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New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin Speaks With Reporters

Aired September 15, 2005 - 11:39   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I want to go from North Carolina to New Orleans. The mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, speaking with reporters right now. Ray Nagin under some criticism, as all of our viewers know, over these past two weeks-plus for his handing of this hurricane situation, the Katrina.
But let's listen in to the mayor.



BLITZER: We're going to have to fix his microphone or get our audio working so that we can hear what Ray Nagin is saying. He's addressing reporters. He's going to be answering questions. He's surrounded by some of our -- some of his advisers.

Sean Callebs, if you can hear us in New Orleans, give us a little sense of what has happened so far today before we go back to the mayor.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, really, the mayor has made it clear that he would like to bring about 180,000 people back into the city to basically breathe life into the city within the next couple of weeks. But there are obviously a number of hurdles that have to go through before anything like that is done.

If you look behind me, just one of the legions of homes that have been decimated in the aftermath of this storm. Many of these homes are going to have to be completely torn down. But what about getting all these people back in quickly? How is this going to happen?

This is a city that is struggling to get basic services back up -- phone service, electricity, as well as drinking water. We know in the city alone, they've already indicated it could take as many as three months, as much as three months to get safe drinking water back into this area.

But the mayor is adamant that he would like to get people back in here. Stark contrast to what he said just a short time ago, when he said it could be months before people are back in here. I believe now Mayor Nagin is speaking. We have that audio -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Stand by, Sean. Sean Callebs is in New Orleans. We're going to go back to the mayor of New Orleans shortly.

But let's go to Raleigh, North Carolina. The governor, Mike Easley, of North Carolina, speaking about Ophelia.


GOV. MIKE EASLEY, NORTH CAROLINA: ... the Pamlico River is getting eight to ten feet of storm surge. It's currently backed up toward the West side, and as the hurricane comes through, that storm surge will then come back east. And that's when you will see most of the flooding that we talked about yesterday, dealing with low-lying areas, dealing with rivers, and also striking the Outer Banks and the barrier islands.

Five to seven feet are now expected to be the storm surge between Ocracoke and Hatteras. That expectation or projection has been reduced some since yesterday, since the storm did take a more easterly track than was projected. So that is good news.

Highway 12, I'm sure most people are concerned about, has no breach at this point. We continue to watch it. It is taking a pounding from the east side and will take a pretty good pounding from the west side as the hurricane exits the Outer Banks area. But that's some time away, since the eye is still 30 miles away at three miles an hour, as much as ten hours away. Hopefully it will pick up.

Flooding. Flooding is Brunswick County North to Carteret County. There's significant flooding along major highways. Several roads are closed. And that is because of the heavy rains that we received and they, of course, feel the rivers and the rivers come up through the bridges and block the highways.

The problem is -- and we need people to pay careful attention to this. It will change as to which highways are blocked and closed. And the reason is, as it recedes in one area, it moves to a lower lying area. So you'll see one highway clear while another is gaining water with -- in the banks of the river running near it. And that highway will close. So you'll see this change over the next couple days.

So we need local citizens to particularly pay attention to the local media and the local officials as to what roads are closed. They can call the toll free number that we have here for updated information.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to go from the governor of North Carolina, Mike Easley, to the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, speaking about efforts to try to rebuild his city.

NAGIN: On Monday, Algiers will be fully ready for all residents to come back to their homes. On Wednesday, the zip code of 70115 -- 70115 -- those residents will be able to come back to their homes and abide by the curfew that will remain in effect for the duration.

On Friday, 70118, for residential will be fully open for people to come back to their homes and live and clean up and do the things that are necessary.

The following Monday, we will open up the French Quarter. For residential and commercial activity. The French Quarter is high and dry and we feel as though it has good electricity capabilities. But since it's so historic, we want to double and triple check before we fire up all electricity in there, to make sure -- that because every building is so close that if a fire breaks out, we won't lose a significant amount of what we cherish in the city.

Then after that, once we complete those phases successfully, the next area we will focus on is the Treme area, which I haven't -- I don't have a specific time when we're beginning to open that up.

These areas that I'm outlining to you, ladies and gentlemen, represent a population of 182,000 residents. Let me repeat that. These areas, these zip codes that I outlined for you, represent 182,000 people in the city of New Orleans.

The city of New Orleans, starting on Monday, starting this weekend, will start to breathe again. We will have life. We will have commerce. We will have people getting back into their normal modes of operation and the normal rhythm of the city of New Orleans that is so unique.

Dan Packa (ph) will be coming up in a minute. He's going to talk to you about the details of the electrical situation. Most of the areas that I've talked about are at a minimum of 60 to 70 percent fully powered. Other areas are as high as 90 percent. And he will detail that for you.

Water in the areas that I'm talking to you about today. On the West Bank, the water quality is excellent to good. On the East Bank, the water quality is still being worked on. And when people come back into the city on the East Bank, this water is not good for you to drink. All right? And it's not good for you to bathe in. It's only good for you to flush and for firefighting.

We're working feverishly to make sure that the water quality gets much better. We have a couple of major, major breaks in the water lines. And even though we're pumping decent water from the beginning on the East Bank, the contaminated water that is sitting is seeping in through the leaks. So we're going to ask everybody to not bathe nor drink the water on the East Bank until we can get this worked out.

The sewer systems are up and operational in the areas that we are talking about. Trash removal is up and operational in the areas that we're talking about.

One of the main things I wanted to make sure before we opened everything up was to make sure that we had hospital facilities, so that as people came back into the city, we would be able to accommodate them on whatever emergency needs they may have. We have Truro (ph) Infirmary, which is uptown, which is a hospital that is ready for re-entry and ready to be repopulated. And we're working on that as we speak. Children's Hospital is another hospital in the parish of Orleans that will be available for emergency services as we repopulate this city.

On retail front, we're going to continue to monitor retail activities to see exactly how quickly our retailers can get back up to speed. If they cannot get back up to speed very quickly, we've already talked to three major retailers, and we're in the process of commandeering the convention center. And the convention center would become three major retail centers for people to come in and buy food and supplies and wood and things that they would need to start their lives and make this city come back much quicker.

Our airport opened up yesterday for air traffic. We received three flights yesterday, three commercial flights, and there will be a ramp-up of commercial activity as things go forward.

Our port, our port is back in operation and we are starting to receive cargo ships. They are working on the rail lines. We do have some rail lines that are up and running. So the city of New Orleans is back in business, as it relates to cargo and airport traffic.

And my final piece before I turn it over to the admiral is the Pontchartrain Expressway. Right now, we only have one way in and out of city. It's across the Crescent City Connection, across the West Bank Expressway through 310 to i-10. The Pontchartrain Expressway yesterday was down three to four feet, because we now have the pumping station operating clear capacity. We are clearing out the gook and the mire that was in that low-level water. And I'm anticipating by sometime tomorrow, we should have that particular interstate open, which should really accelerate the amount of transportation that can come in and out of the city.

It's a good day in New Orleans. The sun is shining. We're bringing New Orleans back. And this is our first step. We're re- opening up the city, and almost 200,000 residents will be able to come back and get this city going once again.

I turn it over to Admiral Allen, who's going to talk to you a little bit about his efforts, as well as some of the EPA work that's been done.

BLITZER: Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen who's representing FEMA in the recovery efforts.

VICE ADM. THAD ALLEN, FEMA DIR. FOR KATRINA RECOVERY: Can everybody hear us all right? Mics okay? All right, thank you.

Over the last 48 to 72 hours, there's been an uncommon display of unity and collaboration and effort between the state, federal and local folks that are constituting the unified team down here in New Orleans to put together a re-entry plan in support of the mayor. And I'll let General Graham make some comments in a minute about the role that DOD has played in helping to plan and create a security environment so that the re-entry can be made in a manner that is safe for the citizens of New Orleans and achieve the objectives that the mayor has laid out.

We have looked at almost every aspect of re-entry. There are issues relating to the environment, air quality and water quality. Let me state up front, yesterday I had a personal conversation with the EPA administrator. We are in touch with him. The zip codes that the mayor indicated today would be open are not related to water quality at this point, except for drinking water, as the mayor stated.

We are working with EPA on air quality, and we will make information available to you. I would advise all of you that the monitoring that EPA is doing in and around the city is available on the EPA Web site, is available for public consumption. I would recommend you take a look at that. Beyond the environmental issues, the next issue is how do you create a security perimeter and make sure you know who's coming in and leaving these districts. There's been a coordinated effort by the federal law enforcement community, lead by the federal law enforcement officers attached to my principal federal official cell down here in New Orleans.

There has been an extensive involvement by DOD and the National Guard in this planning. This will be a collaborative effort on how we establish perimeters and control entry. We are in the process right now of finalizing the roles and responsibilities relating to re-entry. Tomorrow there will be an extensive brief on the execution plan that will go into effect on Saturday morning for the re-entry into the central business district.

There will be a second briefing provided to you tomorrow with the details of the plan, because the mayor and I want to be briefed on exactly who's going to be where, who's going to do what and make sure there's no ambiguity in roles and responsibility. In general, the plan is put together, but we want one more dress rehearsal, if you will, tomorrow before the plan is implemented.

With that, I'd like to have General Graham make some comments about the DOD involvement in the planning general.


DOD's been involved in the planning with the city, and the state and also the federal officials of FEMA, as well as the MRL (ph) and his staff and PFO. Currently there's a plan B made around the perimeter of the eight zip code areas, did allow controlled access in and out of the city, and due to some of the streets are not passable. So that way we can control access into the city safely. There will be packets of information provided at that time when people come into the city.

It's been a complete, collaborative effort, we think, and we're looking forward to being able to open the city of New Orleans back, and to assist the city and do all we can to help the people here.

Thank you.

ALLEN: Just to amplify General Graham's comments on information, we have a public affairs team that will be putting together content, and the content will both be in print format and will be made available on the Web, regarding information that everybody should know in entering the city, whether it's issues relating to health and safety issues, security issues and so forth. One of the reasons we are scheduling this for Saturday morning is to allow us the time to have those materials printed and to do this in an orderly fashion. BLITZER: Vice Admiral Thad Allen of the U.S. Coast Guard, FEMA's representative now, in charge of the situation on the ground there in New Orleans.

CNN's Sean Callebs is also in New Orleans. He's been listening to the mayor. The mayor says things are moving in the right direction. It's a good day for New Orleans, and he says people and businesses are going to start coming back.

CALLEBS: Yes, clearly, the mayor said all this week that he wants this city to breathe again. At a news conference earlier in the week, it was kind of poignant, a Blackhawk went right over his head as he was talking about these positive steps, and he said, I'm tired of hearing helicopters; I want to hear jazz again. So if he, indeed, gets his way, and certainly he has the support of FEMA and the DOD -- they, of course, standing along side the mayor at this news conference -- to open up the city, significantly the Algiers section could open up as soon as Monday. Another area code, I'm sorry I'm unfamiliar with; I'm not from this area. And then a week from Monday, wanting to open the French Quarter.

But think about it, Wolf, they bring 180,000 people into the city in that short timeframe -- there are a lot of emergency vehicles on the street right now. We know power has been restored to some areas that weren't dramatically affected by floodwaters here in this area, but there's still so much to be done, and the narrow streets of the Quarter are hard to navigate right now. So once these people start coming in, it could cause problems. Clearly something the mayor wants. He wants to bring this city back to live.

Also he talked about having a security perimeter in the area. And most importantly of all, the drinking water, the water in this city is simply not safe to drink. So when these residents do come back, they'll have to steer clear of that -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sean, we're going to get back to you very soon. Thanks very much. Sean Callebs reporting for us from New Orleans.

We just heard from the mayor. Much more of our coverage, what's happening in New Orleans, the Gulf Coast, also, Hurricane Ophelia. We're watching the John Roberts confirmation hearings here in Washington.

Another horrible day. More deaths in Baghdad. Much more of our coverage on all of these stories we're watching here in THE SITUATION ROOM, right after this.


BLITZER: And Wolf Blitzer, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM, where news and information arrive in one place simultaneously. Happening now, our special coverage of the John Roberts confirmation hearings, and updates from your hurricane headquarters.

The president's choice for chief justice faces yet a day three of his marathon questioning on Capitol Hill, with no sign of major roadblocks to his confirmation. Could there be any surprises ahead?

This hour, also, Hurricane Ophelia's punishing crawl along the North Carolina coast. We're tracking the rain, the winds and when the storm will finally move in.

And President Bush soon makes his fourth -- yes, fourth -- trip to the Katrina disaster zone. Armed with a primetime speech and a blueprint for rebuilding.

New Orleans officials, meantime, say they're getting ready to reopen the famous French Quarter.



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