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CNN Live Event/Special

Vice President, Mrs. Cheney Tour Hurricane Damage; Biloxi Survivor Shares Story; Lawmakers Battle Over Hurricane Aftermath; National Guard to Assist Mandatory Evacuations

Aired September 08, 2005 - 12:00   ET


DARYN KAGAN, ANCHOR: I'm Daryn Kagan. Now, "Mission Critical," a check on the latest developments with Katrina's aftermath.
The Coast Guard says it will help New Orleans police with forced evacuations in the city. Police say those evacuations will not begin until all residents who want to leave are out. It's believed up to 15,000 people may still be in the flooded city.

You know about the millions of meals and bottles of water the U.S. government is giving to storm victims. But did you know other nations are also sending food and water? Plane loads of such supplies have been arriving since Monday from countries like Britain, Italy, and France.

There is concern about the potential spread of infection at shelters. Bacteria from contaminated flood water may be carried by some New Orleans residents. Four deaths have been attributed to wound infections.

We have new numbers on relocations. Nearly 79,000 Louisiana citizens are staying in nine out-of-state shelters. That's in addition to another 55,000 people in Louisiana shelters. More than 5,000 people are staying in Mississippi shelters.

And more pumps are online in New Orleans: 23 of the 148 pumping stations used to remove water from the city are now working. Three portable pumps are also in operation. Still, it could take up to 80 days to drain all the flooded areas.

We're going to begin this hour with new efforts by the White House to make its presence felt in the disaster zone. President Bush has sent his No. 2, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales for a firsthand look at relief efforts.

Our Allan Chernoff is in Biloxi, Mississippi, with more on the damage and the cleanup there -- Allan.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, the situation here in Biloxi is still quite dire. Just a moment ago, 13 electrical contractor trucks went driving down behind me along Division Street. They are attempting today to restore power to this main street of Biloxi. But most of the homes here still without power.

This morning, also, we saw many homeowners trying to salvage whatever they might out of their flooded homes. But essentially, they were looking at situations of almost complete devastation.

As a matter of fact, the home across the street, we've been here since before dawn, and we saw Andre Odom, the homeowner there, cleaning out, as you can see, behind us, all of that debris on the curb there. Everything essentially destroyed.

And inside of the home, many rooms still untouched but devastated by the storm, filled with mud, just complete chaos.

Andre, first of all, a monumental task. This must be devastating.

ANDRE ODOM, BILOXI RESIDENT: Yes, it was tough. Everybody barely made it. We are struggling, we need help.

CHERNOFF: Andre, you rode out the storm in your home. Tell us exactly what you experienced. You were first on that ground floor.

ODOM: After the water came in through the biggest window, we had nowhere but to go because it was coming from the bay and the beach. They were fighting. They were coming too quick. It got to about 22 feet.

CHERNOFF: So you went from the ground floor up to the second.

ODOM: We went upstairs. When the water got so high, I figured I'd have to come out that window and get on that third, top floor.

CHERNOFF: So you -- and you were potentially on the roof during the storm?

ODOM: Looking out that open window up there the kids had to come out of.

CHERNOFF: Now, Andre, let me ask you also about recovery here. Your house is insured? Are you hopeful of getting a payment any time soon? And are you hopeful that the federal government, FEMA, may come in with some financial aid?

ODOM: Well, my mother's the beneficiary of the house. I'm just waiting on her. And that's all I can go by.


ODOM: I don't really know. I haven't seen her in two days.

CHERNOFF: One other thing I want to illustrate just to our right, just to show you the magnitude of the storm. As you can see, that trailer thrown all the way across Division Street.

That trailer had been parked in this parking lot right before the storm. It literally carried it across the street, tossed it into somebody's back yard and demolished a shack back there.

Daryn, back to you.

KAGAN: All right, Allan Chernoff, live from Biloxi, Mississippi. Thank you.

Another VIP visit to tell you about today. First lady Laura Bush heads to Iowa and Mississippi. She'll visit schools in Des Moines and South Haven to put the spotlight on the plight of displaced children. The first lady will be accompanied by Education Secretary Margaret Spellings during her travels.

The visits by the first lady, the vice president, and the attorney general are part of a major offensive by the White House. They have been stung by criticism that they moved too slowly. Officials are pulling out all the stops to regain lost ground.

Our Ed Henry is on Capitol Hill with more on that.

Ed, good morning.


That's right. In fact, the president had a meeting this morning with congressional Republican leaders to figure out what is next in the disaster and recovery efforts.

And what's fascinating is here on Capitol Hill, just how nasty it's become in reaction to the storm.

You think back to four years ago this coming weekend. Right after the 9/11 disaster, there was so much cooperation here on the Hill that they were even singing "God Bless America" on the Capital steps together, a much different scene now, basically hand-to-hand combat.

Sure, they are coming together today and tomorrow to pass about $51.8 billion in more hurricane relief, on top of the $10 billion allocated last week, but even on the money we're seeing it break along partisan lines.

Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid a short time ago complaining at a press conference that President Bush has directed about 90 percent of those funds will go to FEMA. Reid and other Democrats saying they have deep concerns that money is going to be wasted. They obviously do not think that FEMA director Michael Brown is up to the job.

And in fact, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi today renewed her call that Brown must go. And when she was pressed at a press conference about her very tough comments yesterday directed at the president, in which she said the president is oblivious, she once again went right after the president.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: Well, the president of the United States said to me in his office, "What didn't go right next week?" I thought that was oblivious. I thought that was in denial. And I thought that oblivious and in denial is dangerous for the country. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY: Now, it's important to note that the White House begs to differ with that account. She was referring to a meeting two days ago at the White House in which Pelosi urged the president to dump Michael Brown. She has said that the president said, "What went wrong?"

In fact, White House officials say their account is that when Pelosi said that, the president basically said, "How do you know? Have you conducted an investigation so far?" And at that point, Pelosi demurred.

Obviously, much different accounts. But the bottom line is that people at the White House and also Republican leaders here on the Hill are saying enough is enough with the finger pointing.

Here's how Speaker Dennis Hastert put it.


REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We have a lot of work to do. People can join in and help get the job done. Or some people can stand aside and criticize. But you know, we have work to do. We can't be distracted bipartisanship, by finger pointing, by name calling. We have work to do. The American people expect us to get this work done. Certainly, the victims of this catastrophe expect us to get this work done. That's exactly what this Congress is going to do.


HENRY: It's important to note, though, that Republican leaders up here like House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, in fact, have pointed fingers away from the federal government to local and state officials in Louisiana, saying a closer look needs to be taken at them. That maybe they are the ones who dropped the ball.

And also this morning, after this White House meeting with the president, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist joined Speaker Hastert in saying that yesterday, those two Republican leaders here on the Hill formed what they call a bipartisan committee to take a look at exactly what went wrong in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

But in fact, yesterday, the Democratic leaders here on the Hill were informed about this new committee by the media. And in fact, Nancy Pelosi had to call Speaker Hastert to ask him about it. And it was only when Speaker Hastert returned her call that, in fact, she learned that this committee was being formed. When they had a press conference to form it, the Democratic leaders were not there.

And in fact, this morning, Nancy Pelosi is saying unless she's convinced it's going to be bipartisan, she is boycotting that. So you can see, it's getting nasty real fast, Daryn.

KAGAN: And I'm sure all the squabbling is fascinating to the people who really need help and really need to figure out what went wrong.

Ed Henry, question of the day. Right around the corner, Monday the confirmation hearings for John Roberts.

HENRY: That's right. In fact, behind me a moment ago, there was a press conference going on -- you might have heard a little bit of noise -- where some supporters of John Roberts were trying to remind everyone that, while the Katrina situation is very important, that that is also coming up next week. They're supporting his nomination.

We're not really expecting very many fireworks there. He was already appointed, as you know, to be an associate justice. And it was expected that he would get somewhere around 75 to maybe even 80 votes, that much bipartisan support. We have to wait and see what happens at the hearings. But even though he's now up for chief justice, it's still expected he's going to get wide bipartisan support, Daryn.

KAGAN: Ed Henry, live on Capitol Hill. Thank you, Ed.

Katrina has put at least 10,000 people out of work. That is only the beginning of those numbers. Thousands more are expected to join the jobless lines in the weeks and months ahead. The Labor Department saying there were an estimated 10,000 disaster-related filings for unemployment benefits last week. That from our business desk.

Now to the situation on the ground. Stagnant water in New Orleans is still the big threat to public health. The pumping is going on, while emergency workers go block by block urging people to get out.

Our Karl Penhaul joins us now with the latest on that.

Karl, good morning, or good afternoon where you are, thank you.

KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Still at this stage, Daryn, there's no sign of the forced evacuations. Law enforcement officials are still conducting volunteer evacuations. Those people that maybe stayed here after the hurricane and decided that they would try and tough it out and now decide that the conditions are unlivable.

Those people are the ones that are being brought out still from flooded areas on airboats, loaded onto trucks, helicopters, then bussed out of the region.

But police say that the forced evacuations, which have been controversial, won't begin just yet. Still no timetable for them, nor any specific details about how they will be conducted.

But of course, there are a lot of law enforcement officials on hand, should those forced evacuations become necessary.

Where we're standing is the coordination center for all law enforcement here. And not only is there local police and state police, but there are police troopers from across the nation here. There are National Guard. There are firefighters from across the nation. And there's also Army's a big coordination job here. Not always smooth, but certainly, these are the people that will then be brought in the front lines for those forced evacuations, Daryn.

KAGAN: Karl Penhaul, live from New Orleans. Let's talk about those forced evacuations though, because there does seem to be a big debate about who's going to carry them out and when they're actually going to happen.

PENHAUL: Exactly. That's true. And even amongst the people who are staying behind themselves, there's a lot of controversy. As I say, some are saying, "OK, well if we've got to go, we've got to go."

But others are saying, "No, this is a violation of our civil liberties that give us the choice to stay, if we choose, on our own property."

