Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Live Event/Special

Bush Discusses Displaced Students; Department of Defense Briefs Press on Katrina Response

Aired September 06, 2005 - 14:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Flames and floods and the fight to rescue and restore. We're live from New Orleans and Houston. Did the federal government do enough to help thousands of people devastated by this storm? Senator Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman join me live with their plans for an investigation.
And also live this hour, a briefing from the Pentagon where we expect to hear more on the military response to Katrina. From the CNN center in Atlanta, I'm Kyra Phillips. This hour of CNN LIVE FROM starts right now.

Fire and water, progress and pestilence, rescue and refusal, mission critical. A still growing fleet of search and rescue teams in New Orleans is finding fewer and fewer living, willing evacuees. More and more, they're finding bodies along with survivors who don't want to leave.

The water is a witch's brew of garbage, human waste, toxic chemicals, and germs. Anybody who gets near it is risking his or her life. When it comes to putting out major fires that seem to break out at will, firefighters turn to Coast Guard water-dropping helicopters. A huge blaze today in the Garden District consumed a pair of 19th century mansions that had been converted into apartments. At least two were rescued, no one was hurt.

A ray of hope amid the sea of devastation, patched up levees and working pumps. That nasty water is going to back to the Lake Pontchartrain, though the city won't be totally dry for weeks. And who's to blame, besides, of course, Katrina. Well, President Bush says he'll personally head up a probe of the government's hugely criticized response, but only after the immediate needs are met. Congress is investigating, also.

Searching for the living and the dead, crews in New Orleans are still trying to evacuate people who remain in the city. Some simply won't budge. And the gruesome job of collecting the bodies of those who didn't survive is underway. CNN's Jeff Koinange is in New Orleans -- Jeff?

JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello there, and we can tell you we're right on what's called The River Walk, very famous River Walk here in New Orleans, by the banks of the mighty Mississippi. Now, this takes me back to my high school days when I think about Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in that famous Mark Twain classic.

But behind me, you can just see -- let me just take you on a quick tour. Behind me, the warehouse district. You see smoke rising in the distance, that's where there was a fire not too long ago. You still see smoke embers down there. It's very important because the fires has been raging every day in the city of New Orleans. Very important that emergency services contain that.

Across there, where you see the barge going, that's known as the West Bank, across that bridge. As you see, that bridge is the Mississippi River Bridge, spans across from New Orleans into the neighboring areas.

And right underneath the bridge, you can see a huge aircraft carrier. That's the USS Iwo Jima, in from Norfolk, Virginia. Apparently, it's carrying emergency services relief equipment. And that is helping aid victims, flying in victims. You see can see a helicopter on the Iwo Jima right now. It's been flying back and forth between the airport, between areas where victims are evacuated, taken on the Iwo Jima, and treated over there.

And right in front of the Iwo Jima, in the green awning, there's a floating casino, one of the sights of this beautiful historic city, a city that's slowly trying to come back to its feet. It's going to take a long time for services to be restored. We understand that the stagnant waters in the river have, by some officials, been declared with the E. Coli virus, because the water is contaminated with sewage.

This is not a good sign because this is a recipe for any, and most kinds, of waterborne diseases. That's why residents of the city are being urged to leave the city so that this water can be drained and the massive clean-up effort can continue.

PHILLIPS: Jeff Koinange, right there on the famous riverfront. You can even hear the helicopters above his head there taking off for search and rescue operations and firefighting. Jeff, thank you so much.

Well, facing continued rage over the government's slow response to Hurricane Katrina, President Bush today vowed to find out why the initial effort to help victims was, in the words of some lawmakers, an immense failure.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What I intend to do is lead a investigation to find out what went right and what went wrong. And I'll tell you why. It's very important for us to understand the relationship between the federal government and the state government and the local government when it comes to a major catastrophe.

And the reason it's important is, is that we still live in an unsettled world. We want to make sure that we can respond properly if there's a WMD attack or another major storm. So I'm going to find out over time what went right and what went wrong.

(END VIDEO CLIP) PHILLIPS: President Bush's comments came as rescue and relief operations continued to produce some results in New Orleans, and other hard hit areas.

At the same time, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee announced its own investigation into the response to the disaster. The chairwoman of the committee is Republican Susan Collins of Maine, the ranking Democrat is Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, joining me now live on Capitol Hill.

Senators, it's good to have you both with us.



PHILLIPS: And just to set it up quickly, Senator Collins, the investigation that all of you will be doing completely separate from the president? These will be two separate investigations?

COLLINS: Yes, it will be, although, obviously, we'll be looking at some of the same issues. And I applaud the president's determination to find out why the initial response was so inadequate.

PHILLIPS: All right, let's just get down to business. And first and foremost, talk about the bureaucracy. And I want to read you this quote. I want both of you to respond to this. "Bureaucracy has murdered people in the greater New Orleans. And bureaucracy needs to stand trial before Congress today." This is Aaron Broussard, the president of Jefferson Parish.

