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The Situation Room
Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: New Images From New Orleans
Aired August 30, 2005 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Joe writes, "Jack, why bother rationing gasoline? Wait until the price hits 5 or 6 bucks a gallon and the average Joe won't be able to afford to drive anyway. If there's anything we don't need, it's another government department telling us how to live."
Tom in Manassas, Virginia: "Get real, Cafferty. How can illegal construction workers help the developers boom their way to the stars with gas rationing? Wake up, man. It's Bush time. Ain't going to be no gas rationing."
And Mark writes, "Unless there's a major catastrophe that will affect our other refineries as well as the ones in the Gulf states, any attempt to ration gasoline would be met with extreme criticism, if not outright scorn, by most people."
So kind of evenly split on the idea of rationing gasoline, Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Jack. Thanks very much. We're going to check back with you in a few moments.
It's 5:00 p.m. here in the Washington. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where news and information from the battered Gulf Coast are arriving at one place simultaneously.
Happening right now, a desperate and deteriorating situation in New Orleans. Water is rising, and time is running out for hurricane survivors trapped by the growing flood.
The scope of the devastation is growing by the hour. Among the latest developments we're following right now, a major highway in and out of New Orleans is simply destroyed.
And there's grim word from Mississippi, where officials are now predicting the death toll will rise well into the hundreds in that state alone.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Louisiana's governor says plans are being made to evacuate the city's rescue centers. In a news conference just moments ago, Kathleen Blanco described the situation she called "catastrophic and unfathomable."
Two broken levees are now inundating the city of New Orleans with water from Lake Pontchartrain. The crisis particularly acute at Tulane University Hospital, with more than 1,000 people inside surrounded by up to six feet of water. An official there told us only a few moments ago here in THE SITUATION ROOM that efforts are underway right now to airlift 200 of the most critically ill patients first and foremost.
And there's a growing death toll in coastal Mississippi, where crews are going house-to-house to locate casualties, but with no place to take the bodies. They're unable to remove the dead.
Now some numbers to put all of this in perspective. First to Louisiana, 790,000 people are without power. The Department of Health and Human Services says it's sending 27 palettes of medical supplies, and at least two people are now confirmed dead, although that number is expected to rise.
Over in Mississippi, the Department of Health and Human Services there says it's sending 38 doctors and nurses in right now. And FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, says it's sending trucks, ice, water, meals desperately needed by so many who are hungry and homeless.
In Alabama, 1,600 National Guard members helping out relief efforts. 650,000 people are already without power. That number continuing.
We're getting some new video in right now, as well. New video of the Superdome in New Orleans. Check out that roof. That roof severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. That's what it looks like right now, but we're told that there's water outside of the Superdome and that water is seeping in, as well.
We also want to share with you some other new pictures that literally are just coming in to CNN. Our photographer, Jay Schexnyder, has just come back from the hurricane zone. And he brought the video into CNN Center by hand. He's joining us now live from Atlanta.
Jay, tell our viewers where you were and what you saw.
JAY SCHEXNYDER, CNN PHOTOGRAPHER: I was in an airplane, Wolf, flying about 5,000 feet over the coast of Mississippi and Louisiana. And it was devastating. This is Biloxi, Mississippi. I think that's a casino. A lot of casinos on the coast, and it was just capsized, as you see.
And so much of the houses and businesses are just turned into rubbish and blown back from the coast. This is a hotel.
BLITZER: Did you, Jay, while you were there, see people on the ground who were either running away or worse? What did you see, as far as the human element?
SCHEXNYDER: I really was too high up to see human beings because we were restricted to 5,000 feet so that emergency helicopters could use the lower altitudes. So I didn't really see people. I just saw this broad damage.
BLITZER: When you say it was broad, how long -- did this go all up and down for tens of miles, maybe a hundred miles, up and down the coast?
SCHEXNYDER: I would say the really worst spot I saw was the Gulfport-Biloxi area. It was if a giant hose was used to push back -- you see these houses here? You can see where there were houses just like it right there below. You can see where the water just totally pushed houses back and cleaned off their foundations.
This is the coast. I was flying over the Gulf, shooting towards the beach, and you can see several hundred feet back is where all the houses were chewed up and pushed.
BLITZER: And this is Gulfport, Mississippi, the pictures we're seeing now?
SCHEXNYDER: That's Gulfport. And this is a section of, I think, Highway 90, from Gulfport, going west towards New Orleans. And it was, just as you see, taken apart.
BLITZER: This used to be a highway. And now it's barely anything, if we can see these images that you shot.
SCHEXNYDER: That's right. It was just the -- sections of bridge, apparently, were just tossed off of it like dominoes.
BLITZER: What about these pictures that we're seeing now?
SCHEXNYDER: Yes, this is more Gulfport, Mississippi. And it was just --you can see these containers are trailers that were just pushed several hundred feet away from the shoreline inwardly. This is Slidell.
BLITZER: This is Slidell in Louisiana, which was also very, very heavily hit. This water is not supposed to be there around these houses. Clearly, the flooding has devastated this area.
SCHEXNYDER: Yes, these houses are turned into islands. And this is part of the I-10 bridge. You had some much better footage, I think, recently, but, again, the sections of bridge are just totally torn off, pushed into the water.
BLITZER: Have you ever seen anything like this before, Jay? You're a veteran photographer. You've been with us at CNN for a long time. Have you ever seen anything like this?
SCHEXNYDER: In Homestead, Florida, it was extremely destructive. The wind gusts really just blew the stuffings out of all the buildings in Florida that I saw in Homestead. It was amazing. But the flooding here is obviously devastating. These houses are turned into islands.
BLITZER: And it's not just a random, tiny little area of flooding. These are huge areas. This is video, obviously, you shot in New Orleans. This is the Superdome. You flew over it, as well. But tell our viewers what we're seeing now.
SCHEXNYDER: Some sections of I-10 Highway going through the New Orleans area that are leading into neighborhoods here, that neighborhoods are underwater. This is a view of Lake Pontchartrain and the causeway that goes across it. All these neighborhoods at the bottom of the picture are flooded.
BLITZER: That clearly underscores why the governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, just said a few moments ago -- and we saw her say it here on CNN -- that a serious plan is now underway to evacuate everyone who stayed behind in New Orleans.
It's simply too dangerous. There is no food really. Food problems are serious. Drinkable water is serious. There's no power. There's no electricity. And the situation, from a health standpoint, clearly about to get worst, as this water, much of it dirty water, is seeping in.
Jay, we're going to continue to look at your video. Jay Schexnyder, one of our photographers, flew over these devastated areas. And we'll get back with you, Jay. Thanks very much.
SCHEXNYDER: Thank you.
BLITZER: John Zarrella, our veteran correspondent who's seen many, many hurricanes over the years. He's joining us now live from New Orleans.
Give us a little flavor, John, what you're seeing now, because we're looking at some new pictures that we just got in. But give us, from your vantage point, a little flavor to help our viewers better understand why the governor of this state...
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf...
BLITZER: ... now thinks it may be necessary to remove everyone.
ZARRELLA: I've lost communications now with you. I'm losing communications with you, Wolf. Try to repeat that one time. You know, the communication is so spotty here. We're having a terrible time. We have very little way to communicate out.
BLITZER: If you can hear me, John, just give our viewers a sense of what you're seeing and hearing?
ZARRELLA: It's back now, good. Well, what we're seeing, of course, and have been seeing for more than two hours behind us there in the distance is a fire, we believe along the banks of the Mississippi an oil -- perhaps an oil storage facility or a chemical storage facility. We don't know for sure what it is, but it has been burning intensely for more than two hours now.
What's interesting is, this being the city of New Orleans, the Big Easy, filled with flavor and music, you hear it all the time. You can't hear anything right now. Everything is still. There are very few people now out on the streets. No one walking around the streets, because you can't, because it's under water.
Everything around us here in the hotel -- we're on the roof of our hotel on the parking garage level. And everything around us is water. And it's continuing to rise, because of those breaches in the levee.
Off to my right and below, where you can't really make out, is Canal Street. And earlier today on Canal Street, there was some looting, significant looting of stores there, people going into the sporting good stores, into jewelry stores, grabbing everything they could.
Police did come out onto the street and break it up eventually, but not before the damage was done. We did hear a couple of gunshots ring out. We believe it to be the police trying to break up what was going on down there on Canal Street.
Now, you know, just like Jay Schexnyder has said, what you see here is just this massive, massive flooding. In terms of total devastation, you know, the Hurricane Andrew scenario was a bit different. They were able -- I know I've lost my communications with you, so I'll wrap this up and try to re-establish.
But, you know, today was a day where things went downhill very dramatically. We had rescues taking place, thousands of them by the Coast Guard's estimation. Certainly, hundreds of people being pulled off of rooftops, being pulled off by boats, because houses are submerged all over the city of New Orleans. Perhaps 80 percent of the city under water.
There are many, many houses in all of the areas that are completely submerged. And again, we've had the looting developing here. A helicopter going overhead right now. I can't make out what kind that is, although we have seen Coast Guard helicopters periodically.
Again, I'm going to throw it back to you now, Wolf, until we can reestablish communications with you.
BLITZER: All right. We'll check back with John Zarrella in New Orleans. New Orleans clearly in deep, deep trouble. John, thank you very much.
There's a cleanup crew that's parading in Biloxi, Mississippi, which has been very, very hard hit, as well. You're looking at these live pictures from Biloxi, Mississippi, as this cleanup crew move through the streets.
Our Rob Marciano is there, our meteorologist. He's close to the worst part areas of Biloxi.
John, give us -- Rob, excuse me -- give us a little flavor of what you're seeing?
ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, this is really the first positive thing we've seen all day. It's been a pretty desperate area, terrible to look at. And we just heard a marching band, a drum line, march down Highway 90 here, not knowing what it was. And it was this young group of people who want to kick off some cleanup.
So, anyway, this is Highway 90. And they're marching up and down. And at some point, I think they're going to get to doing some cleanup.
Highway 90 is where the casinos are. It's where the most of the destruction has been, both on the ocean side and on the other side of Highway 90.
I want to bring in this gentleman. And we can talk either over the marching band or over the video.
Scott Richmond, we just got some video from just beyond Point Cadet. Tell me what you saw down there, so you can better describe it than I can.
SCOTT RICHMOND, BILOXI, MISSISSIPPI: Well, Rob, Biloxi is a peninsula. And down there, where four casinos, well, actually, three -- no, four -- it's the end of the peninsula.
And I was a senior in high school when Hurricane Camille hit in 1969. And I have never seen destruction of this magnitude like this. It's incredible. I drove down there. And there's just everywhere -- even blocks off the beach, there's just houses that are just demolished in the middle of the road. There's people sitting on the side of the road. They look stunned. I've never seen anything like this.
MARCIANO: How do you feel about this marching band, this drum line coming down? What do you feel about that?
RICHMOND: I'm not sure. I just got back from driving down to my -- I work for the Grand Casino down in Biloxi -- I worked. I don't know when it will even be back.
I'm beginning to feel like I don't know if some of the people are going to rebuild. I'm kind of scared, because the Grand Casino, which is huge, it was actually about a half of mile, a quarter of a mile, off its moorings. And it was in two pieces, and it was on the north side of Highway 90. And it's just completely destroyed.
If you go up to the entranceway where the casino should be, it's just broken concrete and the sound.
MARCIANO: Well, I think people may eventually rebuild. I'm going to get you some water. I know you want to let your friends and family know that you are OK.
That's one of biggest situations, Wolf, you know, is that communication lines are completely down, cell phones, landlines, power's out, water's out. And people can't even get to their loved ones outside of town to tell them that they survived the storm.
We get people coming up to us all the time, can we borrow your cell phone? Well, ours doesn't work, either. So I guess we can be one vehicle in order to do that.
So a bit of a drum line coming down here to kick off one of the cleanup operations, Wolf, to give us a bit of a bright spot, a bit of a smile, I suppose. But the more pictures we take, the more adventuring we do, the more devastation we see. So it's tough to put a smile on today, that's for sure.
BLITZER: All right, Rob Marciano. We'll check back with you. A heartbreaking story all across the Gulf Coast.
Let's get an update now on rescue operations in Louisiana. On the phone is Lt. Commander Jeffrey Carter of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Commander, thanks very much for joining us. Give us a sense of your operation right now. We're showing our viewers one of your Coast Guard helicopters in operation, because there have been some dramatic rescue operations, as you well know.
LT. CMDR. JEFFREY CARTER, U.S. COAST GUARD: Well, Wolf, I can tell you the Coast Guard crews are working incredibly hard over the last day or so, working six-hour shifts, trying to rescue people who were stranded by Katrina. So far, we've rescued or assisted in the rescue of over 1,200 people from rooftops and the like.
BLITZER: When do you decide to put somebody in a harness, like the images that we've been seeing, and at other times we see them put individuals inside a basket? How do you make that decision?
CARTER: Well, a lot of times, it's depending on the individual that we're rescuing. Can that individual safely sit in that basket? Or do they need some reassurance and some assistance?
BLITZER: And this operation of yours is going to continue, although I assume it stops when it gets dark. Is that right, Commander?
CARTER: Well, we do rescues 24 hours a day, if we can. And so long as the conditions permit it, our crews will be out there trying to do the rescues.
BLITZER: Well, good luck, Jeffrey Carter, U.S. Coast Guard. Thanks very much for joining us.
I want to go back to New Orleans right now, specifically to our Jeanne Meserve, who's joining us on the phone. Jeanne, where are you?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm back in the hotel, but I ventured down to the French Quarter, since you had asked me what the situation was down there. Bourbon Street is largely dry. You do see some water on some of the side streets, but it is nothing like the rest of the town.
There are people strolling down there in shorts and tee shirts. I even saw one woman with a drink in hand. They are desperate for information. Most of them have absolutely no idea what's going on in the rest of the city.
They do not understand that they are leading a comfortable life, as compared to anybody else who is still alive in the city of New Orleans. And they're all very anxious just to get their bearings, and find out what's happening, and when's the airport going to be open, and where are the roads that are open, and how can we leave? It's question after question after question.
The water is rising in the city. We crossed over Canal Street this morning. It was dry. Now it's mid-calf, at least. This is the place where a lot of the looting was going on. Police have come in, in large numbers. Some of them are patrolling on backhoes. That's what can get around the city in this water.
We watched one confrontation. We watched a couple of young men trying to break in the window of a delicatessen. And the police came around the corner in their backhoe and eventually knocked the guy off his feet. And he eventually got up and did appear to leave the neighborhood.
But the police are taking very strong action here. From what I've seen, that is exactly what the situation requires.
BLITZER: Jeanne, what about the water? It's not just pure, clean, lake water. It's pretty disgusting, I've been told. But maybe you can describe it to us, a combination of -- what? -- oil, and dirt, and sanitation? What is the water like?
MESERVE: I don't know if you've ever been in a port city at dead low tide, but if you have, you know what the water looks like. It's gummy, it's so full of junk. There is, of course, naturally occurring stuff that came off the trees and so forth. And the hurricane mixed in with that a lot of waste. By that, I mean paper products, plastic.
Now stuff is starting to come out of some of the stores. We're seeing shoes. We're seeing flip-flops. We're seeing, you know, things that people have had to leave behind as they've tried to make their way to safety at the Superdome.
Trash bags just abandoned. And then everything comes out of them. And so you have clothing, you have baby toys, you have all kinds of things floating in this disgusting, murky, brown water.
It is beyond belief. I saw one thing today that I stopped and had our cameraman take a shot, because I found that it sort of capsulized what's going on here. And it was a couple of strands of Mardi Gras beads buried under about six inches of this absolutely filthy, horrendous water.
And it's only going to get worse. I mean, it hasn't started smelling yet. It's going to start smelling. I'm sure, already it's a tremendous health hazard. As they say, the worst is yet to come.
BLITZER: All right, Jeanne. Please be careful over there. We'll check back with you. Jeanne Meserve doing an outstanding job, together with all of our reporters, and producers, other camera crews on the scene under awful, awful circumstances.
Let's check back with Jack Cafferty in New York.
Jack, it's -- what can I say? It's a horrible situation. Did you ever think in our lifetime a major American city like New Orleans, population half a million, could be in a disaster situation like this?
CAFFERTY: No, you don't think of it. But then, if you look back at the history, Wolf, I guess, in a way, they sort of were living on borrowed time.
1965 was the last big hurricane. The Army Corps of Engineers went in and built those levees to withstand a Category 3 storm. Apparently, that was all the technology and/or the budget would allow at the time. And Category 3 is not as strong as it gets. And one day, two days ago, the unthinkable happened.
And, you know, like I said, they've been living on borrowed time. You have to wonder, watching these pictures, and listening to these accounts, if we'll ever see the city of New Orleans as we all remember the Big Easy.
Where's President Bush? Is he still on vacation?
BLITZER: He's cut short his vacation. He's coming back to Washington tomorrow.
CAFFERTY: Well, that would be a good idea. He was out in San Diego, I think, at a Naval air station giving a speech on Japan and the war in Iraq today.
Based on his approval rating in the latest polls, my guess is getting back to work might not be a terrible idea. That's not the question of this hour, however.
Before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the mayor of New Orleans ordered a mandatory evacuation of the city, told 1.3 million people to get out of town. But a lot of people either ignored the order or were unable to evacuate. And now a lot of them are trapped in their flooded homes or worst. The fear is a lot of them are dead.
The thousands who wound up spending the night in the Superdome had an uncomfortable stay. They lost the air conditioning. They lost part of the roof. But they're alive today.
The question is this. When the government orders mandatory evacuations, what should be done about people who either can't or won't leave? CaffertyFile@CNN.com. We'll read some of your letters in a half hour or so.
BLITZER: All right, Jack, thanks very much. Jack Cafferty joining us from New York.
Perhaps the best way to understand the devastation is through the eyes of those who lived through it. Coming up, our Brian Todd has some amazing survivor stories. He's standing by to join us live.
Also, a heartbreaking tale of a man and a wife literally separated by this storm.
And you've been sending us your pictures, how it looks in your area. When we come back, we'll show you some of them, as well. Much more coverage, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.
BLITZER: ... video we're getting from the United States Coast Guard. A rescue worker taking an axe to the roof of a home to try to get to the people stuck inside. That's a scene that's been repeated countless times across the coast on this day.
Throughout the day, we have been seeing dramatic rescue scenes, survivors in Louisiana and elsewhere. Let's get some more on this. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us.
Brian, what are you picking up?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, over the past couple of days, we've seen that many people have just barely escaped getting swallowed up by flood waters. And survival often depends on a split- second decision on whether to leave where you happen to be or stay put.
TODD (voice-over): Pulled off the roof just in time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, here, we've got a rescue in progress. The United States Coast Guard just pulled this man off the roof and now hoisting him up to a Sikorsky Coast Guard helicopter.
TODD: But in a city submerged, maybe 80 percent of New Orleans under water, says the mayor, many others have to wait on rooftops. Some choose not to, wading through chest-deep water, clinging to what few belongings they can carry. These people, searching for anything above water to grab onto. Others seem willing to trudge through the endless rivers that used to be streets. But for some, waiting for rescue is the only choice.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you OK? You're OK. You're OK. You're in the boat.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're OK. We're going to get you up.
TODD: As others are pulled from the same house, you wonder how they survived with the water level nearly to the roof.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you all right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Great job. Glad to see you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Glad you're all right.
(END VIDEOTAPE) TODD: And you can see what New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin means when he says in some sections of the city, the water is as deep as 20 feet. Now, we don't have hard numbers on the death toll in Louisiana right now, but Mayor Nagin warned citizens to brace for bad news. He says bodies have been seen floating in the water. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Brian. Thanks very much. Brian Todd reporting.
Among the many tragic stories we're hearing from survivors, this one stands out. Reporter Jennifer Mayerle from our affiliate WKRG talked to a man in Biloxi, Mississippi, Harvey Jackson, who literally lost his wife during the hurricane.
JENNIFER MAYERLE, CORRESPONDENT, WKRG-TV: How are you doing, sir?
HARVEY JACKSON, WIFE MISSING IN HURRICANE: I'm not doing good.
MAYERLE: What happened?
JACKSON: The house just split in half.
MAYERLE: Your house split it half?
JACKSON: We got up in the roof, all the way to the roof, and water came. And the house just opened up and divided.
MAYERLE: Who was at your house with you?
JACKSON: My wife.
MAYERLE: Where is she now?
JACKSON: Can't find her body. She's gone.
MAYERLE: You can't find your wife?
JACKSON: No, she told -- I tried. I hold her hand tight as I could. And she told me, "You can't hold me." She said, "Take care of the kids and the grandkids."
MAYERLE: What's your wife's name, in case we can put this out there?
JACKSON: Tonette Jackson.
MAYERLE: And, OK, and what's your name?
JACKSON: Harvey Jackson.
MAYERLE: Where are you guys going?
JACKSON: We ain't got nowhere to go. I'm lost. That's all I had. That's all I had. This is all a horrible... (END VIDEOTAPE)
BLITZER: What a heartbreaking story that is. Reporters at our affiliate WKRG tell us they've had calls pouring in from viewers about this story, viewers as far away as Britain, but they have no way of contacting Mr. Jackson. If we hear anything more, we'll certainly pass it on to you. What a heartbreaking story that is.
Let's get the situation online. Many heartbreaking stories coming in. Our Internet reporter, Jacki Schechner, is following the latest hurricane information on the web. Jacki?
JACKI SCHECHNER, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Well, we heard from several of our reporters now, Wolf, about how difficult it is to communicate now. And one of things I wanted to show you is how people are using communities online to get information out and also, frankly, to ask for help. Sort of in light of the story that we just saw.
This is CraigsList.com. This is a community site. People find furniture here, housing, they look for partners. Now it's being used in New Orleans for lost and found. This is the area where people usually post for things like jewelry and sweaters. Now they're looking for human beings. People are posting things like this, we are missing family members. Help us out. E-mail us, contact us. This is who we're looking for. Also, I am desperate, a woman looking for her father last known to be working in the French Quarter.
The other thing the site is being used for, which is interesting, is generosity. We're seeing an outpouring of this online. Do you need a place to stay? I have a room in my home as far away as Oklahoma. Another one in Mesa, Arizona. If you've been evacuated and you don't have a home to go back to, people are offering up rooms in their homes for free, let us know if we can help.
Another thing people are doing is offering their volunteer services online. People who just have the time and the energy and want to help. They are posting. So it's a good place to go if you're out of the area and you want to get some information about what's going on there. People who are willing to help you out at CraigsList.com.
Just one of many communities we're seeing today online that are being posted to bring people together in light of the fact that there's not that much communication out there.
BLITZER: All right. Jacki, thanks very much. We're getting some new video in from New Orleans. I want to show our viewers some of these pictures. More heart-wrenching pictures coming in. The flood areas, this beautiful city, much of it, most of it now, under water. And the levee is still cracked, the water continuing to come in. They're going to try tomorrow, the Corps of Engineers, to do something about this. But so far nothing can be done. We're going to continue to watch this.
In neighboring Alabama, the governor, Governor Riley, has been touring the area. This is new video we're just getting in from Alabama as well. On a tour that the governor took, he was in this plane inspecting the area himself. Alabama also very hard hit.
Three states, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana suffering tremendously from Hurricane Katrina.
Thousands of National Guard troops dispatched to the hurricane zone. We'll go live to the Pentagon for the latest on their mission. Are there enough U.S. troops on hand to deal with this crisis?
Also our viewers doing double duty as citizen journalists. We'll show you some of the amazing videos that they're sending us -- they're sending in here into THE SITUATION ROOM.
Plus an update on some of the hardest hit areas along the Gulf Coast. We're continuing to watch the story. We're not leaving it. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're like 18-wheelers on top of cars and homes in the middle of the streets. And there's people wandering down the streets with nowhere to go, homeless. They've got maybe a bag over their shoulder and they're all in the middle of the streets with nowhere to go. And the homes, houses and boats and cars are just -- debris is just everywhere. It's very catastrophic down here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: It's no exaggeration to say that millions of people are feeling the impact of Hurricane Katrina. Here's just some of the aftermath.
BLITZER (voice over): New Orleans, below sea level and now largely under water. A levee break overnight finished what Hurricane Katrina started, plooding about 80 percent of the city under as much as 20 feet of water. People trapped in their homes scramble to attics and roofs where some may still be waiting for help.
In a nearby bayou, evidence of Katrina's strength. Boats tossed ashore, now stranded hundreds of yards from the sea. Louisiana's governor calls the devastation - quote -- "greater than our worst fears."
Biloxi, Mississippi, crushed by Katrina's 25-foot storm surge. The streets in many places filled with debris. The flooding at one point stretching six miles inland. There's heavy damage to some of the city's popular casinos, a major source of revenue and jobs.
And the storm's effects linger across Mississippi. Eighty percent of the state is without power. Mobile, Alabama, battered, bruised and water logged, but spared the kind of wholesale destruction seen in neighboring Mississippi. Roads and bridges remain closed due to debris and flooding. Across the state more than 600,000 people are without power.
Carroll County, Georgia, hundreds of miles from the sea, but also taking a beating from the hurricane. A tornado spawned by Katrina damaged more than 30 buildings in the area. It was one of several twisters to touch down across Georgia Monday.
BLITZER: And we're getting some new video into THE SITUATION ROOM from New Orleans, which has been so devastated by what's going on. You're looking at these pictures just coming in.
New Orleans, a major port along the Gulf Coast. Serious problems in that port tight now, as the water continues to move through those damaged levees and move throughout this city -- a city of half a million. Another million people in the suburbs.
We're looking at these images, the people just standing there trying to deal with this. You see a lot of people raising their white towels or white shirts to try to get themselves rescued. This is a very, very disturbing picture. People just waiting on top of this, hoping -- clearly they're hoping to get themselves rescued from this area that has been so, so devastated. We'll continue to watch these pictures for you and get some more information and what exactly they entail.
Many of you have answered our call to become citizen journalists, sending us your images -- images that you've captured of Hurricane Katrina, hopefully always keeping your own safety in mind.
Our Mary Snow is in New York with a closer look at some of the images that she's received. Mary?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as we've been seeing -- and new pictures are coming in by the hour. Most of them coming from journalists, but others are coming from people who are responding to the call as citizen journalists who are sharing their stories.
SNOW (voice over): In New Orleans a desperate wait for help as homes are swallowed by water. Some swim to safety. This man tried to ride out the storm in his house, but the roof blew off and he made his way to the Superdome in the middle of the storm.
In parts of the city, what water didn't destroy, the wind did.
In Pascagoula, Mississippi, a neighbor comforts a young boy outside of what was once his home. Nearby, those who are counted on to bring relief, are themselves stalled in the storm.
In Biloxi, boats didn't stand a chance and neither did this plane, in Gulf Shores, Alabama.
In Mobile Bay, residents pick up the pieces of where water and land meet.
And in Louisiana, south of New Orleans, a picture captures what many people feel -- a world turned upside down.
SNOW: And, Wolf, just a reminder to our viewers, if you want to share your story either in video or photographs, you can log on to CNN.com to make those submissions.
BLITZER: All right. Mary, thanks very much. Mary Snow reporting for us from New York.
I want to go back to those images. We were just showing those individuals sitting, some in those orange jumpsuits. We're told this is a prison; a jail in parish -- in Orleans Parish, in New Orleans and that these individuals are prisoners that have been removed because water was moving into the jail.
And they're clearly being watched by authorities there. But they're sitting on this road and you see the guards with the weapons standing in front of them. They have to be removed because water presumably has been moving into their prison as well.
The New Orleans situation is simply devastating on so many aspects because everyone in New Orleans has been affected. The mayor, Ray Nagin, suggests that 70 or 80 percent of this city is underwater and the water is still moving in.
Even now, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has a plan to deal with that levee breach that has caused the water to come in even after Hurricane Katrina moved out. It was dry relatively speaking, but then all of a sudden, there were two breaches in the levees that protect this city; most of which is below sea level to begin with. This is new video we're getting in from our affiliates. Let's listen in briefly and see what our anchors at our affiliate stations are saying.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... a very, very volatile situation here in the disaster region just west of downtown New Orleans.
Guys, I'm going to pan off here and show you where all these prisoners are located and isolated with the guards away from the prison. I'm going to give you a little bit of perspective here on where this is in relationship to the downtown area. As I pan up and out to the east, you're going to see downtown come into the Superdome. So, we're very, very close to the downtown area -- extremely flooded locations as we move on.
BLITZER: And so there we have it. The local affiliate reporter flying overhead in a helicopter and showed our his viewers -- showed his viewers as well, what was going on in the downtown area of New Orleans; where some prisoners have been moved into that area as well. And these are other pictures that we're getting in from our affiliates, showing the degree of the flooding that has taken hold of this city.
This is yet another rescue operation unfolding -- our affiliate KRIV -- another Coast Guard basket, in effect, going down -- some individual stranded atop a roof and the Coast Guard bringing that individual into this Coast Guard helicopter.
This is a dangerous operation. These individuals have to hold on very tightly as that basket is literally brought into the helicopter as it hovers over the area. This has been going on and on and on. More than a thousand individuals, we're told by the Coast Guard, have now been rescued in this way and they say it's going to continue, perhaps even after it gets dark in New Orleans, because so many people are simply stranded.
They have no place to go. They've managed to crawl up on to higher ground; very often that would be a roof of a building, a roof of their home. But the water continues to go up and up and they need some opportunity to get away.
This is the tape -- the videotape that we showed you just a little while ago. These are prisoners that had to be relocated because the prison in which they were serving their time, simply got full of water, as so many other structures in New Orleans have been finding themselves. And these prisoners, now sitting on the side of a road waiting to be taken somewhere. Who knows where?
But there are armed guards watching these prisoners, presumably many of them, very, very dangerous. These were pictures that we showed just a little while ago from this prison and individuals in those orange jumpsuits still stranded inside, trying to deal with this situation like everyone else, as the water continues to rise in this city of New Orleans.
There's also some new pictures we're getting in showing the rescue operations that are underway. Let's show our viewers those rescue operations. The helicopters, continuing to move over the devastated areas -- the flooded areas of New Orleans. And the National Guard and the military -- the Coast Guard, all involved in what is clearly a dangerous situation.
We're going to take a quick break. When we come back, we'll find out specifically what the United States military is doing not only in New Orleans, but in neighboring Mississippi and Alabama.
Our Jamie McIntyre is over at the Pentagon. He's got new information. Much more coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when we come back.
BLITZER: I want to show our viewers some dramatic images we're just getting in. Take a look at this. Little children being rescued by the United States Coast Guard. They're being put into this basket. Let's just watch this unfold. Their parents are below, but this kid is now inside -- but let's listen in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... In with the younger girl into the basket. These scenes are being duplicated over and over again all day long within this area. The heroism of the United States Coast Guard, the U.S. Army and all the rescue personnel here are just endless and extraordinary to say the least. The children are now being hoisted up into the -- up into the Dolphin (ph) helicopter, holding on for a ride like they've never been in for before. Two children in.
BLITZER: That earlier scene we saw, those three little kids, they managed to get safely inside -- inside that helicopter. They were spinning like they were. We saw that Coast Guard rescue -- that rescue personnel officer inside that helicopter stopped the spinning and brought those three little kids inside. Now we're seeing a similar operation under way right now. This is going on and on, as they're now bringing these children from stranded with their parents on these rooftops, bringing them into the helicopters, to try to save their lives. What a harrowing ride that was.
While U.S. forces may be stretched thin by deployments overseas, more than 7,000 National Guard troops have been called to active duty in the states hit hardest by the hurricane. One hundred thousand more are on standby right now.
Let's go live to our senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre. Jamie, what are you hearing at the Pentagon?
JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, at this hour, a U.S. Air Force giant C-5 Galaxy cargo plane is being loaded with four urban rescue teams, including Swift boats that can navigate the water. Just part of now what is 10,000 troops that have been called to active duty, with tens of thousands more who could be called up in the days ahead.
MCINTYRE (voice-over): The Pentagon insists there are sufficient troops still at home to fulfill the National Guard's traditional role of disaster rescue and relief, despite the fact 75,000 National Guard troops are deployed to 40 countries, and make up half the U.S. force in Iraq.
MAJ. GEN. RON YOUNG, NATIONAL GUARD JOINT STAFF: Made a commitment to the governors that we would have forces available for the federal duty, the away game, if you would, and the home game here in the continental United States. And no state across the country, none of the districts and the territories, are below 50 percent.
MCINTYRE: Of the hardest hit states, Mississippi has 60 percent of its guard troops; Louisiana 65 percent; Alabama 77 percent; and Florida 74 percent. A total of more than 31,000 troops available for call-up. So far, more than 10,000 Guard members have been activated. Many were already on duty, before the storm hit, including 200 troops who provided security at the Louisiana Superdome.
In the 17 states in or near the storm path, there are nearly 124,000 more troops who could be called to active duty.
MCINTYRE: Right now, job one for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is to plug that gap in that levee. They're planning to drop giant, 3,000-pound sandbags into the 17th Street Canal floodwall that's been breached. If they can plug that, then they will try to create a hold farther down the stream to get the water to stop flowing from Lake Pontchartrain, and then be pumped out back out through the canal. That's a big job, but they have got to get those levees under control in order to start getting the water down in New Orleans.
BLITZER: All right, Jamie, thanks very much. Jamie is monitoring the situation at the Pentagon.
We are also getting these pictures, just in from New Orleans, new images. There has been, as you know, if you have been watching THE SITUATION ROOM for the past few hours, there have been numerous fires that have erupted in and around New Orleans. We have been watching those fires.
These pictures coming in from our affiliate KRIV, shot from overhead as planes flying overhead, and we have been watching all of this very carefully. This area does not look like it's heavily flooded right now, but there have been some fires. I think we're going to get close to one fire that's burning right now, and firefighters on the scene. If we get to that -- there it is -- almost there -- it looks like it's getting closer to the situation.
But we know that fires have emerged as yet another problem plaguing this city. Not only the fires, but all of these areas that certainly -- certainly have caused numerous, numerous problems for New Orleans.
Let's check in with our Internet reporter Abbi Tatton. She's watching this situation for us online. Abbi?
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET CORRESPONDENT: Yes, checking in with New Orleans again. We know that many people evacuated the city over the weekend, Wolf, but some did choose to stay behind. One of them was Michael Barnett, who decided that it would be far safer to stay in his office in downtown New Orleans with his fiance, and stick out the storm there, then leave New Orleans over the weekend.
He's on the 10th and 11th floor of a corporate high-rise there in the central business district. You can look here on the program, Google Earth -- that's his building -- is about six blocks away there from the Mississippi River.
Now, yesterday he seemed pretty optimistic after the storm passed through. Said that there was no major structural damage in the area that he was in, in downtown, though he did take many, many pictures out of windows of his building, many of the windows there being blown in, and also, the buildings across the street. But Michael's online blog here, it seems to have changed a lot. The optimism has gone in the last 24 hours.
Look at some of the problems he's having right now. Michael lives in a different area of New Orleans. He doesn't know how his apartment is. He has not been able to communicate with his family at all. And also, he was reporting that there was no flooding in this area, the central business district, but that's changing. In the last couple of hours, he's been looking out the window, water has just appeared, it's creeping up, and headed towards the building where he is. So definitely changing that.
Also, many, many reports of looting. He's saying the looting is getting nuts. The waters are rising. This is one person hanging out there in his office in downtown New Orleans, who seems to be getting increasingly anxious.
BLITZER: All right, Abbi, thank you very much.
We're getting some other pictures in from New Orleans, another dramatic rescue operation. I want to show our viewers what we're seeing. You see this individual. You see this man. He's stuck on a roof, and he's crying out for help right now.
So many other, literally thousands of people. They can't go down, because there's water beneath them, and the first floor, probably the second floor of many of these homes are inundated with water. So they wait, they wait for the United States Coast Guard to come over and to harness them or put them in a basket and get them removed.
Look at this entire area. This is New Orleans under water right now. These homes, we can only see the roofs of these homes. The first floor, the second floor of these homes, if there are other floors, they're under water right now, and these individuals clearly, clearly are anxious -- are anxious to be saved, and the Coast Guard doing a remarkable job saving so many of them.
Jack Cafferty has been watching all of this over the past three hours with us. Jack, it's pretty amazing.
CAFFERTY: It's just heartbreaking. You know, I was just watching the picture of that man on the roof. And there are those power lines running along there. I suppose it's a bit of a silver lining for the helicopter rescue pilots, that there's no power coursing through those lines, Wolf, because those cables that they use to lower the baskets with, should they come in contact -- I don't know if that would be a problem or not -- but maybe they -- maybe there is some relief to the fact that there is no juice flowing through those lines while they try to extract those people.
BLITZER: Jack, did you see -- let me interrupt you for a second. Did you see those three little kids in that basket?
CAFFERTY: Unbelievable. BLITZER: The little baby on the ground -- on the bottom of that basket, and the two other little older kids, but they were spinning and spinning and spinning? They got into that helicopter fine, but it was so dramatic.
CAFFERTY: And for kids that age, I'm sure, you know, they have no concept of the dire straits, perhaps, that they were in. It's probably all very exciting. They can't wait to tell their friends about the helicopter ride.
I mean, they're doing some yeoman's work, those Coast Guard pilots and the folks involved in this, but it's just that there are I guess are so many people who, you know, were trapped in their homes and couldn't get out. The city and surrounding area of 1.3 million.
And even though they ordered a mandatory evacuation, Wolf, a lot of people choose to stay. They won't go or they can't go.
That was the e-mail question this hour. What should you do about folks who either can't or won't leave? Couple of these quickly.
"Those who can't leave, such as the old, crippled, or those without transportation, can be sheltered in large city structures, as we've been doing, but the able-bodied idiots who simply refuse to leave should be the last to receive services of any kind."
Jim says: "Impose a serious fine. They are the reason that the fire department or rescue squads had to risk their own lives."
Josephine, Victoria, British Columbia writes this: "What on Earth was wrong with the people who didn't leave when they were warned? I think they should have been forced to leave if they were able to walk. All of those who were unable to walk should have been helped by the authorities. This is just devastating to watch."
Bev in Minnesota. "I'm a nurse, I know for certain many elderly or chronically sick could not have evacuated New Orleans. Some have no family. Some are in wheelchairs or on oxygen. Some of my patients can't even get a ride home from the hospital. It was not a choice for them."
And Irene in Massachusetts: "People who will not leave should be forced to, even if it means arresting them."
This is just an unbelievably heartbreaking story to watch unfold down there, Wolf.
BLITZER: One of the most devastating we have seen in a long time, Jack. Thanks very much. We will see you tomorrow. We're here in THE SITUATION ROOM every weekday, 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Eastern. We're not leaving this story. We'll be back tomorrow. Stay with CNN throughout the night.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. LOU DOBBS TONIGHT starts right now. Kitty Pilgrim filling in for Lou this evening. Kitty?
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