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American Morning

Hurricane Katrina: Relief and Recovery; Hunting for bin Laden

Aired September 13, 2005 - 08:00   ET


I'm Miles O'Brien live from the City of New Orleans along the 17th Street Canal, where there are concerns this morning about the levee system here, added concerns. How much damage has been caused? How will the Corps of Engineers maintain these patches in the system? We'll have a live report and talk to one of the experts coming up -- Soledad.


Tropical storm Ophelia moving at a snail's pace just off the Atlantic Coast, prompting hurricane warnings in the Carolinas. We're going to be live with the very latest.

And senators expected to turn up the heat during the Q&A session with chief justice nominee John Roberts.

Those stories all ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN broadcast center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Miles O'Brien.

S. O'BRIEN: Good morning.

Welcome back, everybody.

Let's get right to Miles, who's got some word on, I guess, what we could the progress going on in New Orleans today.

Miles -- good morning.

M. O'BRIEN: Good morning, Soledad.

It really is a mixed bag. You know, take a look over here. This is the 17th Street Canal here and if you look beyond that flood wall across the way there, that flood wall remained intact. Everybody on that side remained dry, relatively speaking, through the hurricane and has a much better chance of getting back on their feet.

There's the canal there. It's a higher level than what you see over here and that's a key thing. The water here has gone down. It went down six inches just overnight. It went down a foot yesterday. Slowly but steadily going down.

But nevertheless, literally hundreds of thousands of homes are inundated. Take a look at this sand bag here. This is just one of the 7,000 pound sandbags that were choppered in here and dropped in. No less than 2,000 sandbags had to be put on this berm in order to stop the floodwaters.

Now, as you can see, we're walking on gravel here. They came in, they actually built a road. The Corps of Engineers moves pretty quickly, don't they? And they put gravel down so they would have access to this whole thing. And as you can see beyond there, there's additional pumps there that are trying to get some of this water over. They could probably use every pump on the planet now if they could get it here.

Joining me now to talk a little bit about this whole -- the progress here and the process of this patch is Kenny Crumholt.

He is the site manager for the 17th Street Canal.

Kenny, this is, you know, as a layman, the amount of work that's been done here in the course of two weeks is pretty astounding. The idea of putting sandbags in here and this idea working, albeit it's going to take some maintenance, probably was an idea that hadn't been tried before.

KENNY CRUMHOLT, SITE MANAGER, 17TH STREET CANAL: Not that I know of. It was a unique situation where we had to mobilize whatever assets we could get.

M. O'BRIEN: Take a look down there. Pan down there, if you would, Walter, and look at those -- the walls there. Those are just two of the pieces of flood wall that gave way here. We don't know, Kenny, why they gave way yet.

Do you have any suspicions? What's the leading contender here on that?

CRUMHOLT: I have no idea. This system was designed for a category three storm.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. And so beyond that, there could be a design flaw? A barge could have hit it. But take a look over here. You see that big, gaping gap there. There were two homes, at least, in there that have been swept away and there is a barge in that neighborhood. Whether the barge caused it or flowed through, we don't know.

Kenny, as you work here and do your job, these are all your friends and relatives in this neighborhood.


M. O'BRIEN: What's that been like, trying to do this patch and deal with all of that?

CRUMHOLT: Well, you know, the sense of urgency was there. I mean all the contractors and the local agencies, it was all one focused mission to get this closed as soon as possible. M. O'BRIEN: Now, in the London Avenue Canal yesterday they kind of got topped over because some water was released and pumped out. And that's -- that required a fair amount of work.

These fixes, these patches, if you will, are going to require constant maintenance, aren't they?

CRUMHOLT: Well, right. There will probably be another design to come in to secure it better, you know, at a later date. But for right now, we had the pump station able to operate. And as you can see, the water is going down.

M. O'BRIEN: And when you say a more permanent solution, you're talking about long-term permanent? Or will there be kind of an intermediate permanent solution and then maybe a redesign later?

CRUMHOLT: Probably an intermediate solution to give a more stable fix.

M. O'BRIEN: And the fact that you used these sandbags, which we saw over there, those big sandbags, that was designed primarily because it matches the contour of the floor of the canal and made it easier to plug the whole thing up.

The fact that it took 2,000 sandbags, did you expect that?

CRUMHOLT: No, we did not expect it to take that many sandbags. And most of those sandbags were concentrated in one area, on the south side.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

Why is that? Because it was deeper over there for some reason?

CRUMHOLT: It was -- there was a large swallow hole on the south side where the breach was.

M. O'BRIEN: I see. And this whole process of getting in here, we were able to drive up here now because you built this road. There was no access here, was there?

CRUMHOLT: There was zero access. A road had to be constructed from the south side, from the north side of the wall, you know, to get access to the area.

M. O'BRIEN: What was it like when you finally got to the point where you had stopped the flow of the water? That must have been a good moment.

CRUMHOLT: Well, of course, everybody out here felt a lot better. I mean you accomplished something through all the chaos that was out here.

M. O'BRIEN: A levee breach, you know, whether it was anticipated or not, did you ever in your wildest dreams think that one of these flood walls would actually give way? And in this case, actually, in five cases, five separate locations, the flood walls gave way.

CRUMHOLT: No, you never hope it happens. Of course, this was always the worst case scenario everybody painted. But you would never dream that this would happen.

M. O'BRIEN: Kenny Crumholt is the site manager for the 17th Street Canal.

Obviously, not getting a lot of sleep right now. A lot of work. Keep up the good work here as you patch in all these holes and on a temporary and then eventually on a permanent basis.

Thanks very much.

CRUMHOLT: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: As I said, that's the dry side over there, the other side. You know, it's just by luck that it wasn't that side that gave way, because as Kenny told me just a few moments ago, many more people live on that side of this particular flood wall. It would have affected many more people. CNN's Sean Callebs is on the dry side. He's near the French Quarter.

This morning, some troubling reports about the discovery of 45 bodies inside a downtown New Orleans hospital -- Sean, what do we know about that discovery?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Indeed, Miles, very grim news coming out. We know that 45 bodies were removed from Memorial Hospital. Of course, this is the hospital in the heart of the city that was basically surrounded by floodwaters. The coroner is now investigating the cause of death, working with hospital officials.

Now, Tenet Health Care Corporation, the parent company of Memorial, says that they had plenty of food and water for several days and that the hospital evacuated all its living patients by last Friday.

Now, once those last patients were evacuated, then they brought in a private security firm to begin watching that hospital bed. Exactly how these 45 patients died, what they died of, whether they died before or after the hurricane, that all has to be sorted through and officials have to determine.

Meanwhile, about 12 miles to the north of us, Miles, remember the triage unit that was set up at the airport there? Well, it's no longer there. The airport is opening up today. In a matter of hours, the first flights will begin landing in Louis Armstrong Airport, a symbolic gesture, perhaps, only a small percentage of the flights that it used to handle. But still, one more sign that this city is beginning to show signs of life.

And authorities estimate that once they begin and look at all these terminals, it's going to take a great deal of work to get that airport up and running -- Miles. M. O'BRIEN: Sean, I understand yesterday you spent some time, as I did, going door-to-door with some of the many troops that are here in New Orleans doing search and rescue or perhaps recovery operations.

What did you find with them?

CALLEBS: Well, that's a tough job, too.

We followed some troops from Oregon who are down here, walking around in the hot sun yesterday. And basically they were going through these areas that had been flooded. Floodwaters were up very high and had receded somewhat dramatically in just a matter of days. These troops would go up, they would go door to door. And in some cases they were finding survivors. And they said that those people were holding up pretty well.

But, of course, they did also make a grim discovery of some bodies in some houses.

And if you look on some of the houses, you can see some letters painted at times, an X at times. If there is a number at the bottom, that's bad news. That means that somebody died in that house and an investigation will continue to go on there, as well -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: It is a rather grim symbology that you see on many of the houses here, spray painted in bright Day-Glo orange.

Back to you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Miles, thanks.

You know, Sean was showing some pictures of the cleaning up and the cleaned up airport. I've got to tell you, what a different scene. When we were there, you had people really on the first floor where you would enter, you know, in wheelchairs, with I.V. bags, I mean just thousands of people. And then downstairs, you know, where you get your baggage from, people sleeping on the baggage circle, essentially, and then families just laid out on cardboard boxes, thousands of people all down there.

So that clean up, really, it looks pretty remarkable.

Miles, let's talk about another storm now.

This time we're talking about tropical storm Ophelia. People along the Carolina coast making preparations there.

And Chad Myers says anything could happen.


Chad -- good morning.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Certainly. This thing is, Soledad, this has been a wobbler the entire time. And then up and down from tropical storm to hurricane and back, three times. Now it's just a tropical storm at 70 miles per hour. Hurricane hunter aircraft in the center looking for anything now in these squalls. You can see the brightness now that this storm is getting and maybe a little bit of a smaller center. That smaller center means there's maybe a little bit more momentum going on, as well.

It is still a tropical storm. They have not upgraded it back to a hurricane, but that is certainly possible and that, in fact, is the forecast.