He goes on to say, "So I'm asking Congress, please investigate this now. Take whatever idiot they have at the top of whatever agency, and give me a better idiot. Give me a caring idiot. Give me a sensitive idiot. Just don't give me the same idiot." That's a pretty strong quote.

Senator Lieberman, I hear a little bit of a chuckle there. But, boy, talk about getting to the point. Bureaucracy really reigned in response to this disaster.

LIEBERMAN: Well, it is a strong quote. And, you know, Mr. Broussard and others who are down there have really felt like they've been living through hell. And they haven't gotten enough support from their government, federal, state or local. What we saw in the last week was not only a humanitarian tragedy, it was a national embarrassment.

And that's exactly why Senator Collins and I are launching this investigation at the request of the Senate leadership. It's going to be no-holds-barred. We're asking the same question that everybody asked after 9/11. How could this have happened in America? And what must we do urgently to make sure nothing like this ever happens again?

PHILLIPS: All right, Senator Collins, I've got a question for you, but first I want you both to listen to this quote from James Lee Witt, former FEMA director, what he said earlier.


JAMES LEE WITT, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR: A year ago, I testified to Congress that I was very concerned about the direction that FEMA was going, because it is and should be the premier agency in the federal government, not only planning, preparing, and exercising with state and local government, but responding with them and making the recovery happen.

So I am concerned about FEMA as the agency where it's going. You know, you cannot take planning preparedness exercise out of that agency. You cannot take the heart out of a federal agency and expect that agency to do well and do its job. So, you know, I wish the president and Congress would put it back as an independent agency with the resources to make it happen.


PHILLIPS: So, Senator Collins, it sounds like he was concerned about FEMA going under the Department of Homeland Security. Is that what you're getting from that quote? And do you think that was a mistake?

COLLINS: I don't think it was a mistake. But that is an issue that we're going to take a look at. There are a lot of different views on where FEMA should be located, what authorities it should have, whom the head should report to.

All of those are issues that we'll be taking a look at. But our immediate focus is going to be on making sure that those who are on the front lines have all the leadership and the resources that they need. And that's going to be the focus of our first hearing, to chart a path ahead and get expert advice on where we go from here.

PHILLIPS: Now, Senator Lieberman, let me ask you this, because Senator Collins brings up having the resources that you need. If you look back at this investigation that the "Times-Picayune" did in 2002, and you look at various quotes and reports that have been coming out year after year about the condition of New Orleans.

One here from that investigation, prior to 9/11, the Federal Emergency Management Agency warned that New Orleans was a disaster waiting to happen. Congress authorized the southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project -- we've been talking a lot about that SELA -- in order to protect the strategic port, the refineries, and the large population.

But if you go back and track the finding for SELA, every time it came up for funding, it got less and less money. And now here we are, the warnings are out there, the money wasn't put forward, and look at New Orleans.

LIEBERMAN: Well, I agree. In looking back -- I think we're going to look back at Congress, at the executive branch, to see why we didn't respond adequately to the signals here. The fact that New Orleans is effectively a bowl, and that if the levees gave way, that New Orleans would drown, is not a surprise. The experts have been telling us that for years.

I can tell you that I had some children living in New Orleans last fall. They were evacuated at a hurricane threat then. Fortunately, it didn't hit the city as this one did, but they were told if it hit hard, exactly what happened last week would happen. So no surprise. The shocking and unsettling question is, why didn't we all do something about it?

PHILLIPS: Senator Collins, do you think that there could be some positions at stake here, representatives, senators, in the state of Louisiana?

COLLINS: I think it's too early to reach judgments on accountability. There were undoubtedly some failures at all levels of government. We're going to take a look at that. We're going to focus on the preparedness, which appears to have been inadequate, as well as the response. We're going to look at command and control issues. Until we do that kind of thoughtful, thorough review, it is really premature to start pointing any finger of blame.

LIEBERMAN: Yes, I want to just add, Senator Collins is absolutely right. We're beginning an investigation. We have some very tough questions, the same questions that America has asked as it watched the events over the last week.

And what we want to assure the public today is, we're going to be relentless and unflinching and totally non-defensive in coming to answers to those questions, because our security and the people's security is on the line, from natural disasters and from terrorist attacks.

PHILLIPS: And you know what? This is what I want to ask both of you. It's heart wrenching to listen to this and have to cover this and listen to what everybody is saying after the fact, about, "Yes, there were mistakes. There's a lot of things we could have done." It's bringing back 9/11 and the lack of intelligence communication.

And there were so many warnings about what Osama bin Laden were doing, and there were chances to get Osama bin Laden, and things slipped through the cracks. And then we saw what happened on 9/11. So then there were all these reports and all these committees that came forward to make sure that would never happen again.

So all these organizations were established like DHS and Northcom, to respond to terrorism and, of course, natural disasters. Now, once again, here we are once again looking back at all the warnings and all the money that wasn't there, and we're witnessing a natural disaster like never before. And here we are once again with all the committees and the investigations and looking for ways to make sure this never happens again. God forbid, what's next?

COLLINS: Well, it is disturbing that almost four years to the day after the attacks on our country, we see some of the same lack of preparedness, despite the billions of dollars that have been spent to shore up our homeland defense and emergency preparedness. And certainly that is a key question that the committee will be focusing on in the weeks and months ahead.

LIEBERMAN: Yes, I want to just convey this. Senator Collins and I are as angry and, in a sense, embarrassed, if I can put it that way, as people across the country. Hurricane Katrina was, you might say, the first test of the post-9/11 new emergency preparedness and response system. And the system didn't pass the test.

And, you know, for those of us who worked hard to set up the system, believe me, we are more than disappointed. And that's what we're going to get to now to try to fix it, so next time we don't have to have another investigation.

PHILLIPS: And Senator Lieberman, I'm curious. I mean, as many of you senators, representatives, those up on the Hill talk about this, can you just imagine if indeed this would have been a terrorist attack? I wonder if the response would have been different, number one. And, if indeed, it would have been handled any differently.

LIEBERMAN: Well, we've talked about that. Senator Collins and I have talked about that. And, of course, that's why this is a shock...

PHILLIPS: Senators, forgive me. We're going to listen to the president real quickly. Please stay with us.

BUSH: About the schoolchildren who have been displaced because of Hurricane Katrina. You know, this is a time when a lot of families are looking forward to sending their child back to school, and the children are excited about school. But a lot of those dreams and a lot of that excitement has been upset for a lot of students because of the storm.

Yesterday, we went to a shelter in Baton Rouge and met a lot of little kids, many of whom are starting school in Baton Rouge. And it's indicative of what's taking place across the country. A lot of school districts are taking in these children who have had to leave their homes in their local districts.

And we want to thank the schools and the school districts and the teachers and the PTAs for reaching out and doing their duty. We spent time talking about how to help states absorb the cost. Ann-Margaret's (ph) working on a plan that we'll announce to the country after awhile.

The other thing that -- and by the way, they're going to set up a web page tomorrow that will enable people from around the country to be able to access the Department of Education web page to determine how they can help these school districts that are bringing in the new students.

As well, yesterday, when Laura and I were in Mississippi, I ran into a young pharmacy student that had been going to Xavier in New Orleans. And Xavier is one of our great universities. And she was so excited about going to school and had to come back home because of the hurricane. And she was concerned and worried. One of the things that people can be assured of is that, one, we're reaching out to other universities to encourage them to accept students, and many are. And we will -- there will be loan forbearance and loan extension. In other words, the Department of Education will help those who are dependent upon student loans, will help them be able to finance their education.

It will help them -- if they're not going back to school, and we hope they do, but if they choose not to, there will be a loan forbearance. In other words, this education department of ours is going to be flexible.

I'm confident that this government of ours will be able to help the local school districts, and I'm confident the local school districts will still want to maintain a high standard of excellence and make sure every child learns to read and write and add and subtract.

Laura is going down to DeSoto County, Mississippi, to comfort the folks there and to let them know the federal government is aware of the problems when it comes to education, and that we will step up and assume our responsibility to make sure every single child in this country gets a good education.

And, again, I want to thank the local school districts all around the country who are just making extraordinary efforts to make sure that the children who have been upset by this hurricane are able to find some comfort and some solace in the midst of their anguish by being able to go to a school. I thank you all.

PHILLIPS: President of the United States there just moments ago talking about just the efforts going forward to get all the displaced children and students back into school and also the universities.

And he brought up Xavier University in New Orleans, very interesting point. We talked to its president, Dr. Norman Francis yesterday. He was talking to us about how he got all his students evacuated and got them on busses and got them out of the university without any problem.

He was saying that after that segment aired, that Notre Dame, Georgetown and also Rensselaer Polytech all called him. The presidents called him and said that they will be happy to help bring those students into their universities. Great news as these positive stories continue go forward.

I want to bring Senators Susan Collins and Joe Lieberman back in. We were talking about an investigation that both will be involved with into, basically, the bureaucracy and what went wrong in responding to this disaster.

And senators, thank you for staying with me there, just for a couple minutes, as the president spoke about schools. And while I have you, I'll get back to the hearings in a minute, but I want to ask you, talking about no child left behind, and looking at the long haul here, not only investigating the problems and what went wrong with regard to this response.

Senator Collins, schooling and these children and going forward with their education, this has got to be on your mind also.

COLLINS: It definitely is. There are so many challenges that we're going to be facing as the nation. This is a huge humanitarian crisis. We have to figure out how to educate hundreds of thousands, potentially, of students. We have to ensure that their families are adequately housed and fed.

Unemployment is obviously going to be a huge issue. That's why in our first hearing, we're going to focus on what should be done. Get the best advice that we can find to help guide the response at all levels of government to what is a huge challenge.

PHILLIPS: And Senator Lieberman, this new bankruptcy law now going to be a problem for Katrina victims. This is just one more thing to come forward. I understand the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, which is supposed to take effect October 17th -- and senators, I'm going to have to put you on hold here just for a second again. I keep my fingers crossed you can stay with me, if it doesn't take too long.

We've got to go straight to the Pentagon and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about to address reporters. Our senators have been so patient.


DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: ... I returned from the area earlier this week and can say that the full scope of this disaster has most likely not been measured. In addition to the unknown number who have been killed or injured, hundreds of thousands of homes and schools and businesses have been seriously damaged, many beyond repair. Added to that are an untold number of dreams that have been destroyed and futures dramatically altered.

On the president's orders, the greatest disaster recovery effort in America's history is well under way. What General Myers and I saw in Baton Rouge and New Orleans and in Mississippi was Americans doing what Americans do best, and that's coming together and finding ways to help those in need.

The Department of Defense plays a supporting role to the Department of Homeland Security, as do the other departments and agencies of the federal government. However, the support we're providing is substantial, and General Myers will elaborate on some of that.

Over the past several days and continuing at this hour, Army and National Guard and Air Guard troops and their equipment from more than 40 states are deployed in the hard-hit communities that are working to restore order and to save lives.

In addition, we're working to reunite the men and women in uniform that are deployed overseas with their families here at home. A number of the families that are stationed in that area obviously lost all their possessions, along with others.

RUMSFELD: The Northern Command, under the capable leadership of Admiral Tim Keating, is overseeing the department's contributions in support of the operations in the Gulf, being led by the Department of Homeland Security.

Admiral Keating's very able commander on the scene is Lieutenant General Russell Honore. And he is executing the day-to-day responsibility for the Department of Defense. General Myers will provide further operational details.

The benefit of the Department of Defense having established the Northern Command after September 11th is clear. It is DOD's leader in this massive effort. It's the command that is helping to establish planning and priorities and providing many of the resources that may be needed to respond to a domestic emergency, while other military commands are, of course, able to stay focused on their important missions overseas.

On that point let me be clear: We have the forces, the capabilities and the intention to fully prosecute the global war on terror while responding to this unprecedented humanitarian crisis here at home.

We can and will do both. It is important to remember that there are more than 300,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen who are not deployed overseas. And they're available for relief and security efforts in the United States should they be necessary.

These men and women in uniform at home and overseas are demonstrating the full depth of the compassion of the American people. They are risking their lives as they work around the clock, and certainly I join in expressing appreciation and great respect for their tireless efforts.

RUMSFELD: In this disaster, and a disaster of this magnitude, the would-be first responders at the state and local level were themselves victims in very large numbers. They were, their families were, their homes were victims of this storm.

Since the federal system, the way it's arranged under our Constitution, provides that the state and local officials are the first responders, and you have a disaster of this magnitude that creates a situation where the first responders are in large measure incapable of functioning, given the seriousness of is, we had a situation that was distinctly different than in past events of this type.

The Department of Defense, needless to say, has been stepping in to help the civilian federal agencies in many missions that the first responders had been assigned and are well-suited for, but in this case, simply not available, and/or they need some time to adjust to their personal circumstances. As a result, the federal response has been adjusted accordingly. These adjustments are happening in real time. As I have observed in the case of overseas military operations since September 11th, no war plan survives the first contact with the enemy. Operational leaders must always be ready to adjust. That's clearly the case in a major, indeed unprecedented, natural disaster of this nature.

There will be plenty of time to examine what happened in response to this disaster, what worked and what didn't, and it's important that federal, state and local officials do so.

RUMSFELD: However, the immediate task is for us to save lives and to stabilize the situation. And this department is determined to provide whatever assistance we can as fast as we can in support of the Department of Homeland Security.

Americans have endured other times of great tragedy when San Francisco and Chicago and other great cities have faced destruction from fire, from earthquakes and natural disasters. Those cities survived and thrived in eras when this country was not nearly as wealthy and capable as we are today.

Certainly, our hearts go out to all of those who suffered such terrible losses, and our thoughts and prayers are with them all.

General Myers?


And good afternoon, everybody.

First, like the secretary, I want to extend my condolences to those who have been victim to Hurricane Katrina.

Second, as you have just heard the secretary describe, the situation in the Gulf region is, of course, very serious.

From the men and women of the U.S. armed forces, the National Guard and active duty are fully engaged in the search and rescue, relief and recovery efforts. Essentially, they're engaged in all the humanitarian relief efforts.

It's important to understand that state, local and federal assets, including those of the Department of Defense, from across the country were preparing and mobilizing to respond even before the full gravity of the affects of the storm became known.

The commander of U.S. Northern Command in Colorado Springs, Admiral Tim Keating, is in charge of the department's response, with Lieutenant General Russ Honore, as the secretary said, commanding the joint task force at Camp Shelby in Mississippi.

And while that's where the headquarters is, General Honore, of course, moves to where he is needed. Let me give you an overview of what military forces are doing in support of the federal response. There are six military installations that are serving as FEMA staging areas for equipment and relief supplies.

MYERS: More than 58,000 active duty and National Guard personnel are on the ground and in the area. More than 41,000 of that 58,000 are members of the National Guard from all 50 states and are working, of course, hurricane relief operations.

Approximately 17,000 active duty personnel are on the ground and in the region providing support from the 82nd Airborne Division, the 1st and 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, the 1st Calvary Division and afloat.

And of the 17,000, of those afloat forces, nearly 7,000 are Navy personnel providing support from 21 naval ships, ships off the coast of Louisiana and Mississippi.

More than 350 Department of Defense, U.S. Coast Guard and National Guard helicopters, 350 helicopters, and more than 75 DOD and National Guard fixed-wing aircraft are assisting in the effort.

Nearly 1,800 search and rescue, evacuation and supply delivery missions have been flown by the Department of Defense, with more than 799 in the past 24 hours.

Over 13,000 people have been rescued, and thousands of tons of relief supplies have been moved.

More than 75,000 people have been evacuated so far.

Maritime units have supplied 78,000 gallons of fuel to hospitals, law enforcement, National Guard and other critical government services. And more than 9 million meals-ready-to-eat have been delivered to FEMA.

And of course, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is performing unwatering operations in New Orleans.

Two C-130 firefighting aircraft were deployed to support the New Orleans firefighting operations, and seven helicopters are there conducting firefighting operations as well.

Military forces are providing essential medical services as well.

In New Orleans alone, the DOD has transported more than 10,000 patients and treated more than 5,000 patients.

And of course, there are 4,000 Coast Guard personnel that are also providing support. As the secretary mentioned, many of the state and local first responders and their resources fell victim to the hurricane.

MYERS: And of course they're going to need help in regenerating their capability and capacity. So to recap, there are more than 41,000 National Guard and 17,000 active duty troops currently in the region supporting the states, FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security by performing humanitarian missions such as search and rescue, evacuations, airlift of critical supplies such as food, water and clothing, helping with communications, assisting in clearing roads of debris, airfield support operations, medical fuel and water support, providing security, assisting in firefighting support, and assisting in recovery and reconstruction planning.

And finally, I'd just like to say a word about the men and women in uniform that are assisting in this endeavor.

As we saw Sunday, every American should be proud of our troops, whether they're active duty or reserve component, National Guard or reserves, that are in there doing their job. They all have one thing in mind, and that is helping their fellow Americans deal with this huge tragedy. And they're doing it in a way, and with the same professionalism that they always conduct themselves. And we should all be very proud.

Thank you. We'll take questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you gentlemen both speak of a massive and meaningful military response that's no doubt going on now -- saving lives, putting out fires, plugging the levee.

And yet, Mr. Secretary, you say that first responders, local and state responders, were struck low by the original blow...

RUMSFELD: Not quite correct. The original blow was the storm. And New Orleans escaped a great portion of it, if you're talking about New Orleans as opposed to Mississippi. The flood followed that by a day.

QUESTION: And, Mr. Chairman, you say that planning was already going on when the storm was on its way.

I guess I would ask, even without an investigation, now why was the federal military response relatively slow in terms of days, when thousands of lives might have been saved in New Orleans, people who suspect have been drowned? Why did it take days to begin moving thousands of Guard troops into the area? RUMSFELD: It didn't. As the storm was approaching, the Department of Defense met and discussed the importance of anticipating things that the department could be asked and being prepared to assist the people who do have the responsibility, federal and state and local, and arranging things, actually prepositioning things before they ever had.

MYERS: I think before the storm even hit, as I said in my remarks, there were actions undertaken by the Department of Defense to be ready to assist FEMA, which is our role, and the Department of Homeland Security, and we did that.

The headline, of course, in most of the country's papers on Tuesday were, "New Orleans dodged a bullet," or words to that effect. MYERS: At that time, when those words were in our minds, we started working issues before we were asked. And on Tuesday, at the direction of the secretary and the deputy secretary, we went to each of the services -- I called each of the chiefs of the services, one by one, and said, "We don't know what we're going to be asked for yet." The levees and the flood walls had just broken. "And we know some of what's going to be asked" -- because we'd already had some requests for assistance -- "but there's probably going to be more. And so as you, a service, think of capability that might be needed, you work with Northern Command, Admiral Tim Keating, and you push it forward" -- and we used what we call VOCO, or vocal approval of orders -- "and then we'll sort it out later. If NORTHCOM says that's a good capability to push forward, then we'll push that forward."

And we started that before the magnitude of this tragedy was even understood by anybody at any level. And so that movement was moved before...

QUESTION: You're saying there was no delay...

MYERS: There was no...

QUESTION: ... in addressing the situation by the military in terms of sending troops in.

MYERS: I think we responded -- not only was there no delay. I think we anticipated in most cases -- not in all cases, but in most cases, the support that was required. And we were pushing support before we were formally asked for it.

And some -- most was needed. Some, perhaps, was not. We're sorting that out right now. We may have more assets, for instance afloat, than we actually require right now, although we require a lot of that afloat capability.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, one of the strains of thought and complaints we've been hearing in the last few days is that people are wondering, if this was a WMD attack, would the response be both perceived as slow as a lot of the public thinks it was and in some cases actually as slow?

Is that a valid concern right now that we need to allay the public's concern on, or review on your own?

RUMSFELD: Well, as you know, being a Pentagon report, one of the things this department does very well is lessons learned. And from the first day, I asked Admiral Giambastiani to see that we put in place a lessons-learned process. So this has been going on. And we will know a good deal more after we have time to complete that work and get brief on it and make judgments.

But I think your question's a fair one. The Department of Defense, just as the Department of Defense does not have lead responsibility with respect to natural disasters, so, too, we do not have lead responsibility with respect to attacks within the United States from within the United States. And that it would characterize what you posed as a question.

RUMSFELD: And I'm sure that the government will be addressing that question in a serious way, as we all should.

MYERS: As we are, by the way, in the quadrennial defense review. I mean, that's one of the areas that we're looking at, is the department's roles and missions and responsibilities and the question: Are other authorities required or not required given the magnitude of what could happen, certainly?

So that's being...

RUMSFELD: What kinds of adjustments in organizing, training...

MYERS: Training, equipping...

RUMSFELD: ... all departments of government might be, given what might be learned as a result of this.

QUESTION: Do you have questions on your own, though, as a citizen first and then as a Cabinet secretary? You know, what if this had been a WMD attack? Were you personally concerned?

RUMSFELD: I've been thinking about this ever since September 11th, if not before.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, General Myers, I wanted to ask you about one narrow aspect of the response. Late last week, we began to see helicopters dropping food and supplies to people on the ground that were in areas that were hard to get to.

A lot of people are wondering, including some of the victims who were on the ground and in very desperate situations -- particularly on Tuesday and Wednesday -- why we didn't see those sort of helicopter air drops for instance to the Louisiana Superdome, where thousands of people were without food and people were dying in front of other people's eyes and in remote areas of the Mississippi coast where people were expecting to see the military deliver aid and didn't see it for a couple of days.

My question is: Was that expectation unrealistic? Why couldn't helicopters have delivered some essential aid to those kinds of places on Tuesday and Wednesday instead of Thursday and Friday?

RUMSFELD: General Honore answered that question when General Myers and I were with him on Sunday. And he pointed out that the first thing that one does when a hurricane is approaching is to move assets -- aircraft, helicopters, all those kinds of capabilities that could be destroyed in a hurricane -- away from the area that's being targeted by the hurricane so that they will be available at some point.

RUMSFELD: So there was a substantial movement of things away from the hurricane by private people, by military people.

When I was a Navy pilot, we used to have a hurricane evacuation where we'd get the planes and fly them up in Memphis, Tennessee. And that's a very normal pattern.

As the situation evolved, they were brought back, and very rapidly. And the numbers, as you know -- people have watched what's going on on the ground there, not in the remote areas because CNN isn't in the remote areas...

QUESTION: We are, sir. We're in many of the remote areas. We're not everywhere but we have...

RUMSFELD: But what we're seeing in large measure in New Orleans. And as General Myers said, there are today something like 355 military helicopters operating there, many, many multiples of anything anyone could have imagined.

And it came up from having evacuated and then bringing them up.

QUESTION: So when people were at the Louisiana Superdome on Wednesday at the most desperate point before the substantial aid got there and they were crying out for aid, was it unrealistic -- there was no way to get helicopters to drop food in? Maybe General Myers could address this.

I mean, I think the reason I'm asking is because the public is asking, because the people who were affected are asking this question.

MYERS: I guess -- I'm not going to quarrel with your premise but, from what I understand, there was food and water being brought in. Now, maybe the quantities weren't sufficient, but you've got to look at the priorities, and that day...

QUESTION: There were no helicopters that dropped...

MYERS: The first priority was to save lives, so the helicopters they had were out trying to save lives from people that were in the flood waters -- to save lives. And then the next thing you think about is food and water and shelter, and then you think about medical.

And those were the priorities that General Honore, as part of our response, and the state governments with their adjutants general or the folks that led their disaster response were struggling with. And I think that as situations became known -- and part of Tuesday afternoon, of course, was made assessing the -- and Wednesday morning -- were made assessing what the needs were, because, again, recall what the headlines were Tuesday, and you're talking about Wednesday, and we're talking about by Friday things are pretty much resolved not only in the Superdome but also in the -- I think they call it the civic center or convention center.

They were pretty much -- by Friday night, Saturday morning -- pretty much resolved, which I think given the magnitude of the tragedy, as General Honore said -- and I think it was probably not an exaggeration if you look at other storms, other category 5 storms -- he said of biblical proportions -- so I think they prioritized and they did what they could do.

RUMSFELD: When we were down there, we happened to meet with a National Guard helicopter outfit that had eight helicopters. And between August 30th -- that's Tuesday, the day you're talking about -- and September 3rd, they flew -- with eight helicopters, they flew 781 sorties; refugees and patients, they pulled out 6,644. They delivered cases of MREs at 1,656 with 12 times the number of meals in a case -- there's 12 meals in a case -- and water at 1,615 cases.

RUMSFELD: And they carried breach fill, sling loads to fill the levee breach, something like 1,551,000 pounds of materials to fill that breach.

MYERS: One Texas Guard...

RUMSFELD: One outfit.

MYERS: ... small helicopter outfit, with...

RUMSFELD: So there was a lot going on...

MYERS: ... way less than 15 helicopters.

RUMSFELD: ... during that period. And as General Myers said, the first priority was to save lives, and the sustainment of people and the filling of the breach and those other things followed.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, would the response have been faster if it had been federalized right from the beginning, had it been a federal response, particularly in light of the fact that, as you pointed out, first responders were swamped by the hurricane and its aftermath?

MYERS: I think the response by the National Guard, which is under state authority in both Louisiana and Mississippi and I assume Alabama and Florida as well, was I think very quick. I think if you asked the TAGs of that state, I think they responded very quickly.

And the quickness with which we used the compact between the states to bring other National Guard in there was -- the buildup was quite impressive.

If you can give me -- give me slide one -- I'll give you a comparison to another category 5 hurricane. On the left you have Andrew in 1992. And I don't know if you can read the chart, but the total there is 14,000 at day five of the event. Then if you look under number two or above number two, you see roughly 30,000 for Katrina. And that was the rapidity of the response.

And bear in mind that there was no major city involved. The hurricane hit south of Miami, Florida. So there was no major city involved. And we had a major American city that three-quarters of which was under water. And some of the roads into the city, of course, were under water as well. And Mississippi, of course, as you get below Hattiesburg, the infrastructure was -- a lot of the east-west roads we saw for ourselves were just chopped up. So bridges, roads were out of there.

You know, you can never be perfect in a tragedy like this. You'd like to be perfect and be there the moment someone needs help. But as hard as these people tried and the states tried, it's just not possible.

RUMSFELD: One of the other shortfalls besides the fact that first responders were in many case victims, of course, was the communication system in the city disappeared. Cell phones weren't working and that problem. The Department of Defense has since gone in and provided bandwidth so that the city is getting back up with that.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, there are some critics out there saying that the deployment in Iraq somehow hindered your ability to respond to this disaster militarily.

RUMSFELD: It's just flat wrong. Anyone who's saying that doesn't understand the situation.

Do you want to comment on it?

MYERS: I don't know what else I can say except that it is flat wrong.

I can say a few other words. There were some other articles that people I think are misconstruing, that maybe our response to the October referendum in Iraq and to the September elections in Afghanistan were going to be somehow modified because of the humanitarian assistance we're providing along the Gulf Coast.

MYERS: That's wrong, too. The plan that we've had in effect will stay in effect. Those that need to deploy are deploying. Troop levels are going to be what the commanders wanted and what they've asked for.

So nothing has changed. And on top of that, we've had the flexibility to find those servicemembers -- as you know, there's brigade combat teams out of both Louisiana and Mississippi that were forward deployed. And we have found those members of those units and other members -- active duty and Guard -- that may have family members in those regions. And those that have serious issues, we're bringing back to deal with their own personal situations.

Thank you, folks.

MYERS: Can I give them one little story about response?


MYERS: And I think it's a tribute. And it's how I ended up my formal remarks. But it's a tribute to the spirit of the men and women in the armed forces. And it's not a trivial thing.

But one of the agents that was supporting Secretary Rumsfeld and I -- I'll just leave his name out of it -- but he trained hard with a special unit ready to go to Iraq. He was supporting our mission in a volunteer status. His house was in the Keesler area and it was wiped out. His wife was in Montgomery. He was at Fort Bragg getting ready to deploy. Came back to support our mission. And then in two days was going to be gone to Iraq -- and all willingly.

He said, "That's what I do. And since we don't have any household goods, my wife will work that part of it. But she's going to work that. And I'll go do my job that I've trained for for months."

You hear story after story after story like that. And we ought to take comfort that we have people that want to do that kind of work and that have that kind of dedication.

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, a housekeeping issue?

RUMSFELD: I don't do housekeeping.

(LAUGHTER) QUESTION: Well, I understand that. But everybody keeps talking about how the U.S. military, how the Pentagon, had anticipated the disaster. Is it possible to get a detailed timeline of when assets were moved, when decisions were made.

Because we keep hearing that the military was ready but, quite frankly, the pictures, the images and the stories out of New Orleans fight that. It's hard for us to wrap our minds around that concept when it took so long to see the results of the U.S. military efforts.

Is it possible to get a detailed timeline of when things were moved, when they were available and when decisions were made to deploy them?

RUMSFELD: I would think -- I don't know that, about what kinds of precise records were kept, but certainly...


RUMSFELD: The lessons learned -- just a minute -- the lessons learned project, which will take some time, clearly will recapture everything that can be recaptured of that type and we'll know an awful lot more then.

And we've got a good group of people working on it -- folks, as a matter of fact, who have done it several times so they'll be good.

QUESTION: But more in general, Mr. Secretary, weren't you itching to get some people in there and you just weren't asked?

PHILLIPS: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and also Joint Chairmans chief there, Richard Myers, of course having the daily briefing there. And once again, being drilled by reporters about the response to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

But once again, the response there establishes just the bureaucracy and the different levels of defense that exist in our country when responding to a natural disaster. Starting from a city, state level, moving up to the federal level.

And now, as we see, DOD getting involved. There's a number of layers of defense that have to be acknowledged before going to DOD. And that's what Donald Rumsfeld was trying to get across there. They are not the lead department. It's not their responsibility, when a natural disaster like this hits. It has to start at the lower levels and work its way up from there. That is why the U.S. Northern Command, of course, was established. And we've seen that massive response, with DOD assets.

Definitely hard to explain to a number of reporters asking a lot of questions. But as you know, what has happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will lead to a number of investigations and adjustments, as Richard Myers and Donald Rumsfeld have said, in the department's roles in missions and responsibilities in natural disasters. Once again, emphasizing the war on terror will not be affected by how DOD is responding to Hurricane Katrina.

We'll take quick break. We'll be right back.


PHILLIPS: Some of the most emotional stories coming out of this disaster are anguished parents searching for their missing kids.

One mom had to leave her critically ill baby at a New Orleans Hospital when she and her other children were evacuated. Carol Lin is at the Victims and Relief Desk with an update on them -- Carol.

CAROL LIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kyra, can you imagine being in this mother's position? Maureen Wells had four other children she had to protect. Her baby Joelle (ph) had a critical heart condition and had to stay at a New Orleans Hospital.

Well, the spunky 14-month-old baby, who endured three heart surgeries since she was born, escaped the floodwaters. After the Children's Hospital in New Orleans lost power, she was airlifted to Houston. And then last night -- there you are, seeing the pictures, she was reunited with her family in Atlanta. Now, she needed a respirator to breathe and antibiotics to fight the infection.

Maureen, her mom, never lost contact with her daughter. Every day they were separated, she got phone updates on Joelle's condition. It was about 10:00 p.m. last night, little Joelle and mom saw other for the first time in more than a week.


MAUREEN WELLS, MOTHER (voice-over): Just seeing her just lit up my heart, my mind, body and soul. It just was wonderful. It was a great experience. She was smiling and happy and looked so joyful to see us all.


LIN: I can imagine. She knows mom. Well, the Wells family is never going back to New Orleans. Maureen tells us that Atlanta is her new home.

Now, our crews are on the ground doing their best to help people get in touch with their missing loved ones. Here are a few of the people we've been able to talk to.


HARRY ELLIS, LOOKING FOR WIFE: My name is Harry Ellis. I'm looking for my wife Ellen (ph) Ellis and the rest of the family. I would like for them to know that I'm alive an I don't know where I'm going.

ALVIN SEYMOUR, LOOKING FOR CHILDREN: I'm Alvin Seymour. I'm searching for my children. I'm fine, I'm OK. Here's your mother. She's fine, she's OK. I'll try to get in touch with you -- get in touch. I don't know how, but I'm looking for you.

JOHNNY PATTERSON, LOOKING FOR FAMILY MEMBERS: My name is Johnny Patterson. I've been talking to my mom and my cousin, how are y'all right there? (INAUDIBLE). I'm tired, I'm hurt. My children hadn't ate a good meal all week. Please, y'all, come help us. Please, come by and help us.


LIN: If you've seen these people, e-mail us at Also, if you have your own miracle story, let us share it. We want to tell people that you're doing OK and not only that, but that miracles can happen -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Never, ever believe that miracles are not possible, that's for sure. Carol Lin, thank you.


PHILLIPS: And we're just getting this word in that Bob Denver has died. You know, Bob Denver was TV's Gilligan from, as you know, that show that, my gosh, we all watched for so many years, "Gilligan's Island." We're being told he died Friday at the age of 70 due to complications from cancer treatment. He died at the Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center with Dreama, his wife of 28 years, right there by his side, along with his children Patrick, Megan, Emily and Colin.

As you know, he's known for two legendary television characters. He played the beatnik Maynard Krebs, in the comedy series "Dobie Gillis" for four years; followed, of course, by that zany yet endearing character Gilligan in one ever the most popular television series of our time, "Gilligan's Island." And that ran, as you know, for three seasons. My gosh, the reruns still run. His career spanned 50 years and he appeared in hundreds of television and film roles.

Now, we're told there is -- there's not going to be a memorial. But in lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to the Denver Foundation. And if -- what we can do is, there is an address to that. But you can also, if you just go on the Web and search Denver Foundation, Inc. That address will come up in West Virginia. But we'll try to get it on for you, also.

Anyway, Bob Denver, TV's Gilligan from the television show "Gilligan's Island," has passed away at the age of 70 from complications with cancer.

Well, that wraps up this edition of LIVE FROM. We will be back here tomorrow. Straight ahead, Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM."