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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Interview With Michael Chertoff; Interview With Mike Leavitt
Aired September 4, 2005 - 12:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's noon in Washington, 11 a.m. in New Orleans, 5 p.m. in London and 8 p.m. in Baghdad. Wherever you're watching from around the world, thanks very much for joining us for this special "Late Edition: State of Emergency."
New Orleans woke up to another nightmarish day today. The city mostly deserted now, except for the dead, and they're likely to be in the thousands. We'll have live reports from all over the Gulf region.
Also ahead, my interview with the Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt on the diseases that could kill so many more.
First, though, let's get a quick check of what is mission critical right now.
BLITZER: We'll have much more on what's happening in New Orleans, in the Gulf region, the state of emergency in just a moment.
First, though, some additional details on the death of the chief justice of the United States, William Rehnquist. CNN's Joe Johns is over at the U.S. Supreme Court. He's joining us live now.
Joe, what is the expectation as far as the next state of events?
JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is the critical question, the one we've been asking since last night. Of course, there are a lot of things that have to happen. As you know, Wolf, one of those things is the confirmation hearings for John Roberts, who has already been nominated to take the place of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
But first, it is important to say that after a justice on the Supreme Court leaves office, whether by death or retirement, there's always a period where you commend the record of that outgoing justice. We have already heard from John Roberts, who is perhaps one of Rehnquist's best-known former clerks. He actually worked with Rehnquist. He talked to reporters earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: It's a sad day for us. Our country's lost a remarkable public servant. And my family and I have lost a very dear friend. Jane and I want to send our condolences to the Rehnquist family. We're going to miss him very much. Thank you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: So no questions there for him. As you know, he is expected to get a lot of questions from the Senate judiciary committee in the coming days. There has been some question as to whether they will hold up those hearings, at least for a period, while we continue in the mourning of the chief justice. We are expecting some other statements from other justices on the Supreme Court.
As all of this continues, Wolf, as you know, many questions about who will be his successor, the timing. Among the scenarios that has been suggested long ago when we first knew he was sick with cancer, was whether Antonin Scalia or Clarence Thomas might be named as chief justice. In any event, as the president said, we now have two vacancies on the Supreme Court. That's the first time that has happened since 1971.
Back to you.
BLITZER: All right, Joe Johns at the Supreme Court. Thanks very much.
Just a little while ago, we heard from the president of the United States. Our national correspondent Bob Franken is over at the White House today, and he's joining us live.
Bob, give our viewers an update on what the president said.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first, the president, at this moment, is at the American Red Cross headquarters just down the street, and will be making remarks there, which illustrates the juggling act that he has now with what amount to two crises.
Obviously the hurricane being such an overwhelming massive one, and now the death of the chief justice of the United States. He's going to be making remarks at the American Red Cross. But this morning he had words to say about the passing of Chief Justice Rehnquist.
What the president was discussing was the timing that's involved, and he made his point that there are now two vacancies, as Joe pointed out, on the Supreme Court. And he'll be making his decisions on replacements in what he said is a timely manner, to use his words. Time is of the essence, Wolf. The Supreme Court begins its new term on October 3.
The possibility would exist that the president could decide to elevate one of the existing associate justices to chief. That would mean three confirmation hearings, that would probably mean quite a bit of confrontation. The president right now so massively involved in so many particular issues, that there is some school of thought that he's going to try and avoid that. But whatever occurs is going to be happening quickly. There's almost a necessity to do that.
BLITZER: Let me interrupt you, Bob, because we have to go to Nic Robertson in New Orleans right now. CNN's Nic Robertson is joining us. He has just spoken to the New Orleans mayor, Ray Nagin.
Nic, update our viewers on what's going on there.
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, one of the details I learned from the mayor this morning was, he says that he thinks once the levees are fixed, he believes it is possible the downtown area could be drained of water within a period of as short as two weeks.
But he does have major concerns. I caught him just as he was leaving his base of operations this morning, just as he was heading out to begin his meetings and begin his round of trying to get this city up and running and cleared out again, and I asked him what were his priorities.
ROBERTSON: (inaudible) small piece of chaos here, as far as I can see. What do you see when you see this?
RAY NAGIN, MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: I mean, I see the same thing I've been seeing for six or seven days now. I see destruction. I see despair. I see suffering. I see death.
ROBERTSON: You see the National Guard now.
NAGIN: Well, that's the only positive thing I see besides the sunshine. But this has not been a good experience.
ROBERTSON: It's not even 8:00 in the morning now. What's your priority as you step out today to begin your day. You are beginning your day right now?
NAGIN: Yeah, I've been up...
ROBERTSON: What's at the top of the agenda?
NAGIN: I've been up for a while. The top of my agenda today is, I've got some firefighters and police officers that have been pretty much traumatized. And we've already had a couple of suicides. So I am cycling them out as we speak.
But we have a problem. I can get them to Baton Rouge, but once I get them to Baton Rouge, there's no hospitals. They need physical and psychological evaluations. There's no...
ROBERTSON: This is the police and firemen?
NAGIN: The police and the firemen. They've been holding the city together for three or four days, almost by themselves, doing everything imaginable, and the toll is just too much for them. So I need to get them out.
And we've been trying to figure out where to take them so that they can reunite with their families. And hotels are an issue. So, some place like a Las Vegas that has a tremendous amount of hotels. We're trying to figure out a way to get them to those locations. ROBERTSON: Are you getting any positive movement on that?
NAGIN: We just started it last night. You know, I ran into a little bureaucracy about what FEMA can pay and what they -- I told them to screw it; I don't care what they pay. I'll pay it and then we'll figure this out later. But I have to get these men out.
ROBERTSON: After that, what are you going to do right now?
NAGIN: Well, there's three distinct phases that we've been dealing with: search and rescue, which we're going to continue and the Guard and the Army's taken over that.
Then there's evacuation -- which we evacuated 20,000 people yesterday from the Convention Center. So that was the last thing I was worried about was the evacuation, even though there's some some more people.
And the third big thing is drainage. We have to drain this city. We have to get these dead bodies out of the water.
ROBERTSON: How many bodies are there?
NAGIN: I don't know, man. It's thousands.
NAGIN: I think so. Thousands. If you do the math, there's 500,000 people in the city. We probably evacuated 80 percent after the mandatory evacuation -- it's the first we've ever done a mandatory evacuation. We probably moved about 50,000 people out as it relates to -- 50,000 to 60,000, these shelters of last resort.
So you probably have another 50,000 to 60,000 out there. You do the math, man. What do you think? Five percent is unreasonable? Ten percent? Twenty percent? It's going to be a big number.
ROBERTSON: How long is it going to take to get to all these bodies?
NAGIN: I don't know. FEMA has that mission and they have a morgue team that is on its way with refrigerated 18-wheelers and a tag process. So, they're going to start that process, I think, today. I want to make sure that goes well.
And also, we've been working on the security plan. So I want to make sure that the city is secure. I drove around last night in the downtown area. It looks very secure.
ROBERTSON: And I also asked him, what had he got out of his meetings with President Bush? He said he was very satisfied with those meetings. He said he connected with the president. The president understood what he needed. He did say, however, that he believes some people were responsible for the deaths that happened after the storm. He said this wasn't the time to deal with it. But he said when the city is cleared up, he wanted to see these people dealt with. I said, would heads roll? Would people be removed from their jobs? He said that's something he would be looking at to deal with the situation.
He has now, just as well, Wolf, just got a communications hub set up. One tiny room of that Hyatt hotel now has a communications hub, so the mayor can call, speak directly with the president, connect with the Internet. I asked him as well, when did you see the light come on at the end of the tunnel here? And he said, look, really just yesterday. Just yesterday that he began to see some positive changes happening in this city.
BLITZER: Nic, he seemed remarkably calm compared to several of his earlier interviews this week. He was outraged, understandably so, under enormous stress. Did you get a sense he was now in more control of his emotions?
ROBERTSON: I got a sense that this was a man that was tired, but that he did begin to see the action that he wanted to happen, that he did begin to see that happening, that perhaps some of the anger that he felt that he to use to get things moving in the direction he wanted to see, to -- the frustration that he had, he sort of seemed to have got through some of those frustrations, that things were moving or beginning to move in the right direction and he did seem to be perhaps in more control.
He seemed a little laid back when I pushed him on some issues and he did get fired up on the things that he wanted to see happen. But he did seem relaxed. He also seemed like a man who has clearly been through a huge amount.
I said, did anything ever prepare you for this, to go through all of this? And he said, no, absolutely not.
And I said, would you run for mayor again? And he kind of smiled at me, and I think that my impression was that this wasn't going to put him off.
But he does seem to be a man who's a little calmer -- clearly somebody who's still very tired, under a lot of pressure. But perhaps beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel.
BLITZER: Nic, the picture that we see behind you seems pretty deserted -- empty streets. Paint a picture for our viewers in the United States and around the world right now of what you're seeing on the streets of New Orleans.
ROBERTSON: It's very interesting, Wolf. The areas that are covered in water, like the area behind me -- we're not seeing people coming out of those areas. As you drive through some of the more residential areas, they are, by and large, deserted.
You see small groups of people. You see trees uprooted, tossed across houses. You see trees blocking the roads. But you also see the marks of the cars as they sort of force passages down the roads blocked with trees, where the evacuations have gone down.
We were passing through one -- what you might call a slightly more upscale residential neighborhood last night, and I saw a sign at the side of the road and it said, "Did you ever think you would miss New Orleans so much? Welcome back."
So, clearly, there were some people there coming back. We saw a family sitting on a porch with a starched white tablecloth having dinner last night, just as the sun was setting. We saw people hanging around in some of the other side streets. So, very few people, but a lot of destruction.
When you look into this water, it looks like you're just looking at streets covered with water. But as you get into some of the streets that had trees underneath the water, there are a lot of trees, and this is what is making it difficult for some of the rescue missions, or some of the recovery missions at this time now, to get to some of those neighborhoods, to get to the waterlogged neighborhoods, to get in where the trees are broken down.
But the overall impression here, Wolf, is one of a city that is becoming increasingly deserted, at least in the center of its normal civilian population.
The other thing that I'm seeing, that I woke up to see this morning that I didn't see yesterday when I woke up on the main street, Canal Street, here in the center of New Orleans -- I saw National Guard out on the streets, out on the street corners, sort of keeping security, keeping watch over some of those stores where we've seen people going in, and yesterday starting fires, beginning to see a semblance of security take hold.
And that's one of the things the mayor said was going to be a priority: to get that security in place, so that he can facilitate the return of the people who are going to repair the infrastructure. I just came past one of the major telephone exchanges in the city: a huge hub of activity outside there. The water-cooling trucks, big 7,000-gallon trucks brought in to help run the air conditioning system, cool that telephone exchange down -- tight security around there.
Beginning to see electricity, utility workers in some parts of the city. Clearly, they're working to plans. Clearly, they're targeting certain areas that need to be, or certain buildings that need to be brought back up and running.
I saw a huge truck with a massive generator on the back of it being moved into place. Trucks with pallets and pallets and pallets of meals ready to eat being moved into the city. You do get the impression here that that massive log train, if you will, of logistical support and food and the beginnings of the people and the equipment necessary to get the city up and running, partially are beginning to happen.
My cell phone is up and running again. That wasn't running yesterday. My Blackberry is up and running again. These things are beginning to happen here, Wolf.
BLITZER: What about disease? We're going to be talking with the secretary of health and human services, Michael Leavitt, but what do you see on the ground as far as the fear of major disease breaking out in New Orleans?
ROBERTSON: There is certainly a lot of concern about that. In the hotel that the mayor is operating out of, there is feces in the stairwells. There is urine on the stairwells. The stench of decaying feces, rotting feces is overwhelming in some areas. There's intense concern that that's getting into the water here that could then get on people's hands, could make them sick, could make them ill.
We were advised by the National Guard not to touch anything there, not to step in the water for fear of contamination. Outside where some of the National Guardsman were still standing duty, huge piles of rubbish. There were flies beginning -- even early in the morning -- flies beginning to swarm on the open bags of food lying that were lying around.
So the possibility and the opportunity there for disease to spread, for it to take hold is a great concern for people at this time.
BLITZER: And we're looking at live pictures coming in from throughout the city of New Orleans. We still see a lot of water. The mayor suggested to you that it could be a couple weeks before all that water is removed from the city, although earlier in the week, Army Corps of Engineers were saying anywhere from 36 to 80 days for all that water to be removed.
Update our viewers on what you're hearing, Nic.
ROBERTSON: Yes, I was struck by that, Wolf, when the mayor told me it could be as short as two weeks. Now, he did say, once the levees are fixed, once they've managed to stop the water coming in, or at least, you know, manage those breaks where the water did come in -- he talked about getting some massive piping that could then be run -- a new plan, he said, that called for some massive piping.
I think he said 16-inch diameter piping that could then be run from the city back over the levees to pump the water out again. This seemed to be, from what he was describing to me, a new plan or an update, an augmentation to an existing plan.
But when he told me two weeks, I did say, are you sure we're talking about two weeks? Could it could really be as quickly as two weeks? That's when he outlined this additional plan, this additional pumping. So it does seem that he's getting an update on what the possibilities are, Wolf. BLITZER: One final question, Nic, before I let you go. You've covered a lot of horrible stories for our viewers, in Africa, in the Middle East, in the Gulf. Give our viewers a sense of what you've seen since arriving in New Orleans compared to some of the other major stories you've covered.
ROBERTSON: I think one of the most striking impressions, Wolf, is the fact that you're coming into a massive city that is more or less deserted, and also to see, now, National Guardsmen, police out on the streets in a U.S. city, patrolling, providing security on the streets in such a visible way is very, very striking.
But if you go into the places where people have congregated, like the Hyatt hotel, like the Convention Center, I see the sort of debris, the detritus of human life, where people have been cooped up, waiting for transport out, this is like it was on the border between Albania and Kosovo, looking at refugees coming out of Kosovo.
The materiel, the sort of life's possessions, the family photographs, all these sorts of things that they left behind. They're lying around. I saw somebody's Social Security card today.
What we see as we look around is -- what I'm seeing as I look around are similarities where you see massive movements of population, people forced from their homes in a great hurry. They're forced quite literally to make decisions on what they can carry with them. What they can leave behind. For some people it's family photographs. It's very treasured possessions we see left behind.
We've also seen, and this would be a concern to health officials, are dogs roaming the streets. A lot of dogs, very likely family pets. These dogs are trying to stay around and stay wherever they see people. But they're rooting in amongst the garbage. They're making a mess in places.
This sort of thing, the large number of dogs on the streets, beginning to form into packs, this for me is reminiscent, when I just saw driving back here just now, of Sarajevo during the war in Bosnia, where people couldn't afford to look after their pets. The pets were turned out on the streets. The dogs turned wild and ran in packs. They became a health issue. They also became a safety and security issue, Wolf.
So I do see some similarities here with some of the stories I've covered around the world.
BLITZER: All right. Nic Robertson on the scene for us in New Orleans. Who would have ever thought it would come to this?
Thank you very much, Nic, for that report. We'll check back with you throughout this three-hour special "Late Edition."
We'll take a quick break. When we come back, we'll go over to the Houston Astrodome. This is where thousands of residents, former residents at least, of New Orleans have made home, at least over the past few days. We'll go there. We'll also speak with the secretary of health and human services, Mike Leavitt.
Our "Late Edition" will continue after this.
BLITZER: This is what New Orleans looks like right now. These are live pictures coming in from New Orleans.
We're continuing our special "Late Edition: State of Emergency."
A horrible situation still unfolding in the city, as we just heard from Nic Robertson. The president went over to the headquarters of the American Red Cross in Washington a few moments ago, and he spoke out -- the president of the United States at Red Cross headquarters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've come to the Red Cross to -- I want to thank the good folks here who are working here.
We've got people from around the country who have come to help heal the lives of those who have been affected by this terrible disaster. I told some folks back there that, you know, the world saw this tidal wave of disaster descend upon the Gulf Coast, and now they're going to see a tidal wave of compassion.
There's over 5,000 Red Cross -- or nearly 5,000 Red Cross volunteers that are working long hours at shelters in 19 states, to help these folks that have been displaced get their feet back on the ground.
I can't think of anything more encouraging for someone who has endured the tragedy of a storm than to have a loving soul say, "I'm here to help you, and I want you to know a lot of people care for you." And that's the spirit of the Red Cross and its volunteers.
If you want to help, help this country heal after the result of this disaster, please give cash money to the Red Cross. I just passed the place where volunteers and staffers are taking calls from around the country. And the response has been good.
But there's more that needs to be done. Remember, it's the Red Cross that provides much of the first compassion that a person finds. It's the Red Cross that helps provide cash money for somebody to help them transition from being disrupted, having their lives disrupted to a more normal life. It's the Red Cross that helps feed.
And so the Red Cross needs money. The Red Cross can use volunteers, people that -- this is a storm of enormous magnitude. A lot of people's lives have been affected.
I know much of the country is focused on New Orleans, Louisiana, but parishes outside of New Orleans have been ruined. Up and down the coast of Mississippi, communities have been destroyed.
And so we need more manpower. And if you want to help, please call the Red Cross and your local Red Cross and they'll find a way for you to help. And finally, the Red Cross is in need of blood.
And there's a blood drive going on. As a matter of fact, the White House will be having a blood drive on Friday. And I will be encouraging the employees there to donate blood. And I hope others would do so as well. This country is coming together to help people who hurt.
And one of the leaders of the army of compassion is the Red Cross. And I'm grateful for your leadership, Marty. I want to thank all the good folks here who have -- who really show the world the great compassion of our country. Thanks for letting me come by to say hello.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The president with Marty Evans, the president and CEO of the American Red Cross, only a few moments ago here in Washington, promising more relief is on the way.
More than 200,000 victims of this hurricane from New Orleans have been evacuated so far to Texas. Many of them are taking refuge in that city's Astrodome. Let's go there. CNN's Keith Oppenheim is joining us live.
KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. About 16,000 evacuees in the Astrodome, about another 9,000 in the arenas just nearby.
And the best way to understand what it's like for people that have gone from one dome that was pretty bad to another dome that's been pretty good is to talk to someone who's been on the inside.
Let me introduce you to Betty Gilbert, my friend here. Betty is a mom with two sons. She's a housekeeping supervisor at a Radisson hotel right near the Superdome. And Betty was right near where you work...
BETTY GILBERT, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: Yes.
OPPENHEIM: ... at the Superdome is where you stayed for, what, four or five days?
GILBERT: For five days.
OPPENHEIM: What was that like?
GILBERT: It was horrible. It was a nightmare.
OPPENHEIM: And you didn't feel safe? GILBERT: I didn't feel safe at all. I had to stay -- me and my family, we had to stay close together. We had to. We couldn't go anywhere without one another. If one left, the other left. It was just that bad.
OPPENHEIM: Just going to the bathroom?
GILBERT: Just going to the bathroom was bad.
OPPENHEIM: A fear of being -- afraid of being attacked?
GILBERT: Of being attacked, yes.
OPPENHEIM: So when you talk about an atmosphere like that, of four or five days, and then to come here...
OPPENHEIM: ... to the Astrodome, what's the contrast?
GILBERT: World, this is the contrast. I am so happy. I am happy. Do you see the smile on my face? It's good. It's great.
OPPENHEIM: Because it's organized?
GILBERT: Very organized. I have never seen nothing like this before in my life. I have never been treated this good in my life. You know, it's great.
OPPENHEIM: When I came by to you maybe about 20 minutes ago, you had some papers this your hands.
OPPENHEIM: You're going through processing right now where you're looking for a place to live...
OPPENHEIM: ... to get a post office box, talking to FEMA, Social Security. What do you think is going to happen in the near future for you? Will you stay here in Houston?
GILBERT: Yes. I'm thinking about making this my home, thinking about making it my home.
OPPENHEIM: That's a significant thing to say. You're 42 years old and...
OPPENHEIM: ... you've lived your whole life in new Orleans.
GILBERT: My whole life in New Orleans.
OPPENHEIM: Why do you say that so definitely? GILBERT: I say I'm thinking about making this my home. I'm not sure. I'm thinking about it.
OPPENHEIM: OK, fair enough. But I mean, the very idea of it -- is it because you feel, you know, fairly traumatized from what's happened in this past week?
GILBERT: Very traumatized, and I feel -- right now, I don't know how it's going to be in the future, but right now I feel safe. I really do. I feel safe.
OPPENHEIM: Betty Gilbert, I really appreciate your time.
And, you know, really, all you have to do, Wolf, is just talk to anybody who is standing in this facility.
OPPENHEIM: For the most part, we're hearing a very good story in terms of the organization and what's happening inside the Astrodome and Reliant Arena and Reliant Center, the main places where people are staying. But it's a huge crowd, 25,000 folks right now and maybe growing.
GILBERT: Oh, yes.
BLITZER: Texas hospitality is a great thing, indeed. Keith, thank you very much. And thank Betty for us as well. Much more special coverage here on "Late Edition: State of Emergency." Up next, devastation in Mississippi. I'll speak live with Senator Trent Lott about the challenges facing residents in his home state.
BLITZER: This is Pilgrim Rest AME Church in Whistler, Alabama. The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, a native of Alabama, is there today. She's touring the region, Alabama, one of three states that suffered significantly. There she is, Condoleezza Rice, standing next to the governor of Alabama, Governor Riley. Condoleezza Rice attending church services in Alabama. Today we'll be hearing from her throughout the day.
Welcome back to our special "Late Edition: State of Emergency." While the devastation and deplorable conditions in New Orleans have been getting an enormous amount of attention, and rightly so, residents along Mississippi's Gulf Coast were also hit very hard by Hurricane Katrina.
Joining us now from Jackson, Mississippi, is the Senator Trent Lott.
Senator Lott, it's hard to believe a week ago you were on "Late Edition." We were worried about what was going to happen, and you mentioned that you have a home in Pascagoula. Just update our viewers. What happened to your home there? SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MISSISSIPPI: Well, it's gone, Wolf. It was washed away like most of my neighbors' homes. The ones that weren't completely washed away have been gutted.
But a lot of people are really suffering down there. It's the worst devastation I've ever seen. And it gets worse as you go further east from Pascagoula, Biloxi, Mississippi, Gulfport, Pass Christian, Bay Saint Louis, Waveland. Waveland is just -- you know, I didn't even see any structures standing, and we didn't even know where to land in a helicopter, so it's devastating.
You know, and we've had loss of life, Wolf. We tend to, you know, push that aside. And we still have people that are missing that we're very concerned about. They may be alive. We just haven't been able to find them or communicate with them.
But I want to say this, Wolf. I want to thank the American people, everybody who's been involved. There is a huge response under way. It makes a big difference when people come in.
And there you see me hugging my brother in-law in our neighborhood there. But, you know, we wept together. We sweated over the rubble, and now we're going about trying to help people that need it the most and preparing to bring in ships to provide a place for people to stay, to bring in mobile homes.
We're getting a massive movement of equipment, supplies. And we're having some problems, like you always do. You know, distribution has been a problem. Communication is still a terrible problem.
But, you know, little things are happening now. Water is coming back into some areas. Power is expanding closer and closer to the coast. Right along the coastline it will be quite some while before we get power. But we do need help.
I talked to John Kerry this very morning from Massachusetts. He and Teresa called, and Tricia and I have known them for a long time. They wanted to know how they could help, and I gave them a list of things we could need and use and told them what airports they could get into, Mobile Airport or the airport there in Jackson County, where they could bring supplies to the people.
Even basics like diapers and baby food, Coleman cookers, things of that nature would really help.
BLITZER: What about your family and your friends? What's the state of your immediate family and your friends in Mississippi who were there?
LOTT: Well, we had a quaint little neighborhood down on the west end of Pascagoula, and all of my neighbors and, you know, our community, our neighborhood there, all either had their house completely washed away or water went right through the first floor and you can stand in the front and look out the back door. So nobody was spared there. We're... BLITZER: But are they okay, Senator?
LOTT: Yes. We didn't lose any lives that we know of yet. We had a doctor who was actually missing for two days, but he turned up. And you know, we -- the family's safe, too. They all basically lost their homes, but they're all alive, and they're working right now.
BLITZER: We know that...
LOTT: That's my wife right there.
BLITZER: Yes. The pictures that we're showing our viewers are the rubble from what was your beautiful home in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Our heart goes out to you, Senator...
LOTT: You know...
BLITZER: ... and to your family.
LOTT: ... the important thing about that home is not that I'm any different than anybody else, except that house was 150 years old. And it was 12 feet above sea level. Now, you know, it had survived the worst Mother Nature could give for 150 years. And, you know, it had been lifted up eight feet off the ground.
So it shows you the magnitude of the storm's surge that everybody from Pascagoula right over to New Orleans was confronted with. And it was probably 20 feet in our town, and got probably to 32 feet at Waveland, Mississippi.
BLITZER: All right. One final question, Senator, before I let you go. Are you going to rebuild that home?
LOTT: Right now, we're just trying to help others. And, you know, we'll have to think about that down the road. Right now, we're just trying to get everybody the help they need. We'll worry about that another day.
BLITZER: All right. Good luck to you, Senator Trent Lott.
LOTT: Thank you.
BLITZER: As I said, our heart goes out to you and your family, everyone in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. They've suffered horrendous losses.
Our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is joining us on the phone now. She's at Lewis Armstrong International Airport in Louisiana, the New Orleans major international airport.
You're covering the military operation, Barbara. Update our viewers.
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. We have just come to the New Orleans Airport with Lieutenant Gerald Russell Honore, again, who's the chief senior military commander on the scene. This morning he is joined by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, members of Congress, top aides, and Michael Chertoff, the head of homeland security is here as well.
They are meeting to discuss here what the active duty military will be doing in this operation. We'll get to that in one minute, Wolf.
But just now, again, another one of those moments that are so difficult to witness. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, General Myers walking through the airport, walking through the emergency medical evacuation facility here at the airport, where so many of the victims who are ill, sick, injured are being Medivaced out of here, stopping to thank the hospital workers and seeing firsthand, really, the state of some of the victims who are in poor health.
As we were walking through with the defense secretary, indeed, someone who was ill was being carried on a stretcher by emergency medical people who were yelling coming through, coming through, please make way. And of course, the entire official party did.
Now, on the question of active-duty troops, Wolf, what we have learned here is the 82nd Airborne, those brigade combat teams of about 7,000 active duty soldiers, will undertake at General Honore's direction two basic tasks. They will assist but with food and relief distribution. Basically they will set up the structure to help the National Guard, we are told, undertake a more efficient relief organization within the city.
Though things are shaping up, they tell us, most of the people now out of the convention center. But we are also being told that they are going to help with another very, very difficult task. And that is the beginning of the recovery of the dead from New Orleans. And no one here knows what they may face, what they may really be dealing with.
We talked to a senior military officer here this morning who said they cannot even begin to estimate, he said, within 5,000 range, how many may have perished here in New Orleans. I asked him, I said can you give me your best guess. He said maybe 3,000, maybe 5,000, God, we hope it's no more than 10,000.
So the active-duty military will help establish a structure to begin a systematic search of new Orleans, block by block, building by building, to help the National Guard go in and begin to recover the dead, Wolf.
BLITZER: Barbara, have they activated those mortuary units -- most of them, I believe, are in the Reserves or National Guard -- to actually go in with body bags and to do this gruesome but critically important work?
STARR: Well, that is what the planning is going on for right now. No one can say precisely how it will work. We are told that mortuary teams will be coming in. Our understanding here this morning is there's two basic requirements: mortuary teams, to do some of this.
But I should also mention, now that they have begun the evacuation, or completed much of the evacuation of the convention center and the Superdome, we're also told now they will begin setting up field hospitals, getting the people who are still sick and injured, getting them the care they need.
On the question of -- this very difficult, difficult question of recovering the dead, one of the problems they tell us is at this point, they simply don't know what they're facing. They don't know how many. But again, a senior commander telling us they can't even begin to estimate within a range of 5,000. And he is the man who says God, I hope it's no more than 10,000.
BLITZER: Awful numbers to even contemplate.
Barbara Starr is covering the visit by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Richard Myers, the commander on the scene, Russell Honore, three star general.
We'll be checking back with you, Barbara. Thank you very much.
Still ahead, disease already rearing its ugly head. We'll assess the health risks and ask if the federal government is prepared for what might come next. The health and human services secretary, Mike Leavitt, our guest.
Our special "Late Edition: State of Emergency" continues after this.
BLITZER: These are live pictures from Gulfport, Mississippi. This is Sunday. People are going to church services. And this is a church service in what was a church, the foundation of that church the only thing remaining. The pastor is there with the congregants, a destroyed church in Gulfport, Mississippi -- unfortunately a scene very familiar along the Mississippi and Louisiana coast right now.
In Whistler, Alabama, another state hard hit, these are live pictures from a church there. The secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, among other dignitaries, there now. Rice, a native of Alabama, has come to inspect, to see what's going on, to express her solidarity with her friends in Alabama.
When we come back, the secretary of Health and Human Services, Mike Leavitt, on the potential for serious disease breaking out now in New Orleans. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition: State of Emergency." Thousands of people crammed in filthy conditions for days, without adequate food, water, or medical attention. It's a recipe for a health disaster.
Just a little while ago, I spoke with the secretary of health and human services, Mike Leavitt.
BLITZER: Secretary Leavitt, thanks very much for joining us.
How concerned are you that widespread disease has already or is about to break out?
MIKE LEAVITT, HHS SECRETARY: Well, public health officials and doctors tell me that we have the ingredients for a bad situation there if we don't practice good public health practices. So we're taking public health teams into all of the areas to make certain that we are, in fact, protecting and doing all we can to avoid it.
BLITZER: Describe a bad situation. What are your fears?
LEAVITT: Well, you have standing water. You have hot weather. You have the potential of mosquito hatches, other vectors that can carry diseases. You also have lots of people in the same area. And all types of infectious diseases, particularly those that could infect the intestinal tract and get to the point of being able to -- people who are already seriously dehydrated -- doctors tell me that's a very serious problem.
BLITZER: Have you seen evidence that that is already happening?
LEAVITT: Well, we've certainly seen a lot of sick people. We're seeing a substantially higher percentage of those coming out of these centers who need serious medical care than one would normally see in this kind of a setting.
BLITZER: Some of the diseases that we've heard were possible -- diarrhea -- and I'm going to just put a list up on the screen, including West Nile virus, hepatitis A, e. coli, salmonella -- are these all the diseases you're worried about?
LEAVITT: Those are the list that doctors talk about. E. coli -- obviously you have fecal matter floating in water and lots of human waste. That's a breeding ground. West Nile virus is already here. We know that. So if you have mosquitoes, and people who can receive them, that's a dilemma. All of the infectious diseases that occur when people...
BLITZER: We've just had a technical mishap. We're going to fix that, and we're going to come back and continue the interview with the secretary of health and human services, Mike Leavitt.
We'll take a quick break. Much more of our special coverage right after this.
BLITZER: Fear of disease very much on the minds of U.S. health officials, including the secretary of health and human services, Michael Leavitt.
Here now, more of our interview. He was discussing some of the diseases that could break out.
LEAVITT: West Nile virus is already here. We know that. So if you have mosquitoes and people who can receive them, that's a dilemma. All of the infectious diseases that occur when people are in large congregations of people can spread.
BLITZER: There's a report that dysentery has already broken out in Biloxi. Do you know anything about that?
LEAVITT: I've received a report that they're having to make some changes in the configuration because of an outbreak.
BLITZER: Here's what the New Orleans Times-Picayune wrote more than three years ago, actually June 24, 2002, in looking at this problem that New Orleans has: "Contaminated food or water used for bathing, drinking and cooking could cause illnesses, including salmonella, botulism, typhoid, hepatitis. Outbreaks of mosquito-borne dengue fever and encephalitis are likely."
This was sort of predictable, wasn't it?
LEAVITT: Well, any time you have this type of disaster, whether it's in the United States or anywhere else, you have this potential for this kind of disease.
For that reason, we have dispatched 24 public health teams, or we're in the process of dispatching them, throughout the Gulf region to begin working with state and local officials to assure that we're doing everything possible to avoid it.
BLITZER: Were they pre-positioned in anticipation of this event?
LEAVITT: No. No assets were -- none of these teams were pre- positioned, because all of them work for another state or a county or a city or another federal agency, and so we're having to stand them up and move them out, organize them as we go.
BLITZER: Because, you know, there's a lot of anger out there. Why wasn't more done in advance? Why wasn't there more preparation? Why weren't they pre-positioned?
LEAVITT: Well, it's -- when you say pre-positioned -- they've certainly been pre-configured, but people are off doing other jobs. Emergency management is everyone's second job. And when these things occur, they have to configure and move. We don't have hospitals and 747s sitting all warmed up on the runway. It takes time to load things into trucks, to procure them and to move them.
Now, we do have push packs, for example. We've shipped over 100 tons of medicine and medical supplies into this region. We have been able to respond rapidly with much of that that has been pre- positioned. But people have to be configured and organized and then logistically moved to an area. And we're in the process of doing that. In some cases, the areas weren't ready to receive them because of the level of chaos that accompanies any type of disaster.
BLITZER: Was the government caught flat-footed?
LEAVITT: The government was prepared, but I don't think any of us were prepared for a disaster this big.
BLITZER: And the question is, why? Because for days leading up to the hurricane hitting New Orleans, or just outside New Orleans, it was billed as a Category 5 and a Category 4, and for years, for decades, people knew that the levee system was not going to be able to withstand greater than a Category 3.
LEAVITT: Well, there will be plenty of time to ask those questions and to learn what we can from this. Right now, we've got people to make certain are safe; we have substantial long-term reconstruction that's got to be done and public health that's got to be attended to.
BLITZER: Are the authorities letting the Red Cross into New Orleans? There's some suggestion the Red Cross is not allowed to go into New Orleans because they want people to leave New Orleans and they don't want the Red Cross to set up shop in New Orleans.
What do you know about that?
LEAVITT: Well, I am travelling today to New Orleans, Baton Rouge, all of the cities in Texas that are housing those that have been evacuated. And we'll go on and I will have representatives of the Red Cross with me and all of the various public health agencies that have some relevance to the services that we have to provide.
Our purpose is, very simply, to assure that we're bringing every asset available -- not just from the federal government, but state and local government together.
BLITZER: Do you know how many people died?
LEAVITT: I do not.
BLITZER: Do you have an estimate?
LEAVITT: It's a lot.
BLITZER: Is it in the thousands?
LEAVITT: I think it's evident it's in the thousands.
BLITZER: In 10,000s?
LEAVITT: I don't have a number. No one has a number at this point. It's clear to me that this has been a sickeningly difficult and profoundly tragic circumstance. And our goal now has to be to mitigate it and to help those who have been affected in a way that will allow them to get their lives back and to prevent further tragedy.
BLITZER: One final question before I let you go. Mental health, especially for the children, the elderly -- what is the Department of Health and Human Services doing on that front?
LEAVITT: We're deploying teams throughout the entire Gulf region organizing with state and local governments -- not just those in the Gulf region but, literally, from all over the country, private providers.
We know this is the next very difficult phase of this tragedy. People have lost their jobs, they have lost their lives, they've lost loved ones, their homes are gone, their mementos -- all the things that make life stable and certain, for many of these people, are gone.
And it's going to exact a devastating toll, and we've got to be there to help them and we will be.
BLITZER: Secretary Leavitt, thanks for joining us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: In America, we do not abandon our fellow citizens in our hour of need.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Nearly one week after disaster struck, hundreds of thousands are either stranded, displaced, hungry, thirsty, sick and tired -- a casualty count one can only imagine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): Why would they not be prepared? I don't understand it. What are they doing every day in their offices?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Did the U.S. government do too little too late? We'll ask Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff the tough questions. We'll bring you stories of survival and loss, sorrow and hope, from our CNN reporters and guests all over the stricken Gulf region.
Also, the legacy of Chief Justice William Rehnquist. We'll remember the man who was a fixture on the highest court in the United States for more than three decades.
ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is a special "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer, "State of Emergency." BLITZER: Welcome back. We'll check in with our CNN reporters covering the state of emergency in just a moment. We'll also hear from the secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff. First, though, let's get a quick check of what is mission critical right now.
BLITZER: We'll get the latest from New Orleans and the state of emergency in just a few moments.
First, though, President Bush spoke out this morning about the death of William Rehnquist at the age of 80. He said he will soon choose a highly qualified candidate to replace the chief justice of the United States.
Who is on the short list? Who is not? Let's get some analysis of what's going on. Joining us are senior analyst Jeffrey Toobin -- he's at the CNN New York bureau; also our chief national correspondent John King. He's here with me in Washington.
John, first of all, can you walk us through the process right now? John Roberts was supposed to start his confirmation hearings on Tuesday, but that's up in the air I take it?
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There is some talk of delaying the hearings or postponing or perhaps beginning them on Tuesday and then interrupting them once we know the funeral arrangements for the chief justice. Many assume they will be made this week.
There are some saying postpone them, out of courtesy, if you will, decency to the chief justice. Others say that one of the things Chief Justice Rehnquist was most adamant about was the swift and efficient administration of the courts and that he would want these hearings to go forward.
So that is one question. And the bigger question, of course, is, who will the president turn to? Will he, say, make John Roberts his choice for chief justice? Would he ask Sandra Day O'Connor to stay on at least on a temporary basis?
The president now has -- already a difficult moment in his presidency -- has a huge selection.
BLITZER: Let's talk about that, Jeffrey. You're an authority on this -- writing a book on the Supreme Court right now, among other things that you're doing.
What if he were to say, you know what, maybe John Roberts would be an excellent chief justice? Would he then pull his nomination as an associate justice?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN ANALYST: I think, procedurally, that's how it would work. But it could be done very expeditiously. There is really not that much of a difference in the confirmation process between a chief justice and an associate justice -- and presumably the hearings could proceed pretty much on schedule after probably not much of a delay. You know, the chief justice has a very different title. He's chief justice of the United States, whereas the others are associate justices of the Supreme Court. And the chief justice can assign opinions in which he's in the majority but, as a substantive matter, the chief justice doesn't have that much more power than the other justices.
So the confirmation process usually is very similar.
BLITZER: And Sandra Day O'Connor, the associate justice, she says, Jeff, she will stay on the court until someone is confirmed to succeed her.
TOOBIN: And that's an important distinction, Wolf. A lot of people are saying she has resigned. She hasn't resigned yet. She remains a justice on the court and she has said she will remain there until a successor is confirmed.
If, for example -- and I'm just speculating here -- John Roberts were be nominated and confirmed as chief justice, you could have a full complement of nine justices on the bench come the first Monday in October when court is supposed to open, and then the successor to Justice O'Connor could be nominated and confirmed shortly thereafter.
Again, we don't know that's how it could happen. But, you know, O'Connor remains a justice of the Supreme Court. So there is no crisis in the operations of the court by any means.
BLITZER: All right, Jeffrey Toobin, John King, thanks very much. Thanks to both of you.
Let's immediately go back to New Orleans right now. Jeff Koinange is on Canal Street in the flooded area of the French Quarter. And Jeff is joining us now.
Give us a sense, Jeff, what's going on.
JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Wolf, look where I am. I am knee-deep in water. Right here, day seven.
What does that mean? That means, with this baking sun above me, Wolf, this is a recipe for every water-borne disease.
Now look at this. This is a typical street, Wolf. This is how it's been. There's been so much looting here. This is a typical clothing store. It's been looted. No windows, no nothing.
This is how it is up and down this city. It's unbelievable that this would be one of the busiest streets on any given day. It is waterlogged. The water is smelly. It is dirty. It's an unbelievable situation, Wolf.
Unless you're on the ground, you cannot fathom the extent of this destruction, Wolf.
BLITZER: Does it look like there's some progress, though, being made since you arrived, Jeff? When did you arrive, on Friday?
KOINANGE: Actually, we came here on Thursday, Wolf, but here's the deal. I think the priority was to rescue people. And guess what? In the buildings behind me there are some apartment buildings back there. There are still people in those buildings. They're there because they didn't want to make it to the Superdome or the Convention Center.
Why? Because they didn't want to be transported to Houston. Their life is in those apartment buildings. They don't want to be taken away from their lives. So they figured they will, you know, stay the course. They will just hang in there. Hopefully, this water will recede.
A week later the water has not receded, and the authorities, their priority is to rescue people. After that, they can start taking care of this entire mess. And Wolf, you can tell it's not going to take days, weeks, or months. This is going to take a long time.
BLITZER: Jeff, we see the water. And you're standing in that water right now. But describe it to our viewers. What is it like, that water? I assume it's filthy.
KOINANGE: It is filthy. It is dirty. There is garbage everywhere. I don't think you can see it, but I'll just lift it with my boot, because I'm not going to touch this. It is unbelievable. And it's probably mixed with sewage at some point, Wolf.
This is a recipe for every water-borne disease you can think of. And this is what's going to make people very sick. I think the authorities were smart in getting people out of here, because they don't want people now to start getting sick from all kinds of these water-borne diseases.
But this water, Wolf, I cannot tell you how dirty and filthy and smelly it is. And there's mounds of garbage everywhere, so when you combine the water with the garbage and this baking sun, this is not good at all, Wolf.
BLITZER: Are there any people in the area basically? Are they just hiding out where you are?
KOINANGE: That is absolutely correct. There are quite a few people. In fact, the authorities keep going around and looking for people on their horns, on their megaphones, asking people to come out of the apartments, those who can, but a lot of them are holding out. They think they can hold out. And this is, what, day seven. They think they can hold out and hopefully this water will recede, the authorities will come in, they'll drain this water out. It's not going to happen for a while, Wolf.
And look, these people have been living without any water, without any food, without any electricity. I don't know how they're doing it, Wolf, but they are adamant about staying in their city, rather than being taken to another state, because they don't know when they'll be able to come back. BLITZER: What about the bodies? You've been reporting, and our other reporters on the scene have been reporting, that there are dead bodies still visible. Have you seen many?
KOINANGE: Haven't seen but, Wolf, I can smell the putrid smell of dead bodies. I can smell that everywhere. From the convention center, where we were the last couple of days, to this morning when we were walking about, you can smell those dead bodies. You know they are there.
Again, we've asked several authorities why aren't they going, you know, why aren't they taking care of the body bags and, you know, getting them out of here to avoid disease. They say that's the priority. The priority is the living. And that's what they want to take care of first, Wolf.
BLITZER: Jeff Koinange on the scene for us. Normally he's our expert on what's going on in Africa. We've brought him into New Orleans to show our viewers what's going on there.
Jeff, we'll check back with you. Thank you very much.
Earlier today, our Nic Robertson, also in New Orleans, had a chance to catch up with the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NAGIN: Top of my agenda today is I've got some firefighters and police officers that have been pretty much traumatized, and we've already had a couple of suicides. So I am cycling them out as we speak, but we have a problem. I can get them to Baton Rouge, but once I get them to Baton Rouge, there's no hospitals. They need physical and psychological evaluations. There's no...
ROBERTSON: This is the police and firemen.
NAGIN: They've been holding the city together for three or four days almost by themselves. Doing everything imaginable, and the toll is just too much for them. So I need to get them out.
And we've been trying to figure out where to take them so they can reunite with their families, and hotels are an issue so someplace like a Las Vegas that has a tremendous amount of hotels. We're trying to figure out a way to get them to those locations.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, speaking with our Nic Robertson on the scene in New Orleans for us right now.
Sunday services were held this morning on the floor of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Gulfport, Mississippi. That floor is just about all that remains.
CNN's Ted Rowlands is in Gulfport. He's joining us now live. Ted?
TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a very emotional service here, as you might imagine. And as you can see, there is not much left of St. Mark's Church. About 100 church members joined the bishop of Mississippi here for about an hour-long service here. A lot of tears, and even the reverend broke down at one point talking about the church that had been lost.
This is being played out across the Mississippi Gulf Coast today. People, for a lot of them the first time to come together with neighbors and in this case church members they hadn't seen since the disaster and sharing stories of survival. Some of these people evacuated, some rode out the storm here and survived.
There's, of course, been not only property loss but a lot of lives lost in this region. And that was the theme that the church is gone but the people are still here. And the mood in the Mississippi area is still down. It's going to be a long, long time. Listening to Jeff Koinange, the situation in New Orleans is much different than it is here.
Mississippi Gulf Coast is a few steps above or beyond where New Orleans is, but they're still picking up bodies, and they still haven't started the real reconstruction here. It is going to take months and months, years possibly, before these people have homes to go back to and life goes back to normal and churches like St. Mark's have normal Sunday services.
BLITZER: Ted Rowlands reporting for us.
Ted, thank you very much.
Coming up, was race an underlying factor in the government's initial relief response? We'll talk about that and more with the top Democrat of the House Homeland Security Committee, Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson.
Our special "Late Edition: State of Emergency" continues after this.
BLITZER: These are pictures coming in from the Louis Armstrong Airport in New Orleans, where relief operations continue. The field hospital that was set up there is a triage center for patients taken from the city's hospitals. Today, some of the evacuees are being bussed to the airport so they can be flown to safety in Arkansas and elsewhere.
CNN's Ed Lavandera is joining us now live from the airport. It's about 12 miles from downtown New Orleans.
Set the scene for us, Ed.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, you know, I remember talking to you several days ago about this scene here. It has calmed down considerably, which is good news, that there are fewer people to have to bring out of the city.
There is still helicopter activity here at the airport as it lands, but it's definitely not as strong as it was over the last three days or so.
Behind us, you can see that people continue to be dropped off, and these are people who are left carrying their belongings in trash bags and in coolers or whatever they might have been able to get on the helicopters with.
It is a scene that continues to play out. There was about 5,000 to 8,000 people here at one point, Wolf. And overnight, the officials here who had set up camp -- there had been a much stronger National Guard presence late into yesterday afternoon and apparently that must have helped move people around because throughout the night, this crowd has almost completely dissipated from the New Orleans airport.
In fact, crews here are starting to clean up the airport which has become overwhelmed with trash all over the place, as you might imagine after 8,000 people or so camping out all over the lawn of the airport. So the scene is slowing down, but it still continues. And officials still say that it might take another couple of days before we see the traffic really come to a halt here.
But the good news is that many people are out of here. You don't have the throng of people just waiting to see what might happen next. Those people are off to shelters throughout the country, as you mentioned, Wolf, from Texas to Colorado, Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia -- all over the place.
And, of course, the daunting task will be getting all of these people back whenever it's time to welcome them back to New Orleans and bring them back to their homes.
BLITZER: Ed Lavandera is at the Louis Armstrong Airport for us.
Thank you very much, Ed. We will be checking back with you.
One of the key questions to emerge in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is what role race and class may have played in the government's initial response. Lots of debate on this issue right now.
Thousands of the storm's displaced victims in Louisiana and Mississippi are African-American. Many are also very, very poor.
Joining us now to talk about that and much more is the ranking Democrat of the House Homeland Security Committee, Democratic Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi.
Congressman Thompson, welcome to "Late Edition." I wish we were speaking under different circumstances, but give us your immediate reaction to the way the federal government responded to Hurricane Katrina.
REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Well, I don't think there's any question, Wolf. It was too little too late. The initial response was very slow, very inadequate, and it basically said from a planning standpoint that we missed the mark.
BLITZER: Why did that happen? I know there's going to be a lot of investigations down the road, a lot of finger-pointing. But in your initial thoughts -- and you've studied this for some time now as a member of this committee -- why do you think the federal government was caught flat-footed?
THOMPSON: Well, it's twofold. One is, you know, we merged FEMA with the Department of Homeland Security. For a long time, it was a freestanding agency with the freedom to respond accordingly without politics.
The other thing is, with the shift on the war on terrorism, the domestic preparedness effort for situations like Katrina took a back seat. And so what you have in New Orleans and Mississippi is clearly what happens when domestic preparedness takes a second seat.
BLITZER: Listen to what Kanye West, the artist, said the other night on NBC at a fund raiser for relief victims. I'll read it to you, and I want your reaction.
"I hate the way they portray us in the media. You see a black family -- it says they are looting. You see a white family -- it says they are looking for food. And you know, it has been five days because most of the people are black. George Bush doesn't care about black people."
Controversial remarks, but I'm anxious for your reaction.
THOMPSON: Well, I think the response from FEMA and the United States government was slow. I've heard that from a number of people, not just Cornell West.
BLITZER: That was Kanye West, not Cornell West -- Kanye West.
THOMPSON: Oh, OK. Well, I've heard it from a number of people.
The real problem associated with this is why did it take four days to amass the kind of response necessary to deal with the situation? We have all the assets necessary to do this.
We could have staged them in an area and said, as soon as the storm leaves we can move forward and assess this situation in a better matter. If CNN can get its news crews into New Orleans and Biloxi and Gulfport in a timely manner, why can't we get the assets of FEMA and the United States government there to help the people?
BLITZER: And what's the answer? THOMPSON: Well, we failed on that test, so what we have to do is continue to support the men and women in the rescue, to make sure that we get people out. But at the end of the day, somebody has to be held accountable. The president was absolutely correct. FEMA and DHS failed in its adequate response to this dilemma.
BLITZER: Listen to what your colleague in the Congressional Black Caucus, the immediate past chairman, Elijah Cummings, said earlier this week on Friday here in Washington.
He said, "We cannot allow it to be said by history that the difference between those who lived and those who died in this great storm and flood of 2005 was nothing more than the poverty, age or skin color."
You know, a lot of people believe that if this had hit another area -- at least the accusation is -- perhaps the federal government would have been more attuned, would have been better prepared.
THOMPSON: Well, all the records indicated that every time we've had such a disaster as Katrina we've responded in a far superior manner than we responded in this point. So, Congressmen Cummings and my colleagues on the Congressional Black Caucus are absolutely correct.
That does not take away from the men and women who responded. We just did not respond in enough fashion to deal with the situation, so what we're having to do now -- we're moving assets into a situation that should have been there five days ago and that's why we are in such a dilemma and I think people are absolutely proper to be incensed at how we've done.
The president was absolutely correct. He had to take control of the situation from his own people to get the assets into the area necessary.
BLITZER: We're going to have to leave it there. Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, good luck to you. Good luck to all your friends in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. I appreciate it very much.
We'll take a quick break. When we come back, much more of our coverage. We're also going to be speaking with the secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff. Stay with us.
BLITZER: President Bush and other federal officials are acknowledging the U.S. government fell short in its initial response to Hurricane Katrina.
Just a short while ago, I spoke with the secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, who joined us from New Orleans.
BLITZER: Secretary Chertoff, thanks very much for joining us. I wish this were under different circumstances.
A lot of people, as you well know, across the country are very angry by the lack of immediate response from the federal government. They're saying it was a disgrace, how could this happen in the United States of America?
Are you humiliated by what happened in the immediate aftermath of this hurricane?
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Wolf, as I think people are beginning to understand, this was not just a hurricane, it was a hurricane that was followed by a flood. I've asked people who have been involved in the disaster management business for many years, and I don't think there's ever been anything like this.
It's as if one was conducting a rescue effort for a tsunami, where the water was still on the ground. It was unprecedented. And I think that created a challenge, that, frankly, overwhelmed a lot of people, state and local folks. We had people on the ground who were prepositioned.
As the dimensions of the catastrophe became clear, we moved as rapidly as we could to mobilize National Guard and get forces in there.
Was I frustrated? Absolutely. Let me tell you, you don't want to see a situation where people are on rooftops, and there are not enough helicopters to get them. But we rapidly started to put helicopters into the area. The Coast Guard had already deployed helicopters nearby in advance of the storm, and we had 50 of those. Military helicopters started to fly in.
The fact of the matter is, it's never enough when there are still people suffering. But there's also a tremendous amount of credit to be given to the folks in the Coast Guard and the FEMA people and the state and local rescue people, and then ultimately the National Guard and military, in rising to the challenge of this really unprecedented catastrophe.
BLITZER: As you know, this hurricane was days in the making. On Thursday morning, when it hit south Florida as a category 1 hurricane, about 75 miles per hour, it was clear it was going to move across the southern part of Florida into the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
By Friday at 5:00 p.m., the National Hurricane Center in Miami said that it was moving toward New Orleans and could be a category 4, a category 4 of about 140 miles an hour. And for years everyone had recognized that the levee system, the flood walls, could not sustain more than a category 3, 130 miles or so.
And so the frustration, the anger, is that you didn't move more quickly to get people out of that city.
CHERTOFF: Well, actually, I think Mike Brown, the director of FEMA, began to talk about the need to be very -- take very seriously this hurricane on Thursday and Friday. Recognizing that, of course, the projected landfall was viewed as the Gulf Coast, and our experience with Dennis shows us that it's very, very difficult to know sometimes where on the Gulf Coast something's going to land. He was talking about it on Friday. On Saturday, he was on TV telling people in New Orleans they have to take it seriously, they've got to start to move to protect themselves.
On Sunday morning, of course, the state and local officials declared a mandatory evacuation.
I mean, this issue of evacuation has been a critical problem, really, for years, getting people to recognize that the fact that, you know, you dodge the bullet year in and year out doesn't mean that someday the bullet is not going to hit.
The storm itself, as you know, it was kind of funny, if you were watching the track of this storm. Even on Saturday, late Saturday, it was kind of a very marginal category 3. And then when people woke up Sunday morning, they saw it was a category 4 moving into 5.
I am concerned people perhaps were not -- didn't take it seriously enough up front. I recognize the enormous challenge of evacuating the city.
And let me tell you, Wolf, we're going to go back and look at all of this after action, when we have time. But I've got to emphasize something. We are still in the middle of the emergency. This is not the time that we can draw a sigh of relief and say, OK, we can start to consider what's happened.
We are moving the city of New Orleans to other parts of the country. We've got to feed those people, we've got to shelter them, we've got to get them longer-term housing, we've got to educate their kids. These are going to be enormous challenges across the country, and the one thing we can't do is be unprepared to start to meet those challenges. And so we've got to be very focused on that.
BLITZER: Let me read to you from an article from The New Orleans Times-Picayune in June 2002, suggesting that the system that protects New Orleans was simply not adequate.
"If enough water from Lake Ponchartrain topped the levee system along its south shore, the result would be apocalyptic. Vast areas would be submerged for days or weeks. Tens of thousands more would be stranded on rooftops and high ground, awaiting rescue that could take days or longer. They would face thirst, hunger, and exposure to toxic chemicals."
Why wasn't more done over the years to beef up that levee system to prevent this kind of catastrophe? Because it was totally -- everybody knew about it.
CHERTOFF: Well, this has been an issue that's been discussed for years.
And, by the way, apocalyptic is the right description. And this was even worse than The Times-Picayune said, because this wasn't simply water topping the levee, this was the levee actually crumbling in a significant section, so that the water literally -- New Orleans became a lake.
So, yes, it has been apocalyptic. It has been discussed. I'm sure that citizens all across the country are going to be asking the question about, you know, New Orleans and the way they've organized the levees for a considerable period of time.
But again, I have to say, we really have to emphasize the enormity of the challenge going ahead. If we don't marshal all the resources and all of our concentration on what we need to do going forward, we're going to start to see stories about how people who are evacuated are having difficulties, and how we're not rebuilding quickly enough.
So this is very much an issue where we have to take a deep breath and start to really move forward on the future.
BLITZER: The president gave an interview to Diane Sawyer on "Good Morning America" on Thursday morning, and he said this, and let me read specifically what he said. He said, "I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees."
Well, a lot of experts for years were anticipating the breach of the levees. What was he talking about?
CHERTOFF: I think what the president was saying is, in terms of this storm, particularly because it seemed to move to the east at the last minute, and I remember seeing newspaper headlines that said, you know, New Orleans dodged the bullet, on Tuesday morning, and even as everybody thought New Orleans had dodged the bullet Tuesday morning, the levee was not only being flooded, which is, I think, what most people always assumed would happen, but it actually broke.
So I think that was -- did catch people by surprise. And, of course, there are people who've lived here for a long time, and I don't think anyone's ever seen that kind of massive breach. And in fact, multiple massive breaches.
BLITZER: I want you to listen to an exchange that Michael Brown, the FEMA director, who works for you, had with our Paula Zahn earlier this week. Listen to this Thursday night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL BROWN, DIRECTOR, FEMA: Every person in that Convention Center, we just learned about that today, and so I have directed that we have all available resources to get to that Convention Center to make certain that they have the food and water, the medical care that they need...
PAULA ZAHN, HOST: Sir, you're not telling me...
BROWN: ... take care of those bodies that are there.
ZAHN: Sir, you're not telling me...
BROWN: And I will tell you...
ZAHN: ... you just learned that the folks at the Convention Center didn't have food and water till today, are you? You had no idea they were completely cut off?
BROWN: Paula, the federal government did not even know about the Convention Center people until today.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now, that's a pretty outrageous admission on the part of Mr. Brown, that there were thousands and thousands of people literally dying and starving in that Convention Center, and the federal government did not know about it, even though a lot of other people in New Orleans knew about it.
CHERTOFF: Well, I mean, this is clearly something that was disturbing. It was disturbing to me when I learned about it, which came as a surprise. You know, the very day that this emerged in the press, I was on a video conference with all the officials, including state and local officials.
And nobody -- none of the state and local officials or anybody else was talking about a Convention Center. The original plan, as I understand it, was to have the Superdome be the place of refuge, of last resort. Apparently, sometime on Wednesday, people started to go to the Convention Center spontaneously.
Why it is that there was a breakdown in communication, again, I'm sure will be studied when we get to look at this afterwards. FEMA, of course, did not have large -- is not equipped to put large masses of people into an area. FEMA basically plugs into the existing state and local infrastructure.
What happened here was essentially the demolishment of that state and local infrastructure. And I think that really caused a cascading series of breakdowns. I mean, let's be honest. This stressed the system beyond, I think, any prior experience anybody's had in this country.
BLITZER: But it shouldn't...
CHERTOFF: And I would...
BLITZER: ... have -- it shouldn't -- but I think you'll acknowledge, Mr. Secretary, and I know you've only been on the job for a few months, relatively speaking, but it shouldn't have, given the history of New Orleans, the scientific studies that for many, many years have been very evident, knowing, as you did, that a category 3 or 4 or 5 hurricane was moving toward New Orleans, the government should have done a better job, shouldn't it?
CHERTOFF: I think that when we go back and look at this, we're going to see a lot of things that we've put in place worked well. There are some things which did not work well. And the one thing we've got to do, and not just for purposes of, you know, pointing fingers, but to prepare or continue to prepare ourselves for the future, is to learn these lessons, and put them into place quickly.
And that may include changing the disaster model. You know, up to now, even in big disasters, we've taken the position that FEMA plays a supporting role. And we may need to start to remodel ourselves so that we can get ourselves into more of an up-front role earlier on, when we have these truly ultra-catastrophes.
BLITZER: Do you still have confidence in Michael Brown, the FEMA director?
CHERTOFF: Look, I think Michael Brown's had a lot of experience. I think he's done a tremendous job under pressure. This system, as I say, was stressed beyond belief. I think he is in control of the situation. He has a great deal of experience, he's got a very good team.
We are now flooding this place with resources. We've got people -- military folks in support, the National Guard in support. We have been sending hundreds of people down from the Department of Homeland Security.
One thing we've been able to do in the last year or two is bring to bear, through the department, Coast Guard, customs, and border protection. We were able to deploy actual helicopters and people with experience in quasi-military operations much more quickly than would have been the case five years ago, because we now have a much more unified command structure.
So we're going to look at what worked, we're going to look at what didn't work. And we, as I've said previously, even before this hurricane, the number one thing we've got to focus on in this department is preparedness. It is a very tough job to get prepared, but that is the number one objective.
And we're going to use this, what we learned from this, to continue to move forward. But, again, let's not lose sight of what we have to do now.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time. But when you say he has a lot of experience, Michael Brown, it's been now widely reported that for about a decade before he went to FEMA, he ran an Arabian horses trade association. That doesn't sound like a lot of experience to prepare someone to deal with the kind of calamity that has occurred in this country.
CHERTOFF: I'll tell you, Wolf, Mike Brown had four hurricanes last year. I think anybody who lived through 2004 went through a crucible of training that is really remarkable. And, of course, the whole -- the people in FEMA, you've got people with 20 years of experience.
I want to leave you with one thought on this. Nobody has ever had the experience of living through this kind of hurricane, followed by this flood. Nobody's been through this. So the fact of the matter is, for even 20-year veterans, this has created a catastrophe on a scale never before seen.
BLITZER: One final question. In Louisiana, there are 8,500 members of the National Guard, 3,000 of them right now are in Iraq. In Mississippi, there are 9,500 members of the National Guard and 3,800 are in Iraq.
Has that deployment of National Guard troops to Iraq undermined this recovery, the search and rescue, this entire relief operation?
CHERTOFF: No. The issue, Wolf, hasn't been the availability of people, it's been just the time it takes to mobilize. The National Guard obviously are citizen soldiers. You have to mobilize them. There is a capability to bring them in from all over the country. And, of course, as we've done in the last day, we are now being able to supplement them with troops from the regular Army, who are supporting us in this effort.
So the people are there. We have the logistics. Unfortunately, even with all the skills of the modern military, it takes a little bit of time to mobilize and to get people, particularly in an area where the roads are down, the power is out, and you've got, you know, six to ten feet of standing water.
BLITZER: Michael Chertoff, thanks very much for joining us. Good luck down there.
CHERTOFF: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Coming up, a city rich with flavor and history, a city now devastated. We'll talk about it. What it will take to get New Orleans, the Crescent City, back on its feet? The former senator, John Breaux, of Louisiana will be joining us.
And we're also looking at these pictures in nearby Alabama. There she is, the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, with the governor of Alabama. They're at a church service in Whistler, Alabama. Condoleezza Rice, who was born in Alabama, returning to her home state to show her solidarity with the people there.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition." President Bush says the recovery effort, especially for New Orleans, is going to take years. Joining us now with his take on the federal government's response to this crisis, what steps are needed, is the former U.S. senator from Louisiana, John Breaux. He is now retired.
Thanks very much, Senator, for joining us.
JOHN BREAUX, FORMER LOUISIANA SENATOR: You're welcome. BLITZER: Here's what I don't understand. Over all these years, people knew that New Orleans was in danger if there was a greater than hurricane category 3 hurricane. Why wasn't more done to protect this city?
BREAUX: A lack of money, a lack of understanding of the nature of the problem. Academics have written volumes about what would happen. They said New Orleans would be 20 feet under water. We've given speeches on the floor, myself and many members of our congressional delegation.
But when you're dividing up a pie, there's only so much money available to do what is needed. So we've been lucky all these years up until now.
BLITZER: Because I read a "Scientific American" article that was published in 2001 which said that there had been studies saying New Orleans could be perfectly safe to withstand a hurricane category 5, which is the highest status, with a complete renovation of the levee system, the flood walls, for about $14 billion.
Now, that sounds like nothing compared to the many, many times that that it's going to cost, plus the tragedy, the lost lives, the suffering that has occurred. Fourteen billion in the scheme of U.S. money is not necessarily a whole lot.
BREAUX: Look how much more it's going to cost now to repair the city, had we not -- had we been able to spend the money earlier, the $14 billion would have been a terrific investment.
You know, Monday-morning quarterbacking, but an awful lot of people said this was likely to happen if the hurricane ever hit New Orleans like it did.
Now the repair begins, and this is the next challenge, and I would hope that we'd start in the criticism of each other right now and start saying, What are we going to do next, and how are we going to go about doing it?
BLITZER: Well, those years you were in the Senate, you and your colleagues, you pressed for more money. Who resisted? Was it the Clinton administration? There were a lot of administrations that could have come up with the money.
BREAUX: This goes back decades, where we've talked about the need for more money to build up the levees. And there are demands in other parts of the country. And they'd say, Well, we're not going to give you what you need, we're not going to give you what -- even the Corps says they need to get the job done, because we're going to spend it in other parts of the country.
And that was the problem. But now, ultimate, we're going to end up paying a lot more now than we did then.
BLITZER: One final question. How many dead people are you hearing may have... BREAUX: It's going to be in the thousands. Once the water goes down, I think we'll start finding bodies, and the number's going to increase, I think, very substantially. And it's so unfortunate.
BLITZER: I've been in New Orleans with you, and my heart goes out to you and all the residents there.
Thanks very much, Senator.
BREAUX: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: There's much more ahead on our special "Late Edition: State of Emergency," including the enormous emotional toll being taken on hurricane victims.
Plus our other top story today, the death of the chief justice of the United States, William Rehnquist.
We'll be right back.
BLITZER: This is a special "Late Edition: State of Emergency."
ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is a special "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer, "State of Emergency."
Welcome back to our continuing coverage.
Regions (OFF-MIKE) disease. We'll talk to, among others, Dr. David Satcher, the former U.S. surgeon general, about the health risks that face the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
The president of the United States, as we just saw, was over at the headquarters of the American Red Cross in Washington.
We're also standing by to hear from the defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers. They're on the scene now. They're speaking with reporters. We'll go there live as soon as they do.
We'll also check in with our CNN reporters and guests all over the stricken Gulf region.
First, though, let's check the latest developments.
BLITZER: The United States Coast Guard has been working day and night, pulling survivors to safety. But many who survived the winds and flooding are now dying of heat exhaustion and starvation.
CNN's Karl Penhaul has that story.
KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: A Coast Guard rescue swimmer drops out of a helicopter into the murky flood waters. The chief of New Orleans Coast Guard station says his crews have saved almost twice as many lives since Hurricane Katrina than they have in the last 50 years.
A happy ending for some, but down below, others face an agonizing fate. The Coast Guard say many citizens who survived the deadly winds and raging flood waters are now dying of heat and starvation because the rescue effort is just too slow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRUCE JONES, NEW ORLEANS COAST GUARD CHIEF: My guys are coming back and they're telling me, "Sir, I went into that house through the window and there's three elderly people in there in their beds. And they're looking up at me gasping and they're dying."
And we got calls today from the overhead coordinator, "We need you to go to a place in St. Bernard Parish, it's a hospice. And there's 20 people in there." And we go there and there are 10 dead and 10 that are dying. But those people were probably alive yesterday or the day before. There simply aren't enough resources.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PENHAUL: The Coast Guard operations center is overwhelmed with emergency calls. Pilots and crews are red-eyed and exhausted, but they refuse to rest.
For every person that is rescued, hundreds more are still waiting. And as they wait, they're dying, a thought that's haunting rescue swimmer Chris Monville.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS MONVILLE, COAST GUARD: It's an awful feeling to know you haven't got everybody in time. We're doing our best to get everybody we can and as fast as we can. But unfortunately, just like with the temperatures down here and the lack of food and water, the weak and the sick, they expire first. That tears at you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PENHAUL: He says he rescued 126 people in a single day. His comrades have similar stories to tell. They've been using axes and chainsaws to bust through roofs.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MONVILLE: You're pulling pregnant women and babies through the rafters in the attic, you know, and on to the rooftop. And that's when it's just -- that's the most difficult rescue.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PENHAUL: Another rescue swimmer, David Gray, has return from a mission to a hospice for mentally handicapped adults.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID GRAY, RESCUE SWIMMER: You go room to room, you get everybody, deceased people inside.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PENHAUL: Out in a hangar, maintenance crews are working around the clock too. They say they don't know what day it is anymore. They do know, though, that their task is far from finished. They know, too, that even when a helicopter rotor blades finally stop whirring, the nightmare will not be over.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MONVILLE: How is life ever going to be the same in New Orleans? There are so many people who lost every single thing they have.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PENHAUL: Karl Penhaul, CNN, New Orleans Coast Guard station.
BLITZER: Thousands of the evacuees have been moved to nearby Texas, perhaps as many as 200,000 and about 15,000 or 20,000 are at the Astrodome in Houston.
CNN's Keith Oppenheim is standing by there .
Do we have a precise number, Keith, on how many of the evacuees are behind you inside the Astrodome?
OPPENHEIM: Well, in the Astrodome, we have about 16,000, Wolf. But there are several arenas here. And you add another 9,000 to that to the nearby arenas in Houston. So it's a good 25,000. In the state, about a quarter million evacuees are staying in shelters and hotels combined.
The governor of the state, Rick Perry, is saying that Texas is coming pretty close to capacity at this point in terms of taking in evacuees. Now, churches are also making a pretty big difference in this area, too, Wolf. And I went to one yesterday called Christ Church Baptist Fellowship. They are feeding people there, they're giving them clothes and all kinds of support.
I stopped in a nursery and with his mom's permission, a 7-year- old boy named Matthew Johnson talked to me about how his home is under water and how he is making the transition in a shelter.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEW JOHNSON, EVACUEE: We don't got no home. I won't go home and watch my own TV and stuff. But I can't watch TV here because where's the TV?
OPPENHEIM: Are they being nice to you here at this church?
JOHNSON: Yes. OPPENHEIM: But it's not home?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OPPENHEIM: Not home for 7-year-old Matthew Johnson. He was quite a character, as you could hear. But you can hear in the voice of this child just how difficult it is for people of all ages. The general strategy, Wolf, is for all of these shelters, whether huge or small, for them to be a short-term stay. And in fact, that's what we're seeing is that people are now thinking about moving into apartments.
And you have to think in the big picture, that because so many people are traumatized from what happened in New Orleans and they don't have a home to go back to in New Orleans, that they are possibly going to stay here in Houston and other places that they have moved to for the time being.
Back to you.
BLITZER: All right, thanks very much.
Keith Oppenheim reporting for us from Houston, Texas, in the Astrodome.
Joining us now are two members of Louisiana's congressional delegation whose districts were hard hit by this hurricane. Joining us from Baton Rouge, Republican Congressman Bobby Jindal, Democratic Congressman William Jefferson.
Congressmen, thanks very much for joining.
Let me start with you, Congressman Jefferson. How angry are you right now?
REP. WILLIAM JEFFERSON (D), LOUISIANA: Well, I'm pretty upset about the pace of federal support or the rescue efforts, for the coordination with our city and with our state. A lot of folks are in great danger now and a lot of folks have lost their lives.
And I think we could have made a better response. I mean, I'm confident we could have. If the president says that the response is unacceptable, I want to rush to agree with him on that.
BLITZER: Are you blaming anyone for this failure? And clearly there was a major failure here.
JEFFERSON: Well, from the Corps of Engineers, which didn't do a very good job of getting right on top of closing the breach, to FEMA which hasn't yet figured out to get the support we need to people, and to folks who are kind of volunteer people were dissuaded from coming in because they were worried about sporadic violence in town.
There are a lot of folks here that can take a hit. We're not really down here to just blame everybody. I mean, that's not my intention. But you asked the question, and we are frustrated, we are upset about it. And it could have been done better.
BLITZER: Congressman Jindal, what about you?
REP. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: I share Bill's frustration. He and I both have constituents that are still trapped in their homes until very recently. We have doctors, volunteers that have rushed to help. They were trapped in hospitals without supplies, unable to do what they were sent to do. Why can I share the frustration? I think there's plenty of blame to go around at the state and federal levels.
Like him -- it's not a time to blame, it's a time to make sure somebody's in charge. It's also a time to make sure they throw the rulebooks out. I can't tell you how frustrating it is to hear that bureaucracy and red tape is getting in the way. Now's the time to ask for forgiveness later, not for permission. People's lives are at stake. I can't tell you how many times we've just run into roadblocks and bureaucracy.
Clearly, things got better in the last couple of days with the influx of National Guardsmen. I wish it had happened later. There'll be a time later to figure out who didn't do what, who didn't ask for help at the right moment. Now's a time to cut through the red tape, make sure somebody's in charge, make sure we get all these people off the rooftops, out of the water, into safety.
JEFFERSON: What we need now is a real certainty about what's going to happen, real certainty about it. A procedure, a time and place when things are going to take place. Today, we encountered as we were coming out here a lot of firefighters have come down to help. Our firefighters, 200 of them, are down there, just exhausted, working every minute of the day.
But a volunteer comes down like that, firefighters from across the country, we can't find a way to integrate them into the process to help our firefighters get relief and to go and put out some of the tragic fires that have occurred in our city. So just things like that we've got to find a way to just bring everybody into it, let everybody find a way to help, and cut through the red tape, as Bobby was saying.
BLITZER: Congressman Jindal, what about FEMA? That's the lead agency, it's part of the Department of Homeland Security. It used to be a separate entity, it's now part of the Department of Homeland Security. Do you have confidence in FEMA and its director, Michael Brown?
JINDAL: I have a lot of concerns about putting FEMA into Homeland Security. I expressed those publicly before. You know, when you go to FEMA, a lot of times you'll hear, "Well, we can't do this until the state asks for it." You go to the state and they say, "Well, we can't do it because FEMA has the resources."
Quite frankly, my constituents don't care. They don't care who's to blame, they don't care who gets credit. It's time to get beyond all the turf. We need the state, the federal government, to be working with the local officials.
Now, you're hearing a lot of frustration from Bill and me. We also want to express gratitude. There have been a lot of acts of heroism, a lot of first responders who have worked around the clock at great personal risk to evacuate people, to get people out. I've had to arrange armed escorts for doctors who wanted to go in and help patients still trapped in the city. So this is a story where there are a lot of heroes, but there's also a lot of frustration. And again, I'm looking for -- now is not the time. I'm looking forward to when we can figure out how to make sure this never happens again. Our country went through 9/11. We should have been better prepare, we should have been better able to respond to this. God forbid we should have another manmade or natural disaster of this scope, of this magnitude, but if it happens, we should have better communications.
There should be evacuation equipment there on the very first day, not a few days later. There should be security forces. One of my frustrations is that everything is being done sequentially. They say, "We've got to rescue people before we can do security. We've got to do security before we can do housing." But you can't rescue people unless you have security.
Absolutely, saving lives has to be our first priority. But if we have housing and security in place, we would have had people, we would have had places, to take these people out when we removed them from New Orleans. So a lot of frustration. But there are also some terrific acts of heroism, especially among our first responders.
BLITZER: Congressmen, to both of you and your constituents and everyone else, good luck in this horrible, horrible tragedy.
Bobby Jindal and William Jefferson, two members of the United States House of Representatives joining us today here on "Late Edition."
Coming up, from gas prices to recovery costs, how will Hurricane Katrina impact the overall U.S. economy? We'll get perspective from former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich and Forbes Corporation CEO, former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes.
This is a special "Late Edition: State of Emergency."
BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition: State of Emergency."
Earlier today on NBC's "Meet the Press," Aaron Broussard, the president of Jefferson Parish in Louisiana, that's in New Orleans, had this exchange with the host, Tim Russert. Listen to these powerful words.
AARON BROUSSARD, PRESIDENT, JEFFERSON PARISH: The guy who runs this building I'm in, the emergency management, he's responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard Nursing Home, and every day she called him and said, "Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?"
He said, "Yes, mama, somebody's coming to get you." Somebody is coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday. And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night.
Nobody's coming to get her. Nobody's coming to get her. The secretary has promised, everybody's promised. They've had press conferences. I'm sick of the press conferences. For God's sake, shut up and send us somebody.
BLITZER: Aaron Broussard is the president of Jefferson Paris in Louisiana. Our heart goes out to him, to everyone there. People are on the way and an effort is now under way, albeit late -- too late, of course, for the thousands who are now believed to have died in this horrible tragedy.
The Hurricane Katrina may be history, but the tremendous financial cost from rising gas prices to assisting literally hundreds of thousands of displaced victims, that is only just beginning. Joining us now to talk about the impact on the U.S. economy, two guests: former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, and Forbes, Inc. CEO, former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes.
You hear those words, Steve Forbes, from Aaron Broussard. Your heart simply goes out to those individuals.
But let's talk about money. How do you go about recovery? How do you go about rebuilding New Orleans right now?
STEVE FORBES, CEO, FORBES, INC.: Well, first of all, obviously it's getting the resources effectively deployed there. That looks like finally that's beginning to happen. But longer term, I think that it's a chance for the city to re-orient its economy.
To be blunt, New Orleans had fallen behind cities such as Houston. This is an opportunity during the rebuilding to re-orient the economy, not just from tourism. That will come back again. Also bring back the port, bring back energy. But there are a whole slew of new industries that entrepreneurs can come in when they rebuild that city.
So it's a chance to start again for a city that's had a great past and can have a great future. We've got to start focusing on the future. We have to deal with the present tragedy. But in the future, I think this city can make a speedy comeback and reach new heights.
BLITZER: So you basically, Steve Forbes, believe that New Orleans can be rebuilt?
FORBES: I think it can be rebuilt. All you have to do is look at Holland 50 years ago when the levees broke there, the dykes broke there. One thousand eight hundred people were killed, they lived below sea level.
They put in a sophisticated system. I'm surprised we didn't emulate that here. They did it 40 years ago. That country is doing very nicely today. They did it, New Orleans can do it as well.
BLITZER: All right, Robert Reich, what do you say?
ROBERT REICH, FORMER SECRETARY OF LABOR: Well, undoubtedly, Wolf, parts of New Orleans will be rebuilt.
But in terms of putting a price tag on this incalculable human suffering, we've got to realize that a huge amount of personal property was destroyed. Homes, furnishings, cars. Many of these people were poor, many of them were in the lower middle class. They were not insured. That personal property is not coming back.
There is no plan that I know of to help those people directly. Now, there will be an infrastructure project, there will be help to the city overall. But, look, we are the richest country in the world, and we need to help our people in need.
BLITZER: The United States, Robert Reich, is about to receive foreign assistance from countries around the world who are volunteering to send money in to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina. I spoke with a Kuwaiti official earlier this morning. He told me that they're going to ask the Kuwaiti parliament to approve $500 million to assist the United States.
Did you ever think, in your lifetime, Robert Reich, that you would see the United States getting aid from other countries around the world?
REICH: I think it's a testament, Wolf, to how far we've sunk, in a sense, with regard to our capacity to help one another in this country. I mean, we saw on television this week images that we thought were reserved for Third World countries, but they were the United States. Those were American people. We did not respond.
Now, charities are responding. We are responding individually with our own pocketbooks. But what about our capacity as a nation, as a people, as a government to respond? We're late. But, even in terms of rebuilding, it shouldn't rely on foreign aid. We ought to be doing this ourselves. That's ridiculous.
BLITZER: What do you think, Steve Forbes?
FORBES: Well, I think it shows we are in a global economy, a global world. If people are willing to help out, hey, we've helped out the rest of the world. If they want to help us out in an hour of need, we should do it in open arms. But we as a people have got to provide those resources. We have the resources. The question is, do we have the programs? Will we have those programs in place to apply those resources effectively? I think in the next few weeks and months, the answer is emphatically yes. We've recover from great disasters in the past. Now, you look at San Francisco over a hundred years ago. We can do it again. It's just a matter of will of the human spirit. If the human spirit's there, we as a nation can apply those resources to build New Orleans and have a city that can thrive again.
BLITZER: A bottom-line assessment from you, how long is it going to take, Robert Reich?
REICH: Well, it's going to take, in terms of rebuilding the oil rigs and the pipelines and the refineries, it could be four to six months, maybe eight months, in which case it starts to have an effect on average people.
Obviously, gas prices are going up. Home heating oil prices are likely to go up. The average family is going to probably be hit this year by a thousand-dollar increase over last year.
I want to just say something about what we learned and what we saw. The people who were hurt most in Louisiana and Mississippi are poor people. And we heard last week that the poverty rate in this country is getting worse.
BLITZER: We've got to leave it right there. We're going to a news conference in Louisiana. Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, together with the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. You see the FEMA director there, Michael Brown.
Thanks to Steve Forbes and Robert Reich.
Let's listen in.
CHERTOFF: Secretary Rumsfeld, General Myers, you know, Undersecretary Brown, I think General Honore's around; of course, Senator Vitter and Admiral Keating, who's the commander of north (ph).
We had an opportunity to meet and talk about the challenges that lie ahead as we complete the process of rescuing and evacuating people from New Orleans, dewatering New Orleans, and addressing the challenges that are going to lie ahead of us in the hours and days and weeks to come.
Obviously, there's a larger piece of this occurring, even outside of New Orleans. Mississippi is very distressed. We're working on that. Other parishes in Louisiana and Alabama. And of course, we now have people who are sheltered or heading to shelters all around the country. We have to make sure that they are properly sheltered, that they receive food and clothing and medical assistance and everything else.
The military, the National Guard, the Army, has done a tremendous job. They have provided a resource of capability, both the planning capability and execution capability, which are second to none in the world. It has enabled us to move a significant number of people out of the airport, 10,000 a day, address the situation in terms of making sure we have security.
We are now going through the process of searching house by house to make sure we're rescuing people. People are coming out of houses as the water goes down. One of the issues we're addressing is the fact that people are going to have to leave New Orleans.
You can't be in a city which has been seriously impacted from a public health standpoint and think that you're going to remain. So we're going to handle all these things. We've got plenty of resources.
I'd like to introduce Secretary Rumsfeld.
DONALD RUMSFELD, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I'm afraid I couldn't hear a word that the secretary was saying, and I doubt if the others behind could because of all the noise. So we apologize for the circumstances.
We have the -- I should also introduce General Caldwell here, who's the commanding officer of the 82nd Airborne, and Paul McHale, who's assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense.
Dick Myers and I, General Myers and I were just talking about the magnitude of what's taken place here. As the president said, it is a natural disaster of historic proportions. No one can come up with anything that approximates it in the history of our country.
It is important to keep the magnitude of it in mind. The president has also pointed out, properly, that this is not something that is a one- or two- or five-day arrangement or weeks or months. It is something that to cope with and deal with over -- it will take many, many, many months and into years for this area to recover to the circumstance it was in.
Dick Myers, you might want to comment on this. You've been around a lot of major activities. Look at it from the standpoint of what's being done now.
GENERAL RICHARD MYERS, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: If you look at the scope just geographically, if you look at the scope of the damage to the infrastructure that you normally use to respond to these sorts of events, and then at the same time, you have to be rescuing and providing aid to the people that are immediately affected. I mean, the scope is just huge.
And I think that the federal officials, state and local, that have responded to this, have done a pretty remarkable job given the hand that they were dealt which evolved over time. It all didn't occur in one day. It evolved as time went on.
As you look at disasters, I think, and you look at the challenges that everybody has here, that it's -- I won't say it's unprecedented. But I think in terms of disasters in the United States, it's unprecedented from anything I've been associated with and I think any of the people that have had to do this before. I think they ought to get a lot of credit for jumping in and responding and being flexible as things changed.
Just yesterday afternoon, the 82nd Airborne arrived, went into the terminal. Before we walked through there today, there were a large number of people who hadn't gotten out yet. The 82nd put some soldiers on the task and cleared that out last night. Sixty critical patients, 61, I think, went out today -- folks from nursing homes and so forth.
So as you walk through today, it looks pretty calm. They said just 12 hours ago, of course, it looked considerably busier. So perspective here is very, very important.
RUMSFELD: There's been some discussion about the relationships and how it works.
As we said, there you are. The Department of Homeland Security has the baton. Mike Brown here is the individual for FEMA who's down here on the spot as the principal person.
This gentleman and this gentleman represent the active force and the National Guard forces. And they are working together as closely as any two people could possibly work together. They're linked with the Department of Homeland Security and with your organization, from everything you say, about as well as it can be done.
MICHAEL BROWN, FEMA DIRECTOR: It's perfect. We have a unified command. I told Secretary Rumsfeld how much the -- how grateful we are, because his presence here and the presence of the 82nd Airborne and the others, along with General Honore, have allowed FEMA to do its job and to come in and do the response and recovery that needs to be done to help people.
So I just wanted to say publicly, my thanks to Secretary Rumsfeld for all the support that he's given us.
U.S. SENATOR DAVID VITTER (R-LA): A few days ago on Friday, I prayed that that day would be the turning, but it would take some time to tell. Well, I'm absolutely confident today that that day, Friday, was the turning point. We have turned a big corner.
The biggest thing that has got us to a much better position now is the flow of enormous troops and assets from both the National Guard and active duty. That's making all the difference in the world in key three areas: rescue and evacuation, supplies, and security. And it's just made an enormous difference.
And I, too, want to join the secretary in complimenting General Landreneau and General Honore in working excellent together as a team to get that done.
So I'm confident we did turn a corner Friday. We have all sorts of examples. Friday was the convention center. Yesterday, at least late yesterday, it was the airport. We just came through the airport, and it's well in hand. So we have great, great success stories, although we all know there are many more challenges. QUESTION: Secretary Rumsfeld, Army Times is reporting that combat operations are under way to take back the streets of New Orleans. Could you tell me what that means?
RUMSFELD: I'm sorry, I can't. The Department of Defense is not involved in law enforcement in the state of Louisiana. We're here to assist with evacuation. We're here to assist with humanitarian activities and medical assistance of various types. And so you will have to ask the authorities for that, the...
QUESTION: Secretary Rumsfeld, I would like to ask a question of the FEMA director and General Honore, please.
RUMSFELD: General Honore, front and center.
QUESTION: Sir, and the FEMA director, if I might.
All of the gentlemen here this morning have spoken about the military contribution and how it has helped in the last two days.
My question to both of you gentlemen is, if it has made some significant difference, why didn't you ask for military help sooner? And would it have made a difference sooner, General Honore, if you had gotten the request from FEMA?
BROWN: We asked for it as soon as it became necessary. As soon as we recognized this was beyond the capabilities of FEMA to do its traditional response recovery efforts, Secretary Chertoff and I reached out to the president. We got it done; they're here. I think people need to understand that the response was ongoing. People were being fed. The levees break. This was an ongoing disaster. This disaster did not start the day Katrina moved out of here. The disaster continued on and grew and grew.
LT. GEN. RUSSELL HONORE: Yes, as far as -- we don't pre-position at the eye of the hurricane. As you recall, a week ago this time, we were looking at that hurricane coming right at New Orleans. And it was a broad hurricane, 250 miles wide, as I recall, with hurricane- force winds over 125 to 130 miles.
We cannot move in while the hurricane is there. As a matter of fact, we do actually the opposite. We move all of our airplanes away from the hurricane. We move our ships away, so when we need them we can come back and they're operational.
Now, let's think about this hurricane. It started off the tip of Florida. It moved at eight to six miles an hour. Why? Because we watched that hurricane every day in our operations center and collaborated with FEMA region four. When that hurricane got about 125 miles off the coast, it went from six to eight miles an hour, it went to 13 miles an hour.
Yes, I want to impress you with the knowledge that we have of what this hurricane was doing. But you never can be precise on where the hurricane will go. Our early prediction, it was going to go downtown New Orleans. It didn't do that. And it went to Biloxi and Gulfport. When it got to Biloxi and Gulfport, it did a devastating blow to New Orleans without a direct hit.
At that point in time, it moved north through Mississippi, cutting a swath from one side of Mississippi to the other, which destroyed the coast of Mississippi and all of the infrastructure in the first three miles. Then from Hattiesburg north, it damaged most of the roofs and the houses. There is no electricity or power south of Jackson, Mississippi.
Louisiana, a secondary effect. The people in New Orleans thought they had dodged a bullet, and that there was some damage, but the majority of the damage in New Orleans from the flooding. Whereas, Mississippi, infrastructure is destroyed. There's some superficial damage to the high-rise hotels downtown from the high winds, but the biggest damage in New Orleans is the flooding.
When the flooding comes, it takes down our ability to respond locally, the first responders, key word. Then there was a second tragedy here. That is, the levee burst. And when the levee burst, it spread the water in a larger part of the city. The city did not flood from the rain. Well, I should correct that. On most heavy rains, there's small flooding in New Orleans based on its geographical elevation.
But in this case, the damage was done by the levee bursting, rather than a normal flood that could be handled by the first responders and by the pumps. But when the pump went out as a result of the levee burst, we had a second disaster. Phase one, the hurricane. Phase two, the flooding.
As a result of that flooding, it has restricted our response. We've got one major road coming into New Orleans, one major interstate. Then in the middle of the metropolitan area, it is cut. At the 17th Street bridge is a significant problem there in getting that infrastructure back up and running.
So response-wise, think about this hurricane left here and it covered Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, Georgia. It killed people as far as Georgia with tornadoes. That entire group of people that was coming to help had to recover themselves. And you had the time and space of moving of those assets here.
But if you want to put the trucks with the ice in the water to be there when the hurricane comes, you know what? They may just get destroyed. It's the dynamic of what we're dealing with.
And the first responders in this case, once the winds got below 45 miles an hour, the Coast Guard got in here -- that was witnessed by everyone -- trying to start to rescue. And as soon as we could get helicopters here -- then I'll defer on the military side, if you wish, sir, to the TAG (ph) of Louisiana, the man who was first getting the military forces here on the way the plan's supposed to work.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, General Honore. We have so much to be done. To say that we have a tremendous amount of work yet ahead of us is an understatement. But we appreciate the tremendous support that the active military is giving to us, FEMA, all of the national agencies, and of course the over 30 states' National Guards who are flowing troops into Louisiana at a phenomenal rate.
We are receiving some -- we received some 3,000 forces the day before yesterday, yesterday some nearly 4,000 is continuing to flow. With some, at this time, with some 12,000 National Guardsmen and state of Louisiana with another 6,000 that we have visibility, with more beyond that.
We appreciate the tremendous coordination that is occurring with General Honore, General Caldwell with the 82nd and the First Cav, and all of the National Guard states that are here to assist the citizens of our state.
QUESTION: Secretary Chertoff, are there any lessons that you can say that you've learned so far?
CHERTOFF: We're going to go back and look at the entirety of this experience, as unprecedented as it was, at the appropriate time. But as I've said earlier, we are in the middle of the experience. We are in the middle of the emergency. We've got a lot to do in the next hours, days, weeks, and months.
We're going to get focused forward because, if we don't, then we're going to start having problems in the future. So at the appropriate time, we'll review lessons learned. Right now we're looking at the very, very significant challenge that remains.
Thanks a lot.
BLITZER: And so there is it is. A news conference, the secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, joined by the defense secretary, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Russell Honore, the three-star U.S. Army general who has been put in charge of this military operation that is now taking place in New Orleans and the area.
We're going to continue our special coverage here on "Late Edition: State of Emergency." What about disease? How serious of a problem is this? The former surgeon general of the United States standing by to join us. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition."
A public health emergency has been declared in all three Gulf Coast states hit by Hurricane Katrina. In addition to the thousands who are already sick or hurt, there are now fears that survivors could face other serious medical problems.
Dr. David Satcher is the former U.S. government surgeon general. He's the former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He's joining us now from the CNN Center in Atlanta.
Dr. Satcher, thanks very much.
What's your worst-case scenario?
DR. DAVID SATCHER, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, I think the worst-case scenario has to do with the continuing threat that exists in New Orleans and surrounding areas because of standing flood water, both to the people who are citizens there is and haven't gotten out or the people who are working there. A lot of people are going into New Orleans now to work.
So, we should remind people of the dangers of the flood waters and of other indigenous water in those areas. So, limit your drinking water to bottled water, boiled water or treated water.
SATCHER: I was just going to say, by the same token, that it's not safe to wash hands, face, body with standing water. And, in time, of course, infectious disease risk will even increase from the water.
BLITZER: Are there pills or shots that the government should have in place to potentially prevent disease from erupting?
SATCHER: Yes. Well, the first thing is you can treat water with chlorine tablets, iodide tablets or with household bleach. And so, the public health people there will certainly be prepared to help people with that, if necessary. Hopefully, that will not be necessary.
If people, of course, ingest water that's dangerous, they're going to get gastro-intestinal illness. It can be treated, but it cannot be prevented, once they've consumed the water.
BLITZER: And what is the treatment?
SATCHER: Well, it depends, obviously, on the organism. And we worry about organisms like salmonella and sugella (ph). We worry about, in some cases, even things like hepatitis B. I don't believe there is a great risk for that in that area.
But I would warn people not to take that risk. There are viruses like the Novartis virus, the Norwalk virus that can be very dangerous.
But in addition to the water, some people go back into their homes and the temptation would be to consume food that's been left there. That could be very dangerous, especially if refrigeration is no longer intact. Any time refrigeration has been out for over three to four hours, it is dangerous to consume that food. Canned food can be very dangerous. So all of those things are very dangerous.
There are also dangers in terms of injuries. Going back into houses that have been flooded, as we saw in North Carolina with Hurricane Floyd, going back into houses can expose you to injuries because of unstable facilities, but also to mold. Mold grows in places where water has been standing and people can become infected, and, especially if you are allergic or have asthma, mold can generate asthma attacks and other allergic reaction.
So, I think the first concern has to be with people who are still there or people who are there working. We also have to be concerned about the health of the people who are getting out.
And I would say the number-one concern there ought to be: Are people being separated from their medications? If they have chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease, hypertension, then the sooner we understand that and the sooner we can replace their medications, the more likely people are to be protected.
BLITZER: I was going to say, we heard earlier from the secretary of health and human services, Michael Leavitt, who suggested that even West Nile virus and other diseases that potentially come from flies or mosquitoes -- that could be a significant concern. I assume there are a lot of mosquitoes out there right now.
SATCHER: Right. And that's what I meant by the longer the water stands, the greater the infectious disease risk. Mosquitoes grow in those waters. And, in that area, of course, the West Nile virus is a significant risk.
Obviously, the sooner we get people out of there, the better. But people who are working there are certainly going to be at risk and must protect themselves against mosquitoes? How do you do that? Try to wear garments that have long sleeves or not to leave much of the body uncovered, but also use mosquito repellent, agents like deets and others.
So, we can protect people from that risk of West Nile virus to a great extent. And that goes for people who are there, for people who are there working.
BLITZER: One final question, Dr. Satcher. The fact that Louisiana -- New Orleans is such a poor area for so many people -- that brings in special health considerations. Briefly talk about that.
SATCHER: Well, Wolf, there are major disparities of health in this country. Even before Katrina, there were major disparities. And you're right, people who are poor will be at great risk for illness because there are disparities in access to clean water, clean food, to medications. Our health-care system does not respond to poverty very well. So, people are at great risk.
Let me say one thing about the patients who have been evacuated out of there and who are now in hospitals and clinics throughout the country. And I'm sure people know this. But, again, a lot of people have been separated from their medication. The sooner we're able to identify that, the better.
Obviously, dehydration would be a problem for some of the older people. But I think we have to be very careful about that. We're taking care of people here, the (inaudible) who have been evacuated and it's very dangerous for some people to be separated from their medication. So we should be alert to that and try to be on top of getting the medication that people need as soon as possible.
BLITZER: Dr. Satcher, thanks very much for joining us. A horrible situation in Louisiana right now.
Just ahead, the death of the U.S. Supreme Court chief justice, William Rehnquist. Who will President Bush nominate to follow in his footsteps?
Coming up, we'll speak with a key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Orrin Hatch. He's standing by to talk about the Rehnquist legacy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: All those years, William Rehnquist revered the Constitution and laws of the United States. He led the judicial branch of government with tremendous wisdom and skill. He honored America with a lifetime of service, and America will honor his memory.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: President Bush honoring the late William Rehnquist, who died last night at the age of 80.
Joining us now with some thoughts on what this means, Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. He serves on the Judiciary Committee.
What do you think, Senator Hatch? Should the hearings for John Roberts go forward Tuesday as scheduled? He's been nominated, as you know, by the president to succeed Sandra Day O'Connor.
SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), UTAH: Well, first of all, I want to express my sympathy to his children, to his family and friends, because there's no question this is a great man.
But you bet those hearings ought to go forward. I think Bill Rehnquist would be the first to say he wants them to go forward. He wants the court to be able to be as well-constituted as it can be on the first Monday of October.
So I would think he'd be the first to say, "Go ahead, get this done." And I think we ought to do that in his memory. And I think, when the funeral occurs, you know, I wouldn't mind making sure that a lot of us can go to it.
BLITZER: Well, that's probably what's going to happen, then. I assume you speak with a great deal of authority in that committee.
HATCH: Well, I don't. BLITZER: Have you spoken with Senator Specter about it, the chairman?
HATCH: No, I haven't, so I don't speak with any authority. I'm just saying that it would be up to Senator Frist and Senator Specter. But my personal belief is that Justice Rehnquist would have wanted us to go forward, because he loved and revered the court.
BLITZER: Were you surprised that he clung on, that he didn't want to step down from the bench until, obviously, it was too late?
HATCH: I really wasn't, because I think, you know, you've got to understand him. He was a real tough, but yet very noble and very kind guy. But he didn't like the media pushing him out of his seat. And I think that was one reason.
Secondly, you know, I think he wanted Sandra Day O'Connor to have her day. He's very gracious. They were classmates, cared a great deal for each other.
And last but not least, you know, when somebody has that type of a debilitating disease, they feel they need to work, they have to work. But I think that was part of it as well.
BLITZER: Do you have any advice for the president now, going forward, who he should think about naming and nominating to be the chief justice of the United States?
HATCH: I don't think I need to give the president any advice. I know that he has a list of people that he's been looking at. And there are some really, really good people on that list, you know. Whether the Democrats think so or not is another matter. But they are all very competent people of good temperament, good ability.
It's going to take a tremendous intellect to replace...
BLITZER: Because there's been some thought that maybe John Roberts would be a good candidate for the chief justice.
HATCH: It's possible. But I don't think that the president wants to have the Democrats say, "Oh, we need another delay." Though there's another reason for delay, because they have more documents and more information and investigation of John Roberts than, I think, any Supreme Court nominee in history.
So I think, if the president decides to do that, we should still just go forward on the 6th of September. But that's going to be up to Senator Specter and Senator Frist.
BLITZER: To go ahead with the committee.
But do you think that's a possible option the president has, to just say, "You know what, these hearings are going forward, I nominate John Roberts to be the chief justice"?
Sandra Day O'Connor, the associate justice, she says she'll stay on the bench, she'll stay on the court until someone is confirmed to replace her.
HATCH: Well, that's a healthy possibility. I don't know I would raise it to the level of probability. But the president may very well do that. But I think that's going to be something we'll all wait to hear with anticipation.
BLITZER: Have you done any head counting on the Judiciary Committee itself as to the confirmation process for John Roberts?
HATCH: Yes, I've analyzed all of them. But I'm not prepared to say where everybody will be.
BLITZER: Are you prepared to say he's going to be confirmed?
HATCH: I'm prepared to say he will be confirmed. He's one of the best nominees in history. No question about it.
One of the things that a lot of people don't realize is that Rehnquist was a supreme intellect on the court. Scalia came on as a supreme intellect on the court.
That's one reason why our friends on the other side did not want Robert Bork to make it, because if you'd had those three supreme intellects on the court, it would have been very difficult to overcome anything they came up with.
BLITZER: The president now has this opportunity to reshape the court for at least a generation, maybe longer. This is arguably the most important decision a president can make.
HATCH: Well, he once told me on Air Force One, he said, "Look," he said, "what you're doing" -- when I was chairman; he said -- "what you're doing is really important because the one legacy I can leave will be the people I put on the various federal courts from the federal district to federal circuit to now the Supreme Court."
And so he'll have two nominees. And I think, before it's over, he'll have three.
BLITZER: All right, we'll leave it right there. Senator Hatch, we'll be talking a lot in the coming days as these hearings, presumably, get under way.
Senator Orrin Hatch, always good to have you on "Late Edition."
HATCH: Thank you. Good to be with you.
BLITZER: Thank you.
And that is our special "Late Edition" for this Sunday, September 4th. Our coverage of the state of emergency and Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath will continue.
Also, please be sure to join me tomorrow in the "Situation Room," 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. eastern.
Until then, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
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