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American Morning

Bush Visits New Orleans; Lessons Learned From Hurricane Hugo; Palestinians Move Freely in Gaza Strip

Aired September 12, 2005 - 07:30   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: By the way, off in the distance there, that's the Crescent City connector bridge. To the right, you see the amphibious assault ship, the Iwo Jima where the president is right now. There's some helicopters buzzing overhead. Part of the president's security detail.
But I pointed out to you the elevation. That's an important point here, being 15 or 20 feet above. First of all, this is the highest point of the city. About a hundred yards from where I stand right now is a New Orleans picture post card, Jackson Square. And this berm (ph), this levee I'm standing on right now is a lot of the reason that scene right there has been well preserved.

As we have been telling you time and again, the French Quarter, and many of the historic things as you as a nonresident of New Orleans associate with this city, remain largely intact. They still have a lot of work to do to clean up. They've got to get some power on. The real trouble remains in the neighbors. The neighborhoods you don't visit as a tourist where, in many cases, even though the water has receded tremendously, there's still a tremendous amount of water left. So there's a lot of work to be done here but a lot of what makes New Orleans, New Orleans is still here as well.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Miles, thanks.

Some of the military, in fact, taking part in that big cleanup. More than 70,000 U.S. troops are working in the hurricane relief effort providing food and medical care and security, helping with cleanup as well, as I said. Let's get right to Barbara Starr. She's live for us at the Pentagon this morning.

Barbara, good morning.

Of that big list I just read, what's a priority do you think? BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Soledad, this week, one of the big priorities is to start spraying for any mosquito on-borne diseases. In fact, the Air National Guard this evening plans to begins using its C-130 aircraft to do that spraying over New Orleans, begin the effort to get rid of any disease from mosquitoes that may be a result of all of that standing water.

Now President Bush, as we have said, expected to get briefed later this morning by his two top officials on this effort. Vice Admiral Thad Allen, Lieutenant General Russel Honore, all on board the Iwo Jima. General Honore may have some good news for the president because the search goes on, of course, for survivors and for those who may have perished in this flood in New Orleans. And General Honore now indicating that it may not be as bad as everyone feared. He spoke yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition."


LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, HEAD OF MILITARY RELIEF EFFORT: I think from talking to the city officials and communicating with the parish presidents, I think all intuitively we are saying that number will be much lower. But we will know because we will start the detailed search. And if you give us two or three days, there's this is a number of 10,000 that was spoken of earlier that everybody is going to be happy to be wrong about.


STARR: What General Honore is indicating is that terrible figure that people had given out of the possibility of 10,000 dead. It may now be quite lower. They've conducted a number of searches. They've established a number of databases trying to assess how many people were there, how many got out. The people in these centers across the country.

Now, Soledad, let me just add I can I tell you, we were on board the Iwo Jima last week in that briefing room where the president will be briefed on this. Very simple proceedings there. It is a Navy amphibious warship. Not very fancy. The president going to get briefed about the nation's largest national disaster in one of the most simple settings the military has to offer.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Probably fitting with the disaster that he will then be walking through for the rest of his day. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon for us this morning.

Barbara, thanks.

Let's get right back to Miles in New Orleans.

Miles, it's nice to see the sun kind of coming up. We get a better look what's behind you.

MILES O'BRIEN: Yes, it's a beautiful morning here in New Orleans. I'm just a few blocks from where you stood on Canal Street. And driving in here, you know, it's a strange combination, as you know, of tremendous amount of damage and yet you see a lot of lights on all of a sudden, you see people out and about. In the French Quarter there was actually a bar open and there were people having a good time, believe it or not. So there is signs of life here.

Still, a tremendous amount of work to do. We have not yet seen some of those neighborhoods that are most inundated. We'll be checking that out a little bit later today. As will the president when he gets his opportunity to tour.

You can bet that governors, mayors all over the country and in these hurricane-affected regions in particular are watching very closely and taking no chances the next time. In this case, the next time could be Ophelia. The governor of North Carolina has pre- positioned 200 National Guard troops just on the off chance that Ophelia could cause some problems there in North Carolina.

But, Chad Myers, as it stands right now, Ophelia is a bit of a sluggish storm, isn't it?


CHAD MYERS: It has been looping around, making three separate loops, Miles. One down in the Bahamas, one east of Savannah and another one actually overnight. This storm is in the exact location that it was 48 hours ago. It traveled up, over, down and back and that's where the storm is here.

So, yes, it has been a looper. It's been in some colder water the past couple of hours because the more the wind just blows the warm water around, you start to dig up some deeper water that is colder, obviously. They call that upwelling (ph). But there's the latest loop that it just did. And it is forecast to go to the west then turn to the right. Possibly somewhere between Cape Lookout and Edisto Beach. That's where the hurricane watch and tropical storm warnings are located.

Now you will notice here, this is our spaghetti map, as we call it. There are still some of the models taking it into South Carolina. A few of them turning it hard to the right and some even harder to the right into the Atlantic Ocean. That one, obviously, then just spreading out there toward the northeast. That would be the best spot.

It's 68 in New York City. Look at a live shot from New York City today. You warm up all the way to 91. Some haze in the sky today. In fact, New York City, you're hotter than Atlanta! Atlanta only 88.

Miles, I'm looking over your right shoulder over there. Is that an aircraft carrier there behind you?

MILES O'BRIEN: It's an amphibious assault ship, Chad. You and I would probably look that it and say, hey, that's an aircraft carrier. It essentially moves Marine expeditionary units into theaters. And, at this point, is home to the president. He is waking up there, is probably already awake, and will be having a briefing with local officials in just a little bit.

You know, we were talking about the lessons learned. We've been talking about the lessons learned from Katrina so much and how governors and mayors and local officials and federal officials have learned a lot from Katrina, we hope. Our next guest learned a lot from another storm back in 1989, Hurricane Hugo, which at the time was the most costly storm ever to strike landfall in the United States. Mayor Joseph Riley, the mayor of Charleston, South Carolina, is our guest now.

Mayor, when you look at Katrina, do you say to yourself, I've been through that, done that, and I've already learned those lessons?

MAYOR JOSEPH RILEY, CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, much of it. Of course, the scale of Katrina and the exact devastation, the type and the scale of it, is beyond what we experienced from Hugo. But hurricanes are a natural disaster where the similarities are great. And for us and I think any time you have to see it is an opportunity for service. One you never want, but we have the chance, when our citizens need us the most, to give them the help and the leadership and help them get through a horrific experience and then quickly build for the future.

Citizens need help and they need hope. And the hope is that with these horrific experiences that the human spirit and the American system has the capacity to build things back and make them better than they were before. You have to believe that. And then you have to do everything you can as your citizens' leader to make that dream a reality.

MILES O'BRIEN: The sad fact is, Mr. Mayor, as you found out firsthand, is that frequently what happens is a bureaucracy kind of rings out that desire to help because it gets so bogged down. You have a story to tell about as the eye of Hugo passed over Charleston and you were talking to some officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and it was kind of revealing what they said to you?

RILEY: Yes, the eye was over city hall. Our command center. And we'd been beat to hell already and the eye was there momentarily. And I said what is one bit of advice you can give me here at this moment? And he said, make sure you account for all expenditures. And that's the bureaucratic mindset that fits the long-term recovery, but what our country still doesn't have I can't wait to testify before Congress again is, we need the capacity for the immediate response because citizens, when the power's out, when the water's gone, when the bridge is out, when their homes are gone, where their future is at stake, when their neighbor might be dead, they need help immediately. It's a military-type response. It has to happen. There has to be a general ready dispatching the troops with the water (INAUDIBLE), with the tanks, with the planes, with the helicopters, with the National Guard just like if the enemy attacked.

It's like a war. I always told our people, you ratchet up, and the enemy is right over the hill. And if we let up for one moment, and if we don't get the help we need, the enemy's going to get us. You can't let up. And our country needs an immediate response system, which we do not now have.

MILES O'BRIEN: We certainly don't and we have seen that.

You know that story you tell would be funny if it wasn't really so tragic because it has led to a tragic conclusion here certainly. The way to fix that, though, is to dismantle FEMA as we know it or make FEMA the bookkeepers, if you will, and have this rapid response team, which would be sort of a departure from the way this country is operated. Do you think it's high time we did this?

RILEY: Yes, it is. And I said, back during Hugo, what you have is, you have this war-type, immediate devastation that the military has the resources to deal, because that's just as if the enemy attacked a beach head and everything is out, what did you do? You bring in the corps and the CBs and the Marines, and the Army, Navy, and Air Force and you put that stuff back right away.

So we have the capacity to do it. You need a general in charge. Not overstepping the mayor or the governor but say we've got the resources. See, I knew I could see Katrina coming. I saw it. I plot (ph) it. It was coming right there aiming for Bay St. Louis. I understood. Our police officers, we put them on the road right away in Charleston, a convoy.

We had a FEMA official castigate us for leaving too soon but I knew. We had 55 police officers with all our equipment, air boats and water buffalos (ph) and generate (ph) heading down because we knew what was going to happen.

Well, the national government knew that. And if you had that system the general would say, OK, get the planes ready, we got all of these airports on alert, we got all of these troops ready to go, we got the National Guard alerted, we got the water buffalos going. We're going to send them into Bay St. Louis. We understand the levee system in New Orleans. We know what Gulfport and Biloxi's going to get. We seen the storm surge. We've see you have the capacity to do it.

There's no reason for our citizens in America to have this devastation occur and not waste an hour, a minute, a day. Lives lost. The emotional devastation is great and then businesses are harmed, are ruined because what could of been a day getting power back is a month or the child that didn't have the Pampers or the food, you know, gets sick. It's every minute counts. The enemy is just over the horizon and just as we would if it was a war, these are our people and we need to get the help there immediately.

MILES O'BRIEN: Mayor Joseph Riley, we are out of time with you, but you wouldn't be a bad director of FEMA yourself, I think, sir, but I guess you enjoy your job there as mayor of Charleston, South Carolina. Thanks for being with us this morning.

We're going to check some other news now. Carol Costello is in with a look at the headlines.

Good morning, Carol.


Good morning to all of you.

"Now in the News."

Gaza back in the hands of the Palestinians this morning. The first day in almost 40 years. Senior International Correspondent Matthew Chance is live in Gaza City.

Matthew, bring us up-to-date.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A very windy day here in Gaza City, Carol. But I can tell you it's a very historic day as well because it's the first time in 38 years that the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip have been able to move freely up and down this narrow, densely populated area of land because today Israeli's military finally left the Gaza Strip, leaving the 400 or so kilometers or square miles or so to be populated by the Palestinians. Great scenes of joy as many thousands of Palestinians ran into the areas that were abandoned by these Israeli military, the Jewish settlements that they protected for so many years have been largely demolished by the Israeli security forces before they left.

They did leave some structures standing, though, including the Jewish synagogues there. The Israeli cabinet voting against the Israeli military demolishing them. And so very unpleasant scenes on the international media as Palestinians venting their anger on these buildings, these Jewish synagogues, seen by many people, remember in this part of the world, as hated symbols of the Israeli occupation. Images the Palestinian authority did not want to see broadcast on television sets around the world.

They say Israel should have demolished its own synagogues. In the event it was left to the actual Palestinians themselves. We got ran through that first of all using sledge hammers, later bulldozers. That process not yet oven then.

A lot of joy, a lot of anger being vented as well, but also a lot of concern that what will follow. Whether this really will be the end of the Israeli occupation in the Gaza Strip or whether it will just be a new kind of occupation, a new phase.

Carol. COSTELLO: Matthew Chance live in Gaza this morning.

Days of tough questioning ahead for Judge John Roberts. The Senate Judiciary Committee will begin confirmation hearings today on President Bush's nominee for chief justice. Senators will make their opening statements at noon Eastern. Roberts will speaks later this afternoon. Today's hearings, as I said, begin at noon Eastern. Stay with CNN for live coverage as opening statements get underway.

Doctors now on the lookout for disease outbreaks in the aftermath of Katrina. They're watching for signs of viral infections in people who had contact with the filthy flood waters and are now living in close quarters. In the long term, doctors are concerned about Typhoid, Tuberculosis, and Hepatitis A, which has an incubation period of 30 days.

A bit of bright news now. I know you saw it, the New Orleans Saints win one for their fans back home. And I guess home is all over the country right now. The Saints' John Carney kicked a 47- yard field goal with just three seconds left. There it is. Finishing off a 23-20 season opening win over the Carolina Panthers. The people dedicated the game to the people in the Gulf Coast. Their first so-called home game is against the Giants next week. It will be played in New Jersey. But, boy, what a moment. It was so dramatic because they were winning through the whole game and then at the last second Carolina came back and then New Orleans came out to win one.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: It wasn't to be for Carolina.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: New Orleans took it way.

Carol, thanks.

Still to come this morning, a sign of progress in New Orleans. This time we're talking about the city's airport. Andy's got a look at that in business news just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

In business news, bankruptcy and back in business. Andy Serwer's got a look at that as he minds your business this morning.

Good morning.


We're talking about Delta Airlines first of all. And we've been talking about this for weeks and months. "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting this morning the airline could file for bankruptcy as early as this week. The papers reporting the nation's third largest carrier is negotiating with creditors right now. Of course, Delta has had a horrible time of it, Soledad, over the past four- and-a-half years. It has lost $10 billion. And, of course, higher fuel prices over the past couple of months have really pushed them close to the edge. A spokesman from Delta this morning telling CNN no decision has been made yet.

Some good news, though, on the airline front to report this morning. Louis B. Armstrong Airport, that's New Orleans' airport, is opening for business. Open for cargo flights this morning. All important Federal Express planes should be making its first landing this evening. Passenger traffic tomorrow. They're expected to do about 30 flights a day down from 174 flights a day before the hurricane. And they expect to do about 60 flights a day by the end of October, which doesn't seem like a lot but I guess the real question is, what kind of demand will they have?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Right. I mean it's got to be workers coming in . . .

SERWER: Right.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: And building the infrastructure. But I've got to tell you, they had a lot of work to do on that because they had all those people camped out. I mean it was . . .

SERWER: Oh, that's right.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: It was . . .

SERWER: Yeah. They were using it as a shelter.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: It needed a lot of cleanup both inside and then outside, too. So I think starting small is probably a good idea for them.

SERWER: Sounds right.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: All right, Andy, thanks.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, workers from a famous World Trade Center restaurant rebuild their lives and their livelihood four years after the tragedy. We've got their story just head on AMERICAN MORNING.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: More than four years after the 9/11 attacks, a new restaurant is opening. While it's not replacing the World Trade Center's famed Windows on the World, it is an venture that for many truly began on that fateful day. Valerie Morris has our report.


VALERIE MORRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): The famed Windows on the World restaurant, atop the World Trade Center, offered high-end ting and the most breath-taking views in all of Manhattan. And then 73 workers from the restaurant were among the thousands who died on September 11th.

The remaining employees have stuck together, mourned their fallen colleagues and tried to rebuild their lives.

Fekkak Mamdouh, a Moroccan-born waiter at Windows on the World was set to work the late shift on September 11th. Shortly after the attacks, he co-founded the Restaurant Opportunity Center of New York, in part to train and find jobs for displaced workers and also to help support the families of those who died.

FEKKAK MAMDOUH, CO-FOUNDED, ROC NEW YORK: I'm doing this because I was supposed to die on 9/11 and I didn't. And this is like a paying back to the (INAUDIBLE), paying back to my community in which the restaurant workers.

MORRIS: The center quickly grew into an advocacy group for restaurant workers rights in an industry that they say takes advantage of its large immigrant population.

MAMDOUH: We have to fight for all the 165,000 restaurant workers all over the city. The people that have no place to go when there is a need, when there is abuse, when there is wages they are not paid. They are mostly immigrants, 70 percent is born outside this country, but they deserve exactly the same life like everybody else.

STEFAN MAILVAGANAM, RESTAURANT PROJECT MANAGER: Signify the world and coming together of many different people in this restaurant.

MORRIS: From this idea was born their biggest challenge to date opening their own high-end restaurant. Located about 20 blocks from where the towers once stood, getting it opened has presented some major hurdles. Not the least of which, using a cooperative business model where everyone from bus boy to head chef is part-owner.

MAILVAGANAM: You know, I had a full head of hair before I started. No, I'm just kidding. I was bald to begin with. But it has been so stressful on some level because you don't know. We've had our ups and downs with trying to understand what worker democracy means and, you know, what decisions could be made in a group, what decisions can't be made.

MORRIS: After almost three years of planning and delays from funding problems, construction began on the restaurant called "Colors" this past June and it will open to the public next month. It is the end of a long journey that, for many, truly began on 9/11.

MAMDOUH: It means that a dream come true for people that's worked together before 9/11 and those (INAUDIBLE) and now the family is getting back together. September 11th was a big it was a lesson to me. If it happened at 2:30 or 2:00, I would be gone. This is all like free time that I'm living, so why not chance something? I will rest in peace. That's what it means to me.

MORRIS: Valerie Morris, CNN, New York.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN: "Colors" is located in New York City's Greenwich Village and it's going to open to the public on October 1st.

Let's get right back to Miles in New Orleans this morning.

Hey, Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN: Hello, Soledad.

Coming up on AMERICAN MORNING, the president of the United States will make his first on the ground tour of the heart of New Orleans since the storm two weeks ago today. We'll give you an update on what the president may see when he takes that trip ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.