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CNN LATE EDITION WITH WOLF BLITZER
Interview With Russel Honore; Interview With Jalal Talabani; Interview With George Pataki
Aired September 11, 2005 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: This is a special "Late Edition: State of Emergency."
LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, U.S. ARMY: We're in the first quarter, there are a lot of things left to be done, and we're here to make it happen.
BLITZER (voice-over): The U.S. military's man on the scene. Lieutenant General Russel Honore takes charge. We'll ask him what's next in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
President Bush and the federal response to Hurricane Katrina and the great New Orleans flood are under attack.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: I thought that oblivious and in denial is dangerous for the country.
BLITZER: House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi is leading the charge. She'll join us.
The water is receding, the cleanup under way. But bodies are still left to be recovered. And many loved ones are still missing. We'll get the very latest from our reporters and guests all across the stricken Gulf region.
ANNOUNCER: Live, from Washington, this is a special "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer, "State of Emergency."
BLITZER: It's 11:00 a.m. here in Washington, 10:00 a.m. in New Orleans, 4:00 p.m. in London, 7:00 p.m. in Baghdad, where we are watching from around the world. Thanks very much for joining us for this special "Late Edition: State of Emergency." We'll be checking in with our CNN reporters covering hurricane relief and recovery efforts across the Gulf region, and in a minute, we'll have my interview with Lieutenant General Honore, the commander of the joint task force leading the Katrina mission. First, though, let's get a quick check of what's happening with the state of emergency right now.
BLITZER: There are small but welcome signs of progress and life in New Orleans today, as that city begins its very long road to recovery. CNN's Dan Simon is on the ground for us in New Orleans. He's joining us now live with more on the very latest -- Dan.
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, coming to you live from the famous riverwalk in the city of New Orleans, and just behind me, you can see the Iwo Jima Air Force carrier, Navy carrier, rather. And in just a short while, the president will be helicoptering to that carrier. It is his third trip to the region.
Now, Wolf, you know, one of the most daunting challenges for the city is to clean up all of the trees that were either uprooted or fallen. And about a block away from where I'm standing, we just encountered some crews from Arizona and from San Francisco. And they are in the process of clearing away the beautiful Jackson Square. That's where the glorious St. Louis Cathedral stands, a very historic cathedral. And as we mentioned, it is so difficult to clean up all of the trash and all of the trees in town, Wolf. And, of course, so much is happening today, and we'll keep you posted with the very latest. Wolf, back to you. BLITZER: All right, Dan, we'll get back to you. Thanks very much.
Just a short while ago, I spoke with a man overseeing the rescue and recovery effort in the Gulf region, Lieutenant General Russel Honore.
BLITZER: General Honore, thanks for joining us here on "Late Edition." Let's get to the issue of the nearly two weeks after Katrina hit -- tomorrow morning it will be exactly two weeks -- what is the status right now of your mission?
HONORE: Our mission continues to focus on search and rescue, and providing medical care to the citizens in the joint operational area, focus on the coast of Mississippi, up the I-20, in the heart of Mississippi. And in New Orleans, as a center of the area where the flooding took place, to include Jefferson Parish, St. Bernard Parish, Orleans Parish, Plaquemines Parish and St. Tammany Parish in Louisiana. Over.
BLITZER: There are reports that there are not as many as -- not as many as -- dead people as originally feared. What is the latest on that?
HONORE: Sir, from our -- what we are seeing -- and the restriction on -- the numbers will be released by the state of Louisiana medical officer, who is responsible for doing the documentation. But the early numbers came out, as you'll recall, at a very unknown time. We did not know how many people since then we've evacuated. We have documentation. Databases are coming online. And it was a very emotional time, those first hours and day after that event, when that high number was thrown out there. But that was based on some -- not a scientific approach to it, but one that's based on the enormity of the situation. And since then, I think that number would be lower, but I'd be afraid to speculate, as I have no model to show that. But once the city and the parish governments start looking at the names of the people that have been evacuated, we may be able to in the next 72 hours to give a better assessment of that.
But for the time being, I would suspect that number would be somewhat lower than that -- as a matter of fact, a heck of a lot lower than that. But I do not have an estimate, because we have no model to determine that. We would have to look at the data of the names and the addresses of those people that have been evacuated. And that database is coming along real well. So I would expect to have a better scientific-based number in the next two to three days. Over.
BLITZER: And that high number that you're referring to is what some have suggested could be as many as 10,000 fatalities. Is that right?
HONORE: Yes, that's a number we'll be very happy to be wrong about. Over.
BLITZER: And are you still thinking, though, it could be in the low thousands, more than 1,000?
HONORE: I think it's going to be a lower number, much lower than the 10,000. Again, that 10,000 was based at a time when we didn't know what we didn't know. How many people were at the Convention Center, how many people were on overpasses and bridges. We've taken numbers of the people that have been evacuated. But you have to understand, inside the parishes of Louisiana, most of those city governments were victims. The first responders were victims. This thing set our technology back, I would say a rough order of magnitude, about 80 years. That is the impact the storm had on what we call databases and our ability to record pertinent information dealing with this number of people.
For instance, the New Orleans Police Department had to go back to an analog system to record the time of the public workers and their police officers, because the computers, database no longer was effective as the power went out, as well as the impact of the water and the destruction that it caused on the infrastructure. Over.
BLITZER: So I think it's fair to say that as your troops go house to house, searching for survivors and searching for bodies, you're not finding the large number of bodies you had originally feared. Is that right?
HONORE: Well, again, that was based on that -- what I said, a number that came out at a very emotional time, with not a lot of facts, and I think from talking to the city officials and the communicating with the parish presidents, I think intuitively we were saying, that number will be much lower. Btu we will know, because we will start the detailed search. And if you give us two or three days, there's a -- this is a number of 10,000 that was spoken of earlier, that everybody is going to be happy to be wrong about. Over.
BLITZER: What about the removal of people from New Orleans? There has been some confusion as to how far the U.S. military will go in physically removing, forcibly removing individuals as opposed to local or state officials, or FEMA officials, civilians for that part. Can you explain what your troops, the thousands of U.S. military forces on the ground, how far they will go in enforcing this order to evacuate New Orleans?
HONORE: Yes, as you know, that's a city and state or a parish and state issue. But I'm totally unconfused about our mission. Our mission is to save lives, provide food and water, and provide health, and provide enabling tasks that help the government and the people survive and build their infrastructure back, where they can communicate and coordinate.
Federal troops will not be involved in the direct evacuation in any way, of anyone, from their home. That is a local and state law enforcement task, not to include the federal troops. Over.
BLITZER: Will you provide food and water to those individuals in New Orleans who are refusing to leave?
HONORE: Yes, sir. We continue to do that. Again, that's our task, to provide food and water to citizens, regardless of what that -- state they're in. Over.
BLITZER: But some have suggested that in effect, that goes against what city and state officials want, for their own good, these people to leave, because of the health situations, the toxic nature, perhaps, of the water. And the charge is that the military is enabling individuals to stay in an area that is inherently unhealthy. How do you respond to that?
HONORE: Well, I might say, the local officials too are providing food and water. The National Guard is involved in that effort. The police, the New Orleans police. If they find a citizen that needs food and water, we'll take it to him. I mean, everybody, regardless of their roles and mission at this point in time, are still working to save life and limb. So we're not working -- I think our ultimate purpose, as public servants, be it local or state level, and federal troops and National Guard, to save life and limb. The decision to remove the citizens is based on their criteria, which I'll refer you to the state and the city, from a health and safety perspective.
But we're working through that. I mean, these are tough decisions. They go to the heart and core of our democracy and people being able to make their own decisions. But there is a greater good for the community, I've said in many meetings at the state and the city level, and they will work their way through that. Right now, we want to make sure that we're taking care of the people that are alive, and that we are treating them with dignity and respect, and we're providing food and water for them. That is on a different plane than the decision to remove them because of the greater good for safety and for good accountability of where those people are and how we're able to sustain the food and water to them. Over.
BLITZER: Back with more of my interview with Lieutenant General Honore on this special "Late Edition: State of Emergency." When we come back, I'll ask him, will the U.S. military block the news media from covering the recovery of the bodies? More "Late Edition" right after this.
BLITZER: We'll get back to our interview with Lieutenant General Russel Honore in just a moment, but you're looking at these live pictures, search and rescue operations very much still alive in New Orleans. CNN's Ed Lavandera is on the scene for us right now. Ed, we're looking at these live pictures, U.S. troops getting ready to go back out there. Where are you? And what are we seeing specifically?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. We're on an air boat here, just underneath the Interstate 10, just north of downtown New Orleans. And a team of Coast Guard and soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division just rescued this gentleman from his house. We'll talk to him real quick. What's it been like here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It hasn't been bad. I'm going to survive.
LAVANDERA: You finally decided to let these guys rescue you?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, yeah, well, I didn't really need rescuing. I had lots of food and water. And my apartment is down over here, really. This is my buddy's house. But this ground floor, but I had tons of canned goods, lots of water, bottled water over there too. So I was good for two or three weeks.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. I had a bunk bed over here.
LAVANDERA: What made you let them come help you out now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They talked to my nephew in Lafayette, and they promised me I am going to go to Lafayette. And he's got a house, a nice house in Lafayette, so.
LAVANDERA: These guys have a way of persuading, don't they?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. If I wind up in Utah, in some doggone trailer park, I am going to just kill these dudes. I'll get my prosthetic and beat you on the head. I'm going to go to the river and beat with you with the rock.
LAVANDERA: Let's talk to Lieutenant Nick Daugherty (ph). Lieutenant, what's the mission for today? We're just getting started here. What's your plan for the rest of the day?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Basically, what we're going to do is successfully go through these sectors, these neighborhoods over here, go house to house, knock on some doors, see if there's anybody in there that's decided they're about ready to come out. Most people we have left in there are trying to hold up in there and survive. Just basically going to go in there and offer them a ride out, some medical treatment, some fresh food and water. And go over and check in some suspected areas that we know and have reports of families holding up over there. Still families out there with children that are -- that have decided they want to stay, and just go over there to see if we can talk to them and convince them to come with us.
LAVANDERA: Even though it's almost been two weeks since the hurricane hit, you're still finding lots of people, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. There's probably a couple of hundred people still out there in the entire area that are just trying to hold up, getting around by boats, and some of them still walking in this water. I don't think a lot of them are aware of the dangers that are in this water. So we'll go out and just talk to them, make them aware of their opportunities that we can provide for them, and give them a ride out to a better place over here.
LAVANDERA: What have you found is the reason for a lot of these people wanting to stay and not abandon their homes?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would say that a lot of these people, this is all they have. This is their life, you know. And they just don't want to give it up. Because they're not sure what the outcome would be in the long run, whether they can come back to it or not. They're afraid to let it go.
LAVANDERA: We're out live on CNN right now. Can you paint a picture, you've been on these waters for several days now -- paint a picture of what it's actually like having to work in these conditions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's getting worse and worse every day. Of course, the first couple of days, the water was high and these boats were wonderful. The Coast Guard guys, they're awesome, great negotiators, and a great bunch of guys to have on our side. It's easier to get around. As the days go on, the water is going lower. As the water evaporates and dries up, the muck in there is getting more concentrated and you're getting a sludge out here. Some of the areas, it's getting really hard to breathe in. And the water levels, you just don't want to touch it. It's harder to get around by these boats, or having to use these waders to get into these waters, some chest-deep sometimes, and help these people out.
BLITZER: All right. We've seemed to have lost that video connection. But maybe we can pick it -- restart it.
And I want to continue to show our viewers those live pictures coming from Ed Lavandera and that boat. They're going through literally house to house to house, door to door, searching for individuals who want to leave and searching for bodies, of course, a very, very grim task. We'll show those pictures, but right now, I want to continue part two of our interview with Lieutenant General Russel Honore, the U.S. military commander on the scene in the Gulf region.
BLITZER: You made some controversial remarks on Thursday, involving the news media's access to operations that the military is undertaking in New Orleans. Listen to what you said in a news conference on Thursday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HONORE: There will be no, zero access to that operation. And I would ask that all of you respect that. And work with us. It's not -- it wouldn't be a good light to have pictures of people who are deceased shown on any media.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: General Honore, do the American people have the right to see what's happening in New Orleans right now, the good, the bad and the ugly, including the bodies?
HONORE: I think that has been done, Wolf. I can't swing a dead cat without hitting a reporter. I mean, they attend all of my meetings. Few of my commanders' meetings that are not restricted -- restricted to the media. There's media with me on my airplane, on my LMTV, the truck we're moving around with.
The specific task we were talking about dealt with this: We have search and rescue teams who are going out in small boats. I'd like for you to visualize that team coming upon the remains of one of our fellow citizens, and this goes to the heart of the question, does that media embed -- I mean, every private and sergeant here has a reporter that he's established a personal relationship with.
What we didn't want to happen, Wolf, was to have embeds on those search and rescue crews to a known point where there was a citizen who had died in this who may be removed from a house -- we have an ethic in the Army of notifying next of kin. And maybe my articulation of that wasn't clear. What we were trying to not be a part of -- the media can go where they want. This is a free country, and the home of the First Amendment, after all.
But what we didn't want was a media person on one of our boats, and a picture be taken of the front porch of a house, and for the first time, that person's relatives see that front porch, and in the process, identify one of their loved ones being taken from the home. That's the only point that we were trying to make. I mean, the media has shown and has talked and has total access to everything we are doing. But that is the only point that we were talking about.
Number one, those boats get very crowded with the combined teams that we put on those boats, as well as our ability to try to move some of the pets out. We've gotten over 700 cages delivered by GSA to try to move some of the animals out of the city, and the access at that point in time, in a very close, direct way, to have access on that boat so -- that event, which should be treated with dignity and respect, as has been articulated by the state and city officials, as well as by FEMA, that the people were not able to see that event and identify a grandparent or a relative being taken out from a home by recognizing the front porch of that home. Over.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time, General.
Just a couple more questions.
General Steven Blum, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, said on Friday, and let me quote what he said: "Had Mississippi's 155th Infantry Brigade and Louisiana's 256th Infantry Brigade been at home and not in Iraq, their expertise and capabilities could have been brought to bear." Is it a good idea to bring home all the Louisiana and Mississippi National Guard personnel who are now in Iraq, in order to help specifically with what you have to do? Perhaps even more importantly, deal with their own personal issues. So many of them have lost loved ones, lost their homes, lost their jobs. Can they really be combat-effective right now in Iraq, worrying so much about what's going on in Louisiana and Mississippi?
HONORE: That -- let me address what we've done with that. The Louisiana brigade, as it so happened of which my son is a member of, are on their way back home right now. They started arriving two days ago. And what we did was a selected early redeployment of all those who had family members in the affected area. Those troops, most of them have flown back in. The main body will start to flow back in on Monday. So that is actually happening.
With the 155 Mississippi Rifles, Mississippi Thunder, they are starting to flow back, all those soldiers whose families were affected. That brigade is still in combat in Iraq, and those soldiers will be back. They are flying back into Ft. Polk, Louisiana within the next 24 hours.
We did an extensive work at the state of Louisiana and Mississippi, through the family support group, the multi-family support group operation, and state and the United States Army sent a Tiger team over a week ago to Iraq, to work that database with those soldiers who were trying to make contact with their families. So that has been worked hard, and the affected soldiers are either home or on the way back.
As far as the other comment, that might be intuitively obvious to a lot of folks, but in this case, Louisiana still had 4,000 troops available to deal with this disaster, as well as emergency response programs set up with other states to provide capability that they need to -- disaster relief is a lot about logistics. It's not so much about combat troops, but a lot about logistics, the early days of the disaster. So that being said, any follow-up on that, I've talked to General Blum since then, and I think the articulation of that is worth some follow-up discussion with him on what he really meant. Over.
BLITZER: General, unfortunately, we've got to leave it right there. Thanks so much for spending some time with us on "Late Edition." Good luck to you and all your men and women.
HONORE: Thank you very much, and let's take care of the evacuees. I think we're in the first quarter of this campaign, and we're dealing with the crisis, but the long range is for all Americans to reach out where they are, in their community, and help where they can. Thank you very much, and God bless America.
BLITZER: Lieutenant General Russel Honore, speaking with me just a little bit, a little while ago.
BLITZER: Just ahead, a storm of criticism.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PELOSI: When the president of the United States said to me in his office, "what didn't go right next week?," I thought that was oblivious. I thought that was in denial, and I thought that oblivious and in denial is dangerous for the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The response to Hurricane Katrina with Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi, when our special "Late Edition: State of Emergency," continues. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHARLES RUBIO: My name is Charles Rubio. I'm from Washington, D.C. I grew up in New Orleans. I was born there. I had not heard from my sister and my brother-in-law, Eloise and Alvin Adams. And my niece, Karen, and her husband Stephen Vairin, who lived there. If anyone has seen them or knows how to get in touch with them, I'd appreciate them letting me know through CNN or through the Red Cross. They're welcome to come to visit and stay with me until the New Orleans situation is cleared up. Thank you to CNN for allowing me this time to try to get in touch with my family.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition."
You're looking at this new video that we're just getting in, the search and recovery operations in full force across New Orleans today. There you see another helicopter on the scene searching. These are pictures that we're just getting in to CNN. All too familiar pictures, unfortunately, over these past nearly two weeks.
CNN's Ed Lavandera is with the troops from the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division as they wade through New Orleans right now. And Ed is joining us once again live.
Ed, pick up the story.
LAVANDERA: Hey, Wolf, we're onboard one of the air boats here, we're patrolling an area near downtown New Orleans. And the 82nd Airborne working alongside with the Coast Guard as well. The chief of this boat, Jeff Beatty (ph), with us. Chief, how long have you been out here patrolling these waters?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going on our eighth day now.
LAVANDERA: What are you finding?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're finding live people. That's the good thing. And we're finding starving dogs. Bodies. And it's just stinky -- stinky conditions.
LAVANDERA: Your cohorts here are the most -- you're the master of persuasion in getting a lot of these folks to leave their houses. What do you -- how do you talk to them and why is it so difficult?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what, it hurts. It hurts to see these conditions. And I just try to put myself in their shoes. And the last thing they want to do -- is to be told -- is be ordered to do things. So you try to come down on their level, get them some fresh water, some food, and tell them that the conditions outside are 10 times better than here. But you know, you be creative. We've got guys giving cigarettes. I've given $40 to a couple just so they can get a taxi ride. They're just -- it's the unknown. They're scared. They don't know what's going to happen to them. And you know, their pets -- we're bringing their pets with us. You know, you use all that to your advantage to get them out. And they just got to know that we're here to help, and we care. That's all.
LAVANDERA: How difficult is it maneuvering this air boat through these floodwaters?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's maneuvering, it's a controlled cash. We're hitting fire hydrants and trees. You just have got to take it slow and safe.
The good thing about this boat, this is an ice rescue boat from the Great Lakes. And it's got a bottom on it that helps protect it from -- so it's like -- it's nothing like running on the ice, but it's doing a great job, and it's holding up.
LAVANDERA: And we're going to be on patrol with you for the rest of the day. How many people have you been finding every day?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some days we're pulling anywhere -- our three boats are pulling between 25 and 30. Yesterday, we didn't get any. It's just hit and miss. I think the people who are holding up tight, I think they're starting to realize that their time's running out and they're changing their minds. But like I said, it's just hit and miss right now.
LAVANDERA: And for those viewers who have been watching, we just rescued one gentleman, we just dropped him off here, and the paramedics were taking a look at him. What are we going to do now?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I believe we've got some intel. There's a hospital that some people are holed up at. The two other boats are down there now. We're going to go down there and insist. We do know -- we've been in this area a couple of days now. There's an apartment building where there are some older gentlemen that are holed up. I think if I had 15 or 20 minutes of their time, I think I could probably get them out today, too. So we'll hope for the best, you know.
LAVANDERA: All right, we'll see what we'll do. Wolf, as I mentioned, we're going to be with these guys the rest of the day. And they've got a lot of places they want to hit in this area that they've been patrolling for some time. And it's interesting talking with them, you get the sense they've clearly been on this water and in these floodwaters for several days. They've built rapport with people. And they know their way around the streets. And when I say streets, the streets are under water here, so they basically have learned to navigate the waters that they are patrolling here near downtown New Orleans -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Ed, thanks very much. We'll check back with you. And thank the crew for us as well.
There has been no letup in the criticism of the Bush administration's initial hurricane relief response. Concerns are being raised by Democrats and many Republicans alike, especially about the leadership of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and its director, Michael Brown.
Joining us now from San Francisco, one of the more vocal critics of the administration's performance, the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.
Thanks very much, Congresswoman, for joining us. Welcome to "Late Edition."
PELOSI: Thank you, Wolf. Good morning.
BLITZER: Let's get to the issue right at hand. Despite the rather rough start, are you satisfied with what's going on right now, nearly two weeks after this hurricane struck?
PELOSI: I don't know what there is to be satisfied with. I'm certainly in praise of what we just heard from General Honore. It sounds like he's in charge and has the proper respect for the people that he is dealing with.
But before I go there, I just want to say this, Wolf. We all observed at 5:46 our time in California, just earlier this morning, the fourth anniversary of 9/11. When that happened, we promised the families of the 9/11 tragedy that we would get answers for them, and we would make the American people safer. We can't let anything eclipse the sorrow that we have, that we continue to have for what happened on 9/11. But it should have strengthened our resolve to make America safer.
Here we are, four years later, and we did not have real-time communication among first responders. That's something that we can do. It's a decision that was not made. It was made counter to that, rejecting all of the initiatives to fund real-time communication among first responders, which would have been helpful there. There's some issues that relate to what happened before Hurricane Katrina hit. And we can deal with that in an assessment, in a commission, I think an independent commission, that comes next.
But first and foremost, we have to finish this emergency relief. And many of us thought that what happened in the beginning caused a double disaster. First, a natural disaster, and then secondly, a man- made disaster that we are continuing to deal with now.
I'm so pleased that Michael Brown has been relegated to another set of duties. I don't know what they are. And I wish Admiral Allen much success in what he is doing, but there's so much more to be done. We've got to cut the red tape.
BLITZER: Let's specifically talk about what you want the federal government right now to do. Give us one or two things that should be done today, and tomorrow, that, for example, you believe are not being done.
PELOSI: Well, first of all, I think we have to cut the red tape. The Democrats have been saying this for -- since the tragedy struck. We must cut the red tape, so that people can have access to housing, to food, to whatever they are entitled to.
We have to create jobs in the region. Not only in New Orleans, in Mississippi and other regions affected by it, so we would hope that the rebuilding of New Orleans would be indigenous. Instead, we see the administration going down the path of contracting out and bringing others in to do the job. Well, we have to have a balance there, where there's a significant number of people from the region who are getting jobs. Third, we...
BLITZER: I was going to interrupt and say -- because we don't have a lot of time -- but you were among the leadership of the House and Senate that met with the president this week, and you emerged from that meeting suggesting he was really oblivious, I believe that was the word that you used, to what is going on. Give our viewers around the world an example of what impression you had. Why?
PELOSI: Well, I believe that the president was oblivious, because he said, you know, down the road there's plenty of time for us to find out what went wrong and how we can do better in the future.
But the fact is, we're in the middle of the emergency right now. And we were when he was speaking. And I said, that's fine for then. But right now, Mr. President, you must fire Michael Brown. To which he said, "why would I do that?" And I said, because of what didn't go right last week, what went wrong last week, because he's not qualified for the job. He brings no credentials to this important task. This -- FEMA is the link between the people and the government. It is -- it is a weak link, really, in terms of the people that the president has put there. He's made it the employer of last resort.
But anyway, when I said that he should fire Michael Brown because he's unqualified and because of what happened last week, and he said, well, "why would I do that? What didn't go right last week?" I found it necessary to go public to say, in order for us to do what is our responsibility, to meet the needs of the people affected by this, it's all about the people. Put the people first, and their families. That it was important to make sure that the president changed that leadership at FEMA. And I do think that some of the cabinet officers -- secretaries a bit removed from what their responsibilities are as well.
BLITZER: Let me ask you about a comment that Howard Dean, the chairman of your party, the Democratic Party, made to me in an interview on Friday. Listen to what Howard Dean said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOWARD DEAN, DNC CHAIRMAN: I do not think that this president cares about everybody in America. It's one nice -- I'm sure the president is a nice man on a personal level. His policies have been devastating to middle class and poor people in this country, white, black and brown.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Do you agree with Howard Dean that, in his words, the president, this president doesn't care about everybody in America?
PELOSI: Well, I certainly think that the president -- I simply have to believe that the president cares about every person in America. I do agree that his policies are very hurtful to the middle class and to many people in our country. And I believe that his policies, his budget priority policies were hurtful to preventing some of the damage that happened in the Gulf Coast states.
But let's get on the positive side. A tragedy of this kind brings out the best in the American people, all of the American people. I was in Houston on Friday and saw something so remarkable. I don't know what other city in America could have risen to the occasion the way Houston did. Mayor White at the George R. Brown Convention Center, Judge Eckels, the commissioner for Harris County, Representative Noriega (ph). They did incredible work receiving hundreds of thousands of people coming from the affected area. It was an absolute blessing, again, to our country.
And I think everyone in America is concerned about this, concerned about every person. They're also concerned about how the tax dollar is spent. And that's why some of us have called for an anti-fraud commission to review the way -- the way contracts are given out, and to avoid price gouging, to avoid paying the price at the pump for consumers around America because of mistakes made following Katrina.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time.
But a final question on this, the investigation, the congressional investigation. Congress has a significant oversight responsibility, as you well know. The Republican leadership in the House and the Senate have called for a bipartisan, a bicameral committee to investigate and sort of solidify, consolidate the congressional role in all of this. If that was good enough for the Watergate investigation, why isn't it good enough for this investigation, in addition to a separate presidential commission that might be appointed down the road?
PELOSI: Well, I believe that what we saw on 9/11 was a good model for how we go forth. The 9/11 Commission was bipartisan, was non-partisan. It had the confidence of the American people. It went out there to do the investigation. Its report was a best-seller in our country. Its recommendations have in many cases been implemented by the Congress. And I think that serves as a better model. And so, that's why I would go that way.
I'm afraid of what the Republicans put together, why they call it bipartisan, it's their own creature, and I am afraid it will result in a whitewash.
Wolf, there is one other point I want to make, a different subject, but you discussed it with General Honore, and that is, if the National Guard troops were home, would it have been better in terms of the emergency relief. Another point to be made is, when these National Guardsmen went to Iraq, they took with them not only their own expertise -- many of them are first responders, or health providers and the rest -- but they also took some of the best equipment. They took helicopters, they took generators, they took communication equipment.
And that ends me up where I began, which is communication is vital here. Hopefully it took us two tragedies to learn, but we have to establish our priorities, where we can communicate with each other so that we can lessen the death toll, the loss of livelihood, housing and the rest.
I think we could have done better. I think America deserves better. I think the American people obviously better than we are in terms of keeping the focus on the people who are affected. That's our responsibility. They should hold us to that test.
BLITZER: Nancy Pelosi is the Democratic leader in the House of Representatives. Thanks for joining us on "Late Edition."
PELOSI: Thank you, Wolf. My pleasure.
BLITZER: And coming up, we'll check what's happening with relief efforts in Mississippi. Much more of our special "Late Edition: State of Emergency," right after this.
BLITZER: On Mississippi's hard-hit Gulf Coast, they're facing a long, hard cleanup from Hurricane Katrina. CNN's Allan Chernoff is in Biloxi, Mississippi, and he's joining us now live with the latest on the enormous recovery effort under way there -- Allan.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it truly is enormous. Just have a look at this pile of debris right behind me. There are piles just like this up and down this road, which hugs the coast here in Biloxi, Mississippi. More than 5,000 structures were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in this town alone. The city has hired three separate companies, and they are in the process right now of clearing up the debris. FEMA is paying for that. FEMA is giving the city 60 days to have it all done.
Other essential services, they are slowly coming back. The sewage system, pretty much working. Water, about 80 percent of the households in town do have some kind of running water, not all of it potable.
Also, we're talking about power systems. People do have power, but in many cases, the power lines have been severed. Here, there used to be traffic lights over there. No longer. We have traffic lights down all over town, as well as power, as well, power lines just to my left, we have a few power lines down as well.
So it's scattered all over. The damage varies by neighborhood. But in this region, especially hard. Also, the U.S. mail, they're saying that this week they hope to renew mail deliveries. And of course, Wolf, that is to people who still do have homes.
BLITZER: Allan Chernoff reporting for us. Allan, thank you very much.
We're going to take another quick break. When we come back, more of our special coverage on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: "State of Emergency." We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.
BLITZER: There's much more ahead on our special "Late Edition: State of Emergency," including the social impact of Hurricane Katrina.
Was the storm a wakeup call about poverty right here in the United States? You're looking at live pictures. The search and recovery mission continues.
Among my guests, we'll speak with a former Democratic vice presidential candidate, John Edwards. He's standing by.
Also, the Republican senator from Louisiana, Senator David Vitter. He's standing by as well.
Our special "Late Edition" continues right at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: This is a special "Late Edition: State of Emergency."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: I intend to find out why the federal response, particularly the response of FEMA, was so incompetent.
(END VIDEO CLIP) (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEAN: The president didn't seem to be informed. I think he had incompetent people working for him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The Bush administration under heavy criticism for its response to Hurricane Katrina. We'll talk to a leading Democrat, for the former vice presidential candidate, John Edwards.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This time, the devastation resulted not from the malice of evil men, but from the fury of water and wind.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Four years after 9/11, and two weeks after Katrina, we'll talk with New York Governor George Pataki about the struggles of recovery and rebuilding.
Plus, the questions over whether the nation is really prepared to handle a disaster. We'll ask 9/11 Commission co-chairmen Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton.
In the disaster zone, a critical mission to provide the things most people take for granted: food, water, security.
We'll talk to the mayor of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, about what his city has done to help tens of thousands of evacuees.
ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is a special "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer: State of Emergency." BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition." We'll speak with Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana momentarily, as well as former Senator John Edwards. They're both standing by.
First, though, let's get a quick check of what's happening with the state of emergency right now.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Tony Harris at the CNN Center in Atlanta. "Late Edition" continues right after this check of the headlines.
The hurricane death toll in New Orleans will be far less than the 10,000 city officials had feared. A short time ago, General Russel Honore, the man running the U.S. military response efforts, told CNN the death toll will be, quote, "a heck of a lot lower than that."
The American Red Cross hopes to find 40,000 in a hurry. The relief agency needs volunteers for the long-term hurricane recovery effort. The Red Cross has some 36,000 volunteers on a three-week rotation, which is about to end. Many good-hearted Americans are opening up their homes to hurricane evacuees victims. The storm spared no one, including convicted murderers, rapists and sexual offenders.
So to be on the safe side, the FBI is opening its National Criminal Database to the public for the next two months. The computer program is being set up so homeowners can screen evacuees.
Draining all the floodwaters from New Orleans should be completed in early October, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. That's far ahead of the 80 days previously estimated.
32 of the city's 148 pumps are operating and more pumps are steadily coming back on-line.
Hurricane Ophelia is nearly stationary off the Atlantic Coast. It weakened slightly this morning, but still has sustained winds of 80 miles an hour.
Forecasts indicate the storm may pass near or over North Carolina's Outer Banks on Wednesday.
Now back to Wolf and "Late Edition."
BLITZER: Thanks very much, Tony.
About a quarter of a million Louisiana residents are now living in neighboring Texas. Many of them are still housed in Houston's Astrodome.
Joining us now from outside the Astrodome is Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana.
Senator Vitter, welcome to "Late Edition." Thanks very much for joining us.
SEN. DAVID VITTER (R), LOUISIANA: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: How many people, approximately, are still in the Astrodome, do you know?
VITTER: Well, the number's been going well down. So I don't know what the number is today. But the good news is people are getting out to more temporary housing and other better accommodations than simply a shelter, and the officials here at the Astrodome as well as elsewhere in Texas is trying to wind down the sheltering in a week of 10 days.
That's good news assuming we can get folks to better temporary housing.
BLITZER: About a million people, as you know, have been displaced -- many of those from Louisiana.
Do you suspect a good chunk of that number is going to eventually wind up outside of Louisiana and are never going to come back home? VITTER: Well, I'm working very hard to make sure that's not the case -- and that includes some medium and long-range planning about incentives to make sure we get the job base back to greater New Orleans.
I've been working on that. I think you're going to see major legislation in that regard just like we did after 9/11. That is very important.
Of course, it's not immediate relief, which is the immediate challenge now, but it is very important in terms of getting that business and job base back.
BLITZER: You may have heard General Russel Honore, the military commander on the scene, dealing with this problem. I interviewed him in the last hour, and he suggested, fortunately, the death toll is going to be a lot less -- a lot less -- than the 10,000 number that some had originally feared.
What are you hearing from your local, state and federal contacts about the death toll?
VITTER: Well, that's really the most recent update I've gotten. And, of course, that's great, great news. Many of us back 10 days ago feared the death toll could reach 10,000, but I think we turned a corner since then a week ago Friday when this became really a full- scale military operation under the command, on the active duty side, of General Honore, now under the command, in terms of overall relief efforts, of Vice Admiral Thad Allen -- both of whom I have a lot of confidence in.
BLITZER: I want you to listen to what governor, Governor Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana, said on Saturday -- only yesterday. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: Did I ask the president early on for help? Yes, I did. I asked him before the storm came because I know what a storm can do to my state, and I know that we need help.
He wanted to help. We both got caught in trying to make a bureaucracy work on something bigger than it ever had imagined it would have to work on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Are you confident? Do you have confidence in your governor?
VITTER: You know, right now we need to focus on fixing problems and fixing blame, but eventually we'll have to ask a lot of tough questions of a lot of people.
And certainly a bunch of those questions are about exactly when and in what numbers did the governor call the National Guard out and start getting assistance from other states, and exactly when did she actually specifically ask the president for active duty help.
BLITZER: You're a Republican. She's a Democrat. Are you afraid that too much partisan politics is erupting in this immediate aftermath of Katrina?
VITTER: Absolutely, and there's a huge difference that I detect from folks here on the ground, whether it's in Houston at the Astrodome or in Louisiana in the stricken areas and folks in Washington.
I've heard all sorts of ridiculous arguments going on from Washington that have to do with the war in Iraq and U.S. mass transit policy under President Bush and the Reagan deficit, God help us.
Nobody here in the stricken area is talking about that nonsense. This is where lives are trying to be rebuilt, and I just wish folks in Washington would get with it and get real and focus on the challenge at hand and stop this from becoming a political football.
BLITZER: Do you believe that all the Louisiana residents who are serving in the U.S. military active duty -- whether active duty, Reserve or National Guard -- serving in Iraq right now, those Louisiana residents who have lost their homes, lost family members, lost their jobs should be allowed to come home right now and deal with these issues, or should they remain on the scene perhaps for months in Iraq right now?
VITTER: Well, I'm not prepared to say that every single one of them should be shipped home immediately. But we are already looking at things like getting the 256th, a major Louisiana National Guard unit in Iraq, back home as quickly as possible and put them to work and give them remaining jobs, continuing jobs, to help with the devastation here.
I think that will be very, very positive in terms of allowing them to start to rebuild their lives, which includes giving them a continuing job and important work to do.
BLITZER: Senator Vitter, good luck to you. Good luck to everyone on the scene over there.
VITTER: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: We wish you only the best. Senator David Vitter...
VITTER: Thank you very much.
BLITZER: ... is a Republican from Louisiana.
Coming up next on this special "Late Edition," we'll get a different perspective. Former U.S. senator and Democratic vice presidential candidate John Edwards -- he's standing by to speak about what has happened in this country over the past couple weeks, over the past few years. We'll talk about that, the recovery efforts, the federal response and there's a Hurricane Ophelia that could be heading towards his home state of North Carolina. Are they ready there?
Much more "Late Edition," right after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
In addition to the misery and ruin caused by Hurricane Katrina, the aftermath of the storm is exposing the pervasiveness of poverty right here in the United States.
Among those who are saying Katrina represents a chance to address America's growing class divide, among other subjects, is the former Democratic vice presidential candidate, the former U.S. senator from North Carolina, John Edwards. He's now the director of the Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
And John Edwards is joining us now, live from Raleigh.
Senator, it's good to have you back on "Late Edition."
Thanks very much for joining us.
JOHN EDWARDS, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Glad to be with you.
BLITZER: Let's get to the issue at hand, the recovery operation right now. Are you satisfied the way the situation is going?
EDWARDS: You mean now?
BLITZER: Right now.
EDWARDS: I'm satisfied with some things that are happening and, obviously, there's a more intense effort going on now than happened originally right after the hurricane hit.
There are some things that I'm concerned about. For example, they're moving away from the use of these $2,000 debit cards and instead they're suggesting they're going to put -- deposit into bank accounts for folks.
The problem is a lot of people -- they got devastated by this hurricane -- they don't have bank accounts. The president, apparently, is suspending Davis Bacon, which is a law that requires a prevailing wage be used in federal contracts in the reconstruction effort.
I think that's a mistake. I think there are a number of things happening which indicate what is continuing, which is a lack of understanding of the pervasiveness of poverty in the inner city in New Orleans: why these folks live in poverty, the problems they had in responding to the hurricane as a result and the ongoing problems that not only they, but the 37 million people across America that live in poverty face every day.
We don't seem, in this administration, to have an understanding of what their lives are like.
BLITZER: A lot of us who covered the campaign last year will remember: You kept speaking of those two Americas that you saw out there, one affluent, well-to-do, educated; yet, there was another America you used to point out, a very poor America.
Certainly we see that. We have seen that the past couple of weeks in Louisiana, specifically, and Mississippi to a certain degree. These are two of among the poorest states in the United States from unemployment, from wealth, from education, from very -- from a whole lot of perspectives.
What's the major lesson that you learned in the aftermath of Katrina as far as this whole issue of class and race, poverty in America?
EDWARDS: Well, it's a microcosm of the problem that exists all over this country. You just pointed it out. Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in America. Alabama also hit, the third highest poverty rate. Louisiana has the fifth highest poverty rate. Almost one out of four people who lived in the city of New Orleans live in poverty.
And it's a huge issue, not just on the Gulf Coast but all across America. And the people who got hurt by Katrina and got hurt the worst by Katrina are the same people that are always hurt the worst when something like this happens. They're vulnerable; they don't have any assets.
There's a huge asset gap in America. For example, white families have an average net worth of about $80,000 in this country. African- American families are about $6,000. That gap means something in people's lives, because if something goes wrong -- you know, a hurricane or something a lot less serious like their kid gets sick or they have a layoff or some kind of financial problem.
If you think about it, all of us have run into things that we don't expect that are bad. These folks have nothing to fall back on. And as a result their lives -- they go right in the ditch. Their lives are devastated. And so that's what we see.
BLITZER: Do you think the president, as some Democrats, some of his critics have suggested, including Howard Dean, the chairman of your party, the Democratic party -- do you think the president doesn't care about some of these people?
EDWARDS: No, here's what I think. I think that -- and, by the way, I think this has gone on for decades. I don't think this is something that's happened in the last few years.
No, I think what we've seen is a lack of understanding in the federal government of how these folks live their lives. You know, we issue an evacuation order, we expect everybody to leave. Well, a lot of these people unfortunately don't have bank accounts. They don't have a car. You know, the hurricane hits a few days before their payday, which they're waiting for to be able to get the money to buy gas and to buy food -- you know, they are in a very different place and that continues.
I mean, even now they're in a different place. They don't have a job. They didn't have insurance. They basically have nothing left.
And one of the things that I hope we will do is look at this as an opportunity not only to shine a bright light on poverty in America and do something about it nationally -- I think it's one of the great moral causes that face America today -- but to use New Orleans as a shining example of what we can do.
Let's have, for example, a WPA project in New Orleans. Take these displaced folks, put them to work in New Orleans. Pay them a good wage. Pay them decent benefits so that they cannot only reconstruct their city, they can reconstruct their lives and have the dignity that comes from having a good job and being able to support your family.
BLITZER: There was a "Time" magazine poll that's just come out this weekend -- are you worried that the government won't provide relief to your community after a natural disaster? Fifty seven percent of the American public says yes, 41 percent says no.
North Carolina could be a victim in the coming days. Hurricane Ophelia sort of hovering on the Atlantic Coast right now. Some projections suggesting it could hit the coast of your home state.
Is your state prepared for what potentially could happen?
EDWARDS: Well, we've had a lot of experience with hurricanes, Wolf, as I know you know. And we are as prepared as you can be, and right now it's a category 1 hurricane. We're not sure exactly where it's going to hit. You know, we hope it won't make landfall at all, but, yes, we're prepared. Governor Easley has focused on it. He knows what needs to be done.
So we have a lot of experience with this, and I might add, we know from our own state from having been hit with serious hurricanes in the past, we've had the same experience that you're seeing in New Orleans right now.
Principal (ph), a small town, largely African-American population, in eastern North Carolina was devastated when we were hit by a very bad hurricane a few years ago.
So this is not new, what we're seeing in New Orleans. We're not seeing it on this scale, of course.
But what we're seeing in New Orleans, which is the most vulnerable people being hit the hardest, the people in Ward 9, for example, which is the lowest lying area, which is about 98 percent African-American -- I mean, those are the people that get hurt the worst whenever something like this happens, and I might add they're also the folks that get hurt the most when anything happens in their lives. It's what they deal with every day.
BLITZER: We're out of time, but are you running for president again?
EDWARDS: I don't think we should be talking about that. I haven't made any decision about it.
Let's focus now on doing something to help these people on the Gulf Coast and doing something about 37 million people who live in poverty.
BLITZER: A lot of our viewers, Senator, want to know how your wife Elizabeth is doing. How is she doing?
EDWARDS: Thank you for asking.
She's actually doing very well. She's finished her treatment. Doctors are very optimistic. We're optimistic.
Obviously, it's a huge thing in our lives. We love and adore Elizabeth, and she's doing very well right now.
BLITZER: Well, that's good to hear.
Give her our best, Senator Edwards. We hope to have you back soon here on CNN.
EDWARDS: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: Thank you very much.
Just ahead, did initial hurricane relief efforts expose serious mismanagement over at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. We'll talk with the co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission, Governor Tom Kean, former congressman Lee Hamilton, when our special "Late Edition: State of Emergency" returns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(UNKNOWN): Andy, before you were our brother and Katie's husband and Danny and Emmitt's (ph) father, you were mom and dad's first born, and we know you're with dad now, and mom and the rest of us miss you every day.
We love you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: In New York, still ongoing ceremonies today in remembrance of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which happened four years ago exactly today. Nearly 3,000 people were killed. CNN's Mary Snow is joining us now live from what's called Ground Zero with more on today's observances. It takes on a special meaning coming almost two weeks exactly after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It does, Wolf. And the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, mentioned the victims of Hurricane Katrina this morning as he reached out to the families here -- and he also reached out to the families of the victims of the London bombings.
This emotional ceremony has been going on now for about three and a half hours, and 320 pairs of siblings are reading the names of the victims. There are 2,749 people who were killed here on September 11th. These names were interrupted momentarily for moments of silence.
Four moments of silence were held this morning -- this to mark the times the towers were hit and the times the towers fell.
There were also some short readings by the former mayor of the city, Rudy Giuliani, also the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice. And also, some of the siblings gave personal messages to their loved ones.
Chris Burke lost his brother.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS BURKE: Define us not by how we left; define us by how we lived, by how we laughed, by how we loved.
That's what they'd say. Make us the reason you embrace life, not the reason you don't. It's your spirit that keeps ours alive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: As brothers and sisters remembered their loved ones, family members have had a steady stream walking down to the bedrock of where the two towers stood. It is 70 feet below street level and right now it is marked by a small pool of water -- family members going down, laying flowers in those pools.
And, Wolf, you know, this time next year, this site will look very different, because construction is set to begin next year on the Freedom Tower, which is set to be the largest building in north America, the memorial and also a train station.
BLITZER: CNN's Mary Snow reporting from New York today.
Mary, thank you very much. The federal government's initial response to Hurricane Katrina was hampered by many of the same problems that ultimately led to the September 11th attacks, including lack of preparedness. That's the conclusion of the co-chairmen who led the 9/11 commission investigation.
They're joining us now. From New Jersey, the former governor of that state, Tom Kean, and, here in Washington, the former U.S. Congressman Lee Hamilton.
Gentlemen, welcome back to "Late Edition."
Governor Kean, let me start with you. It certainly did underscore, in a shocking way -- the lack of an immediate response four years after 9/11 -- what happened in the immediate hours and days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast.
THOMAS KEAN, FORMER CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: Well, what's frustrating is it's the same thing over again. I mean, how many people have to lose their lives? It's lack of communication, our first responders not being able to talk to each other, it's no command and control, nobody in charge, it's delayed responses.
Basically it's many of the things that, frankly, if some of our recommendations had been passed by the United States Congress, that could have been avoided.
BLITZER: Well, one of the recommendations you did have, Governor Kean, was to incorporate -- I believe this was one of your recommendations; if you'll correct me if I'm wrong -- to incorporate FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, within the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security.
A lot of people are not suggesting maybe that didn't work out that well.
KEAN: Well, that wasn't one of our recommendations. That was done before our report actually was...
BLITZER: Was that a good idea, though?
KEAN: I don't know if it's a good idea. What's important to us is what we know can be fixed right away. FEMA, frankly, I worked with as governor. FEMA was slow years ago. It's slow now. I mean, that's got to be speed up; it's got to be made more efficient.
But on the ground, the people that get there first can't talk to each other because the radio communications don't work. They haven't got enough what's called spectrum.
So there is a bill in Congress to provide first responders spectrum. The bill has been sitting in Congress, nothing has been happening, and again, people on the ground -- police, fire, medical personnel -- couldn't talk to each other. That's outrageous and it's a scandal and I think it cost lives.
BLITZER: Congressman Hamilton, were you shocked by what happened -- the immediate aftermath almost exactly two weeks ago -- to Hurricane Katrina?
LEE HAMILTON, FORMER VICE CHAIRMAN, 9/11 COMMISSION: I'm afraid I was not shocked. I've had an uneasy feeling for a long time that the government simply was not acting with the sense of crisis, with the sense of urgency.
One of the themes in the report that Tom and I oversaw was that there was a lack of urgency prior to 9/11. I think that lack of urgency is still present today. There's no sense of crisis. There is a kind of a sense of business as usual.
And the result is that government has not been transformed and changed like we hoped it would have been.
So I did not think we were prepared for a major catastrophe. I don't think we are today. I think if you had a nuclear attack or a biological attack, we would have chaos.
BLITZER: Could the federal government, working with state and local authorities, for example, evacuate a major American city if given 24 or 48 hours' notice -- warning -- of such a manmade terror attack that could cause catastrophic calamity for a major American city?
HAMILTON: It would be difficult, but we can surely do better than what was done in New Orleans. If you have a national disaster, I think the national government has to step forward and take charge.
Tom said a moment ago there was no unified command. We did not find that at the 9/11 site. We certainly did not have it in Katrina.
Someone has to step in and take charge. There are hundreds of decisions that have to be made. They have to be made very quickly. All kinds of people and equipment have to be brought in to the scene -- ready to move in as quickly as possible.
None of that was done. And it's a failure of government to protect the lives of people.
BLITZER: Governor Kean, you mentioned that, when you were governor, you were not really impressed by FEMA and its operations in those days. More recently, during the Bush administration, there's been a suggestion that so many of the top leaders of FEMA were nothing more -- at least according to the critics -- than political hacks who were dumped in FEMA, a good place to dole out goodies to key states like Florida, which, for example, faces a lot of hurricane threats every year.
Do you accept that argument?
KEAN: I don't know if FEMA's any better or worse than it was. It's never been an agency that I've had much respect for, because I remember yelling at them over the phone. I mean, when we had a major flood in the state when I was governor, you couldn't get them here. Once they got here, you know, frankly, they were a pretty good agency and they knew what they were doing. But, boy, it was hard to get them here.
But until that time, I just want to re-emphasize that business of command and control. Every state has got to have a plan. Every state has got to know when that emergency strikes, whether it be natural or from a terrorist, who is in charge.
New Jersey, it's the state police, and everybody works for them whether it's the Environmental Department or the Department of Health or the National Guard, everybody works for the state police under the governor. Other states don't always have that clear a plan, and if you don't know who is in charge, you're going to get in great trouble. Nobody was in charge in Louisiana.
Frankly, we're still getting arguments between the governor and mayor as to whether you evacuate people, and whether they forcibly evacuate or not. They're still not together on the same page. Somebody has got to have clear control and emergency powers.
BLITZER: Let's talk, Congressman Hamilton, about some specific suggestions. Governor Kean said spectrum radio. Get everybody on the same wavelength, if you will, so they can communicate with each other in the aftermath of a disaster like that. What else do you think immediately has to be done to deal with the next disaster, whether a terror strike or a natural disaster?
HAMILTON: Well, another suggestion, in addition to the one that the governor has suggested, is make sure you allocate homeland security funds according to risks. Good legislation is moving through the Congress now. Not yet enacted. We hope -- we think it'll be enacted by the time the Congress concludes its work this year.
BLITZER: What do you mean? In other words, New York would have a greater risk than Topeka, Kansas?
HAMILTON: Absolutely. Money flows where the risk assessments are. There are vast areas of this country, to be very blunt about it, that probably do not need homeland security funds. There are other areas, Washington is one, New York City for sure, and a number of others that clearly need a lot of homeland security funds. This allocation has been made in the past on the basis of politics, a kind of a general revenue sharing program. That's not what is needed here. You must make some very tough judgments. And another point that is terribly important here is, we are asking government officials here to make very hard choices.
Who is in charge? You sit down ahead of a disaster and try to determine the question who's in charge. It's not as easy as it looks. You have to make very tough choices about what infrastructure you protect, and that means there's some infrastructure you don't protect. Hard choices. It's very difficult to get policymakers to make these hard choices because they can be wrong. But they have to be made, and Katrina points out the importance of that.
BLITZER: Lee Hamilton, thanks very much for joining us. Governor Tom Kean, thanks to you as well, especially on this fourth anniversary of 9/11. And on behalf of the American public, thanks to both of you and all the other commission members for the important work that you did.
Just ahead, reflecting on two tragedies, the pain of Hurricane Katrina still fresh on this fourth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
Coming up, we'll speak about then and now with the New York state Governor George Pataki.
Our special "Late Edition" continues after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition: State of Emergency."
The pain and suffering of Hurricane Katrina's victims are striking a very emotional chord beyond the U.S. Gulf region. The response, in fact, across the United States is similar to the days and weeks right after the 9/11 attacks four years ago to this very day.
Just a little while ago, memorial ceremonies have been held in New York City to mark the fourth anniversary of those attacks. And I spoke with New York's governor, George Pataki.
BLITZER: Governor Pataki, thanks very much for joining us on this very important day. Let's get right to the questions. Four years after 9/11, were you shocked that the country was so ill- prepared for the Katrina disaster?
GOV. GEORGE PATAKI (R), NEW YORK: Well, obviously, I think it breaks everybody's heart to see so many people in the Gulf suffering in the way that they have. And you just have to believe that if you had the locals and the state and everybody pulling together in a way that we did here in New York after the attacks of September 11th, that a lot of this could have been avoided.
But there will be plenty of time down the road, Wolf, to sort out who should have done what when, and how we must do things better the next time.
The important thing now is to help the people of Louisiana, help the people of the Gulf states, and make sure everything that can be done, first of all, to protect their safety and then, second of all, to bring them back to their homes as quickly and strongly as possible, is done. And that's what we have to focus on.
BLITZER: Governor, I want you to listen to what the former Democratic Congressman Tim Roemer, a member of the 9/11 presidential commission, said this week in the aftermath of Katrina. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM ROEMER, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSIONER: We have had our first post-9/11 test, and we've miserably failed. We are not prepared for a disaster. We are not prepared for a large-scale terrorist attack.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You agree with Tim Roemer?
PATAKI: Well, obviously, we should have had a better response to Katrina. I don't think there's anyone who doubts that.
But, Wolf, just think for a minute. The 9/11 commission issued its report at least three years after the actual attacks, because they took the time to get the facts, to sort out who did what right, and what can be done better the next time.
And now I think there is a rush to judgment, when what we should have is a rush to help people.
I remember after September 11th, the most important thing was all of us standing together -- not just New Yorkers, but all of America rallying together to help the people of New York in our time of crisis.
And then the 9/11 commission was created later to sort out what should have been done and what will be done better.
I think that's the same approach we have to have here. You know, people are looking back and thinking it's over.
I talked to the governor of Louisiana a day and a half ago and she said they were still rescuing people in upper stories of buildings, who were alive and needed help as of Friday night.
So let's focus on the people. Let's do everything we can to make sure they're safe. Let's do everything we can to bring them back to some sense of normalcy as quickly as possible.
BLITZER: All right, let's talk about your state, New York state, my home state, which is New York state. Is New York state, four years after 9/11, prepared for a disaster, whether manmade or natural, that would require enormous, enormous planning and work?
In other words, if necessary, are you ready to order an evacuation of a major city, like New York City, or my home town of Buffalo, New York? PATAKI: Well, we are as prepared, I think, as government can be. But one of the things that I think everyone has to understand, that whether it's a natural disaster, or whether it's some attack such as September 11th, everyone is different, and for all the preparation you make, you're going to have to make decisions, you're going to have to respond instantaneously -- having not had the ability to plan it out.
BLITZER: How would you get people out of New York City? If you called for a massive evacuation, a complete evacuation, God forbid if that were necessary, individuals who don't have cars or elderly or sick -- do you have a plan in the works right now to get those people out of New York?
PATAKI: Well, Wolf, the disaster preparedness for New York City is being done by the city. The state is working with the city. The federal are working with us as well. We have great mass transit, but who can say what the nature of the attack or the catastrophe might be that could knock out that system?
So we're preparing as well as we can but, Wolf, if anybody could tell you, that some unpredicted disaster or attack or catastrophe -- if we could instantaneously promise that we would be able to make everybody in this city, everybody in this state safe -- obviously that's not the case.
But what we have to do is be as prepared as possible, be as aggressive as possible in putting together those plans.
And it's not just New York, it's America.
BLITZER: Your latest plan: How long would it take to evacuate New York City?
PATAKI: Wolf, I can't sit here and go through a detailed plan to evacuate New York City -- or even tell you that we have a detailed plan to move the 8 million people who live here, or the millions more who come here during the course of a day in the event of some unpredicted catastrophe.
All I can say is that the city has its emergency plans. They're working with the state. We're working with the federal officials. We're doing everything we possibly can.
And, Wolf, one of the most important things, the lessons I think of September 11th and what will be -- when the studies are done -- the lessons of Hurricane Katrina, I think, are two-fold.
First of all is you have to have, in response to a crisis, unified government action. You have to all stand shoulder to shoulder. Government leaders -- provide that leadership and act as aggressively and appropriately as you can under those circumstances.
And second, a lot of the response -- the most important element is the strength of the people.
BLITZER: Governor, one of the lessons learned so far from Katrina is that so many of the National Guard troops in Louisiana and Mississippi were deployed to Iraq during this crisis. They could have been badly used back home.
How many New York state National Guard troops are right now in Iraq, and what percentage of that is the overall New York state National Guard contingent?
PATAKI: Well, it's not just Iraq. It's Iraq, it's Afghanistan, it's other points around the globe, and it's also federally mobilized National Guard troops of New York on duty in the United States.
And it's certainly in the thousands, although the main deployment of our 42nd Infantry Division and the Fighting 69th -- they are returning to New York this month as I speak. At the same time, Wolf, when the Gulf Coast hit, we said, within a matter of days, we could send 1,000 of our New York National Guard to Louisiana.
We have hundreds of National Guard in Louisiana and in the Gulf states now, helping out. We have the ability to send many more.
And yet, four years after September 11th, we are still at Level Orange here in New York City. We are still providing National Guard help at our mass transit centers, at our key infrastructure points.
So we have 28,000 total Guard in New York. Maybe 3,000 of them are deployed at this time overseas. Perhaps another 1,000 between the response to Hurricane Katrina and having the heightened response, Level Orange, in New York City, in New York state.
So I can't speak for other states, but I can speak for New York: We are prepared. We are ready. Our National Guard is strong here and able to help.
BLITZER: One final question, Governor, before I let you go -- this latest "Newsweek" poll: Do you approve of the way George W. Bush is handling his job as president? Only 38 percent say they approve of the way he's doing his job; 55 percent disapprove.
The president is in deep political trouble right now, at least according to all these polls we're seeing.
PATAKI: I think everyone in America -- Republicans, Democrats, independents -- should wish for one thing, and that is that President Bush has a successful second term. He's our president for the next three-plus years -- almost three-and-a-half years -- and he can't run again, because we have term limits under our Constitution.
Our country and our politicians shouldn't be picking sides three- and-a-half years before the next president takes office. We should be standing together to try to make sure that our country meets the challenges we face.
BLITZER: Do you want to be president of the United States?
PATAKI: I want to see this country continue under this president, who has over three years to go, to succeed and do well. Wolf, I have over a year as governor of New York left, and that is my obligation, to be the best governor I can be -- and I am going to continue to, every day, try to make this state as strong and prepared as it can be.
BLITZER: What's the answer? Would you like some day to be president of the United States?
PATAKI: I want tomorrow to be the governor of New York state and, God willing, to be the governor of New York state for the next almost year and a half and be the best governor I can be for the people of New York.
BLITZER: Governor, I take it you don't want to answer that question. But that's your right. You're a good politician, a good governor of New York.
Thanks very much on this special day, four years after 9/11.
Joining us from the scene, Governor Pataki. Good to have you on "Late Edition."
PATAKI: Thank you very much, Wolf.
BLITZER: And up next, New Orleans residents are turning to Louisiana's capital for refuge in big numbers. The city, in fact, has virtually doubled its size over the past few days.
We'll talk with the mayor of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, about how his city is dealing with this huge surge in population.
Our special "Late Edition: State of Emergency" continues after this.
BLITZER: Welcome back to "Late Edition."
Just 80 miles north of New Orleans, Louisiana state capital, Baton Rouge, is swelling with hurricane evacuees, nearly doubling its pre-storm population of about 400,000 residents.
Joining us now to talk about how his city is coping is the mayor of Baton Rouge, Kip Holden.
Mr. Mayor, welcome to "Late Edition." Thanks very much for joining us. How are you coping?
MAYOR KIP HOLDEN, BATON ROUGE: Well, I tell you what, it's a different challenge every day. The main thing right now we're trying to deal with is traffic. We had an emergency meeting on Thursday with consultants from around the country, with the state and with our local people. We are mapping up a plan now to look at contraflow which is reversing the traffic coming in in the morning, going out in the afternoon. We're looking at some streets that we have not even seen used a lot and maybe direct traffic to those streets. But the main thing is: we're trying to get a lot of people off the interstate and even asking businesses to look at going to shifts in regards to when they want their workforce in.
BLITZER: How many people are still in shelters in Baton Rouge?
HOLDEN: Well, in the -- what we call the pop-up shelters -- and those are the ones established by the churches -- we're looking at about 11,000 to 12,000 people. And the ones run by the Red Cross, which are two locations, at our convention center and at Southern University, you're looking at somewhere between 3,000 and 7,000 people.
BLITZER: What's your immediate priority right now, your immediate need to deal with this nearly doubling of the population of your community?
HOLDEN: Well, the main thing right now is to let the residents who are already here know that we're in control and that we're working on the most aggravating problem and that's traffic. For example, we witnessed a 35 to 45 percent increase in the traffic count last week. So, that's a lot of change that we have to absorb right away. We're beginning now to look at our infrastructure, going ahead with short-range plans, intermediary plans, and long-range plans.
Next week, I'll be coming to Washington to basically take a look and talk to a number of officials at the high levels. And I'd like to say that we are now having access to -- not people at the bottom ranks but at the top ranks of the federal government thanks to President Bush and all of the others now.
And so, therefore, we'll tell them and hand them: Here's our plan. We had already planned to do some road construction in Baton Rouge, but now we have to have this additional construction on top of what we're already seeing.
BLITZER: There is a tremendous demand for housing in Baton Rouge, understandably so. I was told by a friend the other day that a house that would have been selling for about $85,000 before Hurricane Katrina recently sold for $250,000. Have you been hearing those kinds of stories?
HOLDEN: Yes, I've been hearing those stories. I've been hearing stories of people bringing cash in and saying, I don't care what it costs; let me have the house. We've heard just about every story you can imagine. I would just hope that we would not choose to prey upon people unnecessarily.
And I would say that the majority of the people here are not doing that. But I think we should still look at what that market value was before the storm and not go to price gouging in the real estate market. BLITZER: Kip Holden is the mayor of Baton Rouge. Got a tough job ahead of you, Mr. Mayor. But good luck to you. Good luck to all your citizens there.
HOLDEN: Thank you, sir. But I can tell people we have a lot of compassion and Baton Rouge is ready to meet the challenge.
BLITZER: Thank you very much. Thanks for your good work.
Up next, the critical mission of healing broken lives. We'll talk about the challenges facing the massive relief effort, perhaps the largest ever here in the United States with the president of the American Red Cross Marty Evans. She's standing by.
This special "State of Emergency" edition continues right at the top of the hour.
BLITZER: This is a special "Late Edition: State of Emergency."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: We're still at the beginning of a huge effort. The tasks before us are enormous, yet so is the heart of the United States.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: As the Gulf Coast searches for survivors, we'll get an update on the enormous mission under way from the head of the American Red Cross, Marty Evans.
On this Sunday, local clergy are reaching deep into their own faith to help comfort the hundreds of thousands who've lost so much.
And we'll take a critical look at the news media's coverage of Hurricane Katrina, from the evacuation and recovery efforts to the federal and local response.
ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, this is a special "Late Edition" with Wolf Blitzer, "State of Emergency."
BLITZER: Welcome back to our special "Late Edition."
We'll get to my interview with the head of the American Red Cross, Marty Evans, in just a moment. First though, let's get a check of what's happening with the state of emergency right now.
BLITZER: From providing much-needed medical supplies to food and shelter, the American Red Cross has been at the front of providing relief to tens of thousands of hurricane victims. Joining us now to talk about what's being done, the challenges that still lie ahead -- and there are plenty -- the president of the American Red Cross, Marty Evans. Thanks, Marty, very much for joining us.
MARTY EVANS, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN RED CROSS: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: You're asking for 40,000 additional volunteers, people to come forward, not for pay, to help out. How is it going?
EVANS: Well, we've seen an incredible, spontaneous response all over the country, people calling their local Red Cross chapters asking how they can become involved.
So we're training those people as quickly as we can. We're putting them to use in the region. Some of them have already deployed in the region. And many of them are actually helping at their hometown chapters.
You know, we have shelters in 17 states today and every Red Cross chapter across the country is working on this operation.
BLITZER: How many people right now are surviving thanks to American Red Cross shelters? How many people are in your shelters?
EVANS: Right now, we have about 89,000 people in Red Cross chapters. And that's down significantly from last week, where we had as many as 150,000 in Red Cross chapters. We're also supporting, though, people, 106,000 people that are in our motel and hotel program.
And we're supporting people that have found residences with friends, neighbors, relatives, et cetera, outside the area. So there are hundreds of thousands. We don't even have an estimate at this point. But we're planning on 750,000 to a million families.
BLITZER: Are you still giving the victims these credit cards, so they can start using some funds to go about their daily lives?
EVANS: Well, we're giving financial assistance. Some are receiving debit cards that have cash loaded into them. Some are receiving...
BLITZER: How much is in those debit cards?
EVANS: It depends on a family. A family of four, about $850.
BLITZER: So they get the cash effectively right away?
EVANS: They do.
BLITZER: They can go to a money, an ATM or whatever, and just get the cash out, as a result of those cards?
EVANS: That's right. Some are getting checks. Some are getting traveler's checks. Some are getting cash. And some are calling our brand-new -- launched this morning -- 1-800 line, and they will be directed to a financial institution to get their cash. BLITZER: I take it there have been some people who aren't victims of Hurricane Katrina just trying to get some cash. Have you come across a lot of people who are trying to swindle you, in effect?
EVANS: You know, sadly, in every disaster, there is some attempt at fraud. We work very closely with the FBI. We're also concerned about Internet fraud, people setting up web sites purporting to be the Red Cross. But we have a great relationship with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies to help us track down anybody who's trying to make a buck off of this terrible situation.
BLITZER: How much has the American Red Cross raised over the past two weeks?
EVANS: We've raised about $578 million. And I will tell you that that is not enough, when you consider up to a million families that we're going to be helping with direct cash assistance, plus all of the sheltering, the feeding, and all of the other operations. It's going to be a pretty big bill.
BLITZER: How much more do you think you'll need?
EVANS: We haven't put a hard goal down, but we're looking at, at least a billion dollars, maybe $1.4, $1.5 billion.
BLITZER: Have you ever raised this much money before? Have you ever had an ambitious fundraising project like this one before?
EVANS: Not anything even remotely related to what we're trying to do. But we're seeing signs of hope. The American public has responded. And I think it's just an example of how compassionate the general public is.
BLITZER: Let's talk about specifics. If somebody watching this program right now wants to volunteer to help, to go down to an American Red Cross shelter someplace, to deal with this crisis, what should they do?
EVANS: Call their local Red Cross chapter. Before they can help on the job, they'll need to get some training so that they have the basics down. So we can train you in a day or two. And then we can deploy you, if you're ready to deploy.
BLITZER: And you mentioned the Internet fraud out there, because I've seen some web sites that purport to be the American Red Cross. It looks just like it. It's very sophisticated.
How do you make sure, if you are going to go online, that you really give your credit card number to the American Red Cross as opposed to some crooks out there trying to steal money?
EVANS: There is one single American Red Cross Web site, redcross.org. And there's a single help line to make a financial contribution, 1-800-HELP-NOW. All of the other sites purporting to be Red Cross are not. BLITZER: Marty Evans is the president of the American Red Cross. Marty, thanks for all your good work. Thank all the volunteers for us, as well.
Just ahead, Houston, Texas, opening its arms to hurricane victims. We'll talk with that city's mayor about the surge of new residents there. Our special "Late Edition" will return.
BLITZER: We're looking at shots -- these are pictures coming in from the Astrodome in Houston, where so many of those evacuees from Louisiana have wound up. About a quarter of a million are now in Houston and elsewhere in Texas. We'll get to the mayor of Houston in a moment.
I just want to clarify what we reported in the first hour of "Late Edition," when I was interviewing Russel Honore, the lieutenant general U.S. military commander on the ground.
I read to him a statement that the Associated Press put out on Saturday, that was reported on WashingtonPost.com, a statement quoting the National Guard bureau commander, General Steven Blum, as saying the following: "Had that brigade been at home and not in Iraq, their expertise and capabilities could have been brought to bear," referring to Mississippi and Louisiana National Guard units in Iraq.
We just got a statement in on behalf of General Blum from the National Guard bureau denying that General Blum made any such statement. The statement goes on to stay that National Guard deployments to Iraq did not slow the Guard's response to Hurricane Katrina.
Speaking on behalf of General Blum, National Guard forces were in the water and on the streets throughout the affected areas, rescuing people within four hours of Katrina's passing. The statement goes on to say that there are now more than 50,000 National Guard members from every state, territory, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia that have responded to Hurricane Katrina, and adds this: "The fact that National Guard units were deployed to Iraq at the time of Katrina did not lessen the Guard's ability to respond."
General Blum denying that he told the Associated Press what the Associated Press had reported.
Let's get to Houston right now, one of the first cities to extend an open arm to hurricane evacuees. A quarter of a million Louisiana residents are now living not only in Houston but elsewhere in Texas, in homes and in shelters. Joining us now to talk about what the surge in population means for Houston is the city's mayor, Bill White.
Mr. Mayor, welcome to "Late Edition". Thanks for joining us.
How many people from Louisiana have now come to Houston?
MAYOR BILL WHITE, HOUSTON, TX: Well, there's close to 200,000 that have been in our metropolitan area now for some time. Some of the figures that you see out from the national emergency management authorities simply aren't right.
There were -- just in residences and businesses we know were destroyed, evacuated, officially, there's over a million. And most of those folks came out by car, evacuated in the first days. Most of them -- much of them came to our region, which we opened with welcome arm. And they're staying in hotel rooms, motel rooms, private households.
I'll just give you a figure. This morning, at our management group that I preside over, we had 43,000 in hotel, motel rooms, which we identified, more unidentified and even a greater number that are staying in private homes.
So we tend to concentrate on the large, the shelter population, which is important. It's about -- now been about 8,000 in our region. But there's been a much greater number that are in private homes, staying in living rooms. They've been staying in churches, being rotated throughout families. And we're dealing with, you know, managing a city within a city.
BLITZER: Is the federal government picking up the tab, or is the state and city government paying for some of this?
WHITE: Well, so far we've paid for all of it. I asked corporations, nonprofits, local government entities, let's not wait until somebody from the federal government gets here.
We actually started before Katrina. We forward-deployed our fire and EMS personnel to help New Orleans when we saw that the storm was a big storm, so that we could help them prepare for evacuation and shelter facilities here, while the weather was still in the Gulf.
So we've been doing this all on the local tab. The Coast Guard was here, I'm going to recognize them, that they were here from the beginning. Now FEMA members are being integrated into the team.
We haven't seen any dollars yet, but this morning I got a letter -- I got a letter in my hand today -- that was signed just within the last 12 or so hours, categorizing the type of relief that FEMA will get, and we have to ask those people in Washington, please give your local, you know, field superintendent here, Tom Costello -- he's helping us run a city -- please make sure that he has the authority to make disbursements so we don't compromise the services that we give our residents.
BLITZER: Are you going to be reimbursed, the local authorities, though, what you've spent, the state? Will the federal government reimburse you?
WHITE: We've been told that. And the first time we saw it was in writing. But we didn't wait before we did what needed to be done: quickly and very efficiently, harnessing all the local resources.
BLITZER: Mr. Mayor, what kind of grades would you give FEMA for the way they've operated, from your perspective?
WHITE: You know, the fact of the matter is, we're dealing with a destruction of a major American city. And somebody is in a fantasy land if they think that our nation had a plan to deal with all of the aspects of the destruction of a major American city and devastation like this.
But we've got local government and private sector, corporations -- I've asked the CEOs of so many corporations nationwide to step up. Wal-Mart gave us their logistic and supply apparatus so that we can get furniture there. We've put thousands of people now into apartments that were unfurnished just five or six days ago.
FEMA is now on the ground. We want them to work as members of the team. We appreciate Congress. But it will -- we will be asking in our country in the next year, what does homeland security really mean?
BLITZER: We'll be speaking often. Mayor, thanks very much for joining us.
And thanks to everyone in Houston for doing what you're doing. Clearly, everyone in Louisiana is grateful to Texas for showing that neighborly good spirit.
WHITE: You bet. Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: And coming up, faith in the face of disaster. We'll talk with a Baton Rouge Baptist minister about comforting so many who have lost so much.
BLITZER: ... holding services and praying wherever they can in this Gulf-stricken area.
Welcome back to "Late Edition".
Tens of thousands of hurricane victims are experiencing the loss of homes, separation from loved ones, a long, hard road to recovery. What role is faith playing in the wake of this disaster here in the United States?
Joining us now, from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is Stephen Trammell. He's the pastor of the Florida Boulevard Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, which is assisting with relief efforts in the city.
Pastor, thanks very much for joining us. Are people having a tough time dealing with the issue of faith during this enormous crisis?
STEPHEN TRAMMELL, PASTOR, FLORIDA BOULEVARD BAPTIST CHURCH, BATON ROUGE, LA: Well, Wolf, what we have discerned in this crisis is that it is actually strengthened the faith of believers. Of course, it is testing our faith. It is challenging us. But I'm seeing God's people at their best. I really believe we were made for this. This is the purpose of the church, to build bridges to broken people. And so I see people's faith actually deepen as a result of Hurricane Katrina.
BLITZER: Some people ask the question, when these horrible things occur, and we know horrible things have occurred, why do such bad things happen to good people? What do you say to your congregants when you hear that question asked?
TRAMMELL: Well, I just remind them what God's word teaches, and that is that we live in a fallen world. And so we are fallen and flawed by nature. And our Earth is corrupt. And we're going to have to deal with adversity and difficulties.
But here's what I understand about God: God may allow these kinds of things to happen, but God is still on his throne. He has the final say, the final word, and he's sovereign.
And we've seen how God can take tragedy such as Hurricane Katrina and he can make it something triumphant. I've never seen such a display of love, of generosity, of putting others first.
You know, Jesus said, "Treat your neighbor as yourself. Do unto others as you would have them do unto to you." And we're seeing that lived out, day in and day out, as a result of Hurricane Katrina.
BLITZER: They say God works in mysterious ways, which we mortals simply can't understand. Is that part of your basic vision?
TRAMMELL: Well, I believe that God has revealed himself to us and we have his word to live by.
But, Wolf, there are some things that we just will not understand. For example, my associate pastor here with me has terminal cancer. I don't understand that.
But I just claim God's word, Isaiah 55. The Bible says his ways are higher than our ways, his thoughts are higher than our thoughts. And so we just have to understand that we are finite and God is infinite. And there are some things that just aren't going to make sense until we get to heaven and we can ask God.
BLITZER: We're almost out of time, pastor. But give us one moment which was so moving for you over the past couple of weeks.
TRAMMELL: I would have to say it was Friday afternoon when my wife and I were in our family activities center, where we're feeding several hundred people each day. In fact, we're serving up to 16,000 meals a day.
But we were in our family activities center ministering to a family evacuated out of New Orleans. And we met a man who was 91 years of age. His name was Harold. And he spent two days on the bridge in New Orleans. He had burns on his knees. And the family said, "We need Papa to get to a doctor." I called my ministry assistant. I said, "I need Dr. Day (ph) here, if he can get here."
She called his office. The office was closed. She called him on the cell phone and said, "Our pastor needs you right now." He said, "Well, I'm already here on the property. I'm just in another building. I'll be right there."
So within two minutes, the doctor was there and was able to minister to this 91-year-old man who evacuated out of New Orleans, came to our church, so that we could feed him, clothe him, and help him financially.
So that's one of those stories that just blesses your heart. This morning in my message from church, I read a letter from a little girl in kindergarten from Oklahoma, who sent us a letter and said that, in her neighborhood, her friends got together, had a lemonade sale, and raised $500, that their school was having a penny war, and the seventh and eighth grade buckets were full, and the other grade, I believe sixth grade, their bucket was not quite full, but they were sending that money to us so that we could get it to the front lines where the people are in need.
Wolf, I've never seen such generosity in all of my life.
BLITZER: Pastor Stephen Trammell, thanks for your good work. Thanks very much for sharing those stories with us.
TRAMMELL: God bless you.
BLITZER: Thank you.
Still ahead, covering the aftermath of Katrina. We'll grade the news media's performance with the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources," Howard Kurtz and a panel of journalists.
BLITZER: Stay with us.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
For journalists, covering Hurricane Katrina has evolved over these past nearly two weeks. The story has many, many complicated layers. Joining us to assess the news media's coverage, how we did, how we didn't do so well, things we did right and wrong, Washington Post media critic and the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources," Howard Kurtz.
Also with us, Geneva Overholser, the director of the University of Missouri School of Journalism Washington program, former editor of the Des Moines Register; and Washington Post associate editor and columnist Eugene Robinson has spent most of the past week in the Gulf region. Also joining us from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman. Howie, let me start with you. First of all, access for the media. FEMA issuing a proclamation the other day. They're not going to let reporters get near the recovering of the bodies because this would undermine morale or whatever. And victims' families should not necessarily see a face of a relative without getting notification. What do you make of this?
HOWARD KURTZ, HOST, CNN'S RELIABLE SOURCES: Federal authorities would love to have no pictures at all of dead bodies. But the truth is, both legally or logistically, FEMA or any other government agency can't ban reporters from doing this.
What they can do and what they are doing is not providing rides, not letting journalists on boats. But I think that news organizations anyway are not trying to put up an identifiable picture of somebody's mother or brother or father until they're sure that relatives have been notified.
BLITZER: But Geneva, if somebody recognizes their house, and they see a torso, some legs on the porch, they could usually, even if you don't show the face, you can usually determine that might be a brother or father, you know, or some relative. Is there a slippery slope here for the news media? What should we be doing?
GENEVA OVERHOLSER, FORMER EDITOR, DES MOINES REGISTER: I think that is a particularly worrisome issue, because reporters are generally careful not to show faces and not to show identifiable bodies. But the address question is tough. But I think most mainstream media are very careful about that kind of thing, and they won't...
BLITZER: You used the word mainstream media, which is true. CNN and other mainstream news or television news organizations are very careful. But in this world of bloggers and all sorts of not necessarily mainstream media, Gene, you got some thoughts? You were just down there.
EUGENE ROBINSON, WASHINGTON POST ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Yeah. First of all, logistically it is impossible to keep the news media out of the neighborhoods. I mean, they won't -- even if they don't take reporters out on boats, if you've got a boat, you can, and you know the back ways into the city, you can launch it yourself and go all over flooded New Orleans.
You know, I think this thing is basically self-policing, and, you know, can you pick out a specific address that's been flooded? There are a lot of addresses flooded there, Wolf. I mean, you know, whole neighborhoods.
It would be distressing, I guess, to a family member to see their neighborhood flooded. But picking out an individual house, seeing a torso on the porch or something like that, that's, you know, one in a million chance, I think.
BLITZER: Gary, you're there. You've been there for two weeks now, and you've gone out on these recovery operations. From a practical standpoint, are you getting the cooperation from FEMA and other authorities that you would like?
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes and no. But this rule is completely unenforceable. I mean, we have boats, we go out in boats. We've seen bodies. And we do police ourselves. That's our job. We're not going to show faces.
We have wonderful people at CNN who work in our standards and practices department, and lawyers who work in our legal department, and us, and we have discussions over how to be careful. We're going to show wide shots, because this is a horrible story. We want to show very wide shots of victims of this. But we're not going to show a face.
And to create laws -- we treasure in our business the freedom of the press, the freedom to do our jobs. And it's very insulting to us when we hear people say, we're going to pass a law that you take the picture. That's what they do in North Korea. They don't do that here. They shouldn't do that here.
BLITZER: There is some suggestion, Howie, as you know, that FEMA in recent years has been dominated by a bunch of PR guys as opposed to real authorities on natural or human disasters on emergencies. And they want to control the media as much as possible.
KURTZ: We've seen that in Iraq. We've seen that in Afghanistan. But I think what you have here, because there's been so many stories now about the bungled and delayed and difficult or diffident federal response here, as well as state and local responses, you have journalists who have been there like Gene, you have journalists who are getting angry, who are showing emotion, who are showing a new aggressiveness in demonstrating through facts and through careful analysis how badly this was bungled.
In fact, Wolf, we put together some tape of journalists maybe stepping out of their objective roles a little bit, to share with viewers their emotions on this. Let's take a look at that tape.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM RUSSERT: People were sent to the convention center. There was no water, no food, no beds, no authorities there. There was no planning.
ANDERSON COOPER: I'm sorry for interrupting. I haven't heard that, because for the last four days I've been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi.
TED KOPPEL: I'm asking you why you didn't have National Guards in there with trucks to get them out there, why you didn't have people with flatbed trailers, if that's what you needed, why you didn't, you know, simply get Greyhound buses from as many surrounding states as you could lay your hands on to get those people out of there?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KURTZ: And Wolf, I happen to think that this is refreshing. This is what journalists should do. They should explore the gap between the reassuring official rhetoric of these press conferences, and what they're seeing with their own eyes.
But there's also a conservative critique which holds that this is really an anti-Bush sentiment coming out of journalism, that this is a way to beat up on the administration. I don't think that's true in the case of reporters. It's certainly true in the case of a lot of liberal commentators.
BLITZER: What do you think, Geneva?
OVERHOLSER: You know, I really think that what we're seeing is a national story of a very different kind. Because, typically, especially in recent years, federal officials have been able to control much of the national news.
This is a story that they're not, they're famously not in control of. This is a story in which reporters on the ground have information, and they can use it to ask questions. And I think that's what we're seeing.
BLITZER: You know, it was so glaring to me, Eugene, the first few days especially. We would get these briefings, FEMA briefings, other briefings, and people would say, oh, things are really -- we're getting this, we're moving this, and we're getting things in place.
And then we would speak with our own reporters. And I was anchoring a lot of our coverage, and I would say, well, what's going on? And they would say, it's awful. It's nothing like we just heard in this briefing, and give us -- yeah, go ahead.
ROBINSON: It was infuriating. The angriest I think I got in a week down there was at the command headquarters in Baton Rouge, where officials would come out and spend more time arguing about who was in charge and giving, you know, numbers that really didn't mean anything, that often contradicted each other.
And kind of not out really doing anything for these many, many thousands of people who are in desperate, dire situations. It was an appalling performance, and I think any reporter couldn't help but be moved, and moved to a certain level of outrage.
BLITZER: Well, Gary, you're there, and you've been there since Day 1, almost two weeks, tomorrow exactly two weeks. How frustrated were you, especially in the beginning, when you heard official statements but you knew they were anything but the truth, based on your own eyewitness account?
TUCHMAN: Very frustrating. But I see no conflict in our role. It is our job. We can express outrage if people are outraged and we see outrage. It's not my job to declare whose fault this is. I don't know whose fault it is. But it is my job to declare that it is somebody's fault.
There are problems out there, and in the very beginning of this, for the first few days, we would go in neighborhoods in Mississippi, and there would be people, not only hadn't they seen anybody to help them, they didn't know what to do to find anybody to help them. So we have to express that.
Our job is to tell the truth. Our job is not to assess the blame. We could interview people who assess the blame. It's not our job to say who's at fault. We have to try to determine that through our reporting.
BLITZER: Howie, what about the whole issue that has come up of race and class, hovering over all of this coverage?
KURTZ: Well, Wolf, while we're patting journalists on the back for the yeoman work they've done, and deservedly so during this two- week crisis, what about the last 20 years? How come it was a shock to a lot of people to find out that New Orleans was two-thirds black, most of those people poor?
Urban poverty, minority people who need help. These have been off the media radar screen for a long time. Newspapers, television networks are interested in chasing upscale readers and viewers, and I think now there is a long overdue look at the fact that a lot of these people couldn't get out because they didn't have a car.
They couldn't afford the bus fare. They had no place to go. Journalism fell down on this job. Politicians didn't talk about it. And we didn't make them talk about it.
BLITZER: Would you agree?
OVERHOLSER: I do agree. And I hope that the legacy of this will be that we won't let officials drive our national news as much. It's expensive to go out there and report from city after city. But we have got to do it. We owe it to democracy.
BLITZER: I think a lot of Americans, Eugene, were shocked at how poor so much of New Orleans really is. They think of New Orleans as a party town, Mardi Gras, the Big Easy, let's go have a good time.
And now to see what happened at that Convention Center, at the Superdome, and to see the enormous poverty in that city, which was basically hidden.
ROBINSON: Tourists didn't see it. You didn't get to those parts of town. No tourist went to the lower Ninth Ward, which is a neighborhood that was almost completely drowned.
Even the central city neighborhood, not far from the Superdome -- very poor neighborhood -- underwater right now. And it's just a tragic thing.
But I think this will put those issues back on the national agenda -- I really do, because you can't ignore it after what we've seen.
BLITZER: What about you, Gary? From your perspective, when you went into New Orleans, when you went in and saw what was going on in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama -- three of the poorest states, really, in the country -- what did you emerge from your eyewitness observations?
TUCHMAN: I emerged from this the state of Mississippi in a lot of ways has gotten back on economic track with casinos. They have a lot of casinos along the beat, on the coast.
Those casinos are now gone. It's not clear that every casino is going to reopen. And you have a situation now where the state of Mississippi may be back to square one in a lot of its economic development efforts.
And the same thing here. That's the one incredible thing. We've been driving around New Orleans. Even today, before we went around with you, we took a drive around, and it is really something -- and you don't realize it even as a reporter who has traveled all over this country -- the percentage of poverty is very high in this city. And it is just so pitiful.
I mean, when you go into a shelter, it is not all black people. There are white people and black people. There are more black people in them, but what they all have in common is they are poor people.
People with means are out of those shelters.
BLITZER: Gary Tuchman, thanks very much. Thanks for your excellent reporting.
Eugene Robinson, thanks to you. Geneva Overholser, thanks to you as well. And Howard Kurtz, the host of CNN's "Reliable Sources," which airs 11:30 a.m. every Sunday morning here on CNN. 11:30 a.m. Eastern.
Just ahead, with the focus on hurricane relief, is the United States forgetting about the war in Iraq?
Coming up next -- my conversation, my exclusive interview, with the president of Iraq, Jalal Talabani.
Our special "Late Edition" continues after this.
BLITZER: While hurricane relief remains the focus here in the United States, there have been key developments -- not all of them very good -- happening in Iraq.
Just a short while ago, I spoke with the Iraqi president, Jalal Talabani. He's here in Washington, scheduled to meet with President Bush on Tuesday.
President Talabani, thanks very much for joining us. Welcome to Washington. Welcome to "Late Edition."
PRES. JALAL TALABANI, IRAQ: Thank you very much. BLITZER: Let's get to one immediate issue right now: Are you worried that all the focus here in the United States right now on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will divert attention from what's happening in Iraq?
TALABANI: Well, let me first express, in the name of the Iraqi people, our condolences to great American people for what happened by Katrina. We were very sorry. We are your partners in sharing your people, what they are sorry for about.
Of course, this is some important thing, but I think the American president is determined to finish the job.
BLITZER: To finish the job in Iraq?
BLITZER: The "Time" magazine has a poll that is out now -- today. It says, "Should the U.S. cut back on Iraq spending to pay for the hurricane damage?"
Sixty-one percent of the American public said yes; 35 percent said no.
I guess another way of phrasing the question: Do you think financial -- so far, the United States has spent almost $300 billion trying to help the people of Iraq -- do you think that this financial cutback could occur because of Katrina, the money needed here in the United States, that could undermine your country?
TALABANI: No, we think that the United States of America has full right to spend for its internal affairs, and I think the United States of America helped to our people now stand up and we have improvement in economy, and we are producing oil more than before. And our plan to (inaudible) our resources is going on in a successful way.
For that, it will not, of course, it will not affect very much the Iraqi situation.
BLITZER: When will Iraq be self-sufficient and won't depend on economic assistance from the U.S. and the rest of the world?
TALABANI: Well, first, let me remind that this day, the 11th of September, is the day on which the biggest crime was committed against humanity, against your people, which is proving that the terrorism is not starting because the war of liberation of Iraq, but because the terrorists are the enemy of the humanity, of all values of humanity and democracy, and of all real values of Islam also.
I think Iraqi people have past difficulties. Iraq, now on the eve of having a new constitution -- we had a free election, we had to choose the national assembly. The national assembly elected presidency, and the president, the prime minister was appointed.
I think Iraq is going gradually to be able, within two years, to stand up and to depend on its own sources. You know, Iraq is a rich country. It's a rich country, not only by the national resources, but by the (inaudible). We have hundreds of thousands of...
BLITZER: So you said -- excuse me for interrupting, because on Friday, at the Pentagon, you said two years for U.S. troops to remain in Iraq.
At the end of the next two years, do you think the U.S. will be able to completely withdraw?
TALABANI: The maximum time, I said. And I said, first of all, I like to say that we'd want American forces remain in special guidance, not be engaging in daily activities...
BLITZER: Even beyond the two years?
TALABANI: Even now. Even now, we want that American forces will be special garrisons, not be engaged in daily work or operations.
When we needed them -- because now we have a big number of police and army members; about 190,000 Iraqis are now in police and in the army. We can do lots of things that, before, we couldn't do it.
We want Americans to be far from the daily sacrificing. It's our duty to sacrifice for our people and for our cause.
I said we'll be able within two years, that everything will be OK, not -- we'll not be (inaudible). I said also, our need to American forces is not only for internal affairs of fighting against terrorism, but also to frighten neighbors who want to interfere in the internal affairs of Iraq.
BLITZER: Speaking of your neighbors, have you shut the border with Syria?
TALABANI: No, you know, that's was yesterday announced that we shut the border, but it is not. You know, we are in need to have a friendly dialogue with our brothers in Damascus, to reach agreement on the dispute on our differences with them, and they showed their goodwill. President Bashar invited me and showed his goodwill to help Iraqi people against terrorism and to end -- and to close the border. But you know, the most important thing now...
BLITZER: Let me interrupt you for a second.
Are you saying that the Syrian government of President Bashar al- Assad is trying to do everything it possibly can to stop insurgents, terrorists from coming into Iraq?
TALABANI: I cannot say everything, but I say that President Bashar offered to us that he's ready to cooperate with Iraqi government.
BLITZER: But those are words. In deeds, are the Syrians, the Syrian military, stopping insurgents from crossing the border?
TALABANI: Let me be very frank with you.
I think Syrians also started to feel that terrorism is their enemy also, and there are some activities of terrorists inside Syria. And they're now going to be convinced that the best way to have good relations with Iraqi people is to side with Iraqis, not with the terrorists. For that, I hope we'll reach agreement. But I said I hope, and...
BLITZER: In the meantime, the border remains shut.
TALABANI: Yes. We are not asking our brothers in Syria to shut the borders only, to deliver to us some criminals who are now living in Syria and prevent the activity of ex-Baathists in Syria. And we hope that our brothers in Damascus, especially we hope that President Bashar Assad will accept our demand.
BLITZER: What about Saddam Hussein? When does the trial of Saddam Hussein begin?
TALABANI: Saddam Hussein is now under investigation. (Inaudible) is going to ask him, and because we have tons and tons of documents against him, the crimes of Saddam Hussein cannot be limited. For that, it needs time -- that, for example, one week for one case...
BLITZER: But there was some suggestion in October that the trial could begin...
TALABANI: I think so, because it is the end of the investigation about some kind of crimes which can start the court with it.
BLITZER: Did he confess -- did he confess to gassing the Kurds in Halabja?
TALABANI: As he just told me, he confessed that he ordered the army to do everything that happened. He says, I am, as commander-in- chief of the Iraqi army, I am responsible for what they have done. That is in general, he confessed.
BLITZER: So you think that this is a formal confession for which he deserves to be executed?
TALABANI: I think he deserves the best kind of -- like a criminal of war -- he deserves that kind of punishment. As to the execution, you know, Iraqi court is independent. I don't want to interfere in the internal affairs of the Iraqi judges and courts. But I think he deserves as much as harsh punishment.
BLITZER: On the issue of diplomatic relations, you probably know that the president of Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf, leader of a Muslim country, met with the Israeli foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, and they're establishing relations.
Do you, as the president of Iraq -- do you want to meet with Israelis and talk about diplomatic relations between Iraq and Israel, like Jordan has, like Egypt has, like Pakistan is about to have?
TALABANI: I was asked by an Israeli journalist in the press conference. My answer was: Iraq is an Arabic country state. It is not Islamic only. And Iraq is committed to the resolutions passed by the summit of Arabs in Beirut which was presented by -- now, the king of Saudi Arabia -- King Abdullah.
We said that Arab countries -- all of them, of course, including Iraq, are very (inaudible) relation with Israel if Israel accepts the resolutions passed by the United Nations. I hope it will be done. And if Palestinians will reach an agreement with Israel's government, I think then, we can (inaudible) more Palestinians in Palestine.
And we must normalize the relation. But it needs time. Iraq cannot alone decide, because, you know, now we are under attack that we have relation and we have relation with Israel and thousands of Israelis (ph) are especially in Kurdistan, (inaudible).
But Iraq alone in this time cannot decide this kind of decision.
BLITZER: Are you prepared personally to meet with Israelis?
TALABANI: I, as Jalal Talabani, I am not against these people. I have good relations with them. And many times, especially international and other meetings, I met many leaders of Labor parties, of the left part of the Israelis. For me, but now, you know, I'm the president of Iraq. And as the president of Iraq, I am committed to the policy of Iraqi government, which is not permitting to go to meet them.
BLITZER: One final question: the constitution. Will it be ratified in October, as scheduled?
TALABANI: I hope so. I hope so.
BLITZER: Will the Sunnis participate?
TALABANI: Well, many Sunnis participated. Excuse me to correct for you: This group which boycotted in the name of Sunnis are not representing Sunnis. We have Sunnis with us. We speak on behalf of the Sunni. Deputy prime ministers -- we have two deputy prime ministers, Sunni. We have a vice president, Sunni. We have six members of the cabinet, Sunni. We have hundreds and thousands of Sunnis, personalities, chief of tribes, well known ex-officers, are supporting the constitution.
For that, those who are boycotting now, they are representing a part of Sunnis, not all of the Sunnis.
BLITZER: So you're optimistic.
TALABANI: I am optimistic. I was always optimistic. Especially now, I think the future is very clear and I hope that if you permit me to say some words to thank again the American great people for what they have done and thank President Bush for sending army to liberate. Yesterday, I visited a hospital and I expressed in the name of Iraqi people our gratitude to those heroes who came to Iraq to liberate us from the worst kind of dictatorship.
BLITZER: President Talabani, thanks very much. Thanks for joining us on "Late Edition."
TALABANI: Thank you very much. I hope to see you in Iraq very soon.
BLITZER: Thank you.
And that's your "Late Edition" for Sunday, September 11.
Please be sure to join us for continuing coverage of the state of emergency.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
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