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Hurricane Rita

Aired September 24, 2005 - 19:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Lou. Thank you so much for the toss over. Good evening, everyone. Glad to have you all with us. Welcome to our U.S. and international viewers. On this Special Edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360, we hope to have Anderson joining us in a couple of minutes from Abbeville along Louisiana's Gulf Coast, where at this hour, we believe, we are at least told by some emergency relief workers, that 1,000 people could be trapped on roof tops tonight. One hundred rescues already successfully pulled off.
Now this town suffered the same one-two punch as many cities in Southwest Louisiana, including Lake Charles, where these pictures were taken just a few hours ago. After enduring some of the hurricane's strongest winds, these towns have been inundated by floodwaters from the storms run off. Rita hit the coast as a Category 3 hurricane. It's now a tropical storm dumping torrential rain across Northern Louisiana.

And tonight we're going to take you all along the Gulf Coast to New Orleans. Here is the main headline for you at this hour. Unlike after Hurricane Katrina, repair crews were on the move immediately. Thirty-six thousand National Guard troops on duty at the ready. You also see folks here doing some hard work patching New Orleans leaky levees, but tonight flooding is also a major concern in Western Louisiana. So we're going to make a trip back to Lake Charles in a moment, but before we do that I want to bring you up to date on some of the damage.

One woman was severely burned in the fire that hit Galveston's historic district last night during the height of the storm. And this is, I'm hoping you will eventually see what it looked like today.

There also was a scene last night as the flames destroyed a bail bond company, and art gallery, and a Victorian house. And the video's catching up with us. This is the fire we were telling you about in the historic section of Galveston.

Now in addition to this kind of damage we know that a million homes and business in Texas, in Louisiana, in Mississippi are without electricity tonight. Some of them have been without power since Hurricane Katrina hit.

Now some two-and-a-half million evacuees are getting the same message tonight, stay where you are. Don't come home yet, but as you can see people are simply ignoring that advice. We will see soon, in some of the video, you see clogged highways already. Their cars are unfortunately slowing down repair and emergency crews. Meanwhile oil refineries in Galveston and Houston may have suffered less damage than originally feared, but at least two refineries in Port Arthur will need significant repairs. It will probably be tomorrow before we have a handle on what the storm may do to gasoline prices.

Now, let's check in with Anderson Cooper, who has safely made it to Abbeville, Louisiana, along the Gulf Coast, which I can't imagine was a very easy thing to do, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER: Yeah, Paula, it's not. And what is happening here in Abbeville, this is very quickly becoming the center of rescue and recovery efforts. From what we understand, and this is very sketchy information, these are early reports. Abbeville has become a staging ground for rescue efforts south of here. Abbeville is east of Lake Charles, but it is west of Lafayette, Louisiana, and far west and south of Baton Rouge, of course, and New Orleans.

But what we understand is that south of the town of Abbeville, and towns like Esther, and Pelican (sic) Island, closer to the water, basically, many towns south of here, there is extensive flooding they did not anticipate the kind of high wind that they ended up getting. They were anticipating winds in the 40-50 mile-an-hour range. They got gusts in the 80 mile-an-hour-range, we are told from some officials here on the ground, and a storm surge, they say, is still coming in. One official we talked to says that there could be as many as 1,000 people stranded south of here. That's only one official, though, saying that, and so we are still trying to (INAUDIBLE)

But there are rescue operations going on right now. There are a number of boats here, high powered boats here, that they have staged. They are trying to go to these people's homes and try to get them out. They've also had some air rescues, and those will continue.

But if the waters continue and the winds continue here, boating operations are going to be very difficult, They're going to have to do a lot of these operations by air, and that is only adding to the problem, Paula.

And you can see behind me here, this is just, this in Abbeville, this is just a little bit of flooding off a river here as you enter. It's a restaurant that, as you can see, is pretty much -- pretty close to being under water at this point. Just one small spot here in Abbeville. But a lot of the problems, from what we are told, are further south of here, and we are trying to get a sense of the scope of the rescue operations currently underway, Paula.

ZAHN: Well it's pretty alarming when you hear those kind of reports that that many people could still be trapped at this hour. We'll check in with you in a little bit, Anderson, and let you get acclimated.

We talked a lot about Lake Charles, and the kind of damage it had endured. Louisiana officials are warning those folks who live there to wait at least two days before coming back to their homes. A city about 40 mile from the Gulf Coast is also under a dawn to dusk curfew, because of flooding and damage from Rita. Let's turn to Jason Carroll who has more on what the situation is there, at this hour -- Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, I can tell you at this point, at least the weather has let up somewhat. That's definitely an encouraging development for emergency crews, who are ,at this point, out in the area scouring the area trying to get an accurate assessment of just how wide spread the damage is.


CARROLL (voice over): Several hours after Hurricane Rita's eyewall passed Lake Charles, Louisiana, a powerful force was still being felt. Lake Charles waters rose several feet throughout the day, causing flooding downtown and in other areas. The surge battering anchored casino riverboats. At it's peak, wind gust topping 100 miles-per-hour blew out windows and knocked out power. Michael Reinaver was at home with his generator by his side.



CARROLL: How did you fare last night?

REINAVER: I'm good. Freight train. All night long. Could hear the house creaking and -- feel like it's being pressed by the winds. But I think we're the lucky ones. I think we are extremely lucky. I suspect people south of town who have newer homes, are going to be in a lot of trouble.

CARROLL (on camera): We're in an area about 20 minutes south of downtown Lake Charles. You can see what type of damage we're seeing here. Can't even tell what this business was, and then back over this way an apartment building. It also sustained heavy damage. Across the street, this is McNeese State University, their athletic field also was badly damaged from Hurricane Rita.

(off camera): The main building and surrounding buildings at Lake Charles Regional Airport also battered by the storm. The terminal's roof partially collapsed.

ALAN KRATVER, AIRPORT EXEC. DIR.: Horrible. It's horrible. This is a bunker building, but I'm going to tell you right now, it was rough.

CARROLL: Alan Kratver was here the whole time. He believes a hurricane alone could not have done this.

KRATVER: That took tornadoes, is what happened.

CARROLL: You think so?

KRATVER: I'd have to agree. When you look at the terminal building, you'll know it's tornadoes.

CARROLL: There were tornado warning sin parts of Louisiana, at the time. And now streets remained blocked by downed trees, power lines, and floodwaters. Police are asking all those who evacuated to stay away, at least until Monday.


CARROLL (on camera): Lake Charles at this point looking a lot calmer than it did just a few hours ago, when the water was even choppier right there, right now. Paula, heard you say something a little earlier. I have to reiterate it, because it's what emergency officials are telling us, so we just want to make sure that we're getting the word out there as well, which is the following. All of those people, as we said there before, who are trying to get back into town, once again, do not try and do it. All those downed trees you saw in the piece just right there, are definitely still out there. Emergency crews have not had an opportunity yet to even begin the process of starting to clear things out.

ZAHN: Jason, I'm glad that you reconfirmed that, because there's enough of an issue they're very concerned about as well. The fact that these people are going to get trapped on these highways and potentially clog up the highway making it very hard for rescue work to get underway. So an important reminder throughout this hour.

And I wanted to mention another thing that we're hearing about more and more from emergency workers. And that is the fact that apparently a bunch of false reports have been filed about missing people. Now we are told that folks are making these claims, because they just want to verify that, in fact, their family members are OK. And this is something else that emergency workers are discouraging anybody from doing out there, because it is slowing the process down.

Let's go back to Abbeville, Louisiana, not far from the coast, where Anderson Cooper has finally found his way. Anderson, just describe what you had to drive through to get where you are right now.

COOPER: You know, Paula, it wasn't that bad. I mean, certainly, there were downed trees, there were power lines down, there have been road blocks. You know, there is, of course, in many communities about people going in trying to check on their property there, telling people, look, please don't. Stay off the highways. By and large the highways are pretty empty. It is just emergency vehicles. So people do seem to be responding to that in these early hours.

Also, you know, we still have these rains coming down, some heavy winds to contend with, so it's not all that easy driving around these days. But we got to Abbeville where there is, we understand, a rescue operation underway at this moment. In a moment, we are going to speak to a man who is running that operation. But first I want to go to Gary Tuchman who is live in Port Arthur. A town which there had been so much concern about, in terms of storm surge and the elevation of that town. Gary, how is Port Arthur today?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, I can tell you Port Arthur has a lot of damage, has a lot of flooding, but it's not nearly as bad as they thought it would be. They were very concerned that this entire town of 57,000 people could be under 20 feet of water. There's a 14 foot levee and they were afraid that the storm hit directly here or to the west, where the eastern part of the storm would have hit this city, that it would all be under 20 feet of water.

Instead what we have is, maybe, in certain parts of the city, three to four to five feet of flooding. You can see a car under there, but that's about the worst flooding we've seen in this city. Most of the city is dry. There is damage, but it's no different than the damage that we saw in Beaumont 15 miles to the west. And that damage is a lot less than the damage we saw in places like Biloxi, Mississippi, Gulf Port, Mississippi, and of course New Orleans.

COOPER: Gary, thanks very much for that.

I'm joined by Lieutenant Keith LaClave who is with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Enforcement. What is going on south of where we are? We understand that there is a rescue operation going on.

LT. COL. KEITH LACLAVE, LA. WILDLIFE AND FISHERIES: That's correct. We have boats and men deployed south of here, primarily in the Delcambre and Erath area, where they are evacuating people who are stranded in the high water areas.

COOPER: How -- do you have any sense of how many people are -- need to be evacuated?

LACLAVE: We're still in the process right now of determining how many. When those agents that are out doing those operations come back in, we'll have numbers at that time of how many people they've evacuated. I was told that there were a good number of people, apparently, it must be in the neighborhood of 100 or more in the Delcambre area, because we had originally sent about three boats down there, and they called back and they said they needed an additional five boats. And then, since then, we had one more request for three more boats. So apparently they've run into 100 or more people down there.

COOPER: And these are people who were told to evacuate. I mean, you went down here, the police here -- for two days they were trying to get people to evacuate. They went door to door.

LACLAVE: Yes. And that's people that declined to leave, that stayed in the area.

COOPER: How many boats do you have now? I heard there were some 60 boats down there. Is that accurate?

LACLAVE: We have actually in this area 125. We had 50 that came in from the central part of the state. Fifty that came from Baton Rouge, and about 25 that were here in the local area.

COOPER: And what -- I understand -- is the water still coming in?

LACLAVE: The water is still coming in. The last report I got a little while ago, was that water was still rising in the Delcambre area. We think that's primarily because of the wind that's pushing the water from the south.

COOPER: And with this high wind, some of your boats can't operate. Right?

LACLAVE: That's correct. The air boats are totally inoperable, because you can't use air boats in high wind. They're fairly top heavy. And also they don't handle waves very well, and we've got some high waves out there. So we're not able to use the air boats at all. The boats that are really effective for us right now are like 15 to 16 foot Battos (ph) or flat bottom boats with small engines.

COOPER: All right. Well I know (INAUDIBLE) Lieutenant Colonel, appreciate all you're doing. Thank you very much.

A lot more here form Abbeville, about this on going operation. Also going to give you an update on Beaumont -- how Beaumont, Texas, fared. That's where we weathered the storm last night. A lot ahead. Stay with us. We'll be back in a moment.


COOPER: And welcome back. We are live in Abbeville, Louisiana. We came to this town because we heard that there is a search and rescue operation going on here. We just talked to the lieutenant colonel in charge of it from the Fish and Wildlife service here in Louisiana. There may be several hundred, at least 100, people out south of the town of Abbeville who are stranded by surge water. Water's that have come in, and continue to rise. They're still, they're getting storm surge because of the high winds that have been plaguing Louisiana all day.

We are told the Governor was here earlier. They are using Abbeville as a staging ground.they are bringing people here, the evacuees here, and then trying to get them, move them on from this town. Abbeville was a town which was already hard hit by Katrina. They had 1,000 evacuees from Katrina who were sent here.

And you get a sense, there is even flooding close to this town. This is a restaurant just off the main road into town. There shouldn't be water here, obviously. This is just a flooded area, a low lying area. We're not sure if water's actually gotten into this river front restaurant, but it's definitely, certainly now, a river front restaurant. The river is now all around it.

So that's the situation here in Abbeville. A lot more to cover. Let's go back to Paula Zahn in New York -- Paula.

ZAHN: Anderson, before we go, let's bring people up to date on what your witness just described. I guess we need to explain to our audience tonight why these numbers vary so much. We had been told by an emergency that perhaps, they believed, that as many as 1,000 people were trapped south of Abbeville, but I think you've got the best information so far with a man actually involved with the rescue of these folks, saying that he knows that they have 125 boats available. I guess he said 50 came in from the central part of the state, 50 from Baton Rouge, and then they had 25 of their own. And he knows that more requests continue to be made for more boats, which would suggest, he said, that maybe over 100 people, perhaps as many as 200 people are trapped at this hour. Now Hurricane Rita slammed ashore about 40 miles south of Beaumont, Texas. That's a port city and oil refining center that's normally home to about 110,000 people. Meteorologist Rob Marciano joins me now from there. What can you see from your vantage point, there?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT:Well something that's eerily similar to what I noticed in Biloxi just in the last five to ten minutes, Paula. Military choppers going from west to east, towards New Orleans, not towards Lake Charles. And now I just saw a Coast Guard jet fly closely overhead, heading towards the Lake Charles area. So eerily similar to vision of Biloxi, when I was the Coast Guard base in Mobile sending Coast Guard choppers, rescue choppers, constantly overhead, heading towards New Orleans.

Speaking of New Orleans, ironically enough, we're in downtown Beaumont. This street is called Orleans. There's even a store that sells coffee and Beignets here. And you can see the destruction that's fairly wide-spread. Metal roofing ripped off of roofs, and obviously lampposts and awnings torn apart. This is consistently the case across much of Beaumont.

Of course, we didn't get the flooding that we feared. This storm came through on the clean side, or it was just to the east of us, so that's good news. And there were some injuries, but, you know, most of the people had headed out, so, you know, the evacuation, at least in this part of the world, Paula, here and in Southwest Louisiana, seemed to work just fine. Because we're seeing a tremendous amount of structural damage, and in some cases flooding damage, but at this point low loss of life, so that's the best case scenario.

But it does disturb me to see those military choppers and those Coast Guard airplanes head toward Southwest Louisiana -- Paula.

ZAHN: Of course. You always do fear the worst, when you see them up in the air. Rob, last night about this time we were on the phone with someone in charge of one of the hospitals not far from Beaumont who had an amazing evacuation plan in place, and I understand that hospital ended up being flooded, and now there's this triage center that was set up at the Civic Center. What's going on there?

MARCIANO: Well we're trying to see what the latest is on that. We weren't able to get down there to double check on that before we came to this location. But there was a doctor earlier today said there was enough damage in that hospital to where they had to evacuate some patients, at least 11 injuries from the storm that they had to treat. So they were setting up a triage center, at least a staging center, maybe evacuating those folks further out. But we're going to double check that, and hopefully have that answer for that question in the coming hour.

Good new on the -- there was a report of an apartment building that collapsed. Double checked on that, and there was some damage, and there was word that maybe people were trapped in that building. There were no people in that. It did not fully collapse, so good news on that front as well. And hopefully that triage center, if it is up and running, is working well. We'll get back to you on that, Paula.

ZAHN: Thanks, Rob. And the other ray of hope, once again, is that the emergency workers are confirming tonight they don't believe there was any loss of life directly, as the result of Hurricane Rita.

Now water, sometimes nine feet deep, is covering parts of Abbeville, Louisiana, tonight. That's where we saw Anderson reporting from a little bit earlier. Once again, to get your bearings here, that's about 20 miles south of Lafayette, and about 80 miles east of Lake Charles. Rick Sanchez is in Perry, Louisiana, tonight, and -- which is a little further down the coast from where Anderson was. And joins me now by videophone from Hurricane One, out storm chasing mobile unit. What have you found there, Rick?

SANCHEZ: Well what I want to do, Paula, is take you just about three or five miles from where Anderson was when you talked to him. To give you a sense of where the flooding is, or where, I should say, it begins.

This is the town of Perry, as you had noted, and it's just beyond the Vermilion River. We're going to try to turn around and give you a shot of Vermilion here. And I think you'll see that the Vermilion is the real problem here, because it seems to have now crested, and it's gone over it's banks. Old-timers here say they did never expect that the Vermilion River would actually flood, but that's, indeed, what it has done. And that is why it's causing problems in this area.

Now two of those old-timers just had to be rescued recently. Both of them living in this area more than forty years, telling neighbors there's no was I'm going to leave this area. I'm going to stay right next to the river, because I don't think I need to. There's no was it'll go. Well, guess what? It, in fact, has flooded, and it's flooded this entire area here around Perry, where we are right now.

You can see behind me that the waters are pretty much taking over this part of the city here, in Perry. People are doing what they can to try and get by, but it's awfully tough, because most of the homes we see back there were just at the beginning. We're a little worried about trying to get our trucks into there. Obviously, it would be tough to get through.

So this is the area where the flooding starts. It continues though, and obviously it gets much worse. Two towns to give you. One is Cameron, the other one is Intercostal. Those are the two areas where we understand that the flooding is extremely serious. Intercostal is about 20-25 miles from where we are right now, heading in that direction off on 82. If you further down, that would be about another 20 miles, you'd probably get to Cameron. That's where we're getting stories about the town being really just devastated. Not just with flooding, but with structural damage as well.

Rescue workers are going into this area right now. We've been seeing them go thorough in convoys, Paula, from time ti time, to try and get in there and see what they can do to try to get to the people who may need the help. But it's a very difficult task for them. If for no other reason, we've already discovered what's coming out of this water. When the water's rise, everything that lives under the water is coming up. And one of those things, snakes, and alligators are in this area as well. So they really have their hands full.

Let's take you back, now, to Anderson Cooper. He's following things not far from here as well, in Abbeville. Anderson, back over to you.

COOPER: Yes. Rick, stay with us. I'm curious to see if you have seen a lot of helicopters moving south over you, because we're in Abbeville, which is the staging ground for these rescue operations which have been going on now throughout the day, and are going to start again at 7:00 a.m. local time. But, Rick, as you probably know, I mean, the winds are still picking up here pretty fiercely, and they haven't been able to get some of their boats in the water. They have a lot of boats on hand, but some of them are pretty big and can not operate in these high winds, so they may, tomorrow, have to rely more on helicopter rescues. Have you seen any today?

SANCHEZ: Yes. So far, what we saw, we saw a Chinook and we saw a Blackhawk. They were too far, though, from being able to -- go ahead, Anderson. We saw a Chinook and we saw a Blackhawk. We couldn't tell exactly whether they were in a rescue operation at the time, or whether they're just trying to get a feel for the area, because I know that some of the federal and military officials are very concerned about bringing those rescue officials -- bringing those rescue choppers in here too early, before some of these winds have ceded.

In fact, it looks now like things are calming down out here. The second point you make about the boats is also an important one. I've been on some of these air boats enough to know that these air boats don't operate in a good chop. I mean, that's where you want to have a different type of boat that has a different kind of hull. If they're bringing air boats in here and we're seeing the kind of chop that we're seeing in other places like Lake Charles, it would be hard for them to operate. And so they really need for the storm to still settle somewhat, before they can get both of those, both the choppers and the boats, in here to perform those rescues. You're right.

COOPER: And, Rick, stay with us. I'm just, Rick was talking about the Vermilion River. I'm actually just -- I'm a few miles just north of where he must be at, and this is the river behind me. You can just pan over and see. The river has clearly gone over it's banks. It has gone into this parking lot. It has gone into this Restaurant. This is called the River Front Restaurant here in Abbeville. It is now -- well it's basically the restaurant in the lake right now. It is just completely flooded around here. But it is -- I think it surprised a lot of people here. They got more of a storm surge than they anticipated. And they got higher winds than they anticipated. Rick, the people down where you're talking -- the people you're talking to around Perry, the places you been today, what kind of winds were they seeing.

SANCHEZ: Most of the people that we've talked to here --


COOPER: The Governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco, arrived here just a short time ago, a couple of hours ago, and joins us here. What is the situation here in Abbeville?

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO, LOUISIANA: Well the situation is that, they weathered the storm. They have some structural damage, but now the water's rising from Vermilion Bay, as had been anticipated. And places that have never seen water before, are experiencing these flood waters coming in. this wind coming from the south is pushing the Vermilion Bay water's inland, and also using this Vermilion River to deliver this body of water into places that a lot of times, you know, you don't expect to see water.

COOPER: You don't have it. How many -- any sense of how many families right now are in need of help?

BLANCO: Well, I spoke to the Office of Emergency Preparedness here and General (INAUDIBLE) tells me that they saved about 250 people. Now, we have -- we have a little situation going where a lot of people left. They went to safety and this morning they thought that they could go back in and check on their property. They did; that was before the floodwaters started rising.

COOPER: Oh, really?

BLANCO: So, some of them had, you know, managed to get out when they recognized that waster was still coming in. Others had to be rescued and, you know, we have this, again, a very dynamic situation that keeps compounding.

COOPER: And part of the problem is with the winds continuing I know there are a lot of boats on hand. I just talked to the (INAUDIBLE) from the wildlife department who is in charge of this. They got a lot of boats but with these winds they can't use some of these boats.

BLANCO: It's very dangerous. We're in a rural setting where -- where you've got wide open waters oftentimes and in this case when the winds are still as high as they are now with these gusts that are 25 to 30 miles an hour or higher at times, that will just topple a boat. So, you cannot get in with boats. It's very difficult to send helicopter rescue units in also because all of that is affected by this wind.

COOPER: And, obviously with darkness coming it's going to be very difficult. There's a lot of, you know, alligators and critters here, 7:00 a.m. my understanding is the boats start launching again.

BLANCO: That is correct. We have -- we can't put the rescuers at risk because then they become victims. We -- we have to make sure that everybody works as best they can in protecting lives, including their own.

COOPER: And your message to the people in your state now, especially people who may want to come back to their homes to check on their property?

BLANCO: All local officials are asking people to wait at least 48 hours so that they can assess the situation. The effects of the storm are not yet over. There's too much wind. In some places we still have a significant amount of rain, so you have to please wait.

In Vermilion Parish, the sheriff specifically asked that folks wait two days. In Lake Charles, the mayor specifically asks that folks wait two days, no less than two days. Listen to the local reports. They will give you the go ahead. They don't want you to stay out any longer than you have to stay out but please help us not to compound the situation.

Also, we have gasoline shortages and we need gasoline for rescue efforts. We need gasoline supplies for -- for operations in general and we don't want people driving just wasting gasoline right now. We need everybody to be very thoughtful about what (INAUDIBLE).

COOPER: Governor Blanco, thank you very much, appreciate it.

A lot more ahead, we'll be right back with more coverage live from Abbeville. Stay with us.


COOPER: We are live in Abbeville, Louisiana, which is -- is further east from where we were in Beaumont, Texas just last night where we were weathering the storm.

I want to check in with Adaora Udoji, who is in New Orleans, who has been checking on the status of the levees and the flooding, especially in the 9th Ward.


ADAORA UDOJI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This family thought they could ride out Rita, a mother and her three children, but floodwaters raced in so fast they were trapped in Lafitte, a coastal town south of New Orleans. The Coast Guard had to come in and get them out. They weren't the only ones.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, no electricity, water everywhere. We should have left before but you know.

UDOJI: Rita's fierce storm surges sent the tide crashing onto neighborhoods just finally dried out last week after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Some places flooded up to six feet. Even so, some people didn't evacuate.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Water, young and stupid.

UDOJI: Some have never fled a hurricane and have no intention of leaving now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of people tell you to evacuate and everything. You get on the highway and then you can't come back or you get stranded like some of these people where they couldn't use a bathroom and they run out of gas and all that. That's not us. We don't do that. We're used to the water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're bayou people.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're bayou people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're used to the bayou.

UDOJI: Rescue workers say that's what they're working against.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Their life, you know, they got people that, you know, used to go swimming in the swamp and go get their supper, you know. They'll go down and grab the alligators out of their holes and pull them out their holes.

UDOJI: There were other problems here. A barge got lodged perilously close to a main water source but New Orleans stood up fairly well. After two breaches at the Industrial Canal levee yesterday, the Army Corps of Engineers was out patching it up today, relieved two other major levees seems unscathed. Floodwaters from those levee breaches also went down by the time the storm passed.

Not in Slidell, north of New Orleans. Rita's fierce winds triggered rapid flooding in neighborhoods shredded by Katrina, flooding up to three feet.

Dr. Bob Latterer (ph) made the trek to the home he and his wife spent 13 years renovating, managing to save some tools from the wreckage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a little tiring.

UDOJI: A little?


UDOJI: Rita didn't match Katrina's powerful blast here but it set back recovery efforts everyone is so anxious to start after so much turmoil.


UDOJI: And, Anderson, tonight the work is still going on here in New Orleans at the Industrial Canal levee. They used some trucks and essentially they've made a little progress today, which is to say right here where we're standing in this parking lot was under about eight feet of water this morning.

But they've been bringing in the trucks, gravel and rocks. They're building a roadway because you can see there's a huge chunk here in the levee so they're building a roadway so they can bring in the trucks, they can bring in the material that can plug up that hole but that's just hole one, Anderson.

And, over here to your right, you have a second, a huge gap in a roadway that also serves to help as a barricade to the water, so they have their work cut out for them, Anderson, but they're still here and they've been fortunate enough that the weather has allowed them to get going on trying to patch up the Industrial Canal and levee that breached yesterday before Rita -- Anderson.

COOPER: Adaora, does it continue to rain there and I mean is it very windy?

UDOJI: No, it is very windy definitely but we really haven't had much rain in the last couple of hours. I mean there's been some light sprinkles but nothing like we felt -- nothing like the bands that we felt when Rita when making her way towards this part of the gulf. It's very windy.

COOPER: Well, that is certainly -- certainly some good news that you haven't had that rain today. Adaora, thanks, we'll check in with you a little bit later.

Let's go back to Paula Zahn in New York -- Paula.

ZAHN: Of course you couldn't see this, Anderson, but the minute you mentioned the wind, Adaora almost lost her hat there, thanks Anderson.

Colonel Duane Gapinski of the Army Corps of Engineers flew over the levees to check out the damage today and he joins me now on the telephone, good of you to join us at such a busy time. Adaora just showed what you all are trying to do, plug the holes right now in the levee system but how serious do you think the flooding is at this hour in New Orleans?

COL. DUANE GAPINSKI, ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS (by telephone): Well, it depends where that particular reporter was. Most of that water that flooded through is gone and has been pumped out. It just so happens that's right in the vicinity of one of the large pump stations.

So, you know, that pump turned on as soon as it started flooding. It's been pumping and then while we prepared those over topping sites it continued to pump water out of there.

ZAHN: But you do have some water in the lower 9th Ward right?

GAPINSKI: That's right. Well, unfortunately the pump station that services the lower 9th Ward is out of commission, so you know we're right now trying to sandbag where the water is going into the 9th Ward and, you know, once we stop that water then we'll bring in portable pumps and pump that water out.

ZAHN: How deep is that water that you're talking about?

GAPINSKI: The lower 9th Ward it looked like about eight feet deep in certain parts. ZAHN: So, does that mean some of the homes then that -- the area surrounding these homes that became dry this week now have eight feet of water around them?


ZAHN: And how long will it be before you have that pump station fully operational?

GAPINSKI: Well, the pump station is in bad shape, so it's going to be quite a while and, you know, we're going to end up once we pump it out we'll probably stage portable pumps in that area, you know, so that they're ready to be used anytime there's water.

ZAHN: And that could take a long time couldn't it?

GAPINSKI: To pump the water out?

ZAHN: Yes, manually like that.

GAPINSKI: It should be -- I don't know. You know, of course, we got to stop the water first but, you know, it could be less than a week to get all that water out of there.

ZAHN: Final question for you tonight sir, Governor Blanco said earlier today that she is very worried about the strength of the levees and she fears that some could completely give way, do you share that concern?

GAPINSKI: Not necessarily, no. Of course, if a strong enough storm hits us, you know, you saw what Katrina did, so I mean certainly it just depends. But, you know, obviously most of the levees, actually all the levees remained intact. What you saw yesterday was water higher than levees so the water just flowed over the top but those levees maintained their integrity.

ZAHN: So you don't think the governor is overreacting. If there's another strong storm she may have a point there.

GAPINSKI: Well certainly, yes. I mean if there's a very strong storm that directly hits New Orleans then, yes, that could be trouble.

ZAHN: We hope that's not the case. Colonel Duane Gapinski, I know you'll all be working through the night, good luck.

GAPINSKI: Thank you.

ZAHN: Our pleasure.

Rita is still causing a lot of problems, even though she's now just a tropical storm. We're going to get the very latest on where the storm's located as well as the long range forecast.

Please stay with us. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ZAHN: And welcome back.

What you are about to see is some video that we have just received of some of the rescue operations underway, some of the boats returning. They have been launching boats now for several hours trying to get to people who are south of the town right here, Abbeville, where I am in southern Louisiana.

Basically between here and the coastline, between here and the water there has been extensive flooding and a number of families are trapped according to the governor and some of those families where people who had evacuated for the storm but who actually came back this morning to check on their property and the waters continue -- the surge continues. We've had high winds blowing -- blowing this water. It is still flooding in those areas. Some people are simply trapped in their homes.

I'm joined by Rita who is a schoolteacher here in Abbeville. Your home is OK but the waters have gone up quite close.

RITA, ABBEVILLE RESIDENT: Yes. Our home is OK. We evacuated last night to go to my daughter's home in Milton because we have a 100-year-old oak tree that lies very close to the home. And we came home this morning thinking that the oak tree was going to be on top of the house and it wasn't.

COOPER: Oh, that's great.

RITA: Proud and glorious it's up there and we couldn't believe it. We were shocked when we saw the conditions of the river and we heard what was going on south and how communities were flooded.

COOPER: It's, I mean it's got to be, it's an emotional time for you to see this in your community.

RITA: It's a very emotional time. We haven't had a flood like this I think since 1940 when the city was flooded and it was not expected, especially after Katrina.

COOPER: Are people giving you jokes about your name, Rita?

RITA: Oh, Lord, have I been getting jokes about my name. You know what in this situation, Cooper, you always have to look for humor because that's the only way that you can get from today until tomorrow.

So, in this situation my name is Rita, yes, and I have been getting numerous jokes about it but we're going to laugh about it and we're going to find something good out of this.

COOPER: All right, well I hope so.

RITA: And thank you for coming. That's something good.

COOPER: Oh, it was my pleasure. I'm honored to be here. Thank you, Rita, appreciate it. RITA: Thank you. And, if ya'll want to come film you're welcome to it.

COOPER: I appreciate that, Rita, thank you.

RITA: You're welcome to it.

COOPER: Thank you very much.

You know there are a lot of people here affected in ways large and small, public and private but it is an emotional time for everyone, Paula, as you can imagine. People, you know, they're just not used to seeing this in their community and it affects them even though they may not know the people who are stranded they are their neighbors and their countrymen and it's a time like this people feel very close together -- Paula.

ZAHN: Yes, and I guess the most amazing thing the governor told you is the fact that when you look at this water rising in Vermilion Bay, this is a part of the state that has never flooded before like this, so all of it quite unexpected. Thanks, Anderson, see you in a little bit.

We're going to turn to the west of where Anderson is right now to the state of Texas and we know at this hour that at least 800,000 citizens there without power. Some rescues continue to go on at this hour. They are still conducting more but not as we were told an overwhelming number of rescues.

For what all that means we've traveled to Austin where we meet with the chief spokesman on the ground in Texas for the Department of Homeland Security, Dave Passey, Dave thanks so much for being with us tonight.


ZAHN: How many people do you think have been rescued today?

PASSEY: I don't have exact numbers but right before I came on, I checked with our search and rescue management team and the team was at that time helping to air evacuate five people from Fred, Texas, from a nursing home and then they were going to move by ground an additional number of patients but I don't have an exact number.

ZAHN: And, are you also involved with the operations in Louisiana at this hour?

PASSEY: I spoke with my colleagues in Louisiana where search and rescues have gone on all day long, principally by the Coast Guard. They had their first rescues last night and have been working throughout south Louisiana all day long.

ZAHN: I guess one of the more alarming things we've heard tonight, Dave, is because you're still getting 25 to 35 mile gusts of wind. Even though there are a lot of boats available, particularly in Louisiana for these rescues, the governor was just saying she's afraid to put them in the water. She's afraid they're going to flip over and things just aren't calm enough to do the kind of rescue operations you'd like to get done at this hour.