Hurricane warnings from the South Santi River right on up to Cape Lookout.

To give you a better idea of where this thing really is, there's Myrtle Beach. There's Wilmington. This is North Carolina. This is South Carolina. The center of the eye -- trying to build an eye. You can use your imagination to find the circle here. It's not completely filled in, clearly. But about 116 miles away from Myrtle Beach.

Now that forecast is for it to turn and possibly get to very close to Cape Fear, which is where we're seeing squalls come onshore this morning. Those squalls bringing with it 40 miles per hour winds already. So that's pretty close, right at tropical storm force winds already onshore with a few of these squalls today -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Chad, why is it a bad thing if it's moving slowly? One would imagine that's a good thing. Or is it just that it just sort of sits around and keeps doing some kind of damage?

MYERS: It depends on the ocean and where the water is. If the water is very deep and warm, like over the Gulf Stream, like where it is now, the Gulf Stream continues to feed warm water, because it's a current and the current keeps going.

So you get warm water, warm water, warm water. If you're sitting over the open ocean where the Gulf Stream isn't, it churns enough that it mixes cold water from the bottom. You need warm water to make it grow. You need cold water to make it go away, so...

S. O'BRIEN: And that's why we're not sure what it's going to do.

MYERS: ... it just depends.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Chad, thanks.

MYERS: All right.

S. O'BRIEN: You want to stay with CNN for complete coverage of Ophelia's path. CNN is your hurricane headquarters.

It's time to get to some of the other stories in the news today with Carol -- good morning, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad.

Good morning to all of you. Now in the news, things could get tough for President Bush's choice for U.S. chief justice just about an hour from now. That's when the Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts resume. Monday's session was devoted mainly to opening statements from Senate Judiciary Committee members. CNN will have live coverage today of the Roberts confirmation hearings with Wolf Blitzer from "THE SITUATION ROOM" at a special time, 9:30 a.m. Eastern.

Human error, not terrorism, is being blamed for Monday's power outage in Los Angeles. The blackouts closed shops and caused traffic snarls for about four hours, but what raised most concerns was the timing. The power failure coming one day after a suspected al Qaeda operative was seen in a video threatening an attack on Los Angeles.

But the city's police are reassuring residents they are safe.


CHIEF WILLIAM BRATTON, LOS ANGELES POLICE: This city is as prepared as any in America to not only respond to, but more importantly, in many respects, to detect, intervene and prevent acts from occurring in the first place.


COSTELLO: As for the blackout itself, it turns out workers accidentally cut some wires. So it was a really big oops. Power has been restored to almost all customers now.

And a plea deal in a case involving late night host David Letterman. Kelly Frank was originally charged with plotting to kidnap Letterman's toddler son, but that charge was dropped as part of a plea. In exchange, Frank pleaded guilty to over charging Letterman for painting his Montana ranch. He's been sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined almost $10,000.

Back to you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: He's been -- he's going to 10 years in prison for over charging for painting?

COSTELLO: That was the plea deal. Not a great one for him.

S. O'BRIEN: Wow!

OK, Carol, thanks.

Still to come this morning, more on Katrina's aftermath. We're going to hear from the Army engineer in charge of repairing New Orleans' levees. He says the damage is actually much worse than we all thought.

And then later, my conversation with Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf. Where does he think Osama bin Laden is hiding? A look at that is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.


M. O'BRIEN: Sunrise just to the east of the 17th Street Canal flood wall and patched levee. Take a look at this sand bag. This weighs about 7,000 pounds, a little more than a typical SUV. It's one of about 2,000 sandbags that I'm standing on right now, many more than they anticipated, required to patch this huge hole in this flood wall. There should be walls just like that right where I stand right now.

This is responsible for a tremendous amount of the water that still inundates so much of the City of New Orleans, the outlying areas. We've seen a lot from the French Quarter and the center district. They're on the dry side of this flood wall. The wet side is still very wet, indeed.

Yesterday I had an opportunity to spend a little time talking with the man in charge of the Corps of Engineers for the New Orleans District.


M. O'BRIEN (voice-over): The Army's top engineer for the New Orleans District took command only six weeks before Katrina hit.

(on camera): Eight weeks ago now you were in Korea.

COL. RICHARD WAGENAAR, ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: Right. Just before that, I had just come home from Korea, correct.

M. O'BRIEN: Welcome to your new job.

WAGENAAR: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN (voice-over): A good thing Colonel Richard Wagenaar is surrounded by a lot of smart underlings who understand the convoluted web of ancient contraptions designed to keep New Orleans low and dry.

(on camera): Well, I suspect it would take longer than six weeks to really understand what is a very complicated, in some cases, kind of rickety system, quickly, right?

WAGENAAR: Very complicated, a very challenging system that probably could have used an upgrade before the storm and definitely needs one now.

M. O'BRIEN (voice-over): We walked along the patched section of the 17th Street Canal flood wall. It was the gaping breach that covered much of New Orleans in water. The hole plugged with huge sandbags, some of them weighing as much as two SUVs.

(on camera): So no one had ever tried to plug a breach like this with these bags?

WAGENAAR: Never, ever.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

WAGENAAR: Never ever.

M. O'BRIEN: Were you surprised it worked or were you pretty confident all along?

WAGENAAR: I was pretty confident it would work. It took a lot more sandbags than we thought it would take.

M. O'BRIEN: Do you know how many?

WAGENAAR: I'd have to estimate this hole right here, well over 2,000.

M. O'BRIEN (voice-over): And now the task is pumping the city dry, or dewatering, in Corps of Engineers parlance. And Colonel Wagenaar is becoming impatient.

WAGENAAR: So it's probably dropped a little over a foot in 24 hours, which is good news. I mean I'd like it to drop a lot more, but it's -- you can only do so much so fast.

M. O'BRIEN: Three times faster if a key pumping station was up and running. But the vintage 1920 pump motors were inundated by Katrina and will not be baked dry and restarted for at least two more weeks.

(on camera): If you had it on, this would be gone by now?

WAGENAAR: It would be much closer, much closer, if we could have gotten it on. It would probably -- we wouldn't see water here. There may be water in some of the deeper parts that it's pulling in, but we wouldn't see water right in here right now.

M. O'BRIEN (voice-over): And as time goes on, he worries more and more about what the foul putrid water is doing to house after house, neighborhood after neighborhood.

WAGENAAR: Considering what's in the water and how bad it's really been and the length of time they've been underwater, I don't know, I'm not sure that they can be repaired or cleaned or anything. It's -- I mean it hurts the soul. I mean it really does.

M. O'BRIEN: How many houses do you think might be unsalvageable?

WAGENAAR: I've heard estimates of 160,000.

M. O'BRIEN (voice-over): Julie Maggio is one of those people.

JULIE MAGGIO, RESIDENT: I just can't believe that the levee just broke.

M. O'BRIEN: She came to see her home, or what's left of it, for the first time on this blazing hot afternoon. MAGGIO: I've seen it on the Internet and didn't cry. I didn't get emotional. But seeing it all in person, I think it just hit home. You know, whenever you're away, you say you just want to go home. There's no place to go home to.

WAGENAAR: I mean this is going to be the next tragedy right here, when these people try to come back when the water is gone.

M. O'BRIEN (on camera): It's coming.

WAGENAAR: It's coming. And it's -- in the next week or two, someone is going to have to figure out how they're going to control and deal with the people's emotions as they try to get in here.

M. O'BRIEN: I hope they're putting some thought into that.

WAGENAAR: I do, too.


M. O'BRIEN: Live pictures now. As you take a look, the water has gone down about six inches since we were here yesterday.

I'm standing right on this patch, on this sand bag, well, Band- Aid, if you will, on this flood wall. And these are just some of about two dozen pumps in this general vicinity right now. This is actually considered a small one, believe it or not, Soledad. This is an 18-inch pump that is drawing water out of that neighborhood slowly but surely, part of the whole effort to, as they say, dewater New Orleans.

It's a big job ahead and even once they're done, there are so many questions that remain -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Miles, I've got to tell you, that pump looks small to me. I mean when you think about the amount of water that still has to come out, even though it's obviously a big pump, they've got a lot of work to do.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. I'll show you a little bit later the 30-inch pump, which has been on the air so many times, showing that really nasty water coming out of it. That's about twice as big as this one.

But the truth is the real big pumps, the pumps that can really do the job, are the ones that the city has in place. And most of them right now remain out of commission this morning. They still haven't gotten that old pumping system for the city up and running like it should be.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, kind of a catch-22 there.

Miles, thanks.

Still to come this morning, my conversation with Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf. Find out why he says his country is actually winning the war on terror. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: More than 170 presidents and prime ministers are converging on New York now for a three day summit at the United Nations.

Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, is among them. And I spoke with him on Monday and asked Mr. Musharraf whether he thanks Osama bin Laden is hiding in his country.


PRES. PERVEZ MUSHARRAF, PAKISTAN: I can't say. I can't say for sure. I can't say yes, I can't say no.

S. O'BRIEN: Do you think he might be? Do you think?

MUSHARRAF: Possibly. Possibly.

S. O'BRIEN: Some people might say well, after four years and 75,000 troops...

MUSHARRAF: Well, who knows that he's there? I think he's in Afghanistan. But have the U.S. forces been able to get him?

S. O'BRIEN: So you think he's in Afghanistan?

MUSHARRAF: Possibly. So that's what I said, that he could be there. He could be in Pakistan. We are trying our best, so is the U.S. forces and the coalition is trying its best.

S. O'BRIEN: The head of the CIA, Porter Goss, as you probably know, has insinuated, with all due respect, that you are the weak link, that Osama bin Laden, he believes, is in Pakistan and that you are not making his capture happen.

How do you respond to those allegations?

MUSHARRAF: I totally disagree with that if he made that allegation. But in any case, there are CIA representatives around in the area, in Pakistan, in Afghanistan. None of them has said this to us.

S. O'BRIEN: Do you think...

MUSHARRAF: Nobody has said it. And, of course, it's a very -- it's a very naive statement, if anyone has made that.

S. O'BRIEN: If anyone has other than...

MUSHARRAF: You know, a person who really knows the realities would never make such a statement. And those who are there and who know the realities, none of them has said this.

S. O'BRIEN: So the head of the CIA doesn't really know the realities?

MUSHARRAF: I wouldn't like to comment on that. I've said enough.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's talk about terrorism, then.

Do you think the war on terror can be won?

MUSHARRAF: In Pakistan we're already winning.

S. O'BRIEN: You've won the war on terror or you're winning?

MUSHARRAF: Not won, we are winning. We are on the winning side because the al Qaeda has been neutralized. They cases to exist as a homogenous body. We have broken their vertical and horizontal communication linkages. They're on the run.

S. O'BRIEN: The bombers in London went to Pakistan.

MUSHARRAF: OK, now, again, these are the misperceptions that you in the West have. If a boy has been born in London and 20 years he stays there, he comes to Pakistan for two months, you think for...

S. O'BRIEN: For a religious education that may be very heavily linked...


S. O'BRIEN: ... to extremism...

MUSHARRAF: Even if you can really...

S. O'BRIEN: ... and possibly terrorism.

MUSHARRAF: You mean...

S. O'BRIEN: Yes?

MUSHARRAF: You mean to say for 20 years he was an angel and in these two months he got indoctrinated? Is that what you think? Is that really what you think? And what about the two others who did not come there? How did they get indoctrinated?

S. O'BRIEN: So when you see things like that, you don't think that that's a problem that you have?

MUSHARRAF: No. There is a problem. I'm not at all saying there is no problem.

S. O'BRIEN: But you're winning the war on terror?

MUSHARRAF: There is a problem, but we need to address it with intelligence, with prudence.

S. O'BRIEN: What kind of role do you think the war in Iraq is having? MUSHARRAF: Well, in the Muslim world, it is having negative effects.

S. O'BRIEN: It's creating new terrorists?

MUSHARRAF: It is having a lot of negative effects and from the Arab world, yes, indeed, there are a lot of people who are going into Iraq for terrorist activities.

S. O'BRIEN: So you think the war in Iraq is wrongheaded by the president of the United States?

MUSHARRAF: No, I wouldn't get into the reasons. But the effects that it has created are negative.

S. O'BRIEN: What does it look like (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

MUSHARRAF: And, also, I would like to add on, so the Palestinian dispute. Now that happens to be at the core of everything. Resolve the Palestinian dispute, because I think it has indirect effects on everything that is happening there, whether it is Hezbollah in Lebanon or Syria or whatever is happening in Iraq. Everything has its linkages with Palestine. Resolve the Palestinian dispute.

If you don't solve Palestine, any amount of action by forces will not suffice.

S. O'BRIEN: Is the White House doing enough to...

MUSHARRAF: I hope so. I had discussed these issues with President Bush in the past. And I think he does understand. And I have even gone to the extent of saying I think the United States and the president of the United States, it happens to be you, Mr. President, I told him, have the key role to play. If you don't play this role, you will let the world down. And that's the reality.


S. O'BRIEN: President Musharraf will be meeting with President Bush this week to discuss the Mideast and many other issues. He's also going to be meeting with the American Jewish Congress to help advance the Middle East peace process, he says.

Let's get right back to Miles and back to New Orleans -- Miles, good morning again.

M. O'BRIEN: Thanks very much, Soledad.

In a moment, we're going to speak to a local news anchor who has worked for 30 years in this market and unfortunately missed the story of a lifetime, as Katrina blew in.

We'll talk to her in just a moment.