And then, added to all that controversy, the Army, because there are members of the 82nd Airborne here, and also 1st Cavalry, regular Army units, that are saying, "No, we're not going to be part and parcel of that. That wasn't the deal we signed up for. We're not going to either force people out of their homes or starve them out of their own homes" -- Daryn.

KAGAN: Karl Penhaul, live from New Orleans. Thank you.

Well, officials are facing an uphill battle trying to persuade some of those residents to get out of New Orleans. As Karl was saying, the numbers, between 10,000 and 15,000 people remaining in the city. That's all happening as conditions continue to deteriorate.

Chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour reports on those efforts to evacuate the holdouts.


CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The sniffer dogs are out now. So many bodies, just loosely covered, still lie in the open, threatening to spread disease like wild fire through the watery graveyard that is the city of New Orleans.

The mayor wants everyone out.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: There's a marshal declaration in place that gives us legal authority for mandatory evacuations.

AMANPOUR: So, as they have done for eight days, Wildlife and Fishery teams, those with the boats from all over the country, are going house to water-logged house.

But as Texas Game Warden Derek Iden knows, this mission is about to get a whole lot more difficult.

(on camera) How do you physically remove people from their houses?

DEREK IDEN, TEXAS GAME WARDEN: I don't know. That's something that's going to be determined. If they don't want to come out on their own free will, then I don't know. It's going to be hard.

AMANPOUR (voice-over): On dry land, National Guard units from across the country are faced with the same dilemma. Some residents sit with their bags packed, waiting to be evacuated. Others are loaded into trucks and driven off.

But many of the estimated 10,000 remaining residents still don't want to leave their city. And so far, this Guard unit from Oklahoma tells the Simpson family it's not yet under orders to force them out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't have exactly when or how they're going to do it yet. As soon as we get the information.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you all get the information, you all come tell us, because I don't want the wrong story.

AMANPOUR (on camera): The fact is, neither the National Guard troops we've spoken to nor the water rescue people know quite how they're going to force residents to leave their house. What exactly does mandatory evacuation mean? And how are they going to make it happen?

(voice-over) But officers from the California Highway Patrol, who drove two days to come and help people here, are determined to enforce the mayor's order.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police, open the door!

AMANPOUR: With five minutes to gather belonging, this man and his wife reluctantly emerged. Just moments earlier, their neighbor insisted they were going to stand firm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're roofers and carpenters, and we're waiting to rebuild. This is our city. We are not going to abandon it.

AMANPOUR: Inside, they have electricity, food and water, because their neighborhood was not badly damaged. But the highway patrolmen on this block are undeterred.

And a few minutes later, heaving with sobs and sadness, the woman joins friends and neighbors on a truck mounted with armed guards. None of them resisted; nonetheless, the residents of this block say they are heart broken.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'd like to remain so we can put the city back together. We love this city. I don't know what else to say.

AMANPOUR: From surviving the flood, to refugees in their own country, not knowing where they're going or when they'll return.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN, New Orleans.


KAGAN: And from that, from Christiane's report we go live. We're looking at live pictures of Gulfport, Mississippi. You can see Vice President Dick Cheney on the left part of your screen. His wife, Lynn, also along with him.

Mr. and Mrs. Cheney are taking a visit to the region today. They're going to Gulfport. Then they go onboard the Iwo Jima, on to New Orleans and then to the emergency operations center in Baton Rouge.

Getting a firsthand look at the devastation right now. They're seeing the devastation Katrina did to the Gulf Coast, especially along Mississippi.

Well, with all that, believe it or not, another batch of stormy weather is making its way toward the East Coast. The latest on the tropical storm that has residents along the Florida coast worried this time. We're going to get to that just ahead.

Also, they were supposed to deliver water and critical supplies to the Gulf Coast, but they changed their plans. Up next, the story of two Navy pilots. We'll get to that in just a moment.

All right, before we go to break, we're going to stay with these pictures, and we're going to see what Vice President Cheney is saying. Once again, he is in Gulfport, Mississippi, today. He is making a visit with Mrs. Cheney. Also the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, is along for the ride.

The Gulf Coast -- the coast of Mississippi pretty much wiped out. We will go ahead and continue to see the coverage of that. But right now, there is a news conference beginning with the police of New Orleans. Let's go to city hall in New Orleans and listen to that.

SUPERINTENDENT EDDIE COMPASS, NEW ORLEANS POLICE: I'm sorry. Last night was a very quiet night in the city of New Orleans. We had a total of 10 calls for service for the entire city. All 10 calls were from people calling to be evacuated. We had no calls for any type of violent behavior. We had no incidents involving criminal activity.

Our morale is very high right now. Police officers are feeling encouraged. They see progress being made, and it is really, really a good day today for the New Orleans Police Department.

CHIEF CHARLES PARENT, NEW ORLEANS FIRE DEPARTMENT: Good morning. Yesterday the New Orleans Fire Department responded to 11 working fires. Six of them were inaccessible by land, so we made helicopter drops. We had a major fire at Dillard University, where we lost three multi-story buildings that was fought entirely by air.

At this time we have six helicopters at our disposal to utilize, and we have two C-130 aircraft firefighter planes on standby.

