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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Aired September 12, 2005 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
Last week, Washington said they supported him. He was working hard. Today Michael Brown, the head of FEMA, resigns. He is out. An acting director is named.
It is 4:00 p.m. in the west, 7:00 p.m. in the east and 6:00 p.m. here in New Orleans. 360 starts now.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER (voice-over): Louisiana's governor says she placed an SOS call to the president for help.
KATHLEEN BLANCO, LA GOVERNOR: 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.
ANNOUNCER: But when she called the White House, it was like calling, well, the government. The governor was bounced from office to office and then finally had to leave a message?
Tonight, a look at when and where it got messed up.
Going door to door hunting for bodies. As waters in New Orleans subside, search crews are finding what is left of the people who didn't make it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My guys are seeing some stuff that they'll remember for the rest of their lives, without a doubt.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, inside the ongoing search for victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
When New Orleans was in chaos and there were meltdowns at the Convention Center and Superdome, one bridge presented a chance to escape the city and get to safety. So why did police block it? Anderson goes there and gets some answers.
For nearly two weeks, they were prisoners in their own house.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want to never see another can of pork and beans again.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, a remarkable story of survival. How a 75- year-old man finally got his wife and neighbor to safety. Thousands of pets stranded by the storm. Where do they go now? They clearly need help. But is bureaucracy getting in the way once again?
This is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360, Hurricane Katrina, State of Emergency.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Welcome to 360. We are live once again from New Orleans, a city which is about 40 percent under water.
Here is what is happening right now at this moment.
Severely criticized FEMA Director Michael Brown is now the former head of that agency. He resigned today. He has been replaced by Acting Director David Paulison, a veteran of fire rescue work who has been with FEMA for three years.
As for flood waters, New Orleans is now only 40 percent under water. That actually represents considerable progress if you think about it. At worst, two weeks ago 80 percent of the city was awash in river and lake water and who knows what else.
And business owners were allowed into the French Quarter and the downtown areas for the first time today, but only to collect records and whatever else they may need to help them get up and running. No one is supposed to stay the night.
And the Air Force has begun flying missions against the burgeoning mosquito population at the request of FEMA and the Centers for Disease Control. Aircraft out of Duke Field, Florida are going to make low-level flights at dusk spraying 60,000 acres a day.
A lot to cover tonight. All of that is happening. It's been said, it still breaks the heart to look at this place and those who are left in it. But if you look really hard, you can just begin to see very small signs of better things to come.
CNN's Ed Lavandera has the DAY RAP.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In Gulfport, Mississippi perhaps the surest sign so far that life can one day go back to normal for the residents of this Gulf Coast town torn apart by Katrina. St. James Catholic Elementary became the first school to reopen since the storm hit two weeks ago.
Three hundred children started classes today, another 35 have been accepted from other schools in the areas, schools that haven't yet been able to open their doors. And education officials in Gulfport say they expect almost all schools will be back online by October.
At the Houston Astrodome, a group of NBA stars surprised New Orleans evacuees taking temporary shelter in the Dome and there are signs of progress there as well. Just over 1,400 evacuees remain at the Astrodome. There were 18,000 seeking refuge there at the very start.
In New Orleans, with the flood waters receding, some residents are getting back into their homes, getting their first glimpse of what little remains of the lives they left behind.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My family, they were going to stay -- they stood here. I'm glad they left. I'm sorry.
LAVANDERA: Forty percent of the city is still underwater, but plans to forcibly remove the thousands of hold-outs who refuse to leave have been abandoned.
From the French Quarter to the Business District, business owners are also getting their first look at what they've lost.
Today President Bush took his third trip to the storm-stricken region and got his first up-close look at what is left of the town they call the Big Easy. He's still battling criticism that his administration was too slow to act, so he talked about putting the past behind and planning for the future.
GEORGE W. BUSH, U.S. PRESIDENT: We need to make sure that this country is knitted up as well as it can be in order to deal with significant problems and disasters. In the meantime, we've got to keep moving forward, and I know there has been a lot of second guessing. I can assure you I'm not interested in that. What I'm interested in is solving problems.
LAVANDERA: Ed Lavandera, CNN, New Orleans.
COOPER: Well, of all the jobs that desperately need to be done in New Orleans and elsewhere around the Gulf Coast, now perhaps the most emotionally draining of all is the one left to the teams that go out in search of those -- and no one knows yet how many they may be -- whose lives were ended by Katrina and the calamity that followed it.
Just a few hours ago 45 bodies were removed from a downtown New Orleans hospital that had been abandoned to the flood waters last week; 45 bodies from one hospital. They are awful discoveries to have to make and surely for those who found them, it will be very hard to forget.
CNN's Gary Tuchman reports.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The unpleasantness of this responsibility cannot be overestimated. These are the people whose stated task is to find the dead. They come from all over. They work for a variety of agencies.
David Johnson is with the Riverside California Search and Urban Rescue Team.
DAVID JOHNSON, RIVERSIDE SEARCH AND URBAN RESCUE TEAM: If we do come across a body, we're going to identify the location with GPS coordinates and basically secure them to something fixed where they can be relocated later.
TUCHMAN: Other rescuers will do that.
They travel in flood waters that have already gotten many of them sick, fearing what they will find at each of their stops, like this one, a nursing home in the center of New Orleans that has been in business since 1859. 2005 brought it sickening tragedy. Seven bodies are found by the recovery workers this weekend. They are carried silently by these men who can only wonder why and how the victims got trapped.
The scene is similarly grim in the eastern part of the city at Methodist Hospital; 14 bodies found there. The victims loaded in a truck in what seems undignified but is necessary because of the scope and magnitude of the work to be done.
These workers' spirits have been lifted somewhat by authorities saying that the death toll, while high, may end up much lower than some estimates of 10,000 or more. An optimistic tone is even coming from the head of the New Orleans Police Department.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We've got communications up. My guys are getting rested. We have vehicles in. We have a lot of help and support. I mean, I haven't felt like this in a long time.
TUCHMAN: But two weeks into this disaster, many of the rescuers are starting to get tired, and it's easy to forget a large number of them lost homes too.
SGT. KEVIN WILSON, PLAQUEMINES PARISH SHERIFF'S DEPT.: My high school letterman jacket.
TUCHMAN: Like Sergeant Kevin Wilson of the Plaquemines Parish Sheriff's Department.
WILSON: I'm through crying. You can only cry so much. You know, I cried when they first told me about it. I cried a few days later. But I'm all cried out.
TUCHMAN: The water is still high in much of the city and it's expected to be that way for another 30 days. So, Anderson, there is a lot of trepidation, as you might imagine, about what will be found under those waters in the weeks to come.
COOPER: We talked to CNN's Dan Lothian and we may play this piece a little bit later. If not, we're actually going to play it at 11:00. He was prevented from shooting some body removals by military personnel. Have you had troubles out there videotaping?
TUCHMAN: It's hard to get permission to go along with some of these authorities when they do this. We battled this in court. We feel it is our right to shoot these pictures. We're judicious about it. We don't show faces. We don't give identities. But a lot of the authorities haven't gotten that message yet.
COOPER: And I think the point from the report's standpoint, just so you're watching at home, it's not that we want to see these people, our neighbors, who are dead, who are in their homes. But we do think it's important for you at home to see the reality of what is going on here and to not gloss over it and to not hide it and pretend it hasn't happened. We think the important thing is for you to know what happened here, and we debate this all the time and talk about it all the time, what is appropriate and what is not. It's not as if we're ghoulishly just trying to follow these people.
TUCHMAN: We are very careful with this. But like we said, we consider it very important.
COOPER: All right, Gary, thanks very much for that.
Today President Bush visited some of the communities hardest hit by Katrina on his third trip to the region since the hurricane struck. As you know, his stop here comes amidst some pretty harsh criticism from both Democrats and Republicans about the way he handled the federal response to the crisis. There is also a lot of criticism about the state and local level, of course.
The president's approval rating still remains low. A new poll by CNN/USA TODAY/GALLUP puts it at 46 percent. It is a point higher from the week before when the hurricane hit, we should point that out. But if you do an average of the recent polls conducted by several news outlets, President Bush's approval rating is hovering at a low 42 percent.
CNN White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux has more on the president's day.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At every turn of his trip, President Bush was dogged with the question, does he remain confident in his embattled FEMA chief Mike Brown.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. President, have you accepted Michael Brown's resignation?
MALVEAUX: Now Mr. Bush no longer has to respond. Even before he departed the hurricane-damaged region, Brown announced his resignation.
BUSH: No, I have not talked to Michael Brown or Mike Chertoff. That's who I would talk to. As you know, I've been working.
MALVEAUX: This clears the way for the administration to move forward on two fronts: recovery and rebuilding public perception. The images of the president on his third trip to the hurricane-damaged region were unprecedented. He stood in an open-air convoy that snaked through the mud, muck and stench of New Orleans, enabling him to see and smell the devastations. His message: recovery is underway.
BUSH: There is progress being made. But there is a lot of serious and hard work that is yet to be done.
MALVEAUX: While Mr. Bush met privately for several hours with some of those hardest hit by Katrina, there were numerous public photo ops held with his once harshest critics; New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco even joined the president's briefing aboard the USS Iwo Jima.
The president's presence in the area seems to be working on the public's opinion. The latest CNN/USA TODAY/GALLUP poll shows marked improvement in how people see the president handling the crisis. But Mr. Bush continues to face tough questions about the federal government's widely perceived inadequate and sluggish response. Particularly whether race played a factor since so many of those abandoned in New Orleans were poor and black.
BUSH: The storm didn't discriminate and neither will the recovery effort. When those Coast Guard choppers, many of whom were first on the scene, were pulling people off roofs, they didn't check the color of a person's skin. They wanted to save lives.
MALVEAUX: Now, David Paulison, who is the head of the fire administration of FEMA, has been named the acting director, now interim acting director. He's also infamously known, Anderson, as the one who told Americans to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape in case of the possibility of a nuclear or biological attack -- Anderson.
COOPER: Suzanne, we've heard a lot of politicians in Washington saying now is not the time the play the blame game. Now is not the time to point fingers or ask these questions. Have they said when they think the time is? When is this investigation that's supposed to get underway into what went wrong and by whom -- when is that supposed to happen?
MALVEAUX: Well, Anderson, as you probably know, there is still a debate that's taking place. The administration is backing a Republican plan. They, of course, want a bipartisan panel to move forward. The Democrats say, look, they want an independent commission, very much like the 9/11 Commission, and so far the Democratic leadership says that they are not willing to even appoint members as a part of this bipartisan panel because they just don't think it's a good idea.
So they're essentially at a stand still here. We don't know when they're going to start that investigation. That is something that has to be resolved, just how and when it begins, and that starts essentially with Congress and with the administration coming up with some sort of negotiated plan.
COOPER: All right, Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much.
Coming up next on 360, the bungled response to Katrina. The head of FEMA has resigned. Who could be next? We take a closer look at other officials under fire, state local and federal.
Plus, right after the storm, a way out of the chaos of New Orleans, a bridge over the Mississippi. It was closed by the police -- the bridge is just over there and behind me. Why did the bridge get closed? And could people's lives have been saved if it wasn't?
We're going to get some answers ahead.
COOPER: You're looking at a live picture, a helicopter landing on the deck of the USS Iwo Jima. That is where President Bush spent the night last night as he toured this area for the third time.
It is the sun setting over the Iwo Jima. A beautiful shot. Of course, 40 percent of New Orleans still under water. We are just across the river from New Orleans based on a story we'll tell you a little bit later on tonight.
Christi Paul, from HEADLINE NEWS, joins us with some of the days other top stories happening across the country.
Good evening -- Christi.
CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening to you, Anderson.
Some big news actually happening in Washington and California right now.
First from D.C., the confirmation hearings on Chief Justice Nominee John Roberts began today. The federal court judge told the panel he has no agenda and said judges should conduct themselves with humility.
Now, if confirmed, Roberts would be it 17th chief justice of the United States and could impact the law of the land for decades to come, as you know.
Also, we know what caused that massive outage in Los Angeles now. About 700,000 customers were left with no electricity this afternoon. Apparently a utility worker cut a wrong line. That's all it took for a good part of the city to lose power. Good news tonight is that little by little the areas affected are getting their power back on.
And also, off the Carolinas, we're keeping a close eye on Ophelia, right now a tropical storm warning and a hurricane watch in effect. Ophelia was down-graded to a tropical storm earlier today, but still poses a threat. It's packing winds of nearly 75 miles per hour. We're keeping our eye on that.
Anderson, I'm going to send it back to you now.
COOPER: Christi, thanks very much. See you again in about 30 minutes.
Tonight FEMA has a new boss but criticism over the federal government's response to Hurricane Katrina likely won't end with Michael Brown's resignation. Blame is being pointed in every direction, not just towards the feds, but also local and state representatives. Other figures might be brought down because of the disaster.
Now some new details have emerged on what happened behind the scenes as the storm was barreling through. And all this week we're going to try to look for answers, exactly what went wrong and who is to blame.
CNN's Tom Foreman tonight takes an inside look.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, federal, state and local officials, despite claims to the contrary, knew everything that was coming. The massive storm surge, the failing levees, the stranded survivors, the collapse of roads, bridges, electricity and phones. They had planned for and trained for all of it. And now with FEMA Director Michael Brown bowing out, accusations against others at all levels are rising like flood waters.
SEN. BILL FRIST, (R) MAJORITY LEADER: One of the problems that we're facing at the federal level and at the state level and at the local level -- and again, not casting blame anywhere, is a total system-wide failure, because people making decisions hesitated.
FOREMAN: The head of Homeland Security, which oversees FEMA, Michael Chertoff, has insisted for two weeks he had no warning of how bad Katrina could be.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECY.: Even as everybody thought New Orleans had dodged the bullet Tuesday morning, the levee was not only being flooded, which is I think what most people always assumed would happen, but it actually broke. So I think that was -- did catch people by surprise.
FOREMAN: But it turns out the National Weather Service issued a detailed message a day before the strike, saying buildings would be leveled, high-rises crippled and most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps longer.
In addition, and again contrary to Chertoff's claims, FEMA was most certainly warned that the levees could collapse, although even well after the levees failed, FEMA officials continued to downplay how bad the flooding might be.
One said, "I don't want to alarm everybody that, you know, New Orleans is filling up like a soup bowl. That's just not happening." But in fact, it was happening.
BLANCO: What we need to do is not distract, not play the blame game, because everybody is at risk here.
FOREMAN: Governor Kathleen Blanco continues to be in the middle of a storm over when, where and how she requested military help. The White House has suggested the governor failed to call early enough for the assets she needed.
The governor's office says before, during and after the storm hit, Blanco's message to the president was consistent.
DENISE BOTTCHER, GOVERNOR'S PRESS SECY.: And she said, "We need your help. We need everything you've got."
The governor genuinely felt at that time she had asked for help.
RAY NAGIN, MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: What the state was doing, I don't freaking know, but I tell you, I tell you, I am pissed...
FOREMAN: Even New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, a folk hero to some, is under intensifying fire. His city's own plan called for mobilizing buses and evacuating the poor and he did not get it done. He says he could not find drivers, but Amtrak now says it offered help and was turned down, so a train with 900 seats rolled away empty a day-and-a- half before the storm hit.
(on camera): All of these accusations and the public outrage they carry clearly make federal, state and local leaders nervous. There are no indications any more heads are going to roll right now, but they all know that's right now.
BUSH: Brown, you're doing a heck of a job.
FOREMAN (voice-over): A few days ago Michael Brown's job publicly appeared to be safe, but with hundreds of thousands of Americans still out of their homes and jobs, there may be room yet for a few more in the unemployment line.
Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.
COOPER: So many questions we need answers to.
Coming up next on 360, I'll ask Louisiana Senator David Vitter about the federal and local response. We'll find out if he thinks it was adequate or was his state shortchanged. In the past, he said he gave it an F two Fridays ago. We'll see what made him change his mind on that.
Later, the pets who were left behind and the troubles their owners are having getting them back.
We'll be right back.
COOPER: Before the break we showed you some of what happened behind the scenes when Katrina hit and looked at some of the blame going around for the failed response.
Joining me now from Washington to discuss his perspective, Senator David Vitter, of Louisiana.
Senator Vitter, thanks very much for being with us.
SEN. DAVID VITTER, (R) LA: Good evening, Anderson. Good to be with you.
COOPER: I want to read a comment you made about FEMA in the beginning of this disaster. I believe this was on August 28.
You said, "Many FEMA teams are here on the ground, ready to deploy." You said, "There is going to be an enormous amount of federal assistance to back up the state and local effort as soon as the hurricane blows through late tomorrow, and that's very, very important. I am very happy and impressed so far with the federal response."
The next day, you thanked the FEMA director for his response. That was on Monday. About four days later, you gave all the respondents an F.
What went wrong between those two things?
VITTER: There was absolutely no execution. I was very happy with how quickly the president had signed his first emergency order. It was when the storm was still two days offshore. That was almost unprecedented. I think Hurricane Andrew was the only other time.
The FEMA director was on the ground before the storm. FEMA teams on the ground. But then Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, absolutely no execution. I don't know what they were doing.
COOPER: Was there a moment for you -- I mean, when you realized this, when you realized FEMA is dropping the ball, I mean, whoever else was dropping the ball -- and there were a lot of balls being dropped. But in terms of FEMA and Mike Brown, was there a moment for you personally when you said, you know what --
VITTER: Anderson, I don't know about one moment, but it was certainly a growing sense in the few days after the storm, and so very soon after that it became extremely clear to me that this had to be a full-scale military operation. And I started pushing as hard as I could to get more and more boots on the ground, both National Guard and active duty.
COOPER: What about Louisiana's Governor Kathleen Blanco? Is she incompetent? Should she resign?
VITTER: Anderson, you know, we need to fix problems at this point and not fix blame. But certainly there is going to be a time to ask a lot of questions of a lot of different people, and certainly those questions will include exactly when National Guard assets were called up or ordered and exactly when active, specific help from active duty was requested.
COOPER: Let me ask you about that, because I've heard a lot of politicians from Washington say that. You know, this is not a time to pint fingers, this is not the time to be asking these questions. This is not the time to be fixing blame. Why not? Because we're a great country. Can't we at the same time as rescue people and organize the recovery effort, can't we also discuss things and ask these questions? Isn't this the time that the world is watching and people paying attention?
VITTER: We can certainly transition into that soon, but I'm not sure we can do both at the same time, because quite frankly, three days after the storm we couldn't do anything, not even one thing much less two.
So I want to make sure to get the job done on the ground in Louisiana and then very soon after that we can transition into figuring out exactly what went wrong and just as importantly what worked and what we need to do in the future.
COOPER: Isn't there a danger, though, as people pay less and less attention to this story, you sort of push this thing back and back. Oh, yeah, we're going to answer these questions, we're going to look at this critically, and months from now, when fewer people are paying attention, that's when it sort of starts.
VITTER: Well, maybe you feel that way, Anderson. I don't have a doubt in the world that all of these questions are going to be asked in a very forceful, focused way. So there are a lot of folks, myself included, just as a citizen of Louisiana, who are going to demand straight answers and get the full story, wherever that leads.
COOPER: Now that FEMA Director Michael Brown is gone, in the future should FEMA directors be political cronies? I mean, should this be a patronage job?
VITTER: I think we need to look broader than that and look at the model for the bureaucracy of FEMA, because in my opinion this wasn't a failure of one person, although it was that also. It was a failure of the whole bureaucracy, and the solution to that isn't getting a new head bureaucrat or a new type of head bureaucrat.
So I think we need to ask some truly fundamental questions about why that didn't work, and also what worked. The military response, which largely worked; the private industry, local citizen response, private initiative, which worked. We need to ask probing questions about that, to figure out a new model, because I think the whole bureaucratic FEMA model is what has to be probably discarded.
COOPER: I would love to talk with you about that more, David Vitter. Appreciate you joining us again.
VITTER: Thanks, Anderson. COOPER: Thank you very much, Senator.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANNOUNCER: When New Orleans was in chaos, and there were melt downs at the Convention Center and Superdome, one bridge presented a chance to escape the city and get to safety. So why did police block it? Anderson goes there and gets some answers.
For nearly two weeks they were prisoners in their own house.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't never want to see another can of pork and beans.
ANNOUNCER: Tonight, a remarkable story of survival. How a 75- year-old man finally got his wife and neighbor to safety. This Special Edition of 360 continues.
COOPER: And you're looking at a shot of the mighty Mississippi River. The skyline, the great city of New Orleans, down but certainly not out. Welcome back to 360. We're live from Algiers, Louisiana, just across the Mississippi from New Orleans. Here's what's happening at this moment.
Michael Brown is now the Former head of FEMA. He resigned this afternoon after days of blistering criticism of his agency's post Katrina's failing. David Paulison, a 30 year veteran of fire rescue work and the man who recommended Americans stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape, will serve as acting director.
The state of Louisiana has raised the death toll from Hurricane Katrina to 279. The number represents deaths reported by local coroners to the state. Needless to say, it's going to be a long time before there's an actual, reliable count of lives lost.
New Orleans Louis Armstrong -- New Orleans International Airport is expecting a limited number of scheduled passenger and cargo flights beginning tomorrow. FedEx and Northwest Airlines are among the first to notify the airport of their plans for flights.
Well the one fact that no one disputes about this bridge over the Mississippi that you see behind me is that it was closed by authorities after the worst happened in New Orleans. But as for why the bridge was closed, about that there is disagreement, angry and passionate disagreement between those who closed it and those who wanted to get to the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM SHEER, NEW ORLEANS EVACUEE: We walked, probably 200 people, about a two hour trek. We got to the top of the bridge. They stopped us with shotguns.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Police were shooting guns to keep people from crossing the bridge getting out of the city.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well before we talk to the police chief who was one of the people who closed this bridge, because he says there was no place in his small town for hundreds of evacuees to go. We're joined now live in San Francisco by two people who were there at the time. Lorrie Beth Slonsky and Larry Bradshaw. Appreciate both of you being with us.
Lorrie Beth, the police chief of Greta says that they sealed off the bridge because they were worried about the levees breaking there and worried about that they had no place to put you all if you came over. Did anyone say anything to you about that? Or did they give you another reason why they wouldn't let you across?
LORRIE BETH SLONSKY, HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR: What we were told by the deputies is that is that they were not going to allow another New Orleans and they weren't going to allow a Superdome to go into their side of the bridge Greta, and as a matter of fact --
COOPER: What did you think they meant by that?
SLONSKY: Well we can only take the direct quote from the chief himself, which is --
LARRY BRADSHAW, HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR: Yesterday the chief was quoted as saying if we let these people, quote unquote, in, our city would look like New Orleans, burned, looted and pillaged.
SLONSKY: So to us that reeks of absolute racism, since our group that was trying to cross over was women, children, predominantly African-American. I would say out of 100 people you could count three white folks.
COOPER: Well the chief says that his police force is pretty mixed between African-Americans and white people. But describe what you saw on that bridge? I've asked the chief about police firing over the heads of personnel. Did you personally see police do that?
SLONSKY: Yes, we absolutely saw that over our heads. And we also had guns pointed to us directly.
BRADSHAW: Anderson, we were told --
COOPER: So you were -- Ge ahead, Larry.
BRADSHAW: I'm sorry. Anderson, we were told by the commander at the police command post at Jerez (ph), that we should cross that bridge, and there would be buses waiting to take us out. So we were following the advice. We were told we can't go to the Superdome. We can't go to the Convention Center. There's no place else to go. He told us to go across the bridge, which is what we attempted to do. We never --
COOPER: So those New Orleans police officers told you to go across the bridge. They told you there'd be buses there. There weren't buses there. And as you're walking across the bridge, what do you see. You're approaching -- you're on the bridge. And what, it's blocked off by police cruisers?
BRADSHAW: Right. It's a pretty steep incline, because you're coming from the flat surface up to a pretty high bridge, as you can see. So it took a while for the group to make it up there. We had people in wheelchairs, we had people in strollers, people on crutches, so we were a slow moving group. And we didn't think anything when we saw the deputies there. Then all of a sudden we heard shooting. But that wasn't so unique, because we had been hearing shooting every day. But it was so close. Then people come running back toward us in a panic saying the police are shooting at us. And Lorrie Beth and I said that can't be right. That doesn't make any sense.
COOPER: And your crowd dispersed, but a group of you, 80 or so, I understand, decided to just kind of camp out near the bridge. And you say, then the police came and actually took food from you and took away your water? Why did they do that?
SLONSKY: Anderson, this is what was so disheartening to us, is because we were a group of like some really sick older folks and some young folks in between an encampment. And we had food that someone had stolen for us and given to us at this camp, and we had some food as well. So now we were a community that was able to have food and water, and pretty safe shelter in between the minimal traffic going through. It was at dusk time. Right at night time when the sheriff's deputy came up to us and held a gun to us and --
BRADSHAW: Jumped out of his car with the gun aimed at us, screaming and cursing and yelling at us to get the blank-blank freeway. And just, just so rabidly angry. And we tried to reason, we tried to talk. And he was just putting his gun in the face of young children and families. And --
COOPER: Do you know where this sheriff was from? Do you know what department?
BRADSHAW: It said Greta on the police car.
COOPER: All right. I appreciate both of you joining us. This is a really disturbing story. We're trying to find out answers to it. I don't think we're going to get to the answers tonight, but we want to keep following this. We want to talk to as many people on that bridge to find out from as many different perspective. We appreciate you joining us tonight.
I want to talk to the other side of this difficult disturbing story. We talked earlier today with the chief of the Greta, Louisiana, Police Department, Chief Arthur Lawson. He has an entirely different explanation for why the people on the bridge were turned back. Listen.
CHIEF ARTHUR LAWSON, GRETA, LA POLICE DEPARTMENT: We had no preparations. You know, we're a small city on the west bank of the river. We had people being told to come over here, that we were going to have buses, we were going to have food, we were going to have water, and we were going to have shelter. And we had none. Our people had left. Our city was locked down and secured, for the sake of the citizens that left their valuables here to be protected by us.
COOPER: One person is a paramedic. What they say basically is that they marched with this long group. They were told by New Orleans police to come, and that there were four patrol cars on the bridge and that your officers fired shots in the air. Is that true?
LAWSON: To my knowledge it's not true. We certainly will look into it. Once this is over with and we get back to a level that we can investigate it.
COOPER: If they were firing shots into the air, would that be appropriate.
LAWSON: Well I don't know the circumstances. It's hard for me to answer, you know, if that happened, exactly what went on.
COOPER: But to your knowledge did any officers explain why -- you're essentially saying you didn't want those people coming here, because you were afraid about, what, the safety of this levee?
LAWSON: I was afraid to have the people coming here for the safety of this levee, as well as evacuation. We had no place to house them, to feed them, water. And there was security issues. Our city was already locked down. Our borders were closed at the time. And our city was locked down as far as safety for the citizens of Gretna and their property.
COOPER: There are going to be some that see this and say, well, look, you guys were dry. You knew generally the mayhem that was going on in New Orleans. Couldn't you have just allowed them, you know, sanctuary on this side, and just, you know, sort of tried to corral people in one area, give them what you could and try to call in reinforcements, call for help, call for buses?
LAWSON: Who were we going to call? We had no radios. We had no phones. We had no communications, as I just told you. We had not spoke to the city of New Orleans prior to or during this event. Who were we going to call? What were we going to do with thousands of people without enough water to sustain them, without enough food to sustain them, or without any shelter?
COOPER: Just one final question. Sunday, I saw the mayor of New Orleans going on TV and he mentioned this -- this, you know, the allegations of what happened on the bridge, people -- officers firing over his citizens' heads. He seemed to indicate, you know, maybe race played a role. He seemed to indicate that this was just outrageous. When you hear the mayor saying that kind of stuff, what do you think?
LAWSON: Well, I think the mayor is misinformed. I think he's making statements based off of news coverage that, you know, I still don't know all the facts. For him to stand there and pass judgment not knowing all the facts would be the same as for me to stand here and pass judgment on them not evacuating the city of New Orleans and not being adequately prepared for the disaster that they had and being able to evacuate their people.
COOPER: The chief of police categorically denies race played any role in this. But when I asked him later on about who he had talked to, what officers he had talked to about this, he said he hasn't talked to any officers about what went on that bridge. So when he said he has no knowledge of them firing over -- or believes that is not true, about them firing over the heads of these people, he simply doesn't know because he hasn't talked to his officers. He says he will. He's going to investigate it. We're going to keep investigating, find out exactly what happened.
Coming up next on 360, seeking a way out. Some of those who thought they'd stick it out in New Orleans are now asking to be rescued. We're going to take you along on one mission like that.
Also tonight, the pet problems. The owners could not take them. Now they face red tape in trying to track them down.
COOPER: Some 50,000 people so far have been rescued from the flooded city of New Orleans. A number of people decided they would try to stick it out, but now, some of those people, some of the people who thought they'd make it all the way through, are seeking help to get out. CNN's Jeff Koinange reports.
NATHAN BRADLEY, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: My name is Nathan Bradley.
JEFF KOINANGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Seventy-five- year-old Nathan Bradley walked several blocks from his home in mid- city New Orleans to Bayou St. John, where he flagged down a passing boat of rescuers, pleading with them to try to convince his wife and a neighbor to evacuate. The deputies from the New Mexico Sheriff's Department agreed to go back with him, through neighborhoods once filled with people, now empty and lifeless.
On the trip back, Bradley tells the rescuers that his wish is to be reunited with his daughter.
BRADLEY: I love her. My oldest daughter. And I love her. And she loves me.
KOINANGE: Bradley's house looks like many of the others here. Worn from the storm, devastated by the floodwaters.
Bradley's wife Edwina comes to the door.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Your husband is very concerned about you. We got some water for you. Come on, let's go get some water. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's go get some water, some food. Says you have no food.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I am going to need some medicine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What kind -- we have a paramedic with us right now.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's get your medicine, let's put it in the bag.
KOINANGE: Edwina emerges with a neighbor. They agree to vacate, but not before she checks one last time to make sure she has all her medicines.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get it all? You're sure?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
KOINANGE: The deputies board up the house, leaving a sign that the house is empty, just in case another rescue team is passing through the area.
After living for nearly two weeks as a virtual prisoner, Edwina admits she is glad to be getting out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's nothing like when you're used to eating hot food, you eat cold food, cold food out of the can. I don't want to never see another can of pork and beans again.
KOINANGE: The threesome are taken to a recovery center, and immediately attended to by a team of medics.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The water is filthy. It's time to get out of the city, you know. And it's just safer for everybody.
KOINANGE: It's a small victory for the search and rescue teams constantly combing New Orleans for those who aren't quite ready to leave their homes. But the battle to empty the city is far from over. And officials believe with the potential hazards in the water, time is of the essence for the last remaining holdouts.
Jeff Koinange, CNN, New Orleans.
360 next, why have animal rescue efforts slowed down? The answer is simple and shocking. 360 next.
COOPER: We've been learning a lot about levees the past two weeks. I'm actually standing on a levee right now in the town of Gretna, Louisiana, just across the river from New Orleans. But levees don't just exist here. Across the U.S. -- in California, the Midwest and Florida, a lot of you live in low-lying areas that are protected by levee systems. Now, they are deteriorating, and like it was in New Orleans, the funds to strengthen them have been shrinking. But if the government starts to improve the levees, it might want to ask the Netherlands for some advice. CNN's Richard Quest explains.
RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Flat, surrounded by water, and like New Orleans, largely below sea level. Holland, part of the Netherlands, lives with the threat of flooding from the North Sea.
The country's equivalent of Katrina happened in 1953. A storm surge at high tide destroyed the dikes and killed more than 1,800 people. It wiped out communities along the coast.
Huib De Vriend was one of the children rescued and is now an expert in flood prevention.
HUIB DE VRIEND, PROFESSOR OF HYDRAULICS: After the 1953 flood, we've said, never again. But that's an absolute statement, of course. So we had to translate that into an acceptable level of safety.
QUEST: In Holland, that meant raising the flood probability, to one in 10,000 years. By comparison, the New Orleans standard was one in 250 years. For the Dutch, this new higher standard involved huge projects, like building new dams across the river Esteris (ph).
DE VRIEND: The dam was built to shorten the coastline and to keep the tide and the surges out of the very vulnerable areas.
QUEST (on camera): This was a major construction project.
DE VRIEND: Absolutely, yes.
QUEST (voice-over): The latest project is a flood barrier system, with swinging gates towering 70 feet into the air.
(on camera): This structure is absolutely vast, but then it has to be. Because the idea is, the two sides come out into the middle of the river, they sink to the bottom, and only then will they be able to protect Rotterdam up there from the storm surge.
(voice-over): Professor De Vriend believes the American authorities will have to go back to the beginning.
DE VRIEND: Decide, politically, what level of safety you would like to have. Then derive the design conditions belonging to that level of safety. And then design a system, a flood defense system that meets those conditions. And that's the biggest key then in building dikes around the city.
QUEST: The U.S. Gulf Coast threat is very different from that faced by the North Sea. So what worked in Holland may not be suitable for New Orleans. Everyone agrees, though, the principles remain the same.
Richard Quest, CNN, along the Dutch coast.
COOPER: In a moment, we're going to find out the answer to why the rescue of animals has slowed down. But first, let's find out what is coming up at the top of the hour on "PAULA ZAHN NOW." Hey, Paula.
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Anderson. Thanks so much. You have talked about this story before, the criminal investigation now into what happened at this nursing home as Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans. The law says its patients had to be evacuated before the storm hit. So why were 34 bodies found inside after the storm? Was a crime committed?
We're going to move on to the broader question, Anderson, of why 70 percent of the nursing homes in New Orleans weren't evacuated at all. All that straight up at the top of the hour.
COOPER: Yeah, it is shocking. Paula, thanks.
Coming up next, though, on 360, saving the animals of Hurricane Katrina. Why the efforts had to slow down the last couple of days. There is a simple explanation, but it's a shocking one. We'll be right back.
COOPER: We've received hundreds of e-mails about the thousands of pets left homeless by Hurricane Katrina. A lot of you have e- mailed us saying that the rescue efforts seems to be slowing down. We went to the main shelter to find out if that is really true.
COOPER (voice-over): (INAUDIBLE) shelter in Gonzalez, Louisiana, Hurricane Katrina's voiceless victims are waiting. Small dogs and big ones, a pitbull and her pups. They were born in New Orleans Superdome, puppies of the storm.
JAY CARR, LOST TWO DOGS: I'm going to go from cage to cage to cage.
COOPER: Jay Carr is looking for his two dogs. His wife insists she saw them rescued on TV.
CARR: My wife saw it. And when she screamed, we all thought something bad had happened.
COOPER: Jay abandoned the dogs when he had to swim for safety. He wishes now he would have evacuated earlier.
CARR: She punched me...
COOPER (on camera): Your wife punched you? CARR: Yeah, when we first saw each other, and my daughter kicked me, because I had left the dogs.
COOPER (voice-over): It's no easy task to find a lost pet. There are so many stalls, so many scared faces to look into. The shelter is full. There's simply not enough room.
(on camera): Under Louisiana state law, they haven't been willing to send any of these animals out of state, so this facility, which is a good facility -- it's got vets, this dog has been given a bath, it's going to get cleaned up -- but this facility can only deal with about 1,300 animals, and it's full. There are still thousands more animals out there.
It sounds like that sort of bureaucracy is just making this much more difficult than it should be. Is that true?
WAYNE PACELLE, HUMANE SOCIETY: There's no doubt that bureaucracy has impeded our efforts.
COOPER (voice-over): Wayne Pacelle is president of the Humane Society of America. He wants to move many of these dogs out of state to make room for new ones. But until recently, Louisiana state officials have said no.
(on camera): For the last couple of days of this, you haven't been able to get more animals in, because this facility, which by state law they have to come here, it's been full up. Is that correct?
PACELLE: Well, we moved out some yesterday. So we were able to take in a couple of hundred. There was a day that there was no additional intake, and they actually prevented us from bringing animals into the facility, even though we had some out there.
COOPER (voice-over): Here, the dogs are fed and walked. It's not ideal, but it's all they have. People are the priority of course, but animal advocates say helping pets does help people.
(on camera): Why do you think it's important? I mean, even when there are people suffering, to be looking after animals?
PACELLE: You know, if you really are on the ground here and have a sense of what is going on, you see that they are absolutely inseparable question. The people who are still there are staying because they have pets. They don't want to be separated from them. The people who evacuated and who left their pets behind are calling us inconsolably, saying please rescue our pets.
COOPER (voice-over): When we left, Jay Carr still couldn't find his two dogs.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought for sure they were there, when she said (INAUDIBLE).
COOPER: Perhaps his wife was wrong. Perhaps their dogs haven't been rescued at all. But there are so many faces for them to look (INAUDIBLE).
COOPER: We wish Jane, his wife, the best, and all those animals out there, we wish them the best as well. I'm Anderson Cooper. Join me again at 10:00 p.m. Eastern for a special, two-hour edition of "NEWSNIGHT" with Aaron Brown and myself. Right now, prime-time coverage continues with Paula Zahn. Hey, Paula.
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