you know, they had spent 60 years on this island, never evacuated once. Katrina changed all of that. They made sure to get out. And also the nursing homes, they evacuated the nursing homes, the hospitals. Not the last people out of the town, but the first people out of the town.

COOPER: You know, what concerns me though, again, animals also. Because people often don't want to leave because of their animals. And we're getting some conflicting reports on this. Can they bring their animals to these shelters?

FEYERICK: Well, it is interesting. The people who took those buses, were told yes. Bring your animals. They didn't want to have this problem that they had in New Orleans, with these animals roaming all over the place.

The problem is, the Red Cross doesn't allow them into the shelters. So once they evacuated from Galveston, up to Huntsville, they were at Red Cross shelters. And there was a bit of a conflict as to whether they could bring the animals in. We've got a couple of call out on that. We don't know what the end result was.

COOPER: OK, we'll try to find out tomorrow, because that is a key point. And because animal rights people are saying, look, don't leave your animals here. Take them with you, but of course if you can't take them with you to a shelter, that creates a problem.

Let's talk about boats. Does the mayor have boats on hand for -- if this place does go under?

FEYERICK: No, we spoke to her directly about that. She's got enough provisions for three days. She, and all of her staff and police. But they said no, because it is not going to be like New Orleans, because they're not below, they're above. Even if it floods, even if there is 30 feet of water in the city, it is going to drain (INAUDIBLE)


COOPER: Cell towers, what about cell towers?

FEYERICK: Well, you know, they've got a couple of satellite phones. They've got a couple of ham operator radios. But for the most part, if those go down, they're just going to wing it.

COOPER: All right. We'll see. Deborah Feyerick, thanks very much.

We're going to watch these developments very closely. Everyone along the Gulf Coast is anxious, understandably. There is still really no telling exactly where the hurricane is going to go. It may hit north of here, perhaps western Louisiana. Or it could go south to Corpus Christi, Texas. That's where we find CNN's Chief National Correspondent John King.

John, how are things there?

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, just listening to you talking to Deb Feyerick, I think the motto of the day, you see it there in Galveston, we are seeing it here in Corpus Christi, is apply the lessons of Katrina and apply them as early as possible.

We were with the mayor, Henry Garrett, at his emergency operations center this afternoon when he got word that Rita had been elevated from a Category 4 to a Category 5. At that point the mayor had already ordered limited mandatory evacuations of the city and some of the surrounding areas.

At that point they decided to this evening issue a mandatory evacuation for the entire city and the surrounding areas. About 250,000 people affected by that mandatory order. They are told to be out of the city by tomorrow afternoon, as the storm approaches.

Now, the mayor says that even just three weeks ago he would have waited another day. Acting quickly, he says, one of the lessons of Katrina.


MAYOR HENRY GARRETT, CORPUS CHRISTI, TEXAS: I think it has been excellent. I think that the disaster of New Orleans and on the Gulf Coast, with Hurricane Katrina, I think it is a wake up call for all our people.

And we've had excellent communications with the governor's office of Texas, and also with FEMA. And everything we've asked for, they've responded in a very timely manner.


KING: On the streets here you see the preparations you would expect. Plywood going up on some windows, others shields going up on a medical clinic here, right across the street from the bay front, where we are this evening.

Among those evacuated today, 150 evacuees from New Orleans, who had been brought here. The mayor said it was sad to have to move them again, but he thought it was a necessary precaution. Three Naval air stations, all the aircraft from those Naval air stations in this area, moved more inland today. But the mayor says he was assured by the Coast Guard and the Navy, if they needed helicopters or anything else for search and rescue they could get them back here.

Anderson, they are being told to expect the storm to hit about 100 miles up the coast, closer to where you are. But they also say they won't get the final word, of course, until the last minute. They're not taking any chances here, Anderson.

COOPER: John, as you're seeing, I think first hand, this thing is affecting people's lives ways large and small. I understand you ran into a wedding on a beach today?

KING: We did. One of the lessons you learn here, sometimes you have improvise when a storm like this is coming. While we were standing here a bit earlier tonight a couple that was due to be married on Saturday, now they know this city is under a mandatory evacuation order and they cannot be married.

So they had a small ceremony performed just steps away from where I'm standing on the beach here. Jessica Kitsanea (ph) and James Jackson, a few friends and family members on hand for that wedding. They were schedule to leave for Spain on Saturday. They will go ahead with those plans, they are tonight, Mr. & Mrs. Jackson.

