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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Nagin Suspends Reopening of New Orleans

Aired September 19, 2005 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Tony Harris, in for Anderson Cooper. We will be joining Anderson from Kenner, Louisiana in just a couple of minutes.
They cut the ribbon to welcome people back to New Orleans this morning, and then a couple of hours later, the mayor says, not so fast. He suspends the reopening of his city because of the potential of a new threat, Tropical Storm Rita. It is 4:00 p.m. in the West Coast, 7:00 p.m. on the East. 360 starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: A sunshine state of emergency. Tropical Storm Rita churning in the Caribbean, headed to hit the Florida Keys, and it might have New Orleans in its sights. Could the Crescent City handle another hurricane?

Last week tempers flared in an abandoned town.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All you're doing is making a political scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm not making a political scene. I'm making a scene for the starvation of these people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't (INAUDIBLE). So do something about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you can (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) do something about it then, chief.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Three days later, has anything been done to help the people of this forgotten town? Tonight, see for yourself the shocking conditions.

Hurricane aftermath. Devastation and hopelessness to many, easy money for others. Tonight, 360 investigates how real estate speculators are swarming New Orleans in hopes of making millions.

And dolphins displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Four saved, but another four nowhere to be found. Tonight, we go along on a desperate search for four missing dolphins and the race against time to save their lives.

This is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360 "State of Emergency."

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome to 360. Tonight I am live in the city of Kenner, Louisiana. A city in the shadows of New Orleans. A suburb about 13 miles west of downtown New Orleans. Like many place as cross the Gulf Coast, Kenner is struggling to rebuild and recover in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We're going to have much more to come from here ahead. But first, let's see what's happening right now at this moment.

In the Atlantic, there's the threat of another major hurricane. Tropical Storm Rita is barreling toward the Florida Keys with 70 miles an hour winds. It could become a hurricane at any moment. Already Florida has issued a state of emergency.

And late this afternoon, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin stopped his plan to bring residents back into the city, saying Rita could create even more flooding. We're going to have more on Rita in just a moment.

As for Hurricane Katrina's death toll, well, the number of people killed stands at 879 218 of the victims were from Mississippi, 646 from Louisiana. Those numbers may climb.

And here are still many people along the Gulf Coast without power. Louisiana, 387,000 residents have no electricity, and in Mississippi the number stands at just over a quarter of a million.

As hard as it is to believe, by this time on Thursday another storm could be pounding the Gulf Coast. Tonight, Tropical Storm Rita is on the move in the Atlantic and is expected to gain hurricane strength. A mandatory evacuation has been issued for the Florida Keys and a voluntary evacuation could be posted for Galveston, Texas, tomorrow.

Right now, Rita is 130 miles south/southeast of Nassau in the Bahamas and that's where Ted Scouten from our Miami affiliate, WFOR, is tonight.

Ted, what's the latest there?

TED SCOUTEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, right now what's going on is we're getting in another one of those feeder bands that's coming in from Rita. This is probably the most significant that we've seen throughout the evening with a lot of rain. You can see the wind right now pretty much dying down and the rain started to dye down as well.

This storm pretty much, at least in Nassau, hasn't been all that severe. What we've been seeing a lot of is just sporadic rain throughout the day, a little bit of wind. But nothing too significant at this point.

COOPER: OK. Ted, at what point is the storm supposed to hit and how well is the island prepared?

SCOUTEN: Well, as far as Nassau and the island of New Providence, which is the capital of the Bahamas, this island is not expecting to get a direct hit. As a matter of fact, they think that Rita is going to stay well enough to the south of here to where the effects aren't really going to be all that bad.

Now some of the islands south of here, namely Andros, they're actually doing some evacuations in the southern part of that island right now. They're having people move to the northern part of the island. That's been going on pretty much throughout the day today.

COOPER: All right, Ted, thanks very much for that.

CNN Meteorologist Rob Marciano is tracking Tropical Storm Rita for us. He joins us live from the Florida Keys.

Rob, what's the situation there?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, Key West also under a mandatory evacuation, so people have been heading out. They've been doing the typical preparations to protect life and property here in Key West. No stranger to hurricanes. In some cases, they've already got the plywood ready to roll. In other cases, they've got steel shutters to put up. So they're not messing around for sure.

This is the main strip in Key West. This is Duval Street. As we continue to pan down towards the sidewalk, just one person and her dog. So folks have definitely headed out.

Other shots taken earlier today around the island of folks making preparations as Governor Jeb Bush last night issued a state of emergency. What does that mean? It activates the National Guard, it allows public buildings to be opened up as shelters, and it kicks in the anti-price gouging laws in effect here.

Key West Airport closed earlier tonight it's 6:00 p.m. with those mandatory evacuations. You know, with what happened with Katrina, pet issues. There are shelters set up on the mainland that will accommodate pets.

What about people with special needs? What about people in hospitals? Well, C-130 planes were brought in here to evacuate folks in the hospital and bring them to hospitals in the mainland. So that's a good thing.

Well, what about this storm? This storm is not quite yet a hurricane, but it will be a strengthening hurricane as it approaches this area. It will be heading into very, very warm water, in some cases 89 degrees Fahrenheit. That will give it plenty of fuel for the fire.

It will be a fast-moving storm, which means flooding shouldn't be as big of an issue as it would be with a slow moving storm. But it will have some wind damage, especially if it's a category two storm.

And the storm surge is going to be the big issue here. Not below sea level, like New Orleans, but pretty much right at sea level. Anywhere from two feet above sea level, to 16 feet is the highest point on this island. So we're going to be looking at a storm surge of six to nine feet, Anderson, which is going to be a big issue.

An interesting statement or at least an alarming statement from the National Weather Service here and locally in Key West. They said that this is going to be worse than Hurricane George in '98, which was a category two storm. They also said that the bridges across the overseas highway could very well be impossible come Wednesday morning.

That's the latest from Key West. Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: All right, Rob, we'll check in with you throughout the hour and throughout the evening.

Before the threat of Rita, the people of New Orleans were just being to be allowed back into their city. Little by little, neighborhood by neighborhood, and so that was how we planned to follow the homecoming. We would have begun with this morning's ceremonial ribbon cutting in the Algiers area. Now there was a lot of hope there in Algiers at the beginning of the day. Then came word of Rita. And Mayor Ray Nagin suddenly pulled in the welcome mat. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: We are suspending all reentry into the city of New Orleans as of this moment. I am also asking everyone in Algiers to prepare to evacuate as early as Wednesday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Things are changing here so quickly. CNN's Adaora Udoji has been covering the on again, off again return to Algiers.

Adaora, what's the scene where you are?

ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, an incredible amount of turbulence. It has been a long day, lots of upheaval, and, of course, this news now of the suspension of reentry back into Algiers, which is the west bank of New Orleans. Lots of concern. I mean these are some folks who were trickling in all day. Some coming as far away as Arkansas to come and see what their homes were looking like.

I mean the first thing we came across this morning is a huge fire. Firefighters able to get there very quickly, put that out. Lots of concerns about whether or not there would be more fires. There were people coming in not finding any stores open, not knowing where to find food and water, finding distribution centers. And so going there and making their way home, pulling out their hoses and shoveling away some of the debris.

So there were lots of emotional day for the people here trying to figure out would they would be able to stay? Lots of concerns about whether they would be able to stay. And now news of the potential of Hurricane Rita and the mayor's announcement, a lot of people just have disbelief. I mean we talked to some who were furious, others who said they were just going to have to go with the flow. You can't fight mother nature. And some people just throw their hands up and say "I've got to go."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's a good idea because you get all these people back in here and then you've got to get them back out. It's real simple, you know. I mean he don't want to go through what he did the first time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sad in a way but, you know, it's just mother nature. If it was a terrorist act, then I'd be furious, but you can't, you know, fight mother nature. Things like this happen all over the world. But we were going to close and clean up for a few days anyway, so this just got us a jump start.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UDOJI: But Anderson, those that were furious, and we did speak to a handful of course, this news just coming in the past couple of hours who were absolutely questioning the competence of the mayor, saying that they are very concerned about the way Hurricane Katrina was handled. They don't have confidence that potentially if Hurricane Rita comes that he's going to handle that well either. But none of those people, Anderson, would come on camera to talk to us about that.

Anderson.

COOPER: Yes, a lot of people surprised by the mayor's announcement just the other day. Actually it was on "Larry King Live" when he suddenly announced that some 180,000 people are going to be coming back. Some even doubted whether it would actually happen at all.

Adaora, we'll continue following the updates.

Now even without more dangerous weather coming, there was already plenty of reason to worry about the levees that were supposed to protect New Orleans. In some places they really don't exist anymore. The question is, where the levees looked to be intact, are they really? How strong are they? CNN's Sean Callebs has been following that story.

Sean.

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Anderson, it is indeed a touchy situation right now. The Corp of Engineers and the contractors working on the levee system simply throwing their hands up saying, what next? If you look to my right, you can see how the flood wall simply caved in, the earthen levee just eaten away. Right now the water from this canal only a matter of feet from jumping over this area.

If you pan down this way just a bit, you can see how high the flood wall was and is supposed to be. They have been working on this area, putting gravel down on this road, for the past couple of weeks getting it ready. Now they're concerned about Rita, what it could do to this area. They say a direct hit would simply be frightening.

Not only is the levee severely breached in a number of places, they're also concerned about where it is the weakest because that is sort of hidden danger at this point and they're trying to figure out how to take care of that. And you can see here in this area, water simply flowing underneath this gravel that has been constructed.

Now, we were at another part of the levee earlier today where flood waters simply poured down the canal from Lake Pontchartrain, at the height of the storm, creating a 30-foot hole. Crews are putting gravel down in that area, trying to patch it as best as possible. What the Corps of Engineers is hoping for, simply a glancing blow from Rita.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN BRUCE BERWICK, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: We will certainly encounter, if the projections hold true, some rainfall and some high winds. And we'll have to do everything we can to make the levees as ready as possible, do everything we can to make the pumps as ready as possible. And if we do those things, we should be OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CALLEBS: And, indeed, the Corps of Engineers saying it certainly was the right thing to do to tell people the city is simply not safe at this point, especially with that storm churning around threatening the Gulf of Mexico. We saw how strong Katrina got as it moved into this area. Another direct hit simply devastating.

Anderson.

COOPER: Sean, thanks very much.

Yes, a lot of people think it was just levees being overtopped during the storm. I talked to Ivor Van Heerden, a scientist with LSU. He says, look, there was massive structural failure in some of these levees. It wasn't just that the water was higher than the levees. So these things really have to be studied, really have to be basically rebuilt over the next couple of years.

Coming up next on 360, those names on the left side of your screen right now. Have you seen any of these children? We're going to take you to the National Center of Missing and Exploited Kids and see how the hunt is going for those lost in Hurricane Katrina.

Plus, what happened to those eight aquarium dolphins we told you about. They were trapped in waters off Mississippi? We're going to take you back there for an update. Be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: And welcome back. We are live in Kenner, Louisiana. The reason we came to Kenner is because of a controversy here. There was a housing complex that had several hundred residents that has been very badly damaged by this storm. We first paid attention to this story on Friday because we saw an argument between the chief of police in this town, in Kenner, and a city official. Here's some of the argument. Take a look. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have not complied . . .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every day the city government . . .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) your mouth about how much you care about these people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't give them anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As a matter of fact, you've got 500 families displaced and you all are happy with the 500 families that have been displaced. Otherwise you would have done . . .

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, those families displaced are actually living in this housing complex still. Take a look. This is an apartment that has just been completely flooded. This is mold, which is just growing all over the wall, all over the ceiling. The people have tried to move their possessions off to the side. But I mean, look at this, it is just mold everywhere. It is still wet all on the floor and the carpet.

And there are many apartments like this in which people are still living here in Kenner. I mean, obviously, the smell it's pretty overwhelming. The chief of police is saying that the residents of Kenner deserve to have a shelter for them in this town because a lot of them are working. They are poor. They're Hispanic. They are working, finding jobs here, helping the city rebuild.

The mayor, however, has not built a shelter for them and says it's impossible to and wants to ship them about 50 miles out of town. So that is where the controversy is. That's why we've come here tonight. We're going to have more in the program in just a moment.

But all weekend long, CNN has been running side panels on all our broadcasts with the faces and information about children missing from Hurricane Katrina. We started the weekend, some 2,000 kids were missing. CNN's Brian Todd is at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children with the latest.

Brian, how's this effort been going?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The effort's been going very well, Anderson. A lot of cases resolved. We'll give you the updated numbers right now.

The current number of children listed as missing by the center is 2,393. We're going to take you through the call center here as we give you this. And 2,393 kids are listed as missing by this center as of this hour. And 883 cases, however, have been resolved. That is a great success rate since this call center was set up on Labor Day. And out of these 883 cases resolved, we can tell you that 21 of those cases were resolved as a result of CNN's reporting, either the pictures and the information on the side of the screen or cases that we've reported on during our live reports. Twenty-one cases resolved as a result of those reports.

Now it's important to make the distinction here. In those cases, some of these children had already been under the care of an adult but had been missing their parents. Had been looking for their parents. So those cases were, as we say, we put up the pictures on the screen, people saw them, they called in, they were able to put one and two together as a result of this center's operations.

But there are still some kids that remain missing and we have to show you some pictures. Latara Thorton, 16, and Kenneth Williams, 12 years old. They were last known to be with their sister, Kiana Williams (ph), and their mother, Donna Thorton (ph), in Gretna, Louisiana. Latara Thorton and Kenneth Williams. A sister and brother. She is 16, he is 12. These pictures that you're looking at could be a little dated. But they are last known to be with their sister and mother in Gretna, Louisiana. Have not been heard from since the hurricane hit.

Also missing, Bishop McManus. He is six years old. Last known to be with his father in Harvey, Louisiana. We are told by the center here that Bishop has a scar on his chin and a scar on his forehead. He and his father have not been seen since the hurricane hit. They are from Harvey, Louisiana.

If you have any information on Bishop McManus, Latara Thorton, Kenneth Williams or any of the now nearly 2,400 children who are listed as missing by this center, you are asked to call this number. It is 1-800-THE-LOST. 1-800-843-5678. Or you can go to www.missingkids.com.

Anderson, they're going to work throughout this evening and they say this call center will be up indefinitely until they resolve all these cases or they otherwise know what has happened to these children.

COOPER: Brian, thanks for that. And we're going to continue to update this and check in with you throughout the evening.

It is just shocking when you think of it. There's so many kids still missing, you know, three-plus weeks after this storm hit. I think we can do you know, we can try to do something about it and we're just committed to just staying on this story, trying to make it happen.

We're going to have a lot more here from Kenner about the controversy going on about the people living in these conditions. I mean I don't know if you can get a shot of this. This is just mold that is just growing. This is a home where people are living. It's quite extraordinary. We're going to tell you what's behind the controversy a little bit ahead.

But first, let's check in with Erica Hill for headlines from around the world.

Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Anderson.

Some conflicting reports tonight over how two British troops were freed from prison in Basra. Now the British Defense Ministry says the soldiers were released after negotiations, squashing earlier reports that they actually broke free in a raid by British troops. The soldiers were accused of shooting two Iraqi policemen. Their arrest has put the British forces now at odds with Iraqi police.

In New York City, former Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski and his former finance chief, Mark Swartz, were sentenced today to up to 25 years in prison, each of them. The two were convicted of stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from Tyco. Kozlowski, you may remember, famously used some of that money to throw his wife a $2 million toga party for her birthday.

Across the country, after coming down a bit from Katrina's highs, gas prices on the rise again. Oil prices surged by more than $3 a barrel. Wholesale gas by more than 4 cents a gallon. The threat of Tropical Storm Rita is partially to blame there.

President Bush, on the other hand, not seeing a spike in his poll numbers. A new CNN/"USA Today"/Gallup Poll shows just 40 percent of Americans approve of his job performance. And the president's speech in New Orleans on Thursday apparently did not help his numbers. Just 41 percent of those polled approve of the way he handled the Katrina's aftermath.

Anderson.

COOPER: Erica, thanks. We'll check in with you in about 30 minutes.

When we come back, we're going to have more here from Kenner. You're going to hear from all sides in this debate. The chief of police who says that the people who are stuck here, living here, deserve a shelter where they are safe and avoid some of these health risks that are happening. The mayor, who's not come down here, hasn't seen this for himself, we're going to hear from a representative from his side as well who says, look, the city is strapped. They simply can't build a shelter. We'll try to get to the bottom of it.

Also, real estate agents. Believe it or not, there is a booming real estate market right now in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. We're going to speak to a real estate agent who has got a lot of investors, some deep-pocket investors looking to buy property for cheap prices. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, understandably, and especially just now with Rita looming, a lot of people here have had more than enough of living below the sea level and they want to get out of New Orleans. But then there are also a lot of people looking to get in on the ground floor, as it were, of a city that they see as having no place to go but up. That being the case, many desperate to sell and many eager to buy, this ruin city has become a very lively marketplace.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER, (voice over): Even here, even now in devastated New Orleans, if you listen close, you'll hear the sound, opportunity knocking on the door.

BRANDY FARRIS, CENTURY 21 FARRIS & ASSOC.: Century 21.

Try to give her a call, Leslie.

COOPER: Brandy Farris is a Century 21 real estate agent and she's never seen anything quite like this.

FARRIS: Did y'all have a lot of trees in the yard? No? Did y'all have water? Did it flood? It came all the way in the house? Wow. OK.

COOPER: It's not just the devastation that surprises her on her first trip back into New Orleans, it's how hot the real estate market here has become since Katrina.

FARRIS: Yes, ma'am, we are. Do you have a home for sale in New Orleans? Where was your property located? What is your address?

COOPER: Brandy's phone is ringing off the hook. You can't really talk to her for more than a few minutes at a time without the phone ringing and someone either calling wanting to buy a property here in New Orleans or sell.

In the past few weeks, Brandy estimates Century 21 has sold some 1,500 homes in this region, a big rise she says from what the company would normally sell. Who's buying? In Baton Rouge and New Orleans, it's those looking to relocate or investors who specialize in scooping up storm- distressed properties at deep discounts.

Pick up some properties now.

FERRIS: I want to buy some land, sight unseen. I want to buy houses, sight unseen.

COOPER: And they can get a good deal right now.

FERRIS: Yes. And when it comes back strong, the values should go up. We'll find out. COOPER: Not all the calls Brandy takes are from buyers or sellers. Some are hostile, people who say she's profiting from other's pain.

Some people are going to say you're taking advantage of people, you know, that the prices are going to be low and that you've got these investors circling like sharks looking to buy distressed property.

FERRIS: And that's true in any situation. You're always going to have the vulture investors. But there's something for everyone here, I think.

COOPER: Brandy is nothing if not optimistic.

I mean when you're trying to sell a place, how do you get over sometimes the smell of, you know, of rotting animals?

FERRIS: We have to take one case at a time and see what happens. Everybody's got a different need right now and it's very emotional and it's very traumatic.

COOPER: Is it hard to walk in the rubble with these with your shoes?

FERRIS: No, it ain't. I'm used to this. No, not at all. This is normal.

COOPER: She'll list this two-story pale green house at $750,000. The house itself weathered Katrina, the seller did not. To say the lest, New Orleans is a risky real estate market. Environmental damage is unknown and many of the ownership records may have been lost.

FERRIS: I assess the damage. See what (ph) we can even change title from the courthouses. You know, we don't even have ways to file anything at the courthouse. A lot of people here, their paperwork is underwater. They have no way to show who they are, what their mortgage is. So we have a lot of unknowns.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Last week, tempers flared in an abandoned town.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All you're doing is making a political scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm making a political scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't (INAUDIBLE) me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm making a scene for the starvation of these people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) do something about it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) do something about it then, chief.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Three days later, has anything been done to help the people of this forgotten town? Tonight, see for yourself the shocking conditions.

And dolphins displaced by Hurricane Katrina. Four saved but another four nowhere to be found. Tonight, we go along on a desperate search for four missing dolphins and the race against time to save their lives.

This special edition of 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back to 360. We're live from the City of Kenner, Louisiana, at a housing complex where a number of people have been spending every night, sometimes sleeping on the street, sometimes in their cars or in these mold-infested houses, apartments. They have no place to go, no shelter built for them in the City of Kenner.

They want someplace nearby here because they have jobs here. They're not looking for handouts. They have work here and they want to stay in this community. The city is offering them a shelter far away and far away from not only their possessions but anyplace they could get a job and they want to work and they want to help rebuild this area. We are going to have more on this story later on tonight. But we continue to closely follow Tropical Storm Rita at this hour.

It is roaring toward the Florida Keys right now. It could turn into a Category 1 or 2 hurricane by tomorrow morning. Tonight, thousands have been ordered out of the Florida Keys. Responding to the threat of Rita New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, today halted the reopening of the city saying it is too dangerous for residents to return. The federal government reports that nearly 50,000 people have been rescued in the aftermath of Katrina. And $1 billion in total assistance have been given out to families.

And about 150 evacuees were moved out of shelters in Mississippi and onto a Carnival cruise ship. FEMA has leased three of the company's cruise ships for six months at a cost of $192 million. The ships can carry 1,500 passengers.

Just a few minutes ago, the governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, held a news conference with Tropical Storm Rita. Here is her advice. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOVERNOR KATHLEEN BLANCO, (D) LA: But I want citizens who are in the coastal parishes to start making preparations to leave now. I'm not suggesting that you need to leave. If you can, do so. But make your preparations. Make thoughtful preparations. Think about keeping your family together and on independent resources for several days.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Well, joining us live from New Orleans, a resident of the Algiers neighborhood. We've spent time talking about tonight (INAUDIBLE), Berta Ballard, a nurse at a private pediatric clinic. Ms. Ballard, thanks for being with us. How upset are you? You were told a while ago you could go back, and now the mayor is saying don't go back. And you've stayed all along.

BERTA BALLARD, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: Not leaving. I didn't leave last time, and I'm not leaving this time. Without force, that would be the only way they can get me out of here.

COOPER: Are you concerned at all, A, about Hurricane Rita but also about the health effects of staying?

BALLARD: Not on the West Bank. We were high and dry. Our water was always drinkable here in Algiers Point.

COOPER: What do you think about the mayor and the job he has done in the city and the job that he continues to do?

BALLARD: At first, the mayor was real strong. Now I feel like there's too many chiefs. We have too many people trying to tell him what he has to do. I personally don't think the mayor did anything wrong. I think other people did. Like the governor. FEMA. The president. We didn't see a policeman here for four days.

COOPER: How do you want this to be handled? You want to be able to stay? Do you think everyone should be allowed to stay?

BALLARD: No. The East Bank is a mess. I would definitely say they have to leave. The levees aren't going to take another onslaught. If the storm goes anywhere to Morgan City, we're going to be on the wet side of the storm, and the levees can't take it.

COOPER: Well, Berta, I wish you well and I hope you stay safe. We'll continue to follow your story as the days progress and as we hope Rita doesn't get anywhere close to here, but we'll continue to follow you, Berta, thanks.

We're joined live now in New Orleans by a man who already had an awful lot on his plate, and that was before Rita. Brigadier General Robert Crear is commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. General, thanks so much for being with us.

BG ROBERT CREAR, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: Thank you for having me.

COOPER: The levees, can they take a sizable storm? I mean, if Hurricane Rita causes flooding in New Orleans, how strong are these levees right now?

CREAR: Yeah, the levees sustained substantial damage through breaches. Then we did some intentional breaches to get the water levels down. Since that time, we've been working very hard to get those back -- those breaches filled. But quite frankly, the system is only as strong as its weakest links. Those repairs that we made at the two canals, the 17th Street and the London Avenue Canals, they right now could only withstand potentially a tidal surge, but nothing more.

COOPER: Sir, I mean, what strength of storm could they withstand? You said a tidal surge. What kind of a strength of storm does that imply?

CREAR: That means that, you know, changing elevation of the lake levels would pose a threat to certain parts of New Orleans.

COOPER: What are some solutions that you're considering to temporarily fortify the levees?

CREAR: Right now, as I said before, we have made considerable progress. The pumps are certainly key to evacuate the water. Right now we have about 50 percent of the pumps are now operational. At least 50 percent of capacity. That we have today. We have also decided that if it looked like it's coming our way, we have time now to close off the entrance of Lake Pontchartrain to those two canals at the 17th Street and also at London Avenue.

COOPER: And in terms of restoring the levees to at least their pre-hurricane level of protection, how long a process is that? Are we talking months or years?

CREAR: Well, we're looking at getting them back to interim level protection, and that is to get all the holes plugged, the ones that we did as well as others, to have that done by 1 December. Then we want to have them back to the way they were in order to protect from a Category 3, no later than 1 June, as you probably know, that's the beginning of hurricane season next year.

COOPER: Wow! Brigadier general, appreciate you joining us. I know you've got a lot on your plate. Thank you very much for being with us tonight.

Coming up next, the forgotten city. We're going to take you inside the battle here in Kenner to get some aid for some of these people who are behind me. They are working here and want to stay here. Find out why city officials say they can't.

Also, we go back to Gulfport, Mississippi, where aquarium eight dolphins were found stranded off the coast. We'll show you what's happened to them now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, Kenner is a city of about 70,000 people. That was before Hurricane Katrina. Three weeks after the storm, residents are returning home, but many of them find themselves caught in another storm. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER (voice-over): Step inside an apartment in the Redwood Park housing project in Kenner, Louisiana, and you'd better hold your breath.

(on camera): As you can see, I mean, there's a lot of water damage. There's mold all over the ceilings. And the smell, it's incredibly musty. It's hard to imagine anyone actually living inside here.

(voice-over): But hundreds of people are living in and around these apartments. They are poor, mostly Hispanic, and they have no where else in Kenner to go.

NICK CONGEMI, KENNER POLICE CHIEF: Not only is it a situation where they have just been forgotten, but they are exposed to these type of dangers to their immediate family and their children.

COOPER: The residents here get daily supplies of food and water, but Kenner's police chief, Nick Congemi says what they really need shelter. Michael McMyne, a city councilman says the mayor of Kenner should simply open one up.

MICHAEL MCMYNE, KENNER CITY COUNCIL: We have military in buildings, we have other police officers in gymnasiums, we have city workers with portable showers at City Hall and we can't do something for our people?

COOPER (on camera): There are shelters in Kenner for first responders, just not for actual citizens?

MCMYNE: Yes, absolutely. Correct.

CONGEMI: For some reason, there's this reluctance to open up gymnasiums or any other public building around here to house these people.

COOPER (voice-over): On Friday, the chief got into a shouting match with the city official. Accusing him of racism for ignoring the needs of Hispanic residents. The mayor declined to speak with us about the confrontation, but his chief of staff says they are doing all they can.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We opened up another shelter. The City of Kenner doesn't have the resources to maintain it. And FEMA has already told us that they will not be open in supporting shelters inside the affected areas. They have state shelters set up they are supporting right outside of the community.

COOPER: But the residents here don't want to be sent outside the community. In Kenner they found jobs, helping city businesses rebuild. On Saturday when the mayor's office sent a bus to relocate residents to a shelter, some 50 mile as way, no one got on. The bus left empty.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're making it too political now, you know. We've been here for, what, three weeks now? And we haven't seen no action, you know? What we want is a place to live.

MCMYNE: We can point fingers to FEMA and we can point fingers to the president, but it matters what we do here. They don't control our gyms, they don't control our facilities. We control them. All we have to do is open the door and get these people there and let them in, protect their health. My God, what's it going to take, someone dying?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Joining me now to talk more about what's happening here in Kenner is city councilman Michael McMyne. Appreciate you joining us again. Also resident Daphne Hernandez. You've been sleeping here the last three weeks or so. What is it like living here?

DAPHNE HERNANDEZ, KENNER RESIDENT: Well, we don't have electricity even though people about a block away do. We have very little running water. A lot of people -- we're getting in our apartment, we're getting mold really fast.

COOPER: Yeah, I mean, the mold is incredible. I don't know how you stay in those apartments.

HERNANDEZ: Well, it's not as bad in some of them. It all depends on where you're at. Some people have it a lot.

COOPER: What the city is saying we can send you to a shelter 50 mile as way. What's the problem with that?

HERNANDEZ: My dad works at Avondale and he started to work about a week ago. My job is opening up in two or three weeks.

COOPER: And that's in Kenner, right here.

HERNANDEZ: And that's right here. We want our jobs. We want to get some sort of normal life back. And I'm not going to do anything 50 miles away.

COOPER: And you're not looking for a handout, you're looking to just do your job.

HERNANDEZ: We just want a place to live. We just want a home. We've been living out of our cars. A lot of people here just came back from Houston to find nothing. And they don't have anywhere to go. And that's our main problem is we're being told you're going to have to get out. And we understand that. I mean, look at this place. But we need to be told at least somewhere close by to go to.

COOPER: Michael, you've been hearing this, you're a councilman. What's the city doing? Has the mayor come here?

MCMYNE: You know, to my understanding the mayor has not come. I have been trying to reach him since the second day after the storm about this situation.

COOPER: We called him four times today and invited him to appear. He chose not to.

MCMYNE: I've called him three times a day, left messages. My calls go unreturned. The one time I did talk with him he hung up on me.

COOPER: You call this Kenner's Superdome. What do you mean?

MCMYNE: This is Kenner's Superdome. The quality of life here is abysmal. There's no place to use the restroom. There is no place for them to shower. What we have to do is take a personal responsibility. Some people are saying it's politics. Take politics out of it. Make a personal plea to protect the lives and the integrity and the moral fiber of our city. And as long as we push these people off, we're telling them we don't want them here.

We have to open our arms.

COOPER: Why do you think there is not -- because there's a shelter for first responders, there's various gymnasiums that have been opened up. Why not a shelter for this group?

MCMYNE: The mayor's office says we can't staff it. We staffed it for first responders. So we certainly can get all the resources we need. The police chief is committed to continue feeding these families, so the food and the water is not a problem. We need a place for them to go. I'm making one final plea to put the politics aside and let's get this open.

COOPER: You're saying if the city doesn't do this, you're thinking about breaking into a gymnasium and opening it up for these ...

MCMYNE: I'm checking all legal options right now. I've been talking with attorneys all day about my responsibility. I don't want to shirk my legal responsibility as a councilman to protect the integrity of these lives and the protect these people. They are humans. These people need us.

COOPER: What about just putting politics aside? The mayor, said, oh the chief of police is only doing this because he wanted to be mayor and the chief -- this isn't about politics.

MCMYNE: You can cry politics all you want. This is humanity. Nobody's running for public office right now. This is not a political platform. This is about people's life, this is about their livelihoods, this is about everything they have.

COOPER: Here are most of these people going to sleep tonight?

HERNANDEZ: Well, a lot of these people (Spanish) -- people are sleeping in their cars. People are sleeping in their apartments. I know a lady that's sleeping in her hallway. This is the only place.

COOPER: Especially if Hurricane Rita does come, as a whole that's of the later this (ph). I wish you well.

HERNANDEZ: We're not hope it go goes to Texas, no because a lot of us were there.

COOPER: I know, you want to stay with your jobs here.

HERNANDEZ: He wanted us to go away.

COOPER: Councilman, appreciate you coming. Again, we invited the mayor on four or five times today. Again, we welcome him anytime. We'll come back here tomorrow night if he'd like, to come and talk to us.

Still to come tonight on 360, where is FEMA? We're going to take a look at why the federal government is still not reaching people three weeks after Katrina.

And later, what happened to those aquarium dolphins that got stuck off the coast of Mississippi? We'll take you back there.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: If you want to help the people here in Kenner in a very concrete way, we'll tell you how at the end of the of the program tonight.

In the days following Hurricane Katrina, people throughout this devastated region were all shouting the same question, where is FEMA? Where is the federal aid? Since then, we've heard a lot of talk about fixing FEMA. Its boss resigned and supposedly the trucks and good are getting to those in need.

FEMA has done a lot, but if that's the case, why is it that three weeks after the storm a lot of hurricane survivors still have not seen any significant federal response? Here's CNN's Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amid the endless wreckage of the Gulf, for three weeks, the chorus has been unbroken. Where is FEMA?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was upset. But now I'm getting angry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many times have you heard "where's FEMA"?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every day. Every day.

MAYOR BEN MORRIS, SLIDELL, LOUISIANA: We have to find temporary housing for our people. But it's like, where is it? Where is it?

FOREMAN: Even as the new storm Rita bears down, FEMA is struggling frantically to get back on track. With housing, food, money for storm victims. Repairing levees, removing tons of debris, almost $1.5 billion have been spent to help more than 500,000 families. But serious problems persist. Some people, especially in Mississippi, are still living in half-collapsed homes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're not as bad as New Orleans, but we need help just as bad as New Orleans.

FOREMAN: One-hundred twenty-thousand are in shelters. Their temporary housing, another month away. Victims complain of spending hours waiting to FEMA's phone lines, or trying to connect to help services by computer. Fifteen disaster recovery centers have been set up, but many residents say they can't find them. And even when they do, results are slow.

MAYOR RUSTY QUAVE, D'IBERVILLE, MISSISSIPPI: I was promised tents yesterday from our people. When I got over there, they said it would be 13 days. I can't wait 13 days. I need tents now.

FOREMAN (on camera): FEMA continues to say Katrina was just so big, did so much damage, getting to everyone will take time. But with another storm bearing down, patience is running out.

(voice-over): Ron Mucha lost his house, got so tired of trying to call FEMA, he came to Washington. We met him as he ran into a friendly FEMA worker who assured him help was coming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely, yes. 100 percent.

FOREMAN: And Ron believed him.

RON MUCHA, STORM VICTIM: They're doing their best, I think. I really think they are.

FOREMAN: But after two more weeks of waiting and stress, this past weekend, Ron suffered a major stroke. His wife, Linda (ph), says he's in the hospital.

(on camera): So what do you think of FEMA now?

LINDA MUCHA, STORM VICTIM (on phone): An 800 number is not adequate. There was no vision, no leadership. I don't have FEMA supporting me to do anything.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: A lot more from here in Kenner and New Orleans in a moment. First, let's find out what's coming up on PAULA ZAHN NOW. Hey, Paula.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN HOST: Hi, Anderson. Thanks so much.

There has been so much talk about the fact that it is believed that one-third of all New Orleans police officers walked off the job even before Katrina hit. Well, tonight we have an exclusive story for you. Our Jason Carroll has actually tracked down one of those policeman who walked off the job. He wasn't alone. And the fact that police went AWOL has been a huge scandal in the city.

How does this man defend himself? Well, he has some reasons that he's going to share with us tonight. Please join us at the top of the hour for a story that none of us has heard before.

Anderson?

COOPER: All right. Paula. Look forward to that. Coming up on 360 next, the latest on the search for those dolphins from a Mississippi aquarium that got pushed out to sea. We'll tell you how they're doing right now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Welcome back. We're live in Kenner, Louisiana. In the Gulf of Mexico right now, there's a frantic search for several dolphins from a Gulfport, Mississippi aquarium. Some were rescued, but now with another storm headed towards the Gulf, there are fears about the fate for the others.

For the latest on the search, here's CNN's Gary Tuchman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Eight aquarium dolphins swept out to sea, four of them captured with the hope the other four would be captured by today. But in the Gulf of Mexico, all is quiet, no sign of the other four. The man in charge of the destroyed aquarium is Moby Solangi.

DR. MOBY SOLANGI, DIRECTOR MARINE LIFE OCEANARIUM: They've been here for a week. Something has happened that even the wild animals have gone. There is some sort of environmental change or something has happening, they're sensing. This is weird.

TUCHMAN: This was the scene when we were out last week, but the government biologist from NOAA and the dolphin trainers, all eight of the dolphins frolicking in the gulf. Four of the sea mammals were pulled up on a floating station and hugged tightly and wrapped up in a stretcher that wrapped up the rescue of these animals that cannot live indefinitely in the open waters because they have spent most of their lives in captivity. Even though all eight were swimming around, the difficulty of getting the dolphins on the floating mat along with increased afternoon winds have limited the rescues to no more than two a day.

Jackie, Tony, Kelly and Noah, ranging from ages five to 30, are safe and being taken care of at a naval facility in Gulfport. But Shelly, Elijah, Tamara and Jill are missing.

(on camera): For days these people have gone out in the waters and seen the dolphins almost constantly, playfully swimming in the water. Now it's very quiet, and there's a profound sense of disappointment and much unease.

(voice-over): Then a brief glimmer of hope. Dolphins are sighted. But the excitement doesn't last long. They're swim ago way from the people they know on this boat. These are wild dolphins.

Sheriff's department pilots fly the aquarium president in a chopper to see if they can see the missing dolphins by air. Just after we passed the devastated Mississippi coastline we see dolphins.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, yeah. Looks like it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, look at him. He's playing around.

TUCHMAN: The boats are radioed to get closer to the dolphins. And once again disappointment. They, too, are not the aquarium dolphins.

SOLANGI: Next up is to go constantly keep going back to the feeding station and wait for them to come. And we'll keep looking for them as well.

TUCHMAN: Just hoping for the best.

SOLANGI: We certainly are.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TUCHMAN: This aquarium in Gulfport was going to celebrate its 50th birthday next year. Now it's gone. The dolphins inside who were inside here are only expected to survive a couple weeks in the sea. But because they've gotten food and medicine from the trainers on the floatable mat, it gives them an extra ten to 14 days at the most. Anderson?

COOPER: All right, Gary. We'll continue to follow the story. Thanks for that.

The city councilman we talked to earlier here in Kenner said if you want to help at all, please give him a call. Because they need blankets and cots and pillows down here. We're going to put his number on the screen. His name is Michael McMyne, 251-243-2409.

That's it for us tonight. I'm Anderson Cooper. Join me again at 10:00 Eastern, from 10:00 to midnight along with Aaron Brown for more special coverage, a two hour edition of NEWSNIGHT, "State of Emergency."

CNN's prime-time coverage continues right now with Paula Zahn. Hey, Paula.

ZAHN: Hi Anderson, thanks so much. Good evening everyone. Glad to have you with us tonight. For New Orleans residents today is like a horror movie. Just when they thought it was safe to go back into the city, another storm may be on the way.

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