The men are -- the New Orleans firefighters are extremely tired, but the morale is still high. We are rotating our men out so they can get to see their families. At this time, we have just over 100 New Orleans firefighters remaining in the city. But we have been supplemented by the states of New York, Illinois, and Maryland. And we have over 800 firefighters from those areas in the city.


PARENT: Over 800. The city is well protected at this time. We have established three bases on the east bank of the river. We've reclaimed three of our engine houses and we're responding task force from that location.

BILL LEHMAN, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, FEMA: Good morning, Bill Lehman, public information officer, FEMA.

We have -- we have had two incident management teams come in from North Carolina and from Arlington, Virginia. They'll be supporting the fire and the police. The management teams arrived last night. They'll be working in support of the police and fire.

Also, FEMA has disaster recovery centers set up throughout the parishes that'll be operable later for city personnel, particularly for fire, police, emergency operations so that they can register and get the relief that they need.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll start to my left. Any questions? Yes, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've been hearing that the mayor was going to be in Dallas in a meeting there. Could you tell us a little bit about that? (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

COMPASS: Tammy Frazier (ph) from the mayor's office is the contact person for that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you say that again, Chief? With respect to the mayor, you can contact Tammy Frazier, who is his press secretary. And her cell phone number's 329-1250. That's area code 504-329-1250. And I'm sure she can lend some information with respect to the meeting in Dallas.

Yes, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Do you know anything about this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe that question should be directed to the Corps of Engineers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you know about any of this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, we did not. No. Paul?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're talking about the condition of the water?


PARENT: Right, we tell everyone to avoid the flood waters as much as possible. If you do have contact with the flood waters, you have to decontaminate yourself as soon as possible.

Whenever our fire engines come on this, when they go back to the west bank of the river, we automatically decontaminate them before they enter the compound. And we recommend that everyone decontaminate themselves before they enter their house. We don't want to bring these contaminants into their house, into the areas where they eat at.



PARENT: We are starting to get water in the system right now. And just wash off with a hose. The water is not good for drinking. Just make sure everyone doesn't use this water for drinking. But they can wash off their equipment, their boots. And don't get this flood water...

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're doing something about it. I've had some great meetings with the mayors of the local communities here, with the state officials, with military, with police and law enforcement and federal officials, as well. Mike Chertoff. I've got attorney general Gonzales with us and so forth, too.

And the president asked me to come down and take a look at things to begin to focus on the longer term in terms of making certain, obviously, that we're getting the search and rescue mission done and also some of the immediate problems. But we've also got longer term problems that we need to focus on from this standpoint. That's the main reason I'm here today.

Let me also say a prayer, too. Because I've, like everybody, I've been glued to the television set for the last few days, watching the coverage of the developments here in Mississippi and Louisiana. But I really want to say a word on behalf of so many folks who are getting it right.

That is to say, that I think the police and law enforcement and fire first responders, fire officials have done just a phenomenal job. Every place I go, people I've talked to, I get stories about their sacrifice, about the fact they've all had to go through the exact same thing as everybody else. Their homes have been destroyed and demolished in many cases. They're worried about family.

And yet they're out there, day in and day out, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, doing what needs to be done to help with the recovery effort and to protect the folks that have been most directly effected by all of this. And I've also been tremendously impressed with the messages I've received, if you will, from the local folks here in Mississippi along the Gulf. And the thanks that they have expressed for the support that they have received from all over the country.

Faith-based charity group represented by a gentlemen out of Florida who's here as a volunteer. The Guardsmen, National Guardsmen from 28 different states who are participating in activities here in Mississippi. The -- all of the folks, the volunteers, the federal officials that have participated, have been a tremendous expression, if you will, this morning in my meetings with thanks and gratitude from local folks for the help that they have received.

And that's not to say there's not a lot of work to be done. There obviously is. You walk through these neighborhoods and see the destruction that has occurred and the enormous amount of work that yet needs to be done to rebuild these communities.

But everybody I've met with is positive and upbeat. We're going to get it done. We're going to rebuild. We're going to get our schools open again. We're going to get our businesses back in business. And it's a very, very positive can-do attitude that's tremendously heartwarming and impressive. When you get a chance to see the folks that are out there actually directly effected by this terrible tragedy and now doing such a phenomenal job of recovering from it. They deserve the support of all of us.

The president sent me down to spend some time to make certain that we're doing everything that needs to be done and that we begin to focus on the longer term in terms of basic fundamental recovery for Mississippi, for the Gulf Coast. And obviously, we'll go on later today to Louisiana.

With that, I'd be happy to take a couple of questions.


CHENEY: Easy now. Stick your hands up, and I'll call on you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice president, are the results now becoming more acceptable? The president said the other day they weren't. And have you encountered examples where federal red tape has kept relief and supplies from getting to people who need it?

CHENEY: Well, I think the progress we're making is significant. I think the performance in general, at least, in terms of the information I have received from the locals, is definitely very impressive. We've not got, as I say, a major National Guard presence in virtually every committee south of I-20?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Or 20, actually, sir; you're right. CHENEY: Twenty. And food and the water is moving well. The search and rescue operations are under way, in good shape. They're now starting the recovery effort. They're very interested and there are questions. Not necessarily federal. Some of them are federal problems, some are state problems.

For example, in terms of being able to go into a neighborhood like this and go onto a piece of property and being able to clean it out. And if there's no -- if the owner's not present, but you can't find them -- they may have gone or evacuated; they may be hundreds of miles away -- you've got problems in terms of the extent of which you can use public funds to go in and clean refuse and debris off private property.

And so those kinds of issues need to get resolved. And those issues are being worked by FEMA as well as by state officials. So there are problems like that that need to be sorted out. You've got, as I was talking to the mayor, in those areas, one of the things...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go (expletive deleted) yourself, Mr. Cheney.

CHENEY: You have to figure out what to do with all of the debris.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go (expletive deleted) yourself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you getting a lot of that, Mr. Vice President?

CHENEY: And -- that's the first time I've heard it. Never mind. A friend of John -- or never mind.

But it's a question with what you do with the debris in terms of your toxic waste problem you've got to worry about, in terms of where you're going to put it, in terms of environmental restraints and regulations that have to be satisfied.

So there are, in fact, regulations and statutes on the books that we have to deal with as we work through this process. And we need to do everything we can to facilitate the operations at the local level. And that's why we are here. That's why FEMA's here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice President?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A couple of things: you were saying that (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the disaster effort. Do you think that's necessary at this point?

CHENEY: I think we've got some very good people involved. I've got Mike Chertoff with me today, the head of the Department of Homeland Security. Mike's got specific responsibilities. And with respect to all of these efforts, he reports directly to the president.

I'm here to help Mike and do everything I can to avoid interference for him back in Washington if help's needed with the various federal agencies. And I think we're well represented on the side, and I've got enormous confidence in the secretary, as does the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice President, can you please -- thank you for coming, let me say, first of all. Can you please tell us something that you've learned from your visit with us here today? That -- something that you're going to step in, and the federal government's going to do differently? Something you've learned today from coming here?

CHENEY: One of the big issues that obviously needs to be addressed. And it's come up in my meetings as well as talking with private citizens along here is this question of insurance. And the issue being whether or not people without flood insurance, but who are on those properties effected by storm surge, hurricane-driven event, whether or not they qualify for insurance, whether that's an incidence of flooding or whether it's an incident of the hurricane.

And the legal questions that revolve around that in terms of what's covered by the various kinds of policies. Clearly, a big issue here in the community. Some people have flood insurance, but those who don't have flood insurance. And the question is whether or not they'll get covered by their private policies. And I think that's an important issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice President, there are so many people who have lost their homes. What can the federal government do to speed up the process to get temporary housing to south Mississippi?

CHENEY: Temporary housing's one of the issues we talked about. FEMA is moving aggressively to move mobile homes, trailers into Mississippi. I think they're going to a central location, Hattiesburg, as I recall. And then they'll be spread out from there. There should be some coming to the Gulf Coast. And we do want to get temporary housing for people as quickly as possible. It is an important priority, and FEMA is working on that right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice President, have you identified any human response issues that need to be dealt with? Problems, red tape involving human beings?

CHENEY: Well, I've heard, although I need to explore further, that there are the need for addressing some of the mental health issues that have affected lots of individuals. I'm not an expert in that area by any means. But it's an issue that I want to look at, and that needs to be addressed. Obviously it's a traumatic experience, when you think about how it's affecting so many people.

I guess the other thing that I'm struck by is the number of people I've run into, said, Well, we went through Hurricane Camille, that was sort of a high-watermark. And we all figured if we could survive Camille, then no problem with something else coming along.

And I think the mayor himself even said that obviously this one was far worse than Camille.

SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS: Mr. Vice President, Susan Collins of Maine, and a Republican to be named later, will co-chair a committee to take a look at what happened here and what could have been done better. Nancy Pelosi, the House minority leader, has said that Democrats will not participate in that, because they don't believe it's an independent enough commission, as a result of the fact that it's been set up by the White House.

Two questions. First, your reaction to that? And second, should there be a more independent investigation?

CHENEY: Well, I think the proposal that's been made by the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, and by the House speaker, Denny Hastert, makes sense, if you get a joint committee of the House and Senate that would have Republicans and Democrats on it. It's reminiscent of a committee I served on back in the '80s. I served as the ranking House Republican on the Iran-contra (INAUDIBLE). We did it the same way then. We had both houses, both parties represented on one committee. Congressional oversight responsibilities were carried out.

We did a good job. And it's one of the ways you avoid the problem that we are faced with.

SMITH: But Mr. Vice President, if they (INAUDIBLE)...

CHENEY: Let me finish.

SMITH: Yes, sir.

CHENEY: One of the problems you've got is so many different jurisdictions on Capitol Hill, of multiple committees and subcommittees with jurisdiction. And what you can't do is have the process go forward in a way that interrupts our basic ability to do what needs to be done down here.

So if you get one committee that involves both the House and the Senate, involves both parties, there's no reason in the world they can't do an effective oversight job, why they can't do the after- action review that we all agree is necessary and important, and then report back in a timely fashion. I think that makes good sense. I think that's the way Congress ought to carry out its responsibilities. And we support it.

SMITH: But the minority leader, Mr. Vice President, has said that the Democrats will not participate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice President, do you think that the country's best served by political appointees in positions like FEMA, or should there be somebody with more qualifications?

CHENEY: Well, most of government runs on the basis of a combination of civilian leadership that's elected and career professionals that fill the jobs underneath them. And we're always trying to strike the right balance.

But I think in generally, that overall principle served us well as a government over the years. You got to have people at the top who respond to and are selected by presidents, and pick the best people you can to do the jobs that need to be done.

We've also got some great career professionals that are an absolutely vital part of the operation. Couldn't do it without them, the ones that continue the expertise from administration to administration, who've got the experience of having been through all of this before, and to provide quality service that needs to be provided.

We've got a tremendous challenge down here to get this done, but I am tremendously heartened and encouraged by the commitment and the enthusiasm and the spirit, if you will, of the people that are most directly affected by it, the ones who are out here doing it day in and day out.

And we'll get it done. We'll rebuild this part of Mississippi. We will, New Orleans and Louisiana as well too. And I think when we get all through, when all is said and done, there'll be thousands of Americans who will deserve a deep vote of thanks from the rest of us for the courage and the determination that they've displayed in the face of great adversity.

So I'm proud to be here today, pleased to be associated with them and have the privilege, if you will, to spend some time talking with folks like the mayor and like so many other people here in Mississippi who have been hard hit but aren't going to let it get them down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you move straight back?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to step back...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you step back...

KAGAN: All right. We were listening in to Vice President Dick Cheney. He's in Gulfport, Mississippi. He moves on to other parts of Mississippi and New Orleans today.

Why don't we ourselves go back live to New Orleans. The police news conference still going on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... any problem. Would you repeat your question?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you had any problems (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have not, although that is a concern. We have -- we're finding folks that are picking up strays. And we're beginning to restrict their access, certainly to the evacuation site, just for fear that they haven't been vaccinated appropriately.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you -- (INAUDIBLE) any sort of accounting of (INAUDIBLE) rapes or murders or anything associated with the evacuation (INAUDIBLE) of the Superdome? Where you guys (INAUDIBLE), (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, when people come in, we have a report form that we put together. And when incidents are reported to us, they will be investigated. But right now, our primary responsibility is saving human life.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) clarify, you say that all weapons are banned?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, only law enforcement will be allowed to have weapons.

Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, we're going to meet again at 11:00 tomorrow morning. Thank you very much.

KAGAN: All right. We've been bouncing back and forth between the news conference with the police in the -- in front of City Hall in New Orleans, and also Vice President Dick Cheney, who was in Biloxi -- in Gulfport, Mississippi. He goes on to Biloxi.

From the police department, basically saying it was a quiet night in New Orleans last night. They received 10 calls. They were all pleas for evacuation. There were no calls involving any kind of crime.

The vice president, for his itinerary, Gulfport, Biloxi, going to New Orleans, as we understand, also on board the "Iwo Jima" today, that is off the coast there.

We're going to take a break here. When we come back, we'll check in in Houston, Texas, site of the Astrodome. Thousands of those who have fled New Orleans and the Gulf Coast taking refuge there today.

We're back after this.


KAGAN: We saw a story on Anderson Cooper's show last night, ANDERSON COOPER 360, that I thought you would really want to see if you hadn't. It is a story of one woman that Anderson met up with. She is blind, yet she is very clear about the direction in which she is going. She is helped by her faith.

Here, now, Anderson Cooper.


MS. CONNIE (singing): All of my problems and all of my ways...

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In a ramshackle rental in a poor part of town, an elderly lady waits for a sign. The dog is Abu. The woman, Ms. Connie. A preacher, a widow, she's alone and legally blind.

MS. CONNIE: And he's my Service Dog. Now, my dog goes where I go, or I don't go.

This is what fell. You see my skylight?

COOPER (on camera): That's your skylight?

MS. CONNIE: Oh, yes, my skylight, for lack of a better...

COOPER (voice-over): The police finally came to evacuate Ms. Connie. They told her Abu would have to stay.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will be taken care of, ma'am.

MS. CONNIE: No, dear. No, dear. I'm sorry, I'm not being hard case, but I can't see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I guarantee you, you won't be left alone.

MS. CONNIE: And my dog goes where I go. Now, that's not too hard to do for a dog.

I don't trust very much law officials for this reason. They can't make up their mind.

COOPER (on camera): Ms. Connie's not sure what to bring with her besides her dog, Abu. She doesn't have any bags to put things in, she says, so she's going to try to take a couple of pieces of clothing. And she's not sure where she'll end up.

MS. CONNIE: Uh, let's rephrase that one.

COOPER: All right.

MS. CONNIE: I'm not sure where I'll end up, but I'm very sure that God knows where I'll end up. And my son, who isn't very religious, backed it, and said, Your ministry is done here. It's time to move on and minister to other people somewhere else.

COOPER (voice-over): A few blocks away, evacuees from around the city are brought in by police and soldiers. Nearly all have pets, and the soldiers let them in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are trying to get a flight. Hopefully we can fly them.

COOPER: Back at Ms. Connie's, the police have decided she can take Abu along. She believes it's a sign the time has come to go.

MS. CONNIE: I believe the Lord gives you guidance and will talk to you if you listen. And, if you'll do.

COOPER: God is still watching over New Orleans?

MS. CONNIE: Absolutely. Absolutely. Will she rise again? Yes, indeed. Absolutely.

(singing): My Jesus, you are Lord of all.


KAGAN: And that was our Anderson Cooper, reporting on Ms. Connie and her dog, Abu.

Want to show these pictures we're just getting in from Biloxi, Mississippi. These are the scenes that Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne Cheney, are seeing as they visit the area today. It is a one-day visit.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez is also along for the ride and the visit. Gulfport, they're going to go to Biloxi and are also going on to New Orleans and aboard the "Iwo Jima" as well.

We just heard from the vice president a few minutes ago as he was answering questions from reporters, saying that the president sent him down here to focus on the next step and on the rebuilding and what is needed, especially from the federal government, to make that happen and help the people along the Gulfport -- the Gulf Coast rebuild their lives.

More from Mississippi and from New Orleans and Alabama just ahead.

Also, more from Texas, where so many of those who have taken refuge have headed. We'll do that in just a minute.


KAGAN: One of the proactive things we've been trying to do, help those who have lost family members trying to get back in touch do just that. For that, we go to our Victims and Relief Desk and Carol Lin. Carol?

CAROL LIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, we forget about so many of those health care professionals who are on the ground trying to help the sick and wounded. So we're getting still hundreds of e-mails from people looking for loved ones and hearing more about those doctors and nurses.

For example, Dr. Karlem Reiss was last known to have been airlifted to Louis Armstrong Airport, but he got separated from his sister. So his friends and family are really unsure of whatever happened to him.

Also, the family of 65-year-old Ernest Harrell is desperate to get in touch with him. Harrell last spoke to his daughter the morning that Katrina made landfall. Now, as thousands of Hurricane Katrina survivors make their way into shelters across the country, one organization is working to find the storm's most vulnerable victims, the children.

So on the phone with me right now is Nancy McBride. She's the national safety director for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children,

Nancy, taking a look at this Web site, you've already been able to capture some of the names and faces of these kids out there. Some of these kids have actually been reunited with their family. That is good news to report.

NANCY MCBRIDE, NATIONAL SAFETY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL CENTER FOR MISSING AND EXPLOITED CHILDREN: It is fabulous news to report. Out of over 1,000, 188 have been recovered and their cases resolved. So we're very excited.

LIN: And you look at these faces. Some are so young, they're either babies or toddlers. It's just heartbreaking to see their faces.

MCBRIDE: It is. But you know an inspiring story I heard, we had a little 2-year-old who, when we took her picture and showed it to her, she pointed at it and said, Gabby. And that one piece of information was enough for us find her mother and reunite them.

So, these little kids can tell us things. They can tell us their name, and that information is really helping us get them reunited.

LIN: Right. How do they get reunited? How do parents use this Web site, or your services, to find their kids?

MCBRIDE: Well, we are taking tips, obviously. And all those tips are analyzed by our folks up in Virginia. The information's turned over to case managers. And then they start the task of really putting pieces together with information we have about children.

LIN: All right. Looking at this picture here, I'm presuming it's out of the Astrodome, these massive rooms. Now, some of these kids are playing there, football. But do you have any sense of the security around these kids in these shelters?

MCBRIDE: Well, I know that the Missing Child Clearing House from Louisiana, who obviously, the National Center works closely with, has been monitoring their own shelter. And they've got child protective services workers there. And they're very sensitive to keeping the kids together in one place and making sure there is appropriate adult supervision.

LIN: I know when I've interviewed some kids out of the Astrodome, they were accompanied, one 12-year-old boy was accompanied by child protective services during that interview. So I'm going to presume right now that the Red Cross is making those accommodations, and that they've got somebody, at least, from the county or the state eyeballing these kids all the time. MCBRIDE: Right, and we do have law enforcement on the ground. We have our own Team Adam rapid response people on the ground. And I know they're working really hard to coordinate that effort.

LIN: Nancy, what if their parents are dead?

MCBRIDE: If their parents are dead, we're looking at a long-term situation, obviously, in which the best-case scenario would be to find relatives somewhere out there who could come and take these children. And if not, then we're looking at foster care and possible adoption long term.

LIN: You know what it's nice to see, though? Some of those faces on your Web site, they're smiling. It's amazing how resilient and hopeful these kids can be.

MCBRIDE: I would -- I am absolutely inspired by their spirit and their will. And it makes me want to work harder to get them back with their families.

LIN: I know you are. Nancy McBride, thank you very much.

MCBRIDE: Thank you.

LIN: All right, we're going to keep you updated on as many cases as we can.

Daryn, back to you right now.

KAGAN: All right, Carol, thank you for that.

Once again, want to show you more pictures of Vice president Dick Cheney in Gulfport, Mississippi, at this hour, getting a look at the damage. He flew in with his wife, with Alberto Gonzales, the attorney general. A chance to not only meet with officials and get an idea of what needs to be done in order to help this area rebuild, but also to talk with private citizens.

He goes on to Biloxi, and then on to Louisiana as well.

We're back after this break.


KAGAN: Let's go ahead and check in in Houston. That is where thousands of people are at the Astrodome. They are in line to receive debit cards. This is something that's never been done in the history of disaster relief here in the U.S.

With more on that, here's Betty Nguyen. Betty?


I first want to update you on the lockdown situation, which we talked about a little bit earlier. We are still under a temporary lockdown here. As we spoke earlier, the gates started to open here on the east end. But as you can see, the gates are closed once again, evacuees sitting on the curb, people trying to get into the Reliant Park here. But they're not being allowed to.

Now all of this is as a result, as we understand from officials here, as a result of crowd control. There are hundreds of people standing in line, and this is what they are wanting to get, these American Red Cross debit cards. We understand that the American Red Cross is offering somewhere from between $350 up to $2,000 per family.

But you got to get in line to get these debit cards. And you have to also prove that you are indeed an evacuee from the New Orleans area.

But those lines are incredibly long. We want to show you some videotape of that, because folks have been out here standing in line since 5:00 local time this morning. And actually, there are two separate lines, one line for people who have filled out the questionnaire and have an actual appointment to get these debit cards, another line are for the folks who basically heard about this information and wanted to get in line to make sure that they got the debit card too.

So we have a lot of progress going. But at the same time, there are questions, and there's a little bit of chaos. But once folks get out of these lines, out of the hot sun, and get into the center, they are given these debit cards.

One quick note about the debit card, too. While they are being given out today, because of the processing system, they probably will not be activated until about 12 hours.

Also told that this is the first place where those debit cards are taking place, right here at the Reliant Park area, where three of the main shelters in Houston are.

And so that is what's happening right now. Now, they are hoping, the Red Cross says, it is hoping by this weekend, these debit cards will be available nationwide to all of the evacuees in all the different shelters.

Now, amid all this progress, and some chaos, there also was hope today. Actress-entertainer, you know her, Vanessa Williams, she was out here talking about some housing that's being made available to these evacuees as well. Take a listen.


VANESSA WILLIAMS, ACTRESS-ENTERTAINER: Well, I'm here because I want to see the people. I want to give back as a citizen. And I'm bringing $5 million from Ameriquest to start transitional housing for these wonderful people that want housing. It's nice to be able to come and give some hope. And Ameriquest, along with Homemade, are providing housing for these people. They're looking for lots here. They're going to build transitional housing, get people set up, work them through, and give them houses, and then hopefully they can start their lives... (END VIDEO CLIP)

NGUYEN: And starting lives over is basically the theme out here today, especially when so many children started school from these shelters. They boarded on buses this morning, some 1,800 of them started school in the Houston independent school district. And that's some of the best news that we were able to bring today, Daryn.

KAGAN: All right. Betty Nguyen, live from Houston, Texas. Thank you for that.

A chance to check in on weather, an important thing to keep an eye on, because there are storms brewing out there, Rob.


Tropical storm Ophelia, that's the main concern right now, and especially if you live in Florida. It continues to sit and spin about 60 miles east-northeast of Cape Canaveral. So right about there, you can actually see a bit of an eye forming.

But more importantly, at least right now, the spiral bands that are spinning their way along the I-95 corridor here, Titusville included, down towards Melbourne. If thing moves at all, it's farther to the west, then we're looking at the potential for flooding in this area, because it's not moving all that much, and obviously it has a lot of moisture to tap into.

It flaring up the last couple of hours with some more convection, and actually in about an hour from now, they're going to send out another hurricane hunter aircraft into this thing to investigate it and see what we have from there. So next update from the National Hurricane Center may yield different results.

But this is the forecast track now, with a lot of room for error at this point. But the official forecast takes it eventually a little bit farther to the northeast, does strengthen it to a category one storm. And then beginning of next week, maybe even doing a little curlicue and a loop. So that's possible as well.

So Ophelia not going any away anytime too soon. And we're going to have to watch it carefully.

Other areas where more pleasant weather is going to be in store for you, across the Northeast after a cool front comes through today, cooler expected, and drier air tomorrow. Some light showers in the form of kind of monsoon flow out there across the western mountains.

Ninety-one tomorrow in St. Louis, it'll be 81 in St. -- in Chicago, 82 degrees in New York City, and San Francisco will see a high temperature of 64 degrees.

Right now, tropical storm Ophelia, with winds of 60 miles an hour, not quite a hurricane, and not moving all that much. We'll keep you posted throughout the afternoon.

Daryn, back to you.

KAGAN: All right, Rob. Thank you very much for the weather coverage. Appreciate it.

Our coverage does continue here on CNN. Kyra Phillips will be with you at the top of the hour. I'm Daryn Kagan. I will see you tomorrow morning.