COOPER: John King, thanks for that.

Aaron, a shotgun wedding, a shotgun, this time, provided by Mother Nature it seems.

BROWN: Yes, does this strike you, as it strikes me, as the ultimate example of once burned, twice shy. Nobody is taking any chances that this is going to be Katrina II.

We saw gasoline prices go up after Katrina, go up quite a bit. When it comes to Rita the problem is even greater. There are many, many oil refineries in the way of the path of the hurricane. Here's CNN's Ali Velshi.


ALI VELSHI, CNN FINANCIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): If 3 bucks a gallon shocked you, get ready for this. Katrina took a chunk out of America's oil production, but the country's biggest refineries were spared. They're in Texas. And now Hurricane Rita is on its way, potentially to finish the job that Katrina left undone.

PHIL FLYNN, ENERGY TRADER: This could be the worst storm we've ever seen, when we talk about the potential damage and the potential pricing ramifications, when it come to the oil industry.

VELSHI: Oil watchers say look for new record highs when you go to the gas stations. Here's why: The country's biggest refinery, ExxonMobil's Baytown. It refines half a million barrels of oil a day. It is between Houston and Galveston. It may be right in Rita's path. Massive nearby gasoline factories, owned by BP and Shell have already been shut down.

Depending on what Rita does, 21 refineries could lie in its path, accounting for more than a quarter of all the gasoline refined in America. The fear of those refineries taking a direct hit have some people making predictions no one would have believed a year ago.

FLYNN: More than likely we would see gasoline prices probably push up towards, you know, $3.70, $4 a gallon. Maybe even as high as $5.

VELSHI: That's a worst-case scenario. Best-case scenario isn't very good either. You see those refineries that have been shut down, can't just be turned on once Rita passes. Even if they're not damaged, they'll be down for the better part of the next.

Rita will hit. That much is certain. When it hits and how hard it hits will make all the difference. Ali Velshi, CNN, New York.


BROWN: Coming up on the program, from Burbank to Los Angeles, the long way. A scary flight and an absolutely picture perfect landing.

And what to do when a storm surge is not a hurricane, but is a flood. Does your insurance cover it? Probably not. We'll talk to the lawyers. We'll be right back.


ANNOUNCER: You are watching HURRICANE KATRINA, STATE OF EMERGENCY, with Anderson Cooper and Aaron Brown.

COOPER: We'll talk more about Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita in just a moment, want to return to our top story there. There has been so many stories of loss and longing over the last several weeks. It is good to be able to bring you a story that has a happy ending.

JetBlue Flight 292, 140 passengers, crew of six, came down safely earlier today after the plane's front landing gear caused some trouble. Here's a look at how it all happened.


COOPER (voice over): At 6:17 Eastern Time, JetBlue Flight 292, takes off from Burbank Airport, headed for New York's JFK Airport. On board, 139 passengers and six crew. Shortly after take off the Airbus 320's nose gear malfunctions.

Some how it has turned sideways and can't retract. Still hard to determine what caused it. The pilot decides to end the cross-country trip and return to JetBlue's hub in Long Beach, so ground crew can make a visual inspection (AUDIO GAP) about what might happen on a landing.

As a routine emergency precaution, the plane vectors over the Pacific to burn off fuel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They need to get the airplane light enough so that it doesn't take up so much length of the runway longitudinally.

COOPER: As the plane circles above, it is routed to Los Angeles International Airport, with its longer and wider runways. Emergency crews, nearly 100 firefighters, line the runway preparing for the worst.

At 8:25, emergency officials plan for a possible landing but the deadline comes and goes and the plane continues to circle above. Officials say around 8:50 there might be another possible attempt for landing, but it doesn't occur. And the scene grows more intense.

It's 9:20, and the pilot initiates his final approach, easing the plane down on its tail and main gear wheels, putting the defective nose gear down as gently as possible at the last moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a chance, Larry, that once that nose gear touches it may turn towards the runway, hence the length of the runway, or the tires may blow now and catch on fire. But the gears may still stay intact.

LARRY KING, ANCHOR, LARRY KING LIVE: Was that a fire we just saw? Or was that just -- what?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That fire is good.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those tires indeed burned up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Notice, Larry, he's keeping it light on that nose wheel, and that nose wheel is holding up pretty well right now.


COOPER: There were fires of course, but the fire did not spread. It was just the wheels burning up and the plane came to a safe landing and all the people got off. CNN's Peter Viles is in Los Angeles, he talked to a number of people onboard that plane -- Peter?

PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the first thing, the most amazing thing we heard from these passengers was watching it on television across the country. I think most of us thought that the passengers probably knew what was going on but didn't know as much as we knew, watching television. They were watching live television inside the plane for almost all of this.

So everything that was said and speculated, and interviewed, all of the live coverage, they were seeing inside the plane, up until about, some said 10 and some said 30 minutes before they landed. Sometime before they landed they turned off the live feed.

Amazingly, these people were able to watch this on television. They knew as much as any American, they could be a worried or as confident as any American.

The other thing that really struck me, the three people we talked to, we said, well, did you pick up your cell phone and call your loved ones. They said, no. You're not supposed to do that. And it was incredible discipline on the plane, as far as we could tell, these people didn't use their cell phones.

One person used a Blackberry to send a message and a woman we talked to was furious, because their understand is that you're not supposed to do it because it could interfere with the plane's ability to make contact. And they didn't want that to happen. So amazing discipline on the plane that they didn't use their cell phones. At least, the people we talked to didn't.

And in the landing, which was extremely dramatic, the woman that we talked to, earlier, I think she was on at the top of your show, described the scene where first a voice comes from tape recorded message; they have a voice recorded that says, brace! And then the flight attendants start chanting, brace, brace! She said that kind of freaked her out because almost like the flight attendants were praying and she didn't -- that didn't make her feel confident.

But picture all the people on this plane with their heads down between their knees, waiting for the landing. Then the landing comes and one of the passengers told us it was, quote, "stunningly smooth". So, after all of that, they got down pretty easily, Anderson.

COOPER: Certainly a few prayers could not hurt in a situation like that. Peter Viles, thanks very much for that.

Coming up we're going to take a look at the flight plan of Hurricane Rita. Where will it crash ashore? There has been a change in the last few minutes, we'll give you an update.


BROWN: It's a busy night and busy days ahead. Hurricane Rita, winds of 175 m.p.h., reaching out in a circle 300 miles wide. Jacqui Jeras, in Atlanta, with the latest on Rita -- Jacqui.

JERAS: Aaron, hard to believe but this storm still could gain some more strength tonight. It's getting close to an area, what we call loop current. And basically, you've got pool, here, of some very warm, very deep, warm water. And that means additional strengthening is still possible. We're at Category 5 status, the most powerful on the Saffir-Simpson scale. The location, about 570 miles east- southeast of Galveston.

It did take a little bit of a wobble this evening and started pulling up to the north, and to the west a little bit, but we do expect it to resume that westerly motion before it starts to turn a little bit farther on up to the north.

We have high pressure system that is going to be heading off to the east and on the back side of that high, that is going to be driving this storm back on up to the north and bring it towards the U.S. coastline, and toward the Texas coast.

There you can see the forecast track has shifted over the last couple of hours, this is a change with our 11 o'clock Eastern Time advisory, 10 o'clock Central. Bringing the center of the storm possibly much closer to Galveston and our best computer models are brining it very near there. There are a few that still bring it down towards Corpus Christi, but the ones that we think have been handling the hurricanes much better are much closer towards the Galveston and Houston area.

Probably a Category 3, 4, or 5, when it makes landfall. We see nothing right now, out there, to really bring this storm down, other than what we call eye wall replacement cycles, Aaron. And the eye wall tends to build itself up and then it kind of collapses on down, while a new one begins to build up. So we'll watch these cycles change the intensity of the storm over the next few days.

The only other thing that could help us out a little bit is that the water temperatures in the western Gulf are slightly cooler than the area that Rita is moving over right now. And that could help sustain a weaker storm than maybe a Category 5.

BROWN: Just, talk for a second about what it is that influences, ultimately, where it comes ashore, assuming it doesn't break up, which seems like a long shot at best.

JERAS: It is the steering winds in the atmosphere, that high pressure system that I was talking about. Right now, that high sitting right about here. High pressure systems rotate clockwise, the winds rotate clockwise. So right now, we're kind of on the bottom side of that high and that's what's dragging it westward.

But as the high heads eastward, those winds are going to start pulling up this way, and that's what is going to start to turn the storm. If the high pushes eastward quicker, that is going to bring it farther on off to the east and head it a little bit closer towards Louisiana. But if it kind of stays put, and slows down, that would bring it a little closer towards southern Texas. And that is why we have the watches out there, which are really covering much of the coastline.

And we also mentioned about how intense this storm is. Top three in history. You can see Gilbert, 888 millibars, that is the central pressure, 892, for the 1935 Labor Day hurricane. And there you can see Rita at 897, and just behind that, Katrina. So, two of the most powerful hurricanes, ever, this season alone.

BROWN: And in this case, low is bad?

JERAS: Yes, low is bad.

BROWN: OK, Jacqui, thank you very much. Jacqui Jeras down in Atlanta. Still to come, imagine having all you own destroyed in a hurricane, and then learning you have to fight with the insurance company to get the money to rebuild it. It is happening literally to thousands of people along the Gulf Coast. We'll talk to the lawyer who is trying to fight the fight.

A break first, this is a special edition of NEWSNIGHT: STATE OF EMERGENCY.


BROWN: Thousands of people in the path of Hurricane Katrina are now facing a battle with their insurance company. Hurricane coverage covers hurricanes, it doesn't cover floods. And flood insurance has a cap on it, $250,000 in most cases.

The Mississippi home of Dickey Scruggs was left in ruins by Katrina. The insurance industry will have to fight him. Mr. Scruggs is the lawyer who played the leading role in winning the $250 billion settlement from the tobacco industry. He's one of the nation's foremost plaintiff attorneys and he is eager for the fight. We talked with him earlier today.


BROWN (on camera): Dick, the insurance companies are very careful on how they write these policies, these policies in almost all cases are literally vetted by state insurance commissioners. And they're written in such a way that no matter what causes the flooding, they see it as flooding. How do you get around it?

RICHARD SCRUGGS, ATTORNEY: Well, the standard homeowners' policy that is approved by the state commissioners of insurance, it has an endorsement for all the coastal counties, which is called a hurricane endorsement. And that is one of the things that you don't hear much from, from the insurance executives.

The hurricane endorsement carries with it an additional premium. And in many cases greater than the homeowners' premium. And hurricanes, naturally, cause tidal surge. Hurricane Katrina certainly did that. Any large hurricane causes tidal surge, which is the greatest threat to life and property.

BROWN: Would you agree that this is going to take some very creative arguing on your part, because there is settled law here. These things have come before courts before; they've been looked at before. And they have been, if they're exclusions, they have been upheld before.

SCRUGGS: Well, actually, they -- they virtually all have gone in favor of the homeowner, when they've been taken to court. The ones in Florida, just last year, in the recent hurricanes there, in the Court of Appeals in Florida found in favor of the homeowner, with the same arguments. The courts in Mississippi, back in 1972, after Hurricane Camille, found in favor of the homeowner. These are jury issues.

BROWN: How many clients have you signed up so far? Do you have any idea?

SCRUGGS: Well, it's probably in the thousands by now. I haven't gotten the latest count, but our phones are essentially melting down. We've had to get an 800 number with a large phone bank of operators to take the calls. And other lawyers are experiencing the same thing.

BROWN: How long will all of this take? I mean, you have a lot of people, yourself included, but a lot of people who have a whole lot less than you do, in truth, a lot of people who need to rebuild homes. How long does all this take to adjudicate?

SCRUGGS: Well, it could take awhile, but we're going to seek to advance it and expedite it on the court dockets. I think we will meet success of such that we can get some resolution within the next few months. If we can't we'll fight it out as long as it takes.

BROWN: Dick, it is always good to talk to you. Good luck. Thank you.

SCRUGGS: Aaron, thank you so much.

BROWN: Thank you, sir. (END VIDEOTAPE)

BROWN: Richard Scruggs, if you are in a legal fight, he's a good person to have on your side. In defense of the insurance industry -- I'm not sure they need my defense -- they would argue that they haven't been collecting premiums, Anderson, to cover this kind of loss. And so, they're stockholders, and in some cases the mutual insurance companies would take a huge hit if they were forced to pay.

COOPER: And that is probably the argument, no doubt the argument, at least in part that they will be making in court, if and when this case -- these cases do go to court.

Our looking back, finally finding the history of a family -- you know, we've been focusing a lot on the storm that is coming, we don't want to forget the storm that has already arrived and the people of New Orleans, who continue to suffer, and that city, which continues to suffer.

When we come back, finding the history of a family where grandparents lived in Old New Orleans. First, a quick look at tonight's "On the Rise".


COOPER: Covering the storms here in the South has been a deeply personal experience for a lot of us -- my dad was born in Mississippi, my mom's grandfather grew up in New Orleans; I'm named after him.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux has relatives in New Orleans, family homes. And after covering President Bush's speech here last week, she went back to find out how her relatives have done.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Bourbon Street, French Quarter, it was all about Mardi Gras. It was all about our family taking me to see the big floats and the parades. I remember my uncle on the Zulu float throwing down beads, balloons and coconuts and everything. As a child it was such a place of wonderment.

(on camera): We're going to my grandmother's house, 3936 Palmer (ph) Street.

So much of my childhood was spent here with all of my cousins, my brothers and sisters, my grandparents. Hot, lazy summers. This is a beautiful place. It's empty, and it's quiet.

There are some things that are pretty much the same. It's kind of comforting.

We're looking for my cousins' house. There were seven brothers who grew up together. They lived together in this one house. Their parents had died when they were pretty young. And they're on St. Anthony Street. My cousin, Vernon, he's an artist, and his studio is inside here. And the one thing he's really worried about are his paintings, whether or not his paintings actually survived all of this.

The bedroom, it looks like the water got to be about up to here. All of this was in water.

This is his art studio. This is my cousin's studio. This is his life work. Oh, this is covered in mold. Oh. Many of these paintings he does and he models them after the relatives -- our cousins, brothers and sisters. He takes their photos, and then he paints for the church.

Do you see the theme, though? It's Christ. It's the black church. It's a very common theme that runs through his work.

This is our family. This is me. This is my sister. That's my niece.

I think this is a picture of me. You know, they are photos, and that's really sad. But we're all alive.

I don't know what to do. I have no idea of what to do. I should try to bring something back -- yeah, I could take one, maybe just one.


(voice over): There was one place left I have to see. One of Vernon's works that can't be moved is inside a church just a couple blocks away.

(on camera): It survived. The mural survived.

This church was the only place that we found that was above water, that was dry, that was safe, and that was standing. The significance of this church for me is that my mother couldn't attend during the time of segregation this beautiful place of worship. And many years later, my cousin, Vernon, the artist, painted this mural behind me in the church. He painted Mary and the eight angels of innocence, each one of them to represent a different ethnic group. And in recognizing our family and our own heritage, he painted my mother's daughters, me and my sister, on this mural.

Our family was lucky. We all came out safe and alive from this hurricane experience. And in some ways, I guess, the angels were looking after us.


COOPER: It has been such a public disaster; it has also been such a private one as well for many of us. That was CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux.

We're going to put this evening in perspective when we come back. But first, John Glenn, "Then and Now."


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Godspeed, John Glenn.

ANNOUNCER: He's got "the right stuff." The first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn became an instant American hero.

Later, inspired by Bobby Kennedy, he ran for political office, becoming a U.S. senator from Ohio. He served for 24 years until 1998. Glenn left Capitol Hill and the surly bonds of Earth one more time. At the age of 77, he became the oldest person ever to go into space.


ANNOUNCER: Now 83, Glenn is far from retired, dividing his time between Ohio and Washington, where he serves on a NASA advisory board.

JOHN GLENN: I don't think retirement would be much fun anyway.

ANNOUNCER: He and his wife Annie have founded the John Glenn Institute for Public Service at Ohio State University, where he serves as an adjunct professor.

GLENN: Mainly involved with letting the students know the value of public service and public participation in politics.

ANNOUNCER: Glenn is also still involved in politics, serving as a delegate at the 2004 Democratic Convention.

GLENN: It's been a very active life and one that I could not have foreseen at all when I was a kid, growing up back in New Concord, Ohio.



COOPER: Welcome back to Galveston. Aaron, I keep thinking about the storm 105 years ago, September 8th, 1900, here in Galveston. Some signs on the horizon, maybe some birds acting strangely, and then a storm of death that took more than 8000 lives -- hard to believe what those people must have gone through.

BROWN: I'm struck tonight, again, as I am I suppose in some ways every day, by the ability of television to draw us together. Whether it's the horror and the misery we've seen in the Gulf, or the relief that we saw in Los Angeles, it was television that connected the country again.

Our coverage continues from Atlanta with Catherine Calloway.