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American Morning

Katrina Leaves Devastation

Aired August 30, 2005 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Soledad O'Brien. The devastation of Katrina, catastrophic. And it may be getting worse. In New Orleans, a levee holding back Lake Pontchartrain breaks. Now there is more flooding in downtown New Orleans. The city's mayor describes a desperate scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We probably have 80 percent of our city underwater.


S. O'BRIEN: And as the day breaks, many people still trapped in their homes, some stuck in attics for 20 hours as rescuers are trying to get to them. We're live in New Orleans.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Miles O'Brien, live from Biloxi, Mississippi. A storm surge exceeding perhaps 25 feet has taken a terrible toll here. Thirty people dead in one apartment complex alone. A grim recovery operation underway this morning -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: And then in Alabama, Katrina brings the worst flooding in 90 years. We're in all three states this morning, as the big picture of this catastrophe unfolds on this AMERICAN MORNING.

M. O'BRIEN: Good morning. I'm Miles O'Brien, live from Biloxi, Mississippi. And this is the scene here at Beau Rivage. This is a casino that is popular to hundreds of people. Thousands of people come to visit here. This morning, it is a scene of destruction, as 25-foot storm surge came through here, blasting through this area, flooding out the two top floors of that hotel and casino. Fortunately, it was evacuated.

Not far from where I stand, impassible to us right new because the road here along the beach in Biloxi, sits the St. Charles apartment complex, where 30 people died in the midst of Katrina as it came through. We're trying to get to that location as we can. Police and recovery teams and rescue teams are on the scene right now, trying to do whatever they can and perhaps see if there is anybody trapped alive at that particular place.

But the scene here in Biloxi is a scene of great devastation. No power, no running water. A scene that is repeated all throughout this region as Katrina has left a terrible, terrible wake behind it, perhaps on the order of Hurricane Andrew or perhaps even worse, as far as the total damage. Take a look at Katrina right now. Now, a tropical storm, reduced in its power, but still 50-mile-an-hour winds. Moving up into the Tennessee Valley region today, wreaking havoc there; not on the order we saw here, of course, but, nevertheless, people in that part of the world today should take heed.

But before we do that and talk about the forecast and where Katrina is headed and get back to the story here in Biloxi, we have some breaking news in New Orleans -- Soledad?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, in fact, Miles, throughout the morning, we're going to take you state-by-state to explain the damage.

And we've got a very important development to tell you about during the night. In New Orleans, Louisiana, a levee holding back waters from Lake Pontchartrain's been breached, now dumping water into the downtown area. The breach is said to be about two blocks long. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin says about 80 percent of the city's underwater. It's 20 feet deep in some areas.

Now, no deaths have been officially confirmed in Louisiana. Witnesses, though, say they have seen bodies floating down the river. And the governor says we believe we've lost lives. The governor is also urging those who evacuated the city to stay where they are. They say it's too dangerous to come home yet.

Nearly 800,000 people without power in Louisiana. It's still unclear how many people, though, are trapped in their homes. The homes flooded out now.

Chad Myers. Let's get right to him to talk about this levee break. Chad, explain exactly what happened.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: What happened on the levee break is that, as the water was pouring into Lake Pontchartrain, the storm was actually moving away. As the storm moved away, the water wasn't even getting forced into this canal, but it was actually being pulled out of the canal. And at some point, these earthen canals, one of them gave way.

Now I want you to see Vipir. This is what we can GR-113 for my director. There you go. This is Vipir. This is New Orleans. Obviously, the blue area on top Lake Pontchartrain. Now we're going to get down into the city. There is the city, the squiggly line on the bottom. That is obviously the Mississippi River. The lake on top, Lake Pontchartrain.

Right up here, right up here on the very, very tippy top, where the Old Hammon (ph) Highway Bridge is -- you see the bridge over this canal. Somewhere along this levee -- and I'm not exactly sure yet, because we don't have the light of day aerial pictures -- we had the levee break. That levee break, as it broke, flooded all the way from this canal, the 17th Street Canal, all the way over to the Marconey (ph) Canal. Now, this is City Park right there. That's where all the golf courses are. City park. As I move you down a little bit farther, all the way down even into the Metairie Cemetery, the country club here, all of that water from that break has been flowing down into the city, all the way down into -- from Bucktown, all the way down to Gentilly, all the way down to mid-city, to Carrollton, to Lakeview and the like. This has been a very dangerous situation.

After everyone thought the storm was over, then, all of a sudden, there was more and more water pooling in, just pouring in from that break in the levee. Now, it's not the earthen levee that actually holds the Pontchartrain back from the city. It was just the canal. And they bring ships down, they bring barges down, pleasure crafts go down that canal. And that one little spot by that new bridge broke, and that's when all that water started to flood and all that water started to come up in the city.

S. O'BRIEN: So they obviously have not fixed that breach yet, Chad.

MYERS: Oh, clearly not.

S. O'BRIEN: Does that mean that it's continuing to -- I read at one point that it was rising at about a foot every hour. Is that not the case anymore? Do we know?

MYERS: Army corps of engineers, on the scene, looking at it now. But until they can get it stopped -- and that may be, who knows? That could be a day or two or more to get enough dirt or material in that hole. Now, water from Lake Pontchartrain is going to be going right in New Orleans.

S. O'BRIEN: It is a mess. It is just devastating for the folks there who are already dealing with, as you mentioned, the hurricane. Chad, thanks. We'll check back in with you again.

Let's get right to Adaora Udoji. She's in New Orleans, near the Intersate-10 overpass in the 9th Ward. A rescue operation's underway for that very reason, the break in the levee there. We should mention, Adaora, you're joining us by video phone. The light still really hasn't quite come up. And that's been impacting the kind of work the rescuers can do, isn't it?

ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, no doubt, Soledad. The sun is just beginning to come up. It's been an extraordinary night. We've been standing above where they have been rescuing people by the hundreds all night long. The rescue crews, about two dozen of them, are actually taking a break about now, getting a little rest before the day begins. But you can see where the boats are.

And what's happening is this is an area just north of New Orleans, downtown New Orleans I should say. And there are blocks and blocks of homes that are underwater -- six, eight, ten feet underwater. Many of them up to at least the attic, some of them completely covered. For hours yesterday, many people were trapped in their attic, on the roof. Some had cell phones, some didn't. Some were able to call in for help. Others were literally just screaming for help, hoping that someone nearby would be able to come by and get them out of from where they were trapped. And they were brought in by those boats, by rescuers.

Upwards of 500 people, Soledad. One official estimating that perhaps there are a thousand people somewhere here in this neighborhood. From what we understand, very few injuries. Mostly minor: scrapes, burns, bruises. Some -- one man apparently broke his leg. We're talking about entire families. There were dozens of children, some infants, being taken off of those boats. The oldest victim, we're told, a 97-year-old woman.

They're being taken from here over to the evacuation center. In fact, for several hours, there's at least 50 or 60 people are still waiting for some kind of ride. And you eluded to this earlier, which is how treacherous it is for the rescue workers to be going through this water. And it's not just here. There are also sites -- neighborhoods that are underwater to the west of us and also to the north, in what they call the 9th Ward, which is near the French Quarter. And as the sun comes up, rescuers are going to get a really good sense of just how far and wide the devastation goes -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, when you think about it, Adaora, this is rescue operations that are going on right now. And they really don't have a clear idea how bad it is yet. I mean, the sun hasn't come up. And as soon as it does, which is momentarily, really, we'll have a much better sense across the three states on how bad it is.

Adaora Udoji is with us from New Orleans. Adaora, thanks. We'll check back in with you in a little bit.

Speaking with our affiliate WWL during the night, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin says he has, quote, "a heavy heart." He has no good news, he says, for his residents.


MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA: We probably have 80 percent of our city underwater. With some sections of our city, the water is as deep as 20 feet. We still have many of our residents on roofs still waiting to be repaired. We have firemen, policemen, just about everybody that you can think of out there trying to rescue individuals from their roofs. We have an incredible amount of water in the city. Both airports are underwater. We have -- the twinspans (ph) in New Orleans east have been totally destroyed.


NAGIN: They're gone. We have three huge boats that have been run aground. We have an oil tanker that is also underground that is leaking oil. We have a serious levee break at the 17th Street Canal, where -- the 17th Street Canal is a place where both Orleans and Jefferson Parish both drain their cities. And there's a serious leak and it's causing waters to continue to rise in certain sections of the city.

We have houses that have been literally picked up off of their foundations and moved. The yacht club on the lake has burned -- has burned totally and is destroyed. And I must tell people that are driving around, if you drive on the high-rise, we're not sure of the structural soundness of the high-rise, because it appears as though a barge has hit one of the main structures of the high rise.


S. O'BRIEN: That's the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, really with a litany of the massive problems they face there today. We're not going to leave New Orleans for long. We want to fill you in, though, what's happening elsewhere.

Let's move east now along the path of Katrina. Mississippi, officials there say an estimated 54 people are dead in that state, 30 thought to have been killed in one Biloxi apartment complex alone. The storm surge described as a wall of water more than 20 feet deep. Streets and homes flooded as far as six miles inland. The beach highway buried.

Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway said, "This is our tsunami." Miles is in Biloxi this morning. Let's check right in with him. Miles, it looks just devastating, and the sun's not even up. We really can't get a full picture of how it looks.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, Soledad, the sun is just beginning to rise here. And, incidentally, it looks like a beautiful day, believe it or not, in the wake of this terrible storm. We expect a beautiful sunrise. But look at this devastation. That term, tsunami, does come to mind here as you look at what happened here. Storm surge coming in, 25 feet. It flooded out at least two floors, The bottom two floors of this Beau Rivage Casino, which is where we are, and left behind you cannot believe the amount of flotsam and jetsam.

First of all, I don't know if you can see that roof there. It was taken off of a building that is over here. The remainder of that building is gone. Only the foundation. As you walk along, you see things like taillights from cars that have just been cast aside. You've got -- that's a heavy trash can. I can barely lift this thing up. And it's upended like it was nothing. Obviously, floated away by that storm surge. And just muck everywhere. All these mangroves that have come in here. And if you look up in these trees, you see all kinds of debris up there, giving you an idea of where the high water mark was.

We are about I'd say within a mile of that apartment building you were talking about, where 30 people in one building apparently are fatalities. We can't even get there because the road has been washed out. This is just a little microcosm of what is going on all throughout the Gulf shores right now.

And in particular, what is going on here in Mississippi is causing people to have great pause. It is a city of about 50,000 people. And it is a city that is truly devastated today. That's a term that sometimes we overuse, but in this case, I think applies -- Soledad. S. O'BRIEN: All right, Miles. Thanks. We'll get back to you in just a little bit. As the sun rises, again, we'll get a clearer picture of how bad it is everywhere.

Let's move on to Alabama now. Governor Bob Riley declaring a state of emergency, with parts of southwest Alabama designated as federal disaster areas. Two deaths confirmed in that state; 345,000 people without electricity in and around Mobile this morning. And in the streets of downtown Mobile, underwater. It's the worst flooding to hit that city in 90 years.

Let's get right to Ted Rowlands. He's in downtown Mobile for us. Hey, Ted, how bad is it and what are the big concerns this morning?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, people are waking up here in Mobile to find the downtown flooded out. And as you mentioned, the worst flooding in decades here. But in the grand scheme of things, people in Mobile are also very thankful that 20-foot surge that Miles was talking about, that hit Mississippi -- Biloxi in particular -- did not come to Mobile, but was expected.

That said, the downtown is flooded out and there's significant power loss. The entire city is without power. They have instituted a curfew. Underwater are the streets here. There is also debris everywhere, downed power lines and downed trees. There have been a few deaths in the state. However, no deaths reported in the Mobile area.

An oil drilling platform broke free of its moorings during Katrina's fury, and basically bashed into the Cochrane Bridge, which is in downtown Mobile. They're going to take a look at that bridge. No one is being allowed near the bridge at this point. They don't believe that its integrity is intact. One of the many problems and headaches that Mobile and the state of Alabama will be dealing with, not only for days but for weeks to come.

But as one politician told us overnight, a lot of their thoughts this morning are with their neighbors to the west in Louisiana and Mississippi, where the loss of life is much more significant than it is here.

S. O'BRIEN: Very telling, certainly, Ted, when people look at their own devastation and say, well, it could be much worse. Look at what happened elsewhere. Ted Rowlands for us. Ted, of course, we'll check in with you throughout the morning.

Again, as the sun rises, we're going to get a better picture of exactly what's happening across those three states, primarily affected. There are some images I'm going to show you now, though, of the storm taken by citizen journalists.

The first one is from Calvin Sylvester. He's in New Orleans. And you can see, it shows a car almost completely submerged by the flooding waters. Unfortunately, a story to be told many, many times in this storm. This one's from Shane Rodriguez. He's in New Orleans, as well. The brick garage obviously collapsing. No match for Katrina, the cars inside just crushed.

We want you to contribute to our coverage as well. If you live in an area affected by Hurricane Katrina, you can e-mail your photos to us. Log on to Please include your name and your location and a phone number, too. Obviously, your safety is the most important thing. Don't put yourself in harm's way, clearly, just to get a photo.

Well, our coverage of Katrina's aftermath continues in just a moment. We're going to have the very latest on the economic impact of the storm. Experts say Katrina could be the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Stay with us. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: And welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING, everybody. We are covering the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. We bring Carol Costello in, who will be with us all morning as we continue to really get a better picture of the storm. Also, Andy Serwer, who's got the business angle. And that's a big focus now. The aftermath certainly includes a look at what this is all going to cost and the long-term impact, too. Good morning.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" COLUMNIST: Yes, good morning, Soledad.

The implications here are really traumatic and tremendous. We really don't know the exact cost of Katrina yet. Of course, it's still much too early to tell. A couple things are certain. This is going to cost many billions of dollars and will almost certainly one of the most costly, if not the most costly, storm ever to hit the United States.

Just think about it. First of all, you start up with hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses damaged and destroyed. Then you move on to the fact that the oil and gas industry in the area is so critical. And we're still trying to sort out what the damage is here. Over a thousand rigs and platforms in the Gulf, many of them shut down. We're still trying to sort out and understand -- there's a map of them. You're still trying to understand exactly how many of them are cut loose, what kind of damage is there.

And then, of course, you got the refineries in the region that have been shut down. You can see here the implications to the United States. Gas prices is huge. Already, we're hearing reports of gas prices all across the country well over $3.00 in some areas, which is kind of gouging, if you ask me. It's really ridiculous that prices are that high.

The shipping industry is very critical in that part of the world as well, of course, in the Gulf of Mexico and coming into the port of New Orleans. We don't know how bad the damage is there. We've seen ships run aground. We heard the mayor of New Orleans talking about that.

Tourism, obviously, is going to be impacted tremendously in New Orleans, as well as in the Gulf coast of Alabama and Mississippi. The casinos there are going to be impacted. And, of course, agriculture, which was hit very hard last fall, is also going to be impacted -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Massive, massive mess, I guess, is -- in the short run.

SERWER: Certainly is.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Can we go back for a second to the price gouging? Because I know the price of gas here in Manhattan shot up to, what, $3.15. And then it went right back down.

SERWER: Right.

COSTELLO: So they're...

SERWER: Well, gas stations sort of charge whatever they can, whatever they think people will pay. It's an unregulated business, and to a large degree. And so you're going to see incredible price fluctuations, I think, over the next couple of weeks as this gets sorted out in this business.

S. O'BRIEN: And it will be interesting to see what the final figure is, because it is going to be very, very high.

SERWER: That's right. No question.

S. O'BRIEN: We'll check in with you throughout the morning. Thank you very much. Appreciate that.

Still to come this morning, the search and rescue efforts in New Orleans. The mayor there says 80 percent of the city is underwater. We've got the very latest ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Welcome back. I'm Miles O'Brien, live in Biloxi, Mississippi, in the path, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, where recovery efforts are underway all across this Gulf region. In particular, in New Orleans this morning. As we've been telling you, a levee has broken. Water is rising. There's still a very concerted effort underway to try find people who may be trapped in their homes, trapped in the upper floors of their homes, or on their roofs.

CNN photojournalist Mark Biello last night spent some time on a boat with some people trying to do just that.


MARK BIELLO, CNN PHOTOJOURNALIST (voice-over): In this neighborhood of Edgewood, which is not too far from the dome off of I- 10, there are hundreds and hundreds of homes that are completed flooded and there are hundreds of people that are still trapped in the attics and in their homes. We came across people on the rooftops, people punching holes in the attic spaces because the water has filled up all the way up to their attics.

It is rising. We've seen it rise. It's a slow, gradual rise now. It's not dramatic as before. But that's a big concern, especially with these people that are trapped overnight up in the attic spaces, because literally the air in the air pockets there's no air. We saw people sticking their hands outside through the rafters waiving little tin pans, aluminum pans to signal, you know, or to have some kind of reflection as they were screaming to get them out because claustrophobia sets in, too, of these people that are trapped.

Apparently what I think a lot of the rescue operations and a lot of the people don't realize the magnitude of how many people are still trapped in the attics. They're chopping through with axes on the rooftops to pull people that are literally just breathing the last air in their homes and they're up in the rafters up in the attic spaces.

I think the biggest concern that they have is the survivability of these people that are still trapped which they can not get to this evening because it's just too dangerous to take your boats. The power lines are underneath the water, getting caught up in the props and, actually, some of these lines are hot. And also the gas lines are still bubbling and sending out natural gas. These lines have not been cut off or they didn't have time. I think there is, actually, unfortunately, an anticipation that there could be hundreds of deaths by tomorrow.


M. O'BRIEN: Sobering words from photojournalist Mark Biello, who spent some time on a boat yesterday in New Orleans as there was an effort made to rescue some of those people trapped in their homes. You know, we think the day after a hurricane, the water receding. Where I am standing right now was underneath 25 feet of storm surge here in Biloxi.

This morning, the scene in New Orleans is, unfortunately, just the opposite in some places. A levee has broken, flooding waters of Lake Pontchartrain into the city. We'll give you an update on that situation when we return.