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American Morning

Katrina: One Year Later; Tropical Storm Ernesto; Accused Polygamist Arrested; Struggling To Rebuild; To The Rescue

Aired August 30, 2006 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.
We're reporting to you live from St. Bernard Parish in New Orleans. Want to show you the scene behind me. You can see the devastation. Sadly, this is a typical scene. Homes that are sort of half in the process of being torn down and gutted as the homeowners are trying to figure out what they should do next.

Like other parts of New Orleans, here in the parish they have many questions that need to be answered before they can move forward. We're going to update you on what's happening here as we return to St. Bernard Parish just about one year later and a day after the one year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Thank you very much, Soledad. Back with you very shortly.

Ernesto is not what it once was, but Florida is still feeling its effects. Heavy rain drenching much of the peninsula right now. Ten inches in some places. There's worry about flooding. CNN's John Zarrella watching things for us from Miami.

Hello, John.

JOHN ZARRELLA: Miles, that certainly is the concern now as Ernesto lumbers up, the peninsula here is flooding. Five, possibly 10 inches of rainfall in some areas where the heavy drenching downpours from the squalls come ashore.

Now we are here in Miami and you can see the marina behind me. And that's Biscayne Bay out in the distance. Behind that, Miami Beach, famed South Beach area. The clouds rotating still in that counterclockwise direction.

Now the big concern, of course, yesterday was that Ernesto would intensify. And as it did so, with that counterclockwise rotation, would push a surge, perhaps three feet or four feet, up into Biscayne Bay and cause some problems here. But as you can see, no problems at all here in Biscayne Bay or in the Miami area.

There were, unfortunately, a couple of fatalities. One up in Boca Raton, another in Miami. A motorcyclist and a woman in a car in two separate accidents. Seven thousand people in Florida reported right now by FPL to be without power. But that's out of 4.4 million Florida Power and Light company customers.

So all and all, folks here really breathing easier this morning that Ernesto did not do what forecasters feared it might, and that's intensify. So again a minimal tropical storm. Windy, gusty. A few sprinkles of rain here in Miami. But all in all, good news for the folks in south Florida.


M. O'BRIEN: Thank you very much, John Zarrella. We're glad that that is the report there. The concern now, as we head over to the severe weather center and Chad Myers, is that what happens to Ernesto once it heads out to sea, if it heads out to sea.

Chad, first of all, is it all but a sure thing that eventually it's going to get over the Atlantic?


M. O'BRIEN: Warren Jeffs, a polygamist and a prophet to his followers, an accomplice to rape to the FBI, finally behind bars this morning. He was picked up in a routine traffic stop Monday night near Las Vegas. Authorities say he arranged marriages between older members of his sect and underage girls. CNN's Ted Rowlands live in Las Vegas with more details on all of this.



Warren Jeffs spent more than a year on the run and more than four months on the FBI's top 10 most wanted list. And thanks to an alert state trooper, he is in custody this morning.


ROWLANDS, (voice over): The FBI's manhunt for the prophet Warren Jeffs came to an end Monday night just north of Las Vegas when State Trooper Eddie Dutchover pulled over this burgundy 2007 Cadillac Escalade.

EDDIE DUTCHOVER, NEVADA STATE TROOPER: The vehicle didn't have no plates on it. It had a temporary registration.

ROWLANDS: Jeffs, according to Trooper Dutchover, was in the backseat. His brothers, Isaac Jeffs, was driving. In the far back, sitting alone, was one of Jeff's wives, Naomi.

DUTCHOVER: Naomi was -- didn't say much of anything. She was just kind of being quiet.

ROWLANDS: Troop Dutchover says he immediately noticed both brothers were nervous. He said Warren Jeffs was looking down eating a salad, but his neck artery was pumping so hard the trooper said he knew something was wrong. DUTCHOVER: I noticed Warren was extremely nervous. He was sitting (INAUDIBLE) behind the right front passenger side and wouldn't make eye contact with me.

ROWLANDS: Trooper Dutchover separated the brothers and questioned him. Isaac Jeffs told him they were headed to Utah. Warren Jeffs said they were going to Denver, Colorado.

DUTCHOVER: There was a major discrepancy between their stories.

ROWLANDS: At that point, the trooper called for backup, they searched the SUV. The troopers found three wigs, three iPods, several pairs of sunglasses, and more than $54,000 in cash tucked inside the lining of the suitcase. They also found cell phones, computers, a Bible and letters addressed to the prophet Warren Jeffs.

DUTCHOVER: The guys on my team said, that looks like him. I think we've got him. I think that might be Warren. I think that, you know, after they removed his hat, they said, I think this is him.

ROWLANDS: Asked for identification, Jeffs only offered a contact lens receipt from another state that identified him as someone else, authorities said. Isaac Jeffs told troopers his brother's name was John Findley (ph). But when the FBI showed up, according to Trooper Dutchover, and asked Jeffs his name, he told them the truth.


ROWLANDS: And now Warren Jeffs is expected to be in court here in Las Vegas Thursday morning. At that point, it should be decided where he'll be off to next and whether or not he'll find extradition. There's a tug of war going on now between the states of Arizona and Utah to see who gets a crack at him first. The charges in Utah are a bit more serious. He faces a potential five to life there and just six years in Arizona. But that has not been decided which state will get him first.


M. O'BRIEN: Ted, is there any word, any statement at all from his religious sect about this arrest?

ROWLANDS: We have not heard anything official out of the sect at all. In fact, we have been expecting maybe some visitors here at the jail. We have not seen anybody come in and we have not heard of anybody coming to visit him. That is expected to change over the next day or so as word gets out.

Technically, they're not supposed to now that Warren Jeffs has been caught because they're not supposed to monitor the media. But, obviously, word will spread. And at that point I'm sure we'll get lots of reaction.

M. O'BRIEN: Ted Rowlands in Las Vegas, thank you very much.

Now to Soledad in St. Bernard Parish. Hello, Soledad.

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

You know, in the last year we've spent a lot of time in St. Bernard Parish coming back because we wanted to monitor just how things are improving, if they are, and what the progress is like here. Parts of this parish were under 17 feet of water in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. And when people first started coming back, they told us it was a total loss. They said they would have to leave the parish and never come back. So we are back to take a look at how things have changed after a year.


S. O'BRIEN, (voice over): It's rare, but it is happening. Homeowners who lost everything in St. Bernard Parish are coming back.

It looks like the neighborhood is coming back. Are you surprised?


S. O'BRIEN: Are you shocked?

KELLUM: Yes. Never thought it would be this way a year ago? No. I felt like when I first saw it that -- I didn't know what I thought.

S. O'BRIEN: But you didn't think you were going to move back?

KELLUM: No, I thought our house had to be torn down.

S. O'BRIEN: The Kellum's are back with their four year old daughter Alayna (ph).

KELLUM: My husband said for Christmas there will be a tree in this house. I don't know if we'll be living in it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You just can't imagine the extraordinary force that a billion gallons of water has coming over . . .

S. O'BRIEN: Last year, we walked through this same devastation with Sheriff Jack Stephens.

SHERIFF JACK STEPHENS, ST. BERNARD PARISH, LOUISIANA: Things don't look a whole lot different. I mean right ways (ph) are cleaned and, of course, a lot of the houses that are here have been gutted and people are attempting to get their lives back in order, but it just seems like an excruciatingly slow process.

S. O'BRIEN: The levees, overtopped by an estimated 20 feet of water when Katrina roared through, have been strengthened. But only 10,000 to 12,000 people are back in the parish of the 70,000 who lived here before Katrina hit. There are signs of progress everywhere. Remember we showed you this house 11 months ago. There are other questions about just how much of their house is worth saving.

Today, the owners say they plan to move back in by December.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just want to get it cleaned up so we can come back home.

S. O'BRIEN: And take a look at this. With its manicured lawn and perfectly edged flower beds, this house is like a little oasis, reminding people how beautiful Day Bushel (ph) Boulevard used to be. But that's the exception, not the rule. The rule is empty and abandoned houses, piles of debris that bring rats and snakes.

A year ago, we met Rachel Kestling (ph), breaking down her door. Now volunteers have gutted the inside. It's far from perfect, but it is better.

Sheriff Stephens worries about anything that could drive the fledgling recovery away, a growing crime problem, 10-foot weeds surrounding abandoned homes.

STEPHENS: I have to take care of the people that are here. This is the most liberated time of my political career. I have no political ambitions. I'm going to do what I think's best. And if people don't like it, I don't care.

S. O'BRIEN: But he can't solve the huge infrastructure problems. A brief rainfall means flooding. There's limited electricity and sewage service. Some contractors are charging ten times what they did before Katrina. There's sadness and depression.

STEPHENS: I could go to three funerals a week for local residents and most of those are seniors. Although we have seen a spike in attempted suicides and suicides.

S. O'BRIEN: Optimists point to open schools. And homes once worth $350,000 are selling for $100,000 or $70,000 or $50,000. And people are buying them and moving back in. Sheriff Stephens says money could solve this problem, but the nation's attention seems elsewhere.

STEPHENS: We feel like we've been let down again. That we think that Mobile, Alabama, Gulfport, Mississippi, Biloxi, Long Beach, Waveland, Ocean Spring, Slidell, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, New Orleans, Calpashu (ph), Cameron are all worth more than Baghdad.


S. O'BRIEN: He's not the only person who says frankly this is a problem where you could throw money at it and solve it in a very big way and solve it quickly.

One note -- a good note, I should say, is the schools here in St. Bernard Parish. The superintendent here getting ratings of A plus because of what she did to bring the students back. They went from having zero to 3,400 students now in classes. There were 8,800 before the storm struck. We'll take a look ahead this morning at what's happening in the school districts across the city.


M. O'BRIEN: Thanks, Soledad.

Some other heroes of Katrina, those brave Coast Guard chopper crews who saved more lives in a day than most would in a career. Dan Lothian straps in with one Katrina tested crew a year later. You're going to want to see this ride.

And more details on that deadly plain crash in Kentucky. The FAA violated its own rules and that might have made the difference between life and death. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Happening this morning.

A string of bombing across Iraq leaves at least 47 dead. The worst attack at Baghdad's largest outdoor market. Twenty-four dead there.

South of Baghdad, a suicide bomber on a bicycle rigged with explosives, posing as a would-be army recruit. At least 12 killed, 38 wounded in that attack.

U.S. Marines accused of war crimes in Iraq face a hearing today in California. Two Marines facing charges they dragged a civilian from his home in Hamdaniya and killed him last spring. Five others facing charges as well.

The cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah still holding and U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan trying to keep it that way. Meeting today in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Annan is pushing Olmert to end that Israeli blockade of Lebanon.

In London, three more charged in that plot to blow up planes headed to the U.S. They're accused of conspiracy to commit murder and planning to commit terrorism.

Back now to Soledad in St. Bernard Parish.

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

The true hero, many people have said, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard coming in fast and furious. Even members from hundreds of miles away. This morning, AMERICAN MORNING's Dan Lothian reports on some members who responded from Cape Cod and Dan takes a look at rescuers from both sides. Here's his report.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): Hovering a helicopter 20 feet above a traumatized victim bobbing in the water is no easy task. Jumping from the helicopter to rescue the desperate victim is even more challenging. Rescue swimmer Matthew O'Dell did that over and over again in the wake of Katrina, saving more than 200 people.

MATTHEW O'DELL, COAST GUARD RESCUE SWIMMER: We did a lot of roof top extractions. Actually going into houses, going into apartment buildings.

LOTHIAN: We joined O'Dell and other members of his Cape Cod Coast Guard unit for a typical day of training. For this exercise, I became the victim. But before we could launch . . .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Matt's going to take good care of you. You're in good hands.

LOTHIAN: I had to pass the test. Swim 100 meters. Tread water for one minute. Then escape from a simulated helicopter upside down under water. Fit to fly, we went through a series of mock sea rescues, first over a grassy field, then out over the water.

We're now headed about a half mile to a mile off the Cape where I'll be lowered into the water and get a chance to feel what it's like to be rescued from a sinking boat or a flooded neighborhood.

Getting ready to go in wasn't bad.


LOTHIAN: Going in, was intimidating.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And he is in the water.

LOTHIAN: The rush of cold water shocks the system. Even in this relatively calm ocean, wearing a mask and snorkel, it was sometimes difficult to breathe and stay calm.

In just minutes, there is a rescue swimmer who finds me, snags me and drags me to the virtually invisible hoist line. In this exercise, he helps to lift me into a rescue bucket. Then I'm lowered onto the deck of a Coast Guard vessel. Dangle in the air again, I'm finally rescued for the day.

The U.S. Coast Guard and rescue swimmers saved more than 33,000 people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. At the height of the storm, they were rescuing 100 people an hour. The majority of the victims plucked to safety in buckets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was actually a lot of women with infant children. And you would put them in the rescue basket together.

LOTHIAN: The rescue swimmers of air station Cape Cod say that although they are based thousands of miles away from the area decimated by Hurricane Katrina, they will never forget their challenging missions and the victims. THOMAS OSTEBO, COMMANDING OFFICER: I think what we walk away from Katrina with is, yes, we did a good job. A lot of people proud of us. But those of us who are self-critical in the Coast Guard, we know that there's places we can improve and we're doing that.

LOTHIAN: Dan Lothian, CNN, Cape Cod, Massachusetts.


S. O'BRIEN: Of the 200 people that Cape Cod unit rescued, about 100 of them were children.


M. O'BRIEN: They are the heroes. All right, thank you very much, Soledad.

Coming up, keeping New Orleans low and dry. One year later, how safe are those levees and flood walls and pumps. The Band-aids are there, but the long-term fix is not. We'll show you where the gaps are.


BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm bob Franken in western Puerto Rico where the surfing is very famous. A little bit further out, more and more Cubans are coming out of the surf. We'll have that story when AMERICAN MORNING continues in a moment.


M. O'BRIEN: Are you feeling a little richer? How about 1.1 percent richer, maybe, Andy? Is that about right?

ANDY SERWER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's about right. Yes. And there's nothing wrong with that.

M. O'BRIEN: There's nothing wrong with that.

SERWER: I mean and that's inflation adjusted too.

M. O'BRIEN: Don't spend it all in one place, people.

SERWER: Yes, right.

Some striking new news and numbers out of the Census Bureau, Miles, to tell you about. And as you suggest, household incomes rose for the first time in six years. The first time since 1999. Median household income, $46,326. And that is 1.1 percent up. Inflation adjusted from 2004. This is 2005 numbers, of course, we're talking about. And you can see here, this is the first increase.

Now, what about the poverty situation in the United States? Twelve point six percent of Americans are still living below the poverty line. That's just slightly below last year, which was 12.7 percent. Thirty-seven million Americans out of the a population, of course, somewhere around 300 million, not budging much. And that's the first year without an increase, however. So that's some slightly good news there.

Now, of course these numbers, as you might expect, have become a political football. Immediately the Republicans taking credit and saying, look, things are going great here. Democrats saying, well, most of the gains are going to older people and the gap between the rich and the poor in this country is widening. The top fifth getting 50 percent of all income. The biggest slice since 1967. Also the number of Americans without health insurance climbed for the sixth straight year to 46.6 million, which is really a very, very large number.

So, you know, you get these kinds of numbers and you can torture the data until they scream. And that will be done by the politicians because that's what they do.

M. O'BRIEN: Lies, damn lies and statistics, of course.


M. O'BRIEN: But the important one there is the gap is not at all shrunk.

SERWER: That's true. And that's unassailable, I think you have to say. So that becomes a problem potentially for the Republicans as we head into the election and possibly some ammunition for the Democrats. Interesting to see if they can make any hay out of that.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. We'll see how it is spun. What's next?

SERWER: Next we're going to be talking about one of the most famous vessels that has ever sailed the seven seas. Not really. But we're talking about the Minnow from "Gilligan's Island."

M. O'BRIEN: A three hour tour.

SERWER: Yes. And, believe it or not, she has been restored and she is for sale. So you don't want to miss that.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow. I want to bid on that one.

SERWER: Better take your $46,000 and . . .

M. O'BRIEN: We could make that our set when we go to three hours because we have a three-hour tour every morning.

SERWER: I'm liking that.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. All right. Coming up on the program, top stories. Including the race to contain a huge wildfire out west. We'll tell you why firefighters are worried it could get a lot worse.

Plus, a horse stuck in the mud. But this palomino and a few pals . . .

SERWER: Get up. Get up.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, I guess we - now you know the end of that story. Oh, well. I was going to say, wait till you see what happens. But you know what happens now. Stay with us. We'll give you details. How's that?

SERWER: Yes. Yes.


M. O'BRIEN: Welcome back to the program. I'm Miles O'Brien.

S. O'BRIEN: And I'm Soledad O'Brien.

Miles, we are coming live to you from St. Bernard Parish. We're on Florida Street. It's an area, because of the storm surge, that was absolutely walloped. And you can see, as the light improves a little bit, we can show you some live pictures of the slabs. All that is left of some of the homes here in St Bernard parish. Other homes have a little bit more debris.

But really you can see, this is the same exact thing that we showed you a year ago. So not a lot of progress made on some fronts. And yet, at the same time, there are some homes where, like the home behind me, they're doing some work. They're trying to start gutting. Gives you a sense that maybe the guy in this house, at the very least he's gutting. Not sure whether he's going to come back and move back in, but it is a first step. Some people are pointing to that as signs of progress.

We'll get into all that's happening in this parish as we return just about a year later.

A big concern for the folks over the last couple of days was Tropical Storm Ernesto. They were concerned that the little steps they had made towards progress, that those would be completely wiped out if the tropical storm turned into something bigger, and in fact, if it bore down on the New Orleans area once again.


M. O'BRIEN: We still don't know why the captain of that Comair jet in Lexington, Kentucky taxied his plane to the wrong and fatally short runway Sunday morning. But we do know the control tower was not properly staffed. Could another set of eyes save those lives -- or eyes, I should say, save those lives?

CNN's David Mattingly reports.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): CNN has learned when Comair flight 5191 crashed after taking the wrong runway, there was only one air traffic controller on duty, a violence of FAA policy. We've also learned that they started out in the wrong airplane. Nine months ago, the FAA ordered the Tower of Lexington to be staffed by two controllers, one to handle radar, the other to guide traffic on the ground. Instead the controller on duty before dawn on Sunday was doing both jobs alone.

According to federal crash investigators, the controller last saw the Comair jet on the taxiway in front of the tower, and was not watching the ill-fated takeoff.

DEBBIE HERSMAN, NTSB: He had cleared the aircraft for takeoff, and he turned his back and performed administrative duties in the tower.

MATTINGLY: The FAA only allows for a single controller in Lexington if radar duties are turned over to air traffic control in Indianapolis. That did not happen.

But sources tell CNN that even with two controllers in the tower, there would have been no guarantee the deadly disaster could have been averted. Officials now say most of the 49 killed died of blunt force trauma. Family members of the lone survivor, First Officer James Polhanki (ph), released a statement.

DR. ANDREW BERNARD, UNIV. OF KENTUCKY HOSPITAL: We would particularly like to extend a heartfelt thank you to the city of Lexington and its public safety officials, especially Lexington police officer Brian Jarrod (ph) and Blue Grass airport safety officers John Selle (ph) and James Mobben (ph), whose heroic efforts saved Jimmy's life.

MATTINGLY: The NTSB allowed cameras to the scene of the crash. Pictures show the aircraft coming to rest in an area, tall grass and weeds. Large pieces of the plane were severely burned by the intense fire after impact.

(on camera): According to the NTSB, turning on to the wrong runway was not the first mistake the crew made that morning. Upon arriving at the airport, the captain and first officer entered and turned on power in the wrong airplane.

(voice-over): A ramp worker alerted them to the mistake. The NTSB will continue to reconstruct the activities and behavior of the crew in the 72 hours leading up to the crash.

David Mattingly, CNN, Lexington, Kentucky.


M. O'BRIEN: The heroic, sometimes tragic, sight of Cubans on rickety boats and rafts risking their lives to make their way to freedom in Florida is now being transformed. Now more and more of them are heading to the United States through a back door.

AMERICAN MORNING's Bob Franken joining us from Puerto Rico with an explanation.

Hello, Bob.


We are on the very western side of Puerto Rico. IN back of me, you can see it's very small and tall. Every once and a while a refugee comes here. But somewhat further out is a tiny piece of real estate where many Cubans are making their stop away from home.


FRANKEN (voice-over): Mona Island is a tiny speck on the map, a wildlife refuge. Even though it's less than 40 miles from the Dominican Republic, it's part of Puerto Rico, USA. And it has become the destination of choice for Cubans who are allowed to travel to the Dominican Republic and be smuggled a shorter distance to United States territory.

(on camera): Under the so called wet foot/dry foot policy, once the refugees are able to escape past the patrols and the surveillance and set their feet here, they are allowed to stay in the United States and seek asylum.

MIGUEL NIEVES, BIOLOGIST: Usually they come early in the morning, and the first stop is my house. So they knock on my door -- good morning, sir. We're Cubans. We are asking for a political asylum. That's the word most of the time they say.

FRANKEN (voice-over): The U.S. governments says that since 2002, the number of Cubans coming this way has more than doubled each year. Thousands have made it, and now Coast Guard cutters, as well as boats and planes from several homeland security agencies are scouring the waters.

In fact, Tuesday morning, they caught up with a boat carrying 11 refugees.

But it's a game of cat and mouse.

LT. ADAM CHAMIE, U.S. COAST GUARD: They use methods to conceal themselves, such as a blue tarp. You put a blue tarp on top of a small boat out here in a million square miles of water, it's very, very difficult to see.

FRANKEN: And the smugglers often pile 70 or 80 in one of these small boats. No one has an accurate count of the drownings, but in December 2004, at least eight died in spite of rescue efforts by the Coast Guard.

But when refugees are captured or rescued, U.S. authorities routinely destroy their vessels, one less boat to take Cubans to Mona Island.


FRANKEN: We watched the interdiction, hovering over it with one of the Blackhawk helicopters involved from the Customs and Border Protection Service. And while dramatic, one of the things that everybody complains about, Miles, is they have a lack of resources. They cover not just a million square miles out here, but a million and a half -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, thank you very much, Bob Franken. Interesting.


S. O'BRIEN: But you know, there is a little bit of a bright spot. If you have kids in school or kids who are going to be heading back to school any time soon, well then they have a lot in common with the children in New Orleans, but that's what the comparison stops. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's try begin again -- begin.


S. O'BRIEN (voice-over): The Mettard H. Nelson (ph) charter school has a new beginning, too. Formerly a New Orleans public school, it became a charter school just before the storm.

JONATHAN WILLIAMS, DIR., UNO CHARTER SCHOOLS: I was principal, as I jokingly say for five days prior to Hurricane Katrina from august 22nd to the 26th.

S. O'BRIEN: New Orleans failing school system was notorious even before Katrina. The state had taken over five schools. Now more than 100 are part of what the state calls the recovery school district. One is Mettard H. Nelson. About 250 students are in pre-K through eighth grade, and teachers are dealing with reading, writing, arithmetic -- and recovery.

SUNDY BARJON, GUIDANCE COUNSELOR: They experience the same trauma, the same grief. They're not sleeping. They may have nightmares.

S. O'BRIEN: The teachers are Katrina survivors as well.

BARJON: We have teachers that houses was promised to be ready, and they're not. So now furniture may be in one place and they're sleeping someplace else, and yet they get up every day and come to work and they provide instruction.

S. O'BRIEN: And the children, many of whom had moved out of the state temporarily, and now live in FEMA trailers, are thrilled to be back.

JAZ MORTON, FIFTH-GRADER: I just felt so excited. I was so happy I was -- that she told me that we was going home. And I'm thinking I'm going to meet new friends and everybody. I was happy. I was jumping up and down.

DEDRON LAWSON, FOURTH-GRADER: I just wanted to come back to school, and I really love it here. But I felt like I want to stay.

S. O'BRIEN (on camera): You want to stay?

LAWSON: Yes, I like this is the right home I need to be in. This is the right school.

S. O'BRIEN: Tell me about your favorite teacher and what you like about them.

KENNARD DAVIS, EIGHTH-GRADER: I ain't even going to fall into that trap right there.


DAVIS: I'm not trying to set a death trap or get an 'F' in this class. I like every single one of my teachers. I think they do the best of their ability.

S. O'BRIEN: You know you have a future in politics, right?

DAVIS: My whole family knows that.


S. O'BRIEN: Oh, the kids at the school completely cute. And you know, you see the smiles on their faces, it's a really encouraging thing, but as you well know, Miles, the school system is a piece of the infrastructure puzzle, and if in fact you can't bring the schools back, it's hard to bring the families back, because the families want to enroll their children somewhere. Some of the people who are not back in the parishes or back in -- the other parishes, not just here in St. Bernard, say they don't really want to come back, because they don't want to take their kids out of a place where they're finally established and safe, and they're getting a sense of normalcy -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Wow. That young man is something. Is he, by any chance, the class president.

S. O'BRIEN: You know, I think in eighth grade they don't have a class president yet, but he will be certainly in high school, I predict it.

M. O'BRIEN: I predict he'll be running for president in about 2040. So let's watch him.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, how cute was he?

M. O'BRIEN: Let's keep watching him, all right. Thank you very much, Soledad.

Still to come on the program, New Orleans battered levees, and flood walls and pumps. The Army Corps of Engineers has had an incredible year of trying to just put band-aids on. The band-aids are on, but does that make anybody feel safe, because there really isn't a long-term plan for a real fix. We'll tell you about that, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: At first, we all said it, New Orleans dodges a bullet. But on the day after Katrina ripped through New Orleans, it became clear the worst was still on the way. The flood walls were falling and the water was flowing, and it just didn't stop. But now, a year later, is it all fixed? We took an aerial tour. The man in charge of a massive rebuilding campaign.


M. O'BRIEN (voice-over): New Orleans then and now.

COL. RICHARD WAGENAAR, ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: This is 17th Street. This is probably the most infamous of all the breaches, I think.

M. O'BRIEN: A year later, the band-aids are in place.

WAGENAAR: That roof here is probably the safest structure on the canal.

M. O'BRIEN: But the patchwork of levees, flood walls and pumps cobbled together over the years offers no guarantees.

(on camera): I got to say, just looking at those narrow walls doesn't give you a lot of confidence.

WAGENAAR: No, and frankly, that's why we have taken the steps we have to protect from surge.

M. O'BRIEN (voice-over): This is Colonel Richard Wagenaar. He heads the Army Corps of Engineers office here, and has guided an $850 million patch, plug and improvement campaign aimed at bringing the flood-control system back to pre-Katrina levels.

Those narrow flood wall-lined canals are now shielded by double layers of flood gates and pumps. The idea, to keep a storm surge at bay, away from those unsafe walls.

(on camera): How much confidence can we have this whole thing is going to work?

WAGENAAR: Oh, I'd say 100 surge protection will work. We do have problems with the pumps.

M. O'BRIEN (voice-over): In fact, they vibrated so much, they'll have to be replaced, and the flood gates are not quite done. When a storm is on the way, huge cranes will have to be called in to lower them.

If it sounds iffy, it is, but that isn't stopping Cheryl Thibodeaux (ph) and her boyfriend, Paul Smith, from cleaning up her wrecked house, literally in the shadow of the 17th Street floodwall. (on camera): A lot of people that don't live here would have a hard time understanding why you want to live right beneath that wall, given all that has transpired.

CHERYL THIBODEAUX, LIVES BEHIND 17TH ST. CANAL: This is where I grew up. I mean, I lived in this bowl all my life, whether I'm five feet from the wall or five miles from the wall. I mean, we're all flat in the middle of the bowl. If this falls, we're all going to get it.

M. O'BRIEN (voice-over): To the south and the ground zero of the flood wall failure, the industrial canal, right next to the Lower Ninth Ward, here the thin wall that collapsed is now replaced by a much more stout line of defense.

(on camera): But you know, a chain is as strong as its weakest link. There's still a lot of weak spots, aren't there?

WAGENAAR: There are some. We're pretty confident that the walls along the inner harbor will hold. If they get over the top, which the pumping stations will have to get that water out of the city, but we're pretty confident that the walls are going to hold.

M. O'BRIEN: Of course, what are you protecting anymore?

WAGENAAR: Correct. This is supposed to give confidence to come back and start rebuilding, if that's what they want to do.

M. O'BRIEN (voice-over): But there are other reasons for concern . Check out the gullies in this new earthen levee, east of town, that protects St. Bernard parish.

Environmental scientist Ivor Van Heerden says that is a sure sign of weakness.

IVOR VAN HEERDEN, LSU HURRICANE CTR.: And those levees failed catastrophically because of the waves, even before Katrina made landfall. Well, the Corps has done a great job of rebuilding them with soil, but there's no grass on them, there's no armoring, and so those, if we had another wave field, would really erode.

M. O'BRIEN: But the Corps has no money for that now. The armoring will have to wait for the next phase of work, which will includes building big pumping stations, like this one, at the end of the canal to further shield the thin flood walls and the city.

But what lies ahead after that is anyone's guess. One year later, there is no consensus, no comprehensive plan to offer a cohesive defense against future Katrinas.

SHERWOOD GAGLIANO, ENVIRONMENT SCIENTIST: There's a tendency to fall back in the old routine. And this restoration is such a massive program that you lose the seven-day-a week, 24-hour-a-day sense of urgency.

M. O'BRIEN: Fifty-three years ago, the Dutch had their Katrina. In just a year, they had a massive plan to protect their country.

VAN HEERDEN: Within four years, they had built large parts of their major flood control systems.

M. O'BRIEN (on camera): It's a year later.

WAGENAAR: It's a year later.

M. O'BRIEN: We're still waiting -- why?

WAGENAAR: It is an enormous disaster. I still, to this day, do not believe -- unless you've spent a lot of time down here, that people have a true understanding of the huge -- or the enormous disaster that is at hand.


M. O'BRIEN: Now most everyone agrees the real long-term fix, one way or another, involves taking a look at the whole region and helping rebuild Mother Nature's storm breaks, barrier islands, wetlands, swamps. Over the years, all those efforts to redirect the Mississippi and channel it, make it navigable and habitable nearby have made matters worse for all those wetlands by starving them of the sediment- rich water project that keeps them alive. So it's a big project, and it will take time.

Up next, Andy, "Minding Your Business." Stay with us.



M. O'BRIEN: Our top stories are straight ahead. Stay with us.