PASSEY: Yes, both the rescue and the assessment efforts today, which were our priorities have been hindered by the weather in Texas and Louisiana and, as the governor indicated, yes, that boat or water rescue is hindered in Louisiana. We're fortunate that the flooding in Texas that was forecast earlier in the day has not materialized so far yet.

ZAHN: Now, we understand another problem you have right now is some gridlock on the highways and I know the mayor of Houston couldn't have said anymore pointedly, as well as the governor of your state, telling people do not try to come home. How big of a problem is that?

PASSEY: Well, we're concerned for the safety of people. We understand that desire to return home but we want them to return home safely and we want them to return home to safe communities.

At the same time, if people will be patient and wait a few days until their local officials give them that all clear signal, then the emergency crews, who are traveling by air and mostly by ground will be able to get to the areas where they're most needed.

ZAHN: Finally, Dave, we've been hearing some reports that some of the search and rescue missions and the assessments have been slowed down because some families have actually filed false reports of missing family members just basically to confirm that they're OK. Have you seen any evidence of that from where you are tonight?

PASSEY: I have not heard any reports of that but we would encourage people if they know of an emergency need to call their local 911 organization. Communications throughout most of the area have stayed steady.

ZAHN: Dave Passey, thank you so much for the update. We appreciate it. Good luck.

And we just have some new rescue video just in. This was in Vermilion Parish in southwestern Louisiana. As you can see by these pictures, and the fence in the background, we are talking about very deep floodwaters here.

The travel is all but impossible except by boat but, once again, you got this area still being whipped by 35 mile-an-hour winds and even the governor is concerned that these rescue boats shouldn't be in the water until 7:00 a.m. tomorrow because of just how tenuous this all is.

She also confirmed to Anderson in person just a short while ago that she believes based on reports from emergency workers that at least 100 people are trapped, cut off by floodwaters.

Now, this was an area that was under a mandatory evacuation order but apparently some of the homeowners came back to check their homes and it wasn't until that point that they actually saw these floodwaters rising and I guess the big surprise to these folks in the region was this was an area that had never seen flooding of that magnitude before.

So, now we have reports of Coast Guard helicopters flying over the area. Anderson heard a couple of them. Rick Sanchez, who is further south down the coast, heard them as well. And now some state officials appear to be helping people too.

And, of course, in the middle of all this chaos you got stranded animals out there that need to be helped in Vermilion Parish and in other flooded areas tonight after Hurricane Rita's drenching rains.

All of this takes a heck of a lot of equipment but would you ever have the nerve to drive into a hurricane hoping to find a tornado, coming up next, some guys who did just that.


ZAHN: So, we're back with an update for you.

So, Rita, may not be a hurricane anymore but she's a tropical storm and that storm now is stalled over the whole Texas/Louisiana/Arkansas border and it could create some real problems for folks for catching the storm north of where it hit first.

Let's get the latest form severe weather expert Chad Myers. How much trouble could they be in rain wise?

CHAD MYERS, CNN SEVERE WEATHER EXPERT: Well, rain, a lot, could be two feet of rain in some spots but right now this is a tornado producer, 18 tornado warnings, ten on the ground and fatalities just in the past couple of hours with these storms that are coming onshore here.

I want to get a lot of these parishes and counties if I can. Eastern Madison, Southern Issaquena for Northwestern Warren counties. Those are Mississippi and also Louisiana. Scott County, Leake, Madison County, Atalla and Holmes County, Carroll County, Ashley County, Chico County, Chico County in Arkansas. It just goes on and on. These are a little bit older but Conway, Faulkner (ph), Holmes, Carol, Leflore and Sunflower in Mississippi.

Let me show you what's going on. It's this moisture source coming out of the Gulf of Mexico. Yes, we're worried about flooding here. It is raining in Arkansas. It is raining in Louisiana. But it is storming here in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and down to Alabama and New Orleans.

Some of these storms are spinning as they come onshore. Look at all of the red counties. Every single red county has a tornado warning on it. That means the storm in that county is spinning and could potentially put down a tornado at any time.

This is what happens when a storm comes onshore, loses its identity as a spinning hurricane, but has all of this energy left on the east side, very typical of the storm, very typical of any hurricane that comes onshore.

We've had an awful lot of rain come through already. Here's the next 48 hours across Louisiana. There's Lake Charles. There's New Orleans. Everywhere that you see purple, ten inches or more in the next 48 hours, the water is coming up -- back to you.

ZAHN: You've been a very busy man over the last five days. Thank you for helping us better understand what wrath this storm continues to pack.

Coming up, though, on the other side we're going to be joined by my colleagues in Louisiana and Texas. We've got them stationed all along the coast.

And we're going to wrap up what's happening right at this minute across the Hