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The Situation Room

Dramatic Rescues Continue in New Orleans. President Bush Returns to Hurricane Zone.

Aired September 05, 2005 - 15:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where news and information arrive in one place simultaneously.
Standing by, CNN reporters across the hurricane zone to bring you the latest developments on the state of emergency.

Happening now, it's 2:00 p.m. in New Orleans, where we're seeing new dramatic rescues a full week after Hurricane Katrina struck. As some just now escape, others are returning home for the first time to see what, if anything, they have left.

And President Bush, under considerable fire, returns to the hurricane zone, while two former presidents announce a major relief initiative.


Mission critical. Here are some of the latest developments in the hurricane zone.

Some 51,000 active duty and National Guard personnel are now on the ground, helping to restore and provide security along the Gulf Coast.

The New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin, says police will no longer be handing out water to people who are refusing to evacuate the city.

And one critical step on the road to recovery. At least one water pump is now up and running in New Orleans, and work continues to repair the broken levees.

Let's take a closer look at the situation in some of the states we're following right now.

In Louisiana, New Orleans Police are calling it a city of ruin, with no jobs, no food and no reason to stay. Also, as the floodwaters recede, startling sights of more bodies are expected to show up.

In Texas, 1.5 million evacuees are packing the shelters, and the governor is asking other states to help.

And, in Mississippi, the death toll stands at 161. Almost 420,000 people are still without power, and officials say they may be in the dark for over a month. As most Americans enjoy a day off from work this Labor Day, it's a day of heavy labor and hard work in New Orleans and other areas in the Gulf Coast, the grim work created by grim statistics of a rising death toll. And thousands are still trying to get out of the city.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, is joining us from New Orleans with a lot more. Nic?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the changes that we're seeing here today, you have seen those dramatic rescues that are still going on today, people still being plucked to safety from those waterlogged houses, the houses surrounded by water.

But what we can see from our vantage point here at the water site is an almost inch-by-inch movement of the water back. It is very slow. It is very hard to see. But, as we stand here, hour by hour, we can see the water going back. That wet margin at the edge gets dried out. Then it's another few inches. Then it's another few inches. That's what we are seeing.

We have also heard from the deputy police chief here, Warren Riley, today, very clearly saying that the police are surprised at the many thousands of people they say they are discovering who want to stay in their homes. The police say they have no reason -- the people have no reason to stay in their homes. They have no food there. They have no water there. And they have no jobs.

The police say that they have the power to force people to leave, but they are not doing that at this stage. They are, however, saying that they are encouraging people to leave, telling them where to go to get to the collection points, taking them, helping them get there if they need to, but at this time not enforcing people to leave.

The other concern that police say they have today, Wolf, is that they are still concerned about criminal gangs in the city. They say they are going to continue to keep tight and heavy security here for the next seven to eight weeks, keeping the National Guard, keeping all the different federal agencies here as long as they are needed.


BLITZER: Nic, maybe your photographer can pan out and show us a little bit of a wider area where -- where you are. Specifically, where are you? Because many of our viewers, of course, have been to New Orleans.

ROBERTSON: Wolf, I'm on Canal Street here, intersecting with Bourbon. We're looking right now down along -- and if I step back here -- down along one of the main intersections here. You can see the water down that street. You are looking there towards -- if you went -- if you were to continue further down that street, you would -- you would get to the -- you would get to the Superdome, that whole area, as you go across the city in that direction towards the Superdome, still waterlogged, the whole area behind me, looking down Canal Street into the city. If we could just pan the camera around and look down Canal Street there. What we have seen today, as you look down that street, Wolf -- I know it's very difficult to see at the moment -- you can see the water lying there. But, as we have looked down the street today, you can actually -- we have actually been able to see people walking across the street. So, although you can see the water lying there on the road, that is not so deep in this part of the road, in this part of the city.

But, as you go further down Canal Street behind me, you get into areas that are three feet, four feet, 12 feet and beyond that deep, deep still in the water, Wolf.

BLITZER: What about all those shops, those stores, the restaurants behind you, along those streets? Are most of them -- have most of them been looted?

ROBERTSON: They haven't. That's the very surprising thing. There's one store immediately adjacent to me here, an electronic goods store. You can see the window there has been smashed out. But you can still see four television monitors in the window. We saw a couple of big television monitors lying on the street here. But, as I look down the road, the vast majority of stores have been untouched.

I can see, the door into the Walgreens down there is broken open. The other doors have shutters. They have remained pretty much intact, pretty much untouched. And, as we have been here, it really -- people that we have seen going into stores over the last few days -- and, really, it has stopped in the last day or so. People have been going into stores where they can get drinks, where they can get liquid refreshment, and not necessarily alcohol, sometimes just sodas and such like sodas and waters from these stores.

The looting that the police appear to be concerned about seems to at this stage involve more criminal gangs. That was how Deputy Police Chief Warren Riley described the criminal element that he is concerned about in the city, concerned enough -- and I'm looking -- I don't think we can pan the camera. Maybe if we can pan the camera around about 180 degrees here, Wolf -- this may just take a second, but you can see some of the troops that are on the ground here walking through the center of the city.

This is a patrol. I have seen this patrol come through this neighborhood twice already today, twice in about the last eight hours, Wolf, Army Airborne troops here patrolling the streets. You'll notice that the weapons are pointed down. This is something that we're hearing from the Army commanders here. They want the troops to be out providing security, but not in a threatening posture.

So, you see the weapons all turned down there, pointing at the ground, Wolf. And this is the picture that we're beginning to see that's emerging. One of the big hotels here has had the electricity restored for FEMA. That's going to be their base.

The logistics of restarting this city are beginning to come into place. But I have to say, Wolf, that it is only the front end of those logistics, if you will, the sort of head end of the operations, rather than the big logistical train behind it, that's going to have to come in and do the heavy work.


BLITZER: And we know there's a curfew that's been imposed by authorities beginning at 6:00 p.m. local time. That would be 7:00 p.m. Eastern. What does that really mean after it starts to get dark in New Orleans?

ROBERTSON: Well, after it gets dark, you really don't see many people on the streets here. It's fairly deserted as it is. We have seen a few people coming into the center of town today, coming back to look for their homes. That's not something the police here want to encourage.

Deputy Police Chief Riley said that he does not want to have a lot of people coming back into the city at this stage. Jefferson Parish nearby, however, has allowed people to come back today for the first time. A 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. curfew is in operation. The police have said those people can come back if they have a photographic identification and can prove residency of Jefferson Parish.

Now, the police also say that they recognize that perhaps some people fled their homes too quickly to take that type of documentation with them. And, therefore, they say that those people can come back on Thursday.

But the message from the police, even in Jefferson County, is, if you are going to come back to look at your home, bring cash, bring water, bring food, they say, because, in your neighborhoods when you come back, you aren't going to find any of these commodities available.


BLITZER: Nic Robertson, we are going to check back with you. Nic is in New Orleans for us, doing an excellent job, as usual. Thank you.

Meanwhile, President Bush is visiting the hurricane disaster zone for yet a second time. He landed in Poplarville, Mississippi, just a short while ago to get an update on relief efforts there.

Earlier, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he acknowledged there's a lot more to be done there to help hurricane victims. He returns to the region amid blistering criticism of the federal government's response to the Katrina catastrophe.

There's also a growing military presence in hard-hit Biloxi, Mississippi. You are looking at live pictures of amphibious assault vehicles, if you will, getting ready to land there. Navy and Marine Corps personnel are already on the ground. More are coming in, in force.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is joining us now.That hovercraft, Ted, that's coming in, you aren't very far away from that, are you? These are live pictures. TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We're right next to it. This is called the LCAC. And it's just bringing in another load on to shore, a load of Navy midshipmen and Marines and also heavy equipment. This has been going on for the day, today. It started yesterday. The Navy landed some folks here to put up Camp Restore. It's a combination of the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps.

There are approximately 500 members of the Marine Corps here in Biloxi and will be deploying throughout the day. They already have deployed.

And then the U.S. Navy has upwards of 4,000 people available to do the job which they have been tasked to do.

And joining us now is Commander Frank Hughlett, who is running the show, basically, here on the beach in Biloxi. Commander, what's -- what is the plan here? You guys have a lot of capabilities. What is it that you are going to do and early on especially?

CMDR. FRANK HUGHLETT, U.S. NAVY: The number one priority, obviously, is to get up the critical infrastructure -- sewage, water, power. Once that's done, we will move on to additional things, like road cleaners.

We have done a lot of debris work. We are looking at clearing the harbor so we can get more supplies and help in via the ports and harbors here on the southern Mississippi coast.

Additionally, we are working medical. A lot of medical folks have gone in, first-responder kind of Navy Corpsmen, doctors, nurses. Additionally, we are flying a lot of that kind of support up into New Orleans off the beach here.

We have got three ships, the USS Whidbey Island, the USS Shreveport, and the USS Bataan. And they've got helicopters flying around the clock up into New Orleans. At the same time, we're bringing the Marines and other sailors into the beach here.

ROWLANDS: Also bringing food and water. Over a million meals have been brought in already, and more.

What is your take, now that you are on the ground, to the enormity of the destruction that Katrina has left behind?

HUGHLETT: I will be honest. You look at it through the television -- we had TV coming around on the transit from Norfolk -- and you are looking at it through a soda straw. You get on the ground and you look at it 360, it's huge.


BLITZER: All right, Ted. I'm going to have to interrupt, unfortunately. Please apologize to the commander for us.

The president of the United States, the commander in chief, is in Poplarville, Mississippi right now. He's speaking. Let's listen. (JOINED IN PROGRESS)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He'll remind us. But I appreciate you taking time out of your day to -- and, by the way, I'm travel with good company.

My wife, Laura, is with me, too. I want to...


BUSH: So, let me conclude by asking for God's blessings on you all, your families and friends, and let you know we're here for the long term. I understand. I understand the damage. I understand the devastation. I understand the destruction. I understand how long it's going to take. And we're with you. That's what I want you to know.

God bless.


BLITZER: And the president speaking very briefly in Poplarville, Mississippi.

Let's go back to Ted Rowlands, on the scene for us in Biloxi, Mississippi. Ted, I'm sorry I interrupted you and your guest just a few moments ago, but we heard from the president very briefly. Continue your interview with him, if you can.

ROWLANDS: OK, Commander Hughlett interrupted by the commander in chief. Obviously, he understands that.

HUGHLETT: Not a problem.

ROWLANDS: We were talking about the enormity of the devastation here. And you had said earlier that your troops have been back and forth to the Gulf and been pretty worn out. But when they saw this destruction, what did you find?

HUGHLETT: I will tell you, there was no complainers whatsoever. Leaves were canceled. Guys responded immediately.

Matter of fact, I was talking to the X.O. of the Shreveport. He could only bring 100 sailors in to work today because of transportation. They got a whole bunch of them left on the ship are disappointed, but they'll be coming in tomorrow and follow-on days to support the effort here.

But the sailors are self-motivated. Unbelievable how motivated the American sailors are down here, men, women. And the Marine Corps. We're working very closely with them. There hasn't been word one in a complaint yet.

ROWLANDS: What can you people do that can really augment this, in a nutshell? I guess you are just more prepared to come in and do it quickly? HUGHLETT: Well, we have an opportunity or the capability to come into austere environments around the world, respond globally with the C.B.s, the construction battalions. We brought in three construction battalion disaster response teams. And they are able to go out and help restore that critical infrastructure, which is one of the priorities that we're working towards, that water, that sewage and that power.

The Marine Corps, we are bringing them ashore right now the 24th Marine Service Support Group, part of the 24th MEU, same capabilities. They can come in, put a lot of water, power, sewage. So, that's what we're really bringing the heavy equipment in for, additional. As I said, the manpower -- we're bringing in nurses, cooks, electricians, hull technicians -- that's your plumbing.

ROWLANDS: Got you.

All right, Commander Hughlett, thank you very much. I know you're actually -- they brought in some cooks today to serve some meals at the local high school here in Biloxi.

Wolf, they have arrived in the Mississippi Gulf Coast and seem to be making a difference. And they said it's not a sprint. It is a marathon, that marathon beginning in earnest, the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast.


BLITZER: Well, thank God for that. Thanks very much, Ted Rowlands, reporting for us.

Just a few hours ago in Houston, Texas, former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton announced the first steps that they are taking in trying to raise a lot of money for the victims. All donations to the Bush/Clinton Katrina Fund, as it's being called, will be given to the governors of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Just a short time ago, a CNN crew caught up exclusively with former President Clinton and received some candid comments. Let's listen in.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This big thing happened. There was no natural person in charge that could put all the resources together.

I think that people thought about -- when Homeland Security had thought about, well, what if we have another 9/11? Or what if we have a different kind of terrorist attack?

Actually, managing a natural disaster is quite a different thing, although FEMA has some skills that could be valuable in a terrorist attack, too. So my instinct is, it was better the way it was. And we probably ought to revisit that. But, again, now is not the time for that. We can look at that 60 days, 90 days from now. Now we ought to be looking at the human problems. And I think Congress should, too. I don't think Congress -- I don't think Congress should repeal the estate tax this week. I think they ought to give some sort of tax help to the people down there, those poor people, a refundable thing. I think that we ought to be looking at whether these refineries are going down, and especially them. And some of the wells being knocked out in the Gulf, is this going to cause an energy shortage? Do we need to do what California did a couple of years ago? Do we need to have a really vigorous conservation effort, so that we don't have a recession because of this, so that we don't have economic and human disruptions because of this in other parts of the country?

I just -- yes, we failed once. But we don't want to fail a second time. Let's work on the people. Then, at some point down the road, there should be a commission. We should analyze this. Everybody should say what happened. And we should draw some conclusions and go forward, just as we did with 9/11. That's the way we do it as a country and the way we should do it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you very much.


BLITZER: The former president of the United States, Bill Clinton, expressing some irritation with the way the federal government responded, raising questions specifically about FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, whether it did the right thing and whether it should have been incorporated to begin with in the Department of Homeland Security, some candid comments from Bill Clinton.

We will have more of that coming up.

And our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, is just back from a remarkable tour of New Orleans by boat. She is standing by to join us live.

Plus, we will update you on the efforts to repair New Orleans' broken levees.

Also, international offers of aid are pouring in, including some you might find very surprising.

Plus, under stress -- in some cases literally under fire -- New Orleans' beleaguered police force stretched to the breaking point.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM and we are continuing our special coverage.


BLITZER: Although some of the water is receding in New Orleans, many of the roads look like small rivers, some of them not so small, those rivers.

Our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour, is just back from a tour of the city by boat. She's joining us now live from New Orleans with more. Christiane, what did you see?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, that's right. I mean, even though the waters are slightly receding, don't forget, about 50 percent of this city is still said by officials to be underwater. And we certainly saw that today. Just down there, which is Canal Street, just about a half a mile away from where all the press is, it is still inundated -- up to four, five, six, seven feet of water in some areas.

And we went on an amphibious vehicle. It's a vehicle that was built much in the model of the World War II assault vehicles, D-Day. But it's built as a recreational vehicle. And the people who own them have come down here with a few of them to help in the relief effort, a lot of volunteers, directed by the Louisiana Wildlife Enforcement Agency.

And so we went around. And still, you know, it's now eight days into this. We saw two bodies floating on the water surface, horrible, dirty, rancid black and green water. We saw people, you know, trying to get out of this water.

We saw one man who was wading. And it took him a long time to get to us, just wading with a small bag of things that he had managed to keep. And he came up on to this vehicle that they were using as a bus to collect as many people as possible who were still stranded and then to ferry them on out into dry land and perhaps -- perhaps elsewhere.

We saw one man who was floating on a tire and actually swimming in the water. And he, for instance, refused to come on board, saying that he didn't have to and he wouldn't because he had two dogs that he simply wasn't going to leave. And he kept saying that. He said, you know, I am responsible for them. It's as simple as that. I'm not coming on board. And that's all there is to it.

The job of the rescuers now is to try to persuade as many people as possible to come out of these waters, to come out of the homes that are partially submerged, and to get out before disease sets in. That's what they are telling them.

And what we found is that a lot of the people who are staying, are staying because they have been told, or they think they've been told, that the waters are going to recede immediately, and within the next couple of days everything is going to get back to normal.

But this isn't the case. We're being told by officials, and in turn they are telling these people who are still out there, that it could take as many as 80 days to pump the water out of Louisiana. And that is convincing some people to come down. On the other hand, others are still very, very stubborn.

And we said to one guy, for instance, why don't you come out? These guys are just trying to help you. And so, he started to shout. He said, to help us, all they should do is start pumping the water out. Why don't they put the pumps on?

There's still a lot of frustration amongst many people. We saw a 90-year-old woman who did come out, even though she didn't want to. But her son persuaded her to come out. And she and eight other people who had been stranded really for the last week -- some of them have been sleeping on the rooftop for the last several days -- they eventually did come out.

But it's striking to see how many people still there don't want to come out, because they don't want to leave their pets, because they don't want to leave their money -- one guy had a bag full of money there -- because they don't want to leave their belongings, because they aren't sure what to go to or what to do.

And there's still, you know, quite a lot of confusion. And it's also striking that, despite the number of different agencies involved, despite the number of volunteers who have come down, there's still very bad communications between many of the different organizations. So, even though we were out on this amphibious boat, there were some firefighters. There was the Louisiana Wildlife Enforcement Agency. There were various different agencies from around the state and around from the rest of this country.

There wasn't that much communication. They don't have a central walkie-talkie, a communications command-and-control point for these rescue operations. So, that is a bit frustrating.

BLITZER: Christiane, what about disease? How concerned are authorities, based on your tour today, that disease -- dysentery, some of the mosquito-borne disease, West Nile virus, other problems -- could erupt on a major scale? Because you pointed out -- and then our reporters have pointed out -- this water is rancid. It's disgusting.

AMANPOUR: Well, they are concerned. And that is what they're telling the people now. Look, you thought you could ride this out. You thought the waters would recede quickly. It's not like previous hurricanes and previous storms. This one is really severe. We can't get the water out and we may not to be able to get it out for what they're telling the people now 80 days. That's a long, long time. And they are saying that, you must come out precisely because of the fear of disease, that you will not survive in this water anymore.

Now, surprisingly, though, many of the ones we spoke to today who were still there and didn't want to come out, they do have supplies of fresh water and some food.

And just to put this sort of looting spree into perspective, a lot of these people have gone to stores and helped themselves to things that they need for their basic survival -- food, water, and other such things. Some of them have used extraordinary ingenuity. One family, for instance, having found a stack of foam mattresses, that they put together like a raft and they'd use that to paddle their way to the supermarket that wasn't far from their flooded house. And there, they'd go in and get out water and whatever food they could. But they say, you know, this was a matter of survival, not looting.

BLITZER: Christiane, this is the first time we have spoken since you have arrived in New Orleans. But we have spoken many times over the years. And you've been in some of the most dangerous environments around the world. Compare what you have seen in the past to what you are seeing in New Orleans.

AMANPOUR: Well, this is extremely bad. I mean, look, it's an incredible natural disaster, hampered by decisions that many people are blaming for a lack of coordinated federal response, hampered by what I'm surprised to see in a country as powerful and rich and developed as America, a lack of communications, difficulty in organizing between the federal, the state and the local level, state and local really getting out there and trying to do their best, and sort of wishing that they had more coordinated help from the federal government, a very long lapse, relatively, to get security out on to the streets, to get the troops here.

Many people here have told us that they wish that had happened much quicker, that there had been airlifts much quicker.

You know, in the parts of the world we go to, you know, we do see these things. But this is America. And that is what has shocked so many people from abroad. And what continues to shock many people who are left here, fending for themselves, still not getting the kind of information they think they need to know what to do next and really sort of feeling that they are on their own, despite the fact that so many of these agencies are starting to trickle in, and volunteers as well.

But it's still very much kind of a piecemeal effort. You don't see a very, very -- you don't see the results of a massive organized campaign.

BLITZER: Christiane Amanpour, on the scene for us in New Orleans. Thank you very much, Christiane. We will check back with you often.

When night falls, much of the disaster zone is in the dark, with power outages still widespread.

Let's get an update on all of that with -- from CNN's Ali Velshi. He's joining us from New York. Ali?

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Wolf. As Christiane was saying, nobody is getting anywhere certainly in their homes until there's electricity. They -- the -- these homes, many of them are waterlogged. And those that aren't, until there's electricity restored, they aren't going to be able to get back into their homes and start fixing things up.

Let's get an update on what's going on with electricity.

Entergy is one of the largest suppliers of electricity in the area. About 1.1 million customers in the region still without power as of today. They have got about 520,000 people, 1.1 million in total out of power; 520,000 of those are Entergy customers.

In Alabama, they have got power to almost everybody. Only 7,800 customers don't have power. Chickasaw and Dauphin Island are the places most affected. Now, Dauphin Island, you will recall, is where we saw that picture of the one platform, oil platform, that had crashed into the island, or beached on the island. They are able to restore power to two places that we know about. The Port of New Orleans has about three-quarters of its power back and LOOP, Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, which is where the big ships unload their power, has about 75 percent of its power.

Obviously, Wolf, they are trying their best to get power to those places that are required to get infrastructure and services back online. We still have eight refineries offline because they are without power or just getting power back and having to inspect whether or not there's damage.

So the electricity right now, getting power to people in the Gulf region, is most important at the moment.

BLITZER: All right, Ali. We're going to check back with you, as well. Ali Velshi reporting for us from New York.

We're going to take a quick break. Much more of our special coverage, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. It's now been exactly one week since that hurricane, a Category 4, hit New Orleans, hit Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Much more of our special coverage right after this short break.


BLITZER: Getting some live pictures in, helicopter shots from over New Orleans. We're continuing to get these pictures from our pool helicopter reporters showing us the devastation in this area.

Clearly, major interstates. You can see them there. I don't see any traffic. I don't see any cars going in either direction. I don't know if you do, but I certainly don't see any. We're going to continue to watch this story for our viewers. We're not going away.

The first step to trying to rebuild New Orleans is fixing the levees and pumping out the floodwaters.

CNN's Tom Foreman, who's spent many years working in New Orleans, he's monitoring the situation for us. So what is it looking like, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's looking like what they said from the beginning, a very long, slow, complex procedure. Let's take a look at what we're talking about here.

The Gulf Coast, as you can see here -- we're going to fly in and take a look at the levee area that we're talking about. And this will give us an idea of what this whole situation is.

As we turn along the Gulf here, we're going to come along the big break that was the big problem, the 17th Street Canal break, which is the one that dumped all that water into what's called Midtown New Orleans, the lakefront area of New Orleans.

We fly in. That's Lake Pontchartrain on the right. And that's the canal right there. You can't miss it -- big section of water. You see the houses right here. We'll back out just a little bit. This is the part of the canal that broke, right along in here. If you look at the video over here on the other side you can get a sense of what we're talking about, because this area right there broke and the water poured in.

So the difference is this. Look at the water. There's the wide shot. There's the tight shot. When the levee broke, it filled up this side, made it all dark.

The other side over there is Jefferson Parish. People talk about Orleans and Jefferson. Jefferson Parish is one of the big, big suburbs there. A huge number of people live there. A lot of the people who make downtown New Orleans work day in and day out live in Jefferson Parish and in Kenner. So that's important.

But nonetheless, this is the break. What you're looking at in the pictures over here is this break right over here. And...

BLITZER: Those sandbags that our viewers see in the pictures in the right, that's video coming in from today. And you can see they've been dumping these 2,000- and 3,000-pound bags of sand to try to fill that breach.

FOREMAN: Exactly. And the breach is right here. We sort of flatten it out a little bit.

What this ought to look like, Wolf -- we'll widen out just a little bit and show you -- what this ought to look like is one of the other levees, which is over here, or one of the other canals, which is over here, which is intact with its pumping station.

You see this right here? This is another canal that did not get hurt by the storm. And it's right on the edge of Lake Pontchartrain, also. And that one has got its pumping station intact, and that's where these gigantic pumps are.

It's impossible to talk about how powerful these things are. They're just unbelievable, what they can do, in terms of dealing with a storm.

I'll clarify that picture a little bit. That's what this one looks like now, perfectly good shape. And these stations, when they're up and running, will start getting all of that water out of there.

The best guess for this is sometime around 40 days -- if everything goes really well -- to get most of the water out, more like 80 days to get all of the water out. And we haven't even talked in all of this about the tremendous number of areas beyond this. If you go back toward -- again, we're turned a little bit here -- but if you keep going this way, past that break we saw earlier, down into the rest of these areas, which actually are to the east and southeast of New Orleans, tremendous amount of flooding still out there. That's going to be a very long process of draining.

BLITZER: That's a water pump over there, the video on the right. I want to show our viewers. This is video from today that that -- it looks pretty damaged, that pump, that water-pumping station.

FOREMAN: Well, a lot of the water-pumping stations had some significant problems because the pumps became submerged. I mean, this is something that almost never happens there. But when a pump becomes submerged, like anything else electrical, it's very hard to get up and running again.

So the truth is, they've had, in some places, to go into the pumping stations, get the water out of the station, clean up the pumps, rehabilitate the pumps, maybe bring in auxiliary pumps and put them in place, and start moving this tremendous, tremendous amount of water.

BLITZER: We see that one working now, because you can clearly see water being pumped. At least it's going somewhere. A lot of work to do, and it could take as long as 80 days, at least that was the estimate of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers last week. We heard 30, 60 days, 80 days. The mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, said perhaps 24 days. But we'll just simply have to wait and see.

FOREMAN: If we're really lucky, that might help. And of course, we're going to find more damage. We're going to find more bodies. We're going to find more problems with every inch that the water goes down.

BLITZER: All right. Tom Foreman is going to continue to watch all of this for us. Thank you, Tom, very much.

We're getting some additional live pictures into CNN. We're going to show you what we're seeing. These are pictures coming in from the camera aboard a helicopter that's been flying over the entire area, the flood-ravaged area. We'll continue to show these pictures.

We're going to take a short, little break.

When we come back, much more of our coverage. We'll check in with Zain Verjee. She's monitoring how the rest of the world is watching this situation, what they're saying. Offers of aid coming in from both friends and foes alike. You'll be surprised to hear what people around the world are saying and what they're doing.

Also, our Rick Sanchez is standing by in the area, as well.

Much more of our coverage right after this.


BLITZER: We've got some more live pictures coming in from New Orleans. I want to show our viewers what we're seeing right now. These are pictures coming in from a helicopter flying over the region.

You see some of that interstate over there, clearly still submerged. A lot of water all over New Orleans and the region. They have an enormous -- an enormous -- assignment right now to try and get rid of that water, and it could take, as we've been hearing, as long as 80 days. Hopefully, they can get it done a little bit more quickly. We'll watch these video -- these live pictures coming in -- together with you, our viewers. As we watch this video, think about this: I don't remember a time when countries around the world, nations around the world, have been coming to the assistance of the richest country in the world -- that would be the United States -- with offers of assistance.

But yet, right now, offers of aid are pouring in to the United States from both friends, yes, and foes alike. Our Zain Verjee is joining us from the CNN Center. She's been monitoring this truly amazing development, something I never thought we'd see in our lifetime, Zain. But update our viewers on what is happening on this front.

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Wolf, since Hurricane Katrina struck, many Americans have been asking this -- where is the world when the United States needs help?

You've got rich and poor countries now that are stepping up, offering oil, offering cash, doctors, food, tents, and a lot of other relief supplies. You've got at least 60 nations and international agencies coming forward saying, look, we want to help.

Now, among some of the most recent offers is China. It's pledging $5 million in cash aid. The country says it can send rescue workers to the hurricane, if they're needed.

You've got Greece, also, among many of the European nations coming forward to help. Now, that government says it's going to offer two cruise ships to house evacuees. It also says supplies and emergency crews are available if they need it, as well.

Then you go to war-torn Afghanistan. They're putting forward a pledge of $100,000. It's a big deal for that country, but the president is saying that the United States has given so much support to Afghanistan and now he just wants to return the favor.

The small island of Sri Lanka -- now, if you remember, it was devastated by last year's tsunami. About 31,000 people were killed. And they're saying, look, we want to pitch in. Sri Lanka is offering $25,000 in aid.

Now, those are all friends of the United States. Let's look at the long-time foes, too, because they're also extending a hand, Wolf.

Cuba's Fidel Castro is offering to send 26 tons of supplies. More than 1,500 Cuban doctors are standing by. Those doctors are actually in an airport holding area in Havana just waiting for a green light. There's been no response yet, though, from Washington. And it's really unlikely that they'll accept Cuban aid.

There's also been an offer of help from Iran, as well. And, you know, that's a country President Bush has called part of an axis of evil. The Iranian foreign ministry says any aid would be channeled through the Red Crescent Society.

So the international community, like you said, friend and foe, Wolf, stepping up.

BLITZER: I noticed also that one web site associated with al Qaeda, Zain, is suggesting that this is God's punishment of the United States for treating Islam the way it supposedly treats Islam. Clearly, al Qaeda and its supporters trying to take advantage of this natural disaster that has hit the United States.

VERJEE: Yes, certainly trying to take advantage of that and getting some of their own mileage for their own recruitment. But that's really something that's not reflected in the broader Muslim world.

A lot of Muslim countries, like Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, is stepping forward to help.

And really, the sentiment among much of the population across the world is this.

Firstly, one of utter amazement and astonishment that the United States, the most powerful country in the world, the richest country in the world, was so unprepared, so vulnerable to a natural disaster they knew was coming.

Also, much of the sentiment, Wolf, is one of enormous sympathy. You've got people from all over the world saying, look, you know, this is an awful tragedy. We've been to New Orleans. We've enjoyed Mardi Gras. We've enjoyed the jazz, and we're going to dig into our pockets and help.


BLITZER: Thank you very much, Zain Verjee reporting for us.

And a side note, yesterday, the government of Kuwait announced that they were going to provide half a billion dollars, $500 million, to the United States in various forms of assistance. Kuwait, a country very much supportive of the United States and grateful to the United States for liberating that country from Saddam Hussein's occupation in 1991.

We're going to continue to show you these live pictures from our helicopter pilot flying over New Orleans. We'll look at these live pictures. We're going to continue, also, to get reports from the region.

Runways, by the way, over at New Orleans International Airport, nearby Kenner, about 12 miles from downtown New Orleans, are now landing strips for planes loaded with supplies and grounds for emergency medical services.

CNN's Rick Sanchez is joining us now live from the airport. And he's got an important story to share with our viewers. Rick?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, we've been shuttling from here and out on boats into the streets of New Orleans. And we have been struck by what we've seen on the streets of New Orleans and Jefferson Parish, as you had alluded to a little bit earlier.

You see certainly a lot of people who have lost their lives, who are still out there. And you also see people who are still being rescued. You're also struck by people who are saying at this point they're not ready to be rescued. They may change their mind tomorrow, but at this point, they're going to hang tough, they say, and stay out there.

But there was one thing in particular when we went out yesterday that struck us, and that was the separation of families -- some children that we ran into, in particular, who had no idea at this point where their mom and dad were. And they thought that, perhaps, they were somewhere in Houston.

But children crying, saying -- what you hear children say, if you have children yourself, I want my Mommy, and I want my Daddy. So a piece that we're putting together that you're going to see tonight on ANDERSON COOPER 360 at 7:00.

But we had a chance now to talk to somebody who can speak to them. She is Naomi Raap. She is a specialist with the Nevada Air National Guard. And she's been dealing with this firsthand.

What's it like, Specialist Raap, to try and deal with these families when they come here, and you only have part of the family and you don't know where the other part is?

NAOMI RAAP, SPECIALIST, NEVADA AIR NATIONAL GUARD: It's heartbreaking, because I do everything that I can to reunite them. But there's only so much that I'm in control of. And when I try to go outside of that, that's when my heart gets broken.

On the first night, I started working at 12:00 in the morning. And there was this boy in there. His name was Broderick. And he was looking for his mom. And he had spina bifida and meningitis, and he had a hard time remembering the number. And my phone wasn't working. And I tried to send her a text message. And it wouldn't go through. And I just lost it. I started crying. And that was just the first of many experiences to come.

SANCHEZ: Well, is there any kind of database? Is there some process so that, when a person comes here, they say, my name is such- and-such, and my mom, or my dad, or my children are in San Antonio. How can you put me with them?

What do you do? What do you say to that person?

RAAP: All I'm in charge of is medical treatment. I believe that the Red Cross is in charge of that right now. On our side, we have a manifest that we make of all passengers that leave, along with every single airliner and their Social Security number and their location that they're going to. So, hopefully, they can get in touch with their loved ones and family at a later time.

SANCHEZ: So there is an attempt being made to try and unite these families? RAAP: Yes, sir.

SANCHEZ: This has been extremely emotional for you, hasn't it?

RAAP: Yes, it has.

SANCHEZ: Tough time.

RAAP: Yes, it has.

SANCHEZ: Thanks so much...

RAAP: Thank you, sir.

SANCHEZ: ... for joining us.

It's a difficult task, from what is explained to me, Wolf, by some of the folks who are here from all parts of the country. Nevada is gearing up things right now here. But they say it's physically taxing, but it's also emotionally draining. Sometimes, they say, it's the latter that really gets them.

Wolf, back to you.

BLITZER: All right, thanks, Rick, very much, Rick Sanchez. We're going to get back to him later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The New Orleans Police force is overtaxed and overwhelmed in Katrina's aftermath. Some officers are showing signs of extreme stress, usually reserved for troops returning from war.

CNN's Mary Snow is joining us now live from New York where first- responders know firsthand what their New Orleans counterparts are going through. Mary, share with us what you're picking up.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're finding out that dealing with this disaster has taken a deadly toll on the New Orleans Police Department. The force is roughly 1,700. Two officers took their own lives. Hundreds have just left.

Deputy Police Chief Warren Riley held a news conference earlier today, saying there are between 400 and 500 officers unaccounted for. He said some fled because they're searching for family members or they lost their homes. Others fled, he says, because they couldn't deal with the catastrophe.

Now the department is trying to take care of its own, saying officers have been through pure hell. And besides trying to rescue thousands of people who've been stranded, the police themselves have come under fire.

Officials say communication has now been restored, but they say there have been times when there was no way to communicate with one another. The superintendent of the department says officers were coming under fire in total darkness. He says a group even tried taking him hostage. Officials say the toll is too much and that these officers need physical and psychological evaluations. The mayor saying he's trying to rotate the officers out of New Orleans. There are reports the city is offering five-day vacations, some even getting trips to Las Vegas.

Now, it's estimated there are more than 4,000 reinforcements in New Orleans. And that includes military personnel, the National Guard, officers from other cities, and that includes New York.

Today, the city sent hundreds of police officers and firefighters to New Orleans. The mayor saying that the police and firemen here know that it is their obligation to help the city of New Orleans, this after so many people came to their aid following 9/11.


BLITZER: All right, Mary. Thank you very much. Mary Snow with an important part of this story, as well.

We're going to take another quick break. When we come back, the former Defense secretary, William Cohen, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll assess what the U.S. military is doing now, what it should have been doing over this past week, and what it's likely to be doing in the coming days.

Much more of our coverage, right after this.


BLITZER: We want to show our viewers some remarkable video that we just got in, thanks to the helicopter pilot J.T. Alpaugh and his crew. This was -- still is, I suppose -- Six Flags New Orleans, an amusement park. Look at this.

You can see the carousel. You can see some of the elements of this amusement park. It is under water, Six Flags New Orleans. It's midway between downtown New Orleans and Slidell, at the intersection of Interstate 10 and Interstate 510, approximately 20 minutes from downtown New Orleans. It was once a source of so much joy for young kids, but not anymore.

Let's listen in to the helicopter team.

J.T. ALPAUGH, POOL PHOTOGRAPHER: ... just so many homes throughout this area under water. It's just so widespread.

So the amusement park that you're looking at is coordinates 30 degrees north, 02 minutes, and 89 degrees west, 56 minutes.

So we're making our way. We're going to come back up to the interchange here and show you, as we continue to put the camera out in the front of the aircraft, this is the interchange of 510, Interstate 510, where it meets up with Interstate 10.

BLITZER: What was Six Flags New Orleans.

ALPAUGH: I think what we're going to do here is maybe widen out to where...

BLITZER: That was J.T. Alpaugh, the helicopter reporter who brought us those pictures of what was Six Flags New Orleans -- still is. But it's clearly under water right now.

In the meantime, the U.S. military presence in the region battered by Katrina is growing very, very quickly. It already includes tens of thousands of National Guard personnel, as well as active-duty forces. Their jobs range from delivering food to keeping the peace.

The former Defense secretary, William Cohen, is joining us now to talk a little bit about what's going on.

This has been a remarkable week, a horrible week in the history of this country. As a former Sefense secretary, a former United States senator, give us your immediate thoughts on what could have, should have, should have been done.

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well, first, let me say what an incredible job the men and women who are serving us today are doing today, as well as the first-responders, the police, the firemen, all those who are trying to help in this massive disaster.

In terms of what could have been done, should have been done, this was not an unforeseeable event. There had been report after report predicting what would happen with a Category 4 or 5 type of hurricane. So it's not something that was unforeseen. It may have not been foreseeable by the local officials, but it was not unforeseeable in terms of all the people who have studied this issue.

The question then becomes one of command and control. I take issue with the notion that somehow we have to draw a distinction between homeland security and natural disasters.

This was Mother Nature's weapon of mass destruction -- wind and water. The consequences are the same. Whether this was a one-kiloton bomb, nuclear bomb going off in that area, or Mother Nature wreaking this kind of devastation, the response has to be the same.

Number one, you need evacuation. Number two, you need to have medical supplies. You need to have transportation, communication, which they still don't have.

All of these preparations would be needed whether it's a natural disaster or a terrorist action. So it's clear that we were ill- prepared for this type of incident.

BLITZER: So the bottom line is, four years after 9/11, and all of the billions, tens of billions, hundreds of billions, let's say, that have been spent, and all the manpower that's been devoted to responding to a disaster, we get this disaster and the response is tepid.

COHEN: It's clear that we are ill-prepared to deal with an issue such as this, an act such as this, or even a terrorist action of this magnitude. It is a wake-up calling for every major mayor, governor, and the president of the United States that we have not devoted the kind of attention and resources to protect our people in a time of need.

That clearly is the case here. And we have to devote resources, attention to homeland security in the full context, not just terrorist activities, but acts of nature of this magnitude.

BLITZER: There's been a suggestion that the Department of Homeland Security, since 9/11, fighting the last war, if you will, devoted so much of its resources to a terror attack, an attack by an evil person or persons, that it neglected, in effect, FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is now part of the Department of Homeland Security, and a natural disaster.

Do you accept that?

COHEN: What I'm suggesting is there should be no distinction. The distinction is artificial. Whether it's a terrorist activity or it's Mother Nature, it doesn't matter. The consequences are roughly the same. The response has to be roughly the same.

Surely, you try and deter terrorist activities and prevent them from taking place. But the consequence management is identical. You have to have evacuation, transportation, communication, medical supplies, hospital beds, all energy re-supply, water purification.

All of the needs that we have for a terrorist act also apply here. And we have been ill-prepared. This has been coming from some time. The Hart-Rudman Commission -- Senator Hart, Senator Rudman did a report for the Council on Foreign Relations more than a year ago, pointing out we're still inadequately prepared for a terrorist act or Mother Nature's action of mass destruction.

BLITZER: So the important lessons are yet to be learned from the initial response?

COHEN: Well, we have to -- the questions that have to be asked, what did all of those in the chain of command, from the president down to the local mayor, what did they know -- to coin Howard Baker's phrase -- when did they know it, and what did they do about it?

BLITZER: You were a member of that Watergate Committee, so we remember it very well. William Cohen, thank you very much for your insight.