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CNN Live At Daybreak

People Returning to Southwest Louisiana Only to Find Heartbreaking Mess; In Texas, Evacuees by Thousands Anxious to Return Home

Aired September 26, 2005 - 06:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: It is Monday, September 26.
The water is starting to recede and what's left behind isn't much. People returning to southwest Louisiana only to find a heartbreaking mess.

In Texas, evacuees by the thousands are anxious to return home, sometimes clogging up major highways.

And in Alabama, twisters spawned by Rita leave another trail of destruction.

ANNOUNCER: From the Time Warner Center in New York, this is DAYBREAK with Carol Costello and Chad Myers.

COSTELLO: Good morning to you.

We'll have more on the damage from hurricane Rita in just a minute.

Also ahead, they came from Oregon to Louisiana to help rebuild, never anticipating they'd be needed to help with another hurricane. We'll talk with one rescuer with the Oregon National Guard later this hour.

And after Katrina, the oil and gas industry took a bite out of America's wallets. So what will Rita do to us?

But first, now in the news, a terror crackdown in France. Police today detained several people in the cities of Trapp and Normandy. They are suspected of having ties to fundamentalist Islamic militants. A French TV station reports the detainees are suspected of planning attacks.

Another deadly day in Iraq. Seven people killed in a suicide car bomb attack at the Baghdad checkpoint near some government buildings. Police say 27 are wounded. The dead and injured include Iraqi police recruits and oil ministry employees.

Israeli air strikes this morning target sites across Gaza. A military spokesman says the sites were used to launch rocket attacks on Israeli territory. The violence started over the weekend, when the Palestinian militant group Hamas fired more than three dozen rockets into Israel.

To the Forecast Center and Chad -- good morning.


Believe it or not, you're going to get very wet today from the moisture from Rita. This is the best news, though, because the moisture didn't sit over Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana. Yes, they had their share of rain, but not that 25 inches with those dire predictions if the storm stopped. The storm did not stop. It turned to the right as soon as it got to Shreveport and now it's still moving.

From Syracuse to Buffalo to Erie, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, not quite to New York City, but certainly the clouds are there. All of the New York City airports are going to be slow today. Boston slow. Atlanta going to be the same way, Knoxville, Chattanooga, right on down south into Montgomery and into Florida itself.

The forecast temperatures, currently right now New York City 69; 66 Chicago. Here is a cold front. Easy to see that. Only 43 right now in Salt Lake City. The cold front is going to get here today. It's going to interact with all of that moisture that I just showed you on the radar and there's going to be the potential for severe weather across the East Coast today.

From Boston, it looks like Boston late, late tonight, maybe after dark or even after midnight, severe weather possible. New York City, D.C. right on down even into Richmond, Virginia.

Here are some of the rains, the rainfall totals from Rita. Bunke, Louisiana, 16 inches; Center, Texas, over 10; even Baton Rouge, almost 9 1/2 inches of rain. From Beaumont to Lafayette down to Natchez, over seven inches of rain there. And even New Orleans checking in at 6.32 inches in the past 72 hours -- Carol.

COSTELLO: All right, thank you, Chad.

MYERS: You bet.

COSTELLO: We're going to take you live to areas of Louisiana and Texas hit by hurricane Rita in just a minute.

But first, here's what you need to know in our damage assessment.

One of the areas hardest hit by Rita was Cameron Parish in Louisiana. Parts of that parish are under up to 15 feet of water. The head of the area's emergency office says 90 percent of the homes in Cameron destroyed.

Some of the floodwaters in Lake Charles, Louisiana have started to recede, but that's revealing more damage to the city. The Lake Charles police chief says there has been sporadic looting. Several arrests have been made, at least 15 we've heard of.

Evacuees have begun returning to Houston. Now, much of the traffic we saw last week is heading in the opposite direction. The city has asked residents to stagger their return depending upon where they live, but a lot of people say they will ignore that order. We'll have a live report for you from Houston in just a few minutes.

And nearly a million people are without power across the Gulf Coast. Most of those are as a result of hurricane Rita. But more than 150,000 people in Louisiana are still without power from Katrina.

The Texas governor, Rick Perry, says the oil refineries in his state suffered just a glancing blow. The Valero refinery in Port Arthur, Texas appears to be the only one that suffered any serious damage. There are four Louisiana refineries still closed down after Katrina. President Bush gets a briefing this morning at the Energy Department on the impact to the oil industry.

Parts of southwestern Louisiana did get slammed with heavy flooding. Portions of Lake Charles underwater, as I said. And in Vermilion Parish, hundreds of people have been rescued in communities that were washed over by the storm surge.

One of those is Erath, Louisiana.

And that's where we find CNN's Ed Lavandera this morning -- good morning, Ed.


You know, we're standing along Highway 14 and we had tried to make plans to get a little bit closer into town, but the highway still, here, is covered with water. And with our satellite truck and all of our other crew and our gear, we weren't really sure at this time of night if we should be cutting through there.

But you can get a sense of still what's left here. This is one of the areas of Vermilion Parish that is still under a significant amount of water, even though in many areas of this parish, the water levels have started to go down.

In fact, the rescue crews, search and rescue teams have been going out throughout the day on boat and also by helicopter missions throughout the parish double checking all the various places where they had had calls of people calling in for help.

But there were very few people that were rescued yesterday. Over the last 48 hours, though, several hundred -- we've heard reports of anywhere between 200 and 300 people that needed to be rescued because of these floodwaters.

And it was very interesting what happened here in Vermilion Parish. Many people who thought -- that had evacuated and thought the worst of the storm was over had already started making their way back to this area. And it wasn't until then that the floodwaters started rising. So many of the people that were trapped were actually people who evacuated and then made their way back in and then got caught again. So that was kind of a bizarre situation for many of them, who thought they had escaped the worst of the situation here.

But search and rescue missions will continue, although we're told by officials here that what they do now, at this point, is they're really just going out on targeted missions, if you will. They say if they get a call to check up on somebody or an emergency call from someone, they will target those specific locations. They find that's the best way to use their resources at this point -- Carol.

COSTELLO: And as far as the damage to the homes, do many of them look like they'll survive this?

LAVANDERA: You know, it's hard to say. Many of these homes -- and the further south you go in this parish, I think the more damage you're going to find. Those are the homes that were in nine to 10 feet of water. So the good news is it's receding quickly. So perhaps maybe that will help in the recovery process.

You know, compared to New Orleans, where so many homes sat in nine to 10 feet of water for days and days, there's questions of mold and mildew. And many people there don't think that their homes are salvageable at this point.

But perhaps because the waters here are receding much quicker compared to New Orleans, maybe that'll make a difference.

COSTELLO: I hope so.

Ed Lavandera reporting live for us this morning.

As hurricane Rita pushed inland, at least one person was killed when tornadoes tore through parts of Mississippi. The state's emergency management agency says there was one fatality and numerous injuries in central Mississippi.

And take a look. It's a remnant of what was once hurricane Rita. The Tuscaloosa County emergency management agency says as many as four tornadoes touched down there. At least two people were slightly injured. Three mobile homes were destroyed and tornadoes also were reported in several other western and northern Alabama counties.

Thousands of Texas evacuees are heading home. Officials have asked some to wait a little longer until it's safe. And in Houston, they're trying to stagger the return. That's in an effort to avoid a repeat of the gridlock we saw last week when people headed out of town.

CNN national correspondent Bob Franken is in Houston.

He's live there this morning.

And I see some traffic behind you -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the key word there was trying to stagger. I think the response was basically yes, right, I'm going home. And so there's been a steady stream. We took a little tour of Houston last night and it looked like it was coming back to normal.

What was coming back to normal was the presence of gasoline. The lines weren't all that long at service stations. We're just maybe 100 yards from one here and there are no cars there, even though there is gasoline.

People are coming back. They're coming back to a city that has some power problems. This is a city of, a metro area of over four million. About 300,000 homes and businesses are still without electricity and they're working feverishly to return things to normal there, because the temperatures are at the 100 degree mark. As a matter of fact, the heat index has been a little bit above that. So the absence of air conditioning is a real hardship.

Officials are still hoping that some people take their time. They've delayed the opening of schools a little bit. They've asked that all but essential personnel not be ordered back to work by their employers. But so far things have gone smoothly. There have been some traffic backups, but oftentimes they're associated with the usual kinds of things that you find on highways and streets, that is to say, somebody not driving properly or people rubbernecking, that kind of thing.

But, it's certainly nothing compared to that massive gridlock they had on the way out, the evacuation that has caused so much criticism. Although officials say while it was not needed, had it been needed, an awful lot of people who suffered on the highways at least would have been out of harm's way -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Yes, we were just looking at a shot of a traffic accident. It looked minor to me. And there weren't many slowdowns behind it.

You know, the biggest concern is people don't believe the government when they say we have a plan and we're going to stagger traffic, come back at these different times. They're just ignoring the order, which makes you think of the future and when will people ever trust their government again to get it right?

FRANKEN: Well, there was a lot of complaints on the way out. A lot of people said, you know what, next time I'm going to take my chances with the storm, because the plan that the government had did not actually kick in as quickly as possible. And officials here, while saying they believe that a decisive evacuation is the thing to do, are going to be tweaking it a lot, as a matter of fact, to figure out how they can better use such techniques as the counter flow program and that kind of thing, contra flow program.

So, if this is a work in progress, the problem is it's been a work in progress for a long, long time.

COSTELLO: Bob Franken live in Houston this morning.

Thank you.

Hurricane Rita was merciless when it slammed ashore just across the state line from Texas. In some cases, entire parishes and towns have virtually disappeared, including Cameron Parish, Holly Beach and Creole. But there were no reports of deaths in the state.

Governor Kathleen Blanco says the road to recovery has begun. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: Water levels in Orleans Parish are dropping slowly. The Corps of Engineers tells us that they continue to patch the damaged levees. A north wind should drop the water dramatically in the canals and the lake, as well. And this will allow the Corps to resume serious pumping efforts and to get a lot more work done.


COSTELLO: Originally, the Army Corps of Engineers said it might be a month before they got the new water out of New Orleans. Now they're saying about a week-and-a-half the water should be gone, even though the pumps in the city are only at 44 percent capacity.

Governor Blanco also toured the region in a helicopter. She asked the federal government for $31 billion to help in storm recovery.

The governor had the opportunity, too, to speak firsthand with President Bush about that request. He was in Baton Rouge Sunday and got a briefing on the damage from Rita by the governor. He also spent about an hour at the FEMA office there.

Also in Georgia, school is out. On Friday, Governor Sonny Perdue feared Rita would disrupt the flow of gas out of Texas and Louisiana. So he asked public schools to close today and tomorrow as a fuel saving move. He hopes to save some 250,000 gallons of diesel fuel. All but four of the 181 districts agreed.

Still to come on DAYBREAK, lending a helping hand to those stranded by floodwaters. We'll talk with one of the rescuers in the hurricane Rita aftermath. That's later this hour.

Plus, two hurricanes in an oil producing and refining region -- how could this affect your finances over the long-term? We'll have an expert in and we'll ask him.

Also, come heck or high water, retailers in the hurricane zone are determined to keep their doors open.

But first, here's a look at what else is making news this Monday.


COSTELLO: Your news, money, weather and sports.

It's 6:15 Eastern.

Here's what's all new this morning.

Two days after hurricane Rita struck, search and rescue teams scour southwest Louisiana for stranded residents. Up to 1,000 people were rescued in one Louisiana parish alone. In money news, it is expected to be official today, the new TRIOLE mobile phone. It's a combined effort by Microsoft, long time rival Palm, Incorporated and Verizon Wireless. The so-called smart phone will run Windows software.

In pop culture, Demi Moore and Ashton Kucher reportedly are not dating anymore. Instead, they are married. "People" magazine reports that after a two year courtship, they got married in Beverly Hills. She's 42, he's 27. On the guest list, Moore's ex-husband Bruce Willis.

In sports, Jimmy Johnson ran away from the field to win the Nextel Cup Race in Dover, Delaware. Take it away -- Chad.

MYERS: Nice job for Jimmy Johnson and the crew there, obviously. Not such a great day for his partner in crime there. Jeff Gordon hit the wall with a -- I'm not even sure how all of that happened. It was a Jamie McMurray and Tony Raines kind of thing right in front of him and he just got caught up in it. Jimmy Johnson, though, now on top of the leader board for the chase to the Cup. There you go.


COSTELLO: That's the best news yet this morning.

Thank you, Chad.

MYERS: You're welcome.

COSTELLO: Boeing's crippled assembly line may be up and running soon. Details ahead in our "Business Buzz."

And stories from the field -- we'll talk with one of the rescuers pulling people to safety in the aftermath of Rita.

But first, we want to take another look at those Houston highways as evacuees try to go home this morning. So far so good, just that minor traffic accident to deal with.

We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Let's head to the forecast center.

Chad has some news.

MYERS: Yes, just a quick update, Carol.

A tornado warning this morning, not a typical time of day that you get a tornado warning, but you can see the red zone there. That includes Mobile. That includes Monroe and Baldwin Counties. Not particularly the city itself of Mobile, but just north, some of the bedroom communities of Mobile there seeing that.

Go to the view number two right there and we will move that ahead for you. A tornado warning for that area. The tornado is near, radar indicated near Tensaw, moving to the southeast at about five miles per hour. And you'll notice the big red area there just to the north of Mobile. That big red cell there is moving to the southeast and very well may move across the Interstate.

We'll keep you up to date if we do get that confirmed on the ground -- back to you.

COSTELLO: Yes, we'll get right back to you.

Thank you, Chad.


COSTELLO: Time now for a little "Business Buzz."

Wal-Mart, Target and Home Depot say most of their stores have reopened in the Gulf Coast area hit by Rita. Wal-Mart had closed 155 stores. All but 52 have reopened. Target says only five of its stores remain closed. Home Depot closed 46 stores as Rita approached. Only five remain closed this morning.

Members of Boeing's machinists union vote Thursday on a new three year contract. The company and union negotiators reached a tentative agreement on the contract Sunday. If ratified, workers will get an 8 percent signing bonus. Workers went on strike three weeks ago.

Gas prices are actually down. The Lundberg Survey says pump prices dropped about $0.20 a gallon over the past two weeks. The national average for a gallon of self serve regular, $2.81. The lowest prices were found in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at $2.23 a gallon. The highest in Honolulu, at $3.02 a gallon. And I guess you can expect that.

That drop in gas prices could continue, though, since damage from hurricane Rita was less than expected.

Carrie Lee joins us now with a look at Rita's impact on the oil industry.

CARRIE LEE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you said, a lot less than expected as far as damage. That's a bit of a relief for people and for oil prices, as well, which I'll get to in a minute.

Now, the oil fields and refineries in the Gulf of Mexico region that were shut down over the weekend sustained little damage. So this means long-term economic -- the long-term economic impact may be limited.

But it's going to take some time to get back up and running. And it could take a few days to determine the exact damage to oil platforms because most are offshore and underwater.

Now, as for refineries, well, reports are mixed. Exxon Mobil says its Baytown refinery -- and that's the nation's largest -- suffered only minor damage and would be fully operational soon. But Valero Energy said one of its refineries in Port Arthur suffered significant damage.

So what does this all mean for oil prices?

Well, experts expect prices to rise in the short-term, until production gets back to normal. But relief may be on the way, as a dip in prices is expected in November and December, when demand normally weakens. The heating oil season is pretty much over then. And oil traders are reacting this morning. Oil is actually down about $0.50 a gallon, below $64. This, after falling more than $2 on Friday.

And this is, of course, good news for stocks, Carol. Futures are up this morning.

So a good way to start the week.

COSTELLO: Oh, you're not kidding. You're not kidding.

LEE: Yes.

COSTELLO: Thank you, Carrie Lee.

LEE: Sure.

COSTELLO: Appreciate it.

LEE: In about 20 minutes I'll be up talking about Rita's impact on other areas of the economy.

COSTELLO: We look forward to that.


COSTELLO: Thank you, Carrie.

LEE: Sure.

COSTELLO: Still to come on DAYBREAK, a life saving mission. We'll talk with one man who's part of these rescue efforts in flooded Lake Charles.

And later, the hurricane related energy crunch -- we'll get the good news and the bad news on the nation's oil refineries. Carrie will be back to tell us more.

We'll also have an expert coming in to tell us what impact Rita, Katrina will have on prices in the future.


ANNOUNCER: From the Time Warner Center in New York, this is DAYBREAK with Carol Costello and Chad Myers.

COSTELLO: And good morning to you.

Thank you for waking up with us. Chad will have your forecast in just a minute.

Also coming up this half hour, stranded by floods. We'll talk to one of the men leading search and rescue missions through the hurricane disaster zone.

And the oil impact -- refineries mostly spared, but will that have a positive impact on consumers? We'll find out.

But first, now in the news, another deadly day in Iraq. Seven people were killed in a suicide car bomb attack at a Baghdad checkpoint near government buildings. Police say 27 people are wounded. The dead and injured include Iraqi police recruits and oil ministry employees.

A prominent Lebanese journalist has been critically wounded in what appears to be a targeted bombing. The bomb was planted in the woman's car. Hours before the blast on Sunday, the journalist hosted a program about possible Syrian involvement in the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister.

International weapons inspectors plan to announce today that the Irish Republican Army is fully disarmed. Disarming the outlawed IRA has been a long time goal of Northern Ireland's peace process.

To the Forecast Center and an update on those tornado warnings -- good morning, Chad.

MYERS: Hey, good morning, Carol.