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Paula Zahn Now

Interview With Congressman William Jefferson; Hurricane Ophelia Pounds North Carolina; Interview With North Carolina Governor Mike Easley

Aired September 14, 2005 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. Glad to have you with us.
Tonight could turn into a slow-motion disaster for the people of North Carolina. At this moment, Hurricane Ophelia is lashing the state's coast. The storm is moving so slowly, the wind, rain and flooding will last for hours, a storm surge of up to nine feet expected. As you might imagine, we are having a very hard staying in touch with meteorologist Rob Marciano. He and his crew have actually lost the ability to transmit. We are going to get a live update as soon as can.

But let me tell you what we know at this hour. The fact is that, right now, the biggest concern is, this storm may dump as many as nine to 11 inches of rain. Along the coastal areas, evacuations have been ordered in parts of six counties. And that's something we're going to continue to keep an eye on tonight.

But, even as Hurricane Ophelia pounds North Carolina, the Gulf Coast is reeling from the effects of Hurricane Katrina. Here's the very latest at this hour.

The confirmed overall death toll from Katrina now stands at 708; 474 of those people died in Louisiana. And just a few hours ago, a pair of low-flying military helicopters surveyed the New Orleans suburb of Chalmette, where the floodwaters drained off only in the last day or so. The helicopters are helping soldiers on the ground search for possible survivors and for the dead.

Now, just minutes ago, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco told state lawmakers she's determined to rebuild New Orleans.


GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: To anyone who even suggests that this great city should not be rebuilt, hear this and hear it well. We will rebuild.



ZAHN: The lack of cooperation among federal, state, and local agencies continues to be a problem tonight. Vice Admiral Thad Allen, FEMA's point man in the disaster zone, made his own plea this afternoon.


VICE ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, U.S. COAST GUARD: Whether you're a person or an agency, whatever you're doing, if you have concerns and they're not stated where somebody can act on them, that's just going to fester. And I, as the principal federal official in this response, am encouraging any leader that wants to talk to me about real or perceived problems of what's going on out there to do that.


ZAHN: Louisiana is getting lots of attention, but we mustn't forget that Mississippi's coast is also paralyzed. This afternoon, we received some stunning new pictures from a town once called Long Beach. Even though it's nearly two-and-a-half weeks since Katrina hit, this is what Long Beach looks like today. This town of 17,000 is completely devastated. Authorities are surrounding Long Beach with four-and-a-half miles of rolled barbed wire fence. It's to keep out potential looters and because they think as many as 100 bodies might still be buried in the rubble.

There are health concerns all over the disaster area. Look at these pictures of Lake Pontchartrain, easy to pick out the brown sludge. It's the water that's been pumped out of New Orleans. It contains E coli bacteria and lead, although the concentrations aren't as high as officials had feared. New Orleans' air is a concern as well. Tests show elevated levels of the chemicals found in gasoline and antifreeze.

Full mail service has resumed in more than 80 percent of the post offices affected by Hurricane Katrina. The U.S. postmaster general says 100,000 people have filed change-of-address forms because of the hurricane.

We take -- quickly back to North Carolina, where we are watching the effects of Hurricane Ophelia already hitting the coastline. As you can see from these pictures, we're able to quickly establish contact now with Rob Marciano, because of the winds that are already blowing there.

And I guess the picture says it all. Rob, what can we expect?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, you're right about that.

Winds, rain, and sand now blowing horizontally. I think we're on the northern fringe of the eye wall of this thing, a very large eye, about 50 miles in diameter. So, we're really just waiting for this to let up a little bit, maybe punch through that eye, so we can get into some calm weather. But so far, that hasn't happened.

Take a look at some video we shot earlier this evening when the tides were high and the surf was pounding. But this pier goes about 80 yards into the ocean. And the back 20 yards of it just completely ripped apart, floated away, swallowed by the Atlantic Ocean, just unbelievable to see the power of Ophelia, yes, only a category 1, but the ocean has an unbelievable force. That's for sure.

We have other issues with this storm. By the way, the tide has gone out somewhat, so that surf not quite as high as it was, even though the center of the storm is closer to us. Other issues with this storm, storm surge inland. There are bays on the backside of the barrier islands of the Outer Banks of North Carolina that have been filling up with water for the past two days with a persistent east wind.

And the rivers that dump into those sounds are going to have a high storm surge also. We have had wind gusts to hurricane strength, but that is about it. So, wind damage has been minimal. Beach erosion has been high. They keep dumping sand on these beaches about every five years. And the ocean just keeps ripping them away. What's different about this storm and the topography of North Carolina as compared to, say, the Gulf of Mexico, most the barrier islands have sand dunes that would take an eight- to 10-, maybe 12-foot storm surge to break through, and that's not forecast with this storm.

But, Paula, a very slow-moving storm and the coastline of North and South Carolina just been getting pounded for the past few days, and it's not over yet. That's for sure. We're just starting to feel the center part of this storm. It will go on probably for another day. In the meantime, we hope to get into some more calm weather, hopefully getting into the eye of this storm, but so far, that hasn't happened.


MARCIANO: ... North Carolina.

ZAHN: Rob, I don't even -- I don't even know if you can hear me because of all the wind, but what has been your experience with folks being evacuated? Do they seem to be taking this seriously?


You know, I will tell you, they've had six counties which have had mandatory evacuations, and 60 shelters that have been set up. And according to the managers, yes, they've been filling up. So it seems, even though this is only a Category 1 and even though North Carolina is an area where they get a lot of hurricanes, that Katrina fresh on the minds of residents here and folks are taking it pretty seriously. That's for sure.

ZAHN: All right. Stay safe. Rob Marciano, thank you so much for that update.

Just a short time ago, I talked with North Carolina Governor Mike Easley and asked him what he was the most worried about tonight.


GOV. MIKE EASLEY (D), NORTH CAROLINA: Well, at this point, we're concerned because the hurricane is getting stronger. It's gotten more intense. They think it will probably move to a Category 2. However, we have planned for that all along. But more than that, it's moving so slowly forward. The forward speed is only about seven miles per hour. That gives it so much more time to drop rain and gives it so much more time to create power. I say a power -- a storm surge with those winds, because they stay in place for so long.

When you get a big storm surge like that, that's when you get inland flooding. And then, when the winds change, they come back out. Low-land floods, those that are prone to flooding will flood, and then you get the Outer Banks get hit from the backside.

ZAHN: I know you called for the mandatory evacuation of parts of six counties. Are those people moved out?

EASLEY: Pretty much. Most of them are. We hope that the rest of them will get out of there. The storm is mostly -- as I say, it's moving slowly.

So, those in the northern end have more time to get out than those in the southern end of the state. And that's where we think we're going to see more landfall of the eye of the hurricane, but probably about midway through. People are listening to us pretty well here. They generally do. There are always those who are hardheaded and stay behind. And we have to try to find a way to go back in and get them.

But this time, when these high winds get here, we cannot go back in and get people. So, they need to pay attention to us this time.

ZAHN: Governor, it's striking to me, when I see the amount of help you have on the ground, even in advance of this storm hitting. Walk us through the numbers very quickly, National Guard soldiers in place and other federal resources.

EASLEY: Well, we have 410 National Guard soldiers in place.

We have them in four different staging areas, creating a fifth one as we speak. We have 460 of our state highway patrolmen down in the Eastern counties, 61 shelters open. We want to give people no excuses not to evacuate. These are the things that we want in place with our swift-water rescue teams and our urban search-and-rescue teams, all ready to go as soon as the wind passes.

ZAHN: What is the most painful lesson you learned from watching what happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina?

EASLEY: Well, I think the most painful lesson is, if -- if you don't take proper steps to prepare, you pay a terrible, terrible penalty. And your people do. Your state does. And the country does. And that's why we work so hard at preparation here.

ZAHN: Governor Mike Easley...


ZAHN: .. good luck to you tonight and over the next 48 hours.

EASLEY: OK. Thank you, Paula.


ZAHN: And we want you all to stay tuned with CNN for the very latest information on Hurricane Ophelia.

And we, of course, are still trying to come to grips with the brutal truth about what happened to dozens of Hurricane Katrina's most vulnerable victims. They should have been evacuated before the storm or cared for in its aftermath. But the bottom line is that people died while actually waiting for help that never even arrived.

Drew Griffin uncovered another nursing home horror story.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Even today, getting to Lafon Nursing Home is difficult. The streets, Broad Street, Gentilly, Chef Menteur Highway, are littered with debris. Two underpasses remain flooded.

But, when you arrive, you quickly learn no one drowned here. The water never reached the nursing home. But it did get high enough to strand it. Those who died had not been evacuated. They were waiting for rescue, the sidewalk to the front door, the parking lot strewn with pillows, walkers, and wheelchairs, all shadows of the people, the elderly baking for days after the hurricane under a hot sun.

(on camera): Of everything, we have seen this is probably the saddest sight of all, these nursing home beds pushed to the lobby, out here in the open, water bottles, meals ready to eat, wheelchairs where people sat waiting to be rescued, struggling to stay alive until help arrived, and, on the wall, the sad number of the people who could not wait long enough.

(voice-over): Sister Augustine McDaniel (ph) was the administrator of Lafon. By phone, she confirmed 14 died here before she was evacuated to Texas. She said she could not give us more details about what happened because she wanted to keep the phone line open for victims' families. There are signs at least one more may have died in her parking lot.

(on camera): Put it inside this van, one dead.

(voice-over): Should Lafon have evacuated its patients before the storm? Is there someone to blame for this? Yesterday, the attorney general of Louisiana filed charges against the operators of another nursing home, St. Rita's in St. Bernard Parish, where 34 residents drowned. They were not evacuated either before the storm, and the attorney general called that decision by St. Rita's owners negligent homicide. He vowed to challenge anyone who, during this hurricane, neglected the elderly.

CHARLES FOTI, LOUISIANA ATTORNEY GENERAL: We will investigate each and every one and will not hesitate, either civilly or criminally, to bring a prosecution or file a lawsuit to protect the interests of our senior citizens and those people that are not able to care for themselves that need round-the-clock care.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We absolutely had an evacuation plan.

GRIFFIN: The attorney for St. Rita's said the owners now charged are actually heroes who did nothing wrong. Dr. Bryan Bertucci, the coroner of St. Bernard Parish, says those who take care of the elderly make difficult decisions every day. He pulled every body out of St. Rita's. Almost all had been his patients. He believes they died in the hands of caring people, who, in the days and hours of the approaching storm, were making life-and-death decisions on when and how to evacuate and at what cost.

DR. BRYAN BERTUCCI, ST. BERNARD PARISH CORONER: And the fact people don't understand, that we have evacuated several times where the hurricane didn't even come near us. And two to three of our nursing home patients, each time we transport them out, die.

GRIFFIN: What happened at Lafon is now under state investigation. The 14 dead are being identified, their families notified. But with no flood, the killer here appears to have been the wait for rescue.


GRIFFIN: With nuns scattered all across the country, Paula, the nuns who ran this nursing home, it's been difficult to get exact details. We have been talking through a friend of those sisters, who said some of the residents did get evacuated before the storm, but obviously not all of them. That friend also tells us that these nuns are concerned that, after all this tragedy, they may too be facing criminal charges -- Paula.

ZAHN: A lot to take in. Drew Griffin, thank you so much.

One story that is creating a lot of buzz around Washington, indeed around the country today, is raising some serious questions. According to the story, during the desperate days immediately after Katrina hit, a Louisiana congressman got a National Guard escort to his home, where he was able to salvage some of his belongings.

We asked our congressional correspondent Ed Henry to check out the facts.


ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Friday, September 2, five days after Katrina struck, the National Guard struggles to restore order in New Orleans. People stuck in their homes desperately seek a miracle, while those who got out are languishing at the Convention Center, which has descended into the hurricane shelter from hell.

That same day, Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson publicly tours the devastation with President Bush. And, while his constituents cling to life, the congressman quietly uses National Guard troops to check on his own home in a pricey part of New Orleans, so he can retrieve some personal belongings.

LT. COL. PETE SCHNEIDER, LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD: So, we provided the vehicles to give Congressman Jefferson a tour of his district, and, as part of that tour, he asked -- he asked to be taken to his residence.

GRIFFIN: Jefferson maintains he wanted an up-close look at the devastation in his district and only accepted the offer of an escort when National Guard officials urged it upon him for safety reasons.

With the help of a five-ton military truck and several military police officers, Jefferson visited his home, where floodwaters had reached the porch. Jefferson says his wife had urged him to retrieve personal items.

SCHNEIDER: We pulled into the residence. He departed the vehicle and went into his house and proceeded to take some things out.

GRIFFIN: The congressman acknowledges he emerged with a laptop, a large box, and at least two suitcases, after leaving the soldiers outside for nearly an hour. The soldiers waited so long, their truck got mired in the water. So, they sought help.

SCHNEIDER: The soldiers in the truck, in the first truck, noticed a Coast Guard helicopter coming by, and they flagged them down. The diver, essentially the rescuer, rappelled out of the helicopter onto the residence.

GRIFFIN: A second military truck was dispatched to help pull the first one out of the water. And a rescue diver in the Coast Guard helicopter offered to take Jefferson, but he declined.

The helicopter, carrying other evacuees, was also able to rescue one of Jefferson's neighbors. In an unrelated case, Congressman Jefferson is currently facing a federal corruption probe, and the FBI recently raided his homes in New Orleans and Washington. When asked whether Jefferson went to his Louisiana home to remove any materials relevant to that probe, the congressman's spokeswoman said -- quote -- "The pending investigation is irrelevant. If they didn't get all the information after a nine-hour search, I don't know what else they could get."

It's not uncommon for lawmakers to get National Guard tours after a natural disaster for official reasons. But what's raising questions is Jefferson's use of the Guard to collect some of his belongings at the height of the crisis.


ZAHN: And that was Ed Henry with that update.

Representative Jefferson joins me from Washington to tell us his side of the story. He joins me now. Thank you very much for being with us.


ZAHN: So, let's try to set the record straight here tonight. On a day when you had some 10,000 people trapped at the Superdome with no food, no water, living under just horrendous conditions, you ended up using this National Guard troop to -- or truck, that is -- to take you to your home, where you retrieved personal belongings. Why is that not an abuse of power?

JEFFERSON: The whole story is, the National Guard troops took me to the Superdome area, took me to the Convention Center, where I visited with constituents, took me uptown to the Wal-Mart area, which had been looted. So, I took a tour of that. I saw people at the Convention Center and asked them how they were. And they talked to me about the need to get buses out and so on.

I then went uptown to the area where I live and to my neighborhood. Every member of Congress went back to see what had happened in their own area. As I did. The difference was, I couldn't travel without Guards because there was shooting and sniping and all that stuff going on in my district. If I had been Bobby Jindal, I could have gone without any help.

But they all told me I needed to have and must have National Guard or some sort of escort, because they were worried about people being shot. And that is the only reason they were with me. And I went there, of course. But I saw -- I wanted to check on my own place and on my neighbors, see whether it was under water, like any person would want in there.

Is your house under water? Has your house been looted? I was only five or six miles from the Convention Center, is where my house is located. So, it was hardly much of an inconvenience to go there. The trouble was, once the truck got there and got stuck in the mud -- and that was the cause for the delay, not all this business about going in for an hour and all that. That's not accurate.

We could have left quite fast if that hadn't happened. But a neighbor down the street caught the notice of the soldiers. They tried to offer him help. I went inside of my house and got water to bring out to him. And he was going down the street. We yelled after him. I had them also check on my neighbor, Mr. Nakei (ph), who was next door, who had been there after the flood. We didn't know what had happened to him.

ZAHN: Right.

JEFFERSON: They knocked his door, and he wasn't there. That was really the cause for the -- reason for the delay.

ZAHN: But, Congressman, you just heard the National Guardsman describe what happened. And he maintains that you actually were in the house for an hour. And it was after that point at which this truck got mired in the water. JEFFERSON: No. No, that's incorrect. The truck was by -- and because that was -- the yard was, of course, soft. The truck got mired. We would have been able to leave quite early. The National...


ZAHN: What was so critical inside the house that you wanted to retrieve?

JEFFERSON: I wanted to see the condition of my house, as every other congressman who went down there did. The trouble is, as I told you, they didn't have to have Guards with them and I did because they were worried about me being shot.

But I went to the house to see whether it was under water, whether it had been looted, that sort of thing. There wasn't anything especially important to retrieve from the house.

ZAHN: In the end, do you think, because of all the resources that were devoted to this tour, you compromised the safety of many people who desperately need to be evacuated, you know, whether it was two trucks tied up and ultimately two helicopters involved in this tour?

JEFFERSON: The helicopter, of course -- everyone goes down to take an aerial tour of the district. I did the same as anyone else would have done to check it out. That's my job, to see how things are going, to see how things are making out. And that's what I did.

ZAHN: Did it hurt anybody?

JEFFERSON: When I took the aerial tour of the district?

ZAHN: When you look at the allocations of resources and how limited they were. There were still many people desperately waving towels on their rooftops trying to get rescued.


JEFFERSON: Yes. No one had a helicopter -- I had a helicopter to look over the district, as every other elected official had, as the president had, as we all did. There's no other way to tour my city and tour my district, except by helicopter, to take a really good look. I looked at the 17th Street levee. I looked at Lynn Avenue (ph).

I think that's doing my job. To do that and to come back and ask for what we need in the Congress is what I'm responsible to do. The ground tour, to visit the people in the Superdome, to visit people in the Convention Center, that's doing my job as well.

ZAHN: Congressman, one final question for you tonight. You are, of course, as we mentioned in the preceding piece, the subject of a federal investigation. Your home in Washington had been searched before, your home in New Orleans. Was there anything in that house that you were trying to get out that was critical to this ongoing FBI investigation?

JEFFERSON: I would doubt that.

The thing that I wanted to get out was my daughter's laptop computer and my daughter's suitcase that I took away. The FBI had been in my house, as you know, for seven, eight hours. Whatever was there, they got it. I had been living in my house for three weeks after they came. If there was anything in there, I could have taken it then. There was no reason to go in there to retrieve anything related to the investigation. This is all NRCC smear they're putting out, which is quite a shame.

And they're sending out these notices to all the news media asking them to question me about these things as a deflection from what we really ought to be talking about...

ZAHN: Well...

JEFFERSON: ... which is what we aren't doing in Washington to address the needs of our people back home.

ZAHN: Well, we are certainly debating a lot of those issues right here on this show.

Congressman Jefferson, appreciate your coming along to tell me your side of the story tonight.

JEFFERSON: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. Bye-bye.

ZAHN: We are making a point of checking on the children of the storm as well. So many boys and girls don't even know what's happened to their parents or even their homes. But there is a place where volunteers are desperately trying to arrange reunions, and they've been quite successful, reuniting hundreds of children with family members. We're going to take you there next.


ZAHN: Some other numbers to try to digest, the very latest figures showing the number of children missing or separated from their families after Hurricane Katrina has climbed once again to nearly 2,000. Tonight, there is an urgent effort under way to reunite those children with their loved ones.

Kimberly Osias is at the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, just outside of Washington, with an update.

Hi, Kimberly.


Well, those numbers are certainly alarming and high, but equally as exciting, since we were last with you 24 hours ago, 100 successful reunions of children with their parents. That is great news. Last night, we focused on Louisiana, but equally as devastated and hard-hit was Mississippi. Tonight, I want to introduce you to two children from the Mississippi area, Pearl, Mississippi, in fact. We will start with Kristy Kennedy, 7 years old, Caucasian, with blue eyes, brown hair. One distinguishing feature, she has a scar under her left eye, only 70 pounds. And she was just scattered from her mother, was last believed to be with her mother, Casey Cooper (ph).

Now I want to introduce you to her sister, Kaitlin Hall, 2 years old, Caucasian, female, light brown hair. You know, very little is known about these children. It is really, really difficult. Oftentimes, they don't even have pictures because folks left in such quick order, they didn't -- they only had what was on their back. I mean, I have got a list here of hundreds and hundreds of children. And all they have is just very, very scant information.

We have been showing you a number of photos from the Web site, And you can tell there are a number of cases that have been resolved, some of which we have reported on, which is certainly exciting news. But, again, it is certainly tough, tough going, because there's just -- there aren't pictures. So, if you know anything about these children, important to call 1-888-544-5475. These volunteers are diligently working these phone lines seven days a week to try and get successful resolutions -- Paula.

ZAHN: And I guess that's what's so amazing about this process, given all those challenges you've just outlined, how much success they've had in linking up these lost children with their parents.

Kimberly Osias, thanks.

We're going to have more Katrina news in a moment, but, right now, a look at the other top stories with Christi Paul of Headline News.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The nominee for chief justice of the United States is keeping his opinions strictly to himself. For a second day, John Roberts refused to discuss any particulars on issues like abortion and doctor-assisted suicide and insisted that his personal views would not shape his legal decisions.

Now, the high court may be asked to weigh in again on a battle over the Pledge of Allegiance. A federal judge in California has ruled the pledge unconstitutional in public schools because of the words "under God."

A murderous day of suicide bombings in Iraq, at least 11 of them in a matter of hours, most in Baghdad and most aimed at U.S. and Iraqi forces. More than 160 people were killed, we're hearing now.

And President Bush lunched with world leaders at the U.N., and, in a speech, asked them to stand against terrorism. He also said free trade will reduce poverty and make the world safer.

And Northwest and Delta Airlines declared bankruptcy today because of high fuel costs and cut-rate competition. Both companies will keep flying, however, while they reorganize and cut costs. That's it from Atlanta -- Paula, back to you.

ZAHN: Thanks so much, Christi.

And across the country, people are opening their homes and their hearts to Hurricane Katrina's evacuees, but, sometimes, no good deed goes unpunished. Just ahead, Tony Harris will have the story of a man whose generosity only caused him a whole lot of trouble.


ZAHN: At this hour, Katrina evacuees are making new homes with families, friends, and even strangers who have been generous enough to take them in. But, tonight, one Atlanta man who reached out to help his relatives now finds he's in danger of losing his own home.

Tony Harris has more.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We asked the person, where do they live? And they said, well, I live in New Orleans. No, that's where you're from. That's where you stayed. Where you live is where you are right now.

TONY HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Right now, nearly 40 members of the Harvey family are trying to adjust to living with relatives in Atlanta's suburbs. Since they got here two weeks ago from New Orleans, everyone, from 85-year-old grandpa Samuel (ph), to the youngest members of the family, has been embraced by this community, until now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The evacuees being evicted.

HARRIS: Not exactly, but they may be forced to evacuate again. Just days ago, Reginald Harvey, a truck driver who has seven relatives from New Orleans now living with him in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom duplex, received a note from his landlord, George Camp.

It said that, if he has to continue providing shelter for the people from New Orleans in his apartment, then he would have to move to a new location by the end of the month.

REGINALD HARVEY, TENANT: I was just surprised. I mean, I didn't think somebody would do something like that. I mean, that's just so hateful and just mean-spirited, to know what's going on in everyone's life from New Orleans right now and then just to tell them that you have to move. So, now they feel as though they got me evicted. And it's not their fault.

HARRIS: His landlord sees it differently.

GEORGE CAMP, LANDLORD: I have compassion for the people. But I don't have a warehouse. I got a two-bedroom duplex.

HARRIS: The family is outraged. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We had lives before we came here. Everybody in here had a job. Everybody in here had something to look forward to the next day in New Orleans. We're not here because we want to be here. We're here because we have no choice.

HARRIS: But the fact is, with nine people living under his roof, Harvey may have violated terms of his lease, meaning the landlord could be within his rights to end the lease and ask them to leave.

CAMP: That's the clause he's violating. Visitors can't stay but three days and two nights.

HARRIS: In fact, according to a local ordinance, landlords can actually be fined for overcrowding.

(on camera): There is what is legal and then what is right.

CAMP: I don't do nothing unless I think it's right. So, if I file for the eviction, it's because I think it's right.

HARRIS: And that you've been taken advantage of?

CAMP: I certainly haven't been showed the consideration that a landlord should be shown, with communication between the landlord and the tenant, rather than between the landlord and CNN.

HARRIS (voice-over): But even better communication might not resolve this situation.

CAMP: I don't really hold a grudge. The bottom line is doing what was right and then I let the rest of it go.

HARVEY: I don't know if I could work it out with him. I don't think I could continue to pay him every month, knowing, you know, he did something like this. It ain't like it's my friends. That's all my close relatives. And I'm going to provide shelter when I can for them and do what I can.

HARRIS: The family plans on spending the next couple of weeks finding a new home. But this is a situation that is likely to crop up again, as evacuees continue to seek shelter and landlords are faced with difficult choices.


ZAHN: That was Tony Harris reporting from Atlanta tonight.

A lot of difficult choices being made all over the country. The water keeps draining away, but the streets are still a muddy mess, and homes have been floated off their foundations. We're going to get a live status report out of New Orleans next.



BLANCO: The buck stops here. And, as your governor, I take full responsibility.


ZAHN: The mea culpas, it seem, are just flying. First, it was President Bush yesterday. That was Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco addressing her state's legislature just a short time ago. She told lawmakers there were failures at every level of government, state, federal, and local. And she said, at the state level, there needs to be a careful look at what went wrong to make sure it never happens again.

Right now, let's get the very latest on the state of emergency in New Orleans and the whole Gulf Coast.

Let's turn to Deborah Feyerick, who joins me now from our Status Alert Desk.

Hi, Deborah.


Well, the status alert tonight, anger and frustration in Slidell, Louisiana, Mayor Ben Morris telling CNN that FEMA has all but ignored his city and that no one from the agency has even come to help. Trailers he ordered two weeks ago to house the newly homeless still have not arrived. What's more, many Slidell relatives are staying with friends or relatives, not in shelters, and, as a result, the mayor says his people are finding it all but impossible to get any kind of help, financial or otherwise.

Very few people there have the Internet. It's taking days to get through on the government's 1-800 help line. Quoting the mayor, "We had to send people out of town because they were getting suicidal."

Another status alert from Pearl River, Louisiana, right next to Slidell. The mayor there says a FEMA agent also has yet to come to his town. The community is made up of mostly elderly people, and the mayor has had to send someone to -- from his office to Tennessee simple to get electrical parts, so that the electrical company would agree to turn the power back on in his town.

That tops our status alerts -- back to you, Paula.

ZAHN: Deborah Feyerick, thanks so much.

More New Orleans neighborhoods are emerging from the floods at this moment, as pumps and crews hustle to continue to try to drain the city. Still, as the water recedes, it leaves streets piled with mud and debris and houses damaged from ground to rooftop.

In devastated St. Bernard Parish, choppers work with ground units on a house-to-house search of the suburban community, which is right next to New Orleans; 95 percent of St. Bernard was under water. Every house may be a total loss, throwing nearly $66,000 people out of their homes. Jeff Koinange is in New Orleans now with more on that situation and an equally disturbing situation when it comes to the confirmed death count.

The numbers just keep going up, don't they, Jeff?


You see now it's up to 708. In Louisiana, it's up to 474. So, again, you can tell that the search-and-rescue is dwindling down and it's now a search and recovery. And, as Vice Admiral Thad Allen pointed out today, he wants to give the dead the respect that they deserve. So, crews are going out literally every day recovering more and more bodies. Expect that death toll to climb, Paula.

ZAHN: The pictures today seem quite different than pictures we have seen before of this particular neighborhood. Does it appear to be a lot more dry than it was just a couple of days ago, when you were touring these neighborhoods?


The amazing thing is, the Army Corps of Engineers pumping out about nine million gallons of water every single day, which is great, great news, because neighborhoods where we were about a week ago are now literally bone-dry. What does this mean? Well, if they continue at the present pace, by the end of October, New Orleans should be dry and then the cleanup campaign will begin. This will be a good thing, because the outbreak of disease will have been averted, Paula.

ZAHN: Yes, not dry enough to not worry about mosquitoes. We have -- we're going to show some pictures of some U.S. Air Force planes that have been spraying for mosquitoes, given those health concerns Jeff Koinange just mentioned.

Jeff, thanks so much.

The scope of the storm's devastation still seems very hard to believe. This is the seafront community of Long Beach, another of the Mississippi towns bludgeoned by wind and the storm surge. Authorities are blocking off the town from the water's edge to a half-mile inland, the fear, that more bodies are still buried in the rubble.

Survivors of Katrina, even those who lost their homes, thought at least they could count on insurance to help put their lives back together. But now thousands are learning the hard way that may not be the case.

Here's Allan Chernoff.


ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Biloxi resident Seng Thai venting to his neighbor.

SENG THAI, BILOXI, MISS. RESIDENT: When they tell me its flat. CHERNOFF: That's wrong.

THAI: If no wind is going to bring it in, how the water get into the house, six feet high, eight feet high? And now he said nothing's covered.

CHERNOFF: An insurance adjustor told Mr. Thai it was a flood, not a hurricane that caused the bulk of damage to his home. Thai's policy does not include flood coverage.

THAI: Oh, he already came this morning. It's six feet high. Above is covered. Below is not covered, which is everything below is damaged, the whole thing.

CHERNOFF (on camera): The same devastating news is being heard up and down the demolished streets of Biloxi. Many homeowners didn't buy flood insurance because the area is not designated as a flood zone.

(voice-over): Thai's insurance company, Nationwide, tells CNN it can't speak about individual claims for privacy reasons. But industry regulators confirm standard homeowner's policies exclude damage from flood, surface water, waves, tidal water, overflowing of a body of water, or spray from any of these, whether or not driven by wind. Nationwide says, for flood coverage, homeowners have to have flood insurance through FEMA. Less than 5 percent of Biloxi's residents have such insurance.

BOBBY MIGUES, RESIDENT OF BILOXI: You are standing into the kitchen area right here. This is the kitchen.

CHERTOFF: Bobby Migues has flood coverage. His insurer said only that portion of his insurance will apply.

MIGUES: If you look around and you see parts of my roof in trees, parts of my roof over here and there, parts of my roof is sitting way over there, OK, which shows you that wind had to take that roof. My insurance company has let me down. They have let me down. Put my money together and pay me what I'm due.

CHERTOFF: FEMA's flood insurance has limits, home coverage only up to $250,000. Mississippi's insurance commissioner today told CNN Washington must help.

GEORGE DALE, MISSISSIPPI INSURANCE COMMISSIONER: It's going to require some type of federal bailout by our government to be able to make these people whole.

CHERTOFF: President Bush heard such requests when he toured in Mississippi on Monday, but made no promises. Local authorities say they may have to sue the insurance companies. Meanwhile, people now without homes hope their insurance companies will make good on the policies they thought were protecting them.


ZAHN: That was Allan Chernoff's update.

So far, the hurricane appears to be the most costly natural disaster ever in the U.S. The company Risk Management Solutions estimates total damage at $125 billion. Of that, about a third to one-half was insured.

Well, you probably know that old saying, it's a tough job, but someone has to do it. Well, our Keith Oppenheim has met the people who probably have the single hardest job in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. How do they do what they do?

Stay with us.


ZAHN: A private company is now going about one of the toughest jobs in this recovery, the collection of the dead. The work is being done by Kenyon International Emergency Services, a company that signed a contract with Louisiana yesterday, after a fierce tug-of-war between the state and FEMA.

For the first time ever, a CNN crew has joined the workers.

Here's Keith Oppenheim with more.


KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is a sweltering afternoon in New Orleans. In the heat, a team of 10 contractors gets ready to do its job.

MARK MALCOLM, KENYON INTERNATIONAL EMERGENCY SERVICES: I think there's a finite number of people in the world who are cut out, whether it's mentally, physically, whatever, to stand waist deep in decomposition every day and do the job.

OPPENHEIM: The people in the white suits are doctors, nurses, funeral directors.


OPPENHEIM: All people from Kenyon International Emergency Services, a Houston-based company that goes worldwide to recover bodies after disasters. There are more than 100 Kenyon employees working in the New Orleans area, removing people from the places where they died and getting them to the state morgue.

MALCOLM: It is a mission for us, as Kenyon team members, to find them all.

OPPENHEIM: Mark Malcolm is an Arkansas coroner who works for Kenyon. He explained that military units locate the dead. Then Kenyon teams come in. In the backyard of this New Orleans ranch home lies another victim of Hurricane Katrina.

(on camera): If I were to ask you who was in this home, you wouldn't tell me. Why is that important to you that you don't?

MALCOLM: Well, I mean, here's -- I think here's essentially the -- we are -- as Kenyon team members, we're here to make recoveries. Our job is -- essentially, we're representatives and an extension of each and every family that has lost somebody here.

OPPENHEIM: The teams are concerned as much about privacy as they are safety. They work in large groups to manage unforeseen problems and to avoid contamination. Kenyon is getting more attention lately because of a fight over who will pay its bills.

BLANCO: No one, it seems, even those at the highest level, seems to be able to break through the bureaucracy to get this important mission done. The state of Louisiana will sign a written contract with Kenyon. I cannot bear to wait any longer.

OPPENHEIM: Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco has blasted the Federal Emergency Management Agency for failing to sign a contract for the work. The state stepped in to pay the money. But, on the ground, the recovery team doesn't talk politics. While they won't say how many dead they believe are out there, they know there is a lot of work left for them to do.

MALCOLM: Body recovery is first priority, and that's what we're doing. And everybody involved at this level, right here on the ground, doing the work, understands and accepts that. And that's what we will do until the very last one is recovered.


OPPENHEIM: Paula, Kenyon International recovery teams did similar work after the tsunami in Asia and also after the September 11 attacks here in the United States.

The process here in New Orleans is, the bodies are taken to the Convention Center. That's a temporary staging area. And after that, the bodies are taken to St. Gabriel, which is outside of Baton Rouge. And there, they go through the very tough job of trying to identify these bodies. It is tough, but obviously very important work -- back to you.

ZAHN: Keith Oppenheim, thank you for the update.

We mentioned at the top of the hour, there are still 2,000 children of the storm at this hour who are separated from their parents or any family members, for that matter. Every time we check in with the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, they happen to get a spike in phone calls, which means, we hope, a better chance of reuniting families. Perhaps you'll see something that can help them, too.

Stay with us. We will have an update for you.


ZAHN: It's kind of hard to believe that here we are, two-and-a- half weeks after Katrina hit, and there are still close to 2,000 children of the storm separated from any family members. There is a big effort under way right now to reunite them in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

Kimberly Osias is at the Center for Missing and Exploited Children with an update for us.

Kimberly, anything new?

OSIAS: Well, I will tell you Paula, the good news about reporting on this grim story is, there are some happy resolutions and we are part of it.

I will tell you, when we report, there is an absolute spike in those phone calls. They come in. You can hear it. It is exciting to know that people are calling, helping to give these case workers some extra leads, because there is very little information. I want to show you some of the difficulties that they are facing, especially with these young children that are older now.

Let me show you two other children from Mississippi, because, of course, getting their faces out there really makes a difference.

This is little Paul Bodin. He is 5 years old. You can tell from this picture, he is not 5, was in Waveland, Mississippi, and last known to be at home with his father, very, very difficult.

Hannah Ellis, a little girl, 80 pounds, from Kiln, Mississippi, 5 years old, African-American.

Very important, if anybody has any information on these children, to call 1-888-544-5475 -- Paula.

ZAHN: Happy to hear this plea spikes the number of phone calls every time we do it.

Kimberly Osias, thanks for the update.

The eye of Hurricane Ophelia is about to hit land in a few hours along the North Carolina coast. We will have an update for you when we come back.


ZAHN: Picture shows it all, a big, powerful storm off the coast of North Carolina now.

Let's get the very latest on Hurricane Ophelia, the eye just a few hours from making landfall.

In North Carolina, Rob Marciano is battling the waves and the winds at this hour. He now has an update for us.

We can barely see you, but I know we're going to hear you.

MARCIANO: Hi, Paula. You probably -- we're having trouble with our light.

The last time we chatted, about 40 minutes ago, we were in the eye wall of the northern fringe, and we got a bit of a respite since then. And now the winds have switched to the northeast. So, it looks like the eye itself is passing us to our south, which doesn't bode well, as winds will be picking up and the rain will be blowing sideways once again.

The good news is, though, it will be blowing much of the surf out, as the tides continue to recede. We will continue to monitor the storm, as it rakes the coastline of North Carolina throughout the night, Paula. That's the latest from here -- back to you.

ZAHN: Rob Marciano, take care.

And just a reminder, the governor telling us at the top of the hour, his chief concern is the amount of rain that he may get in parts of the state, anywhere from nine to 11 inches of rain, which he thinks could cause some serious flooding.

Thanks so much for being with us tonight. Appreciate your joining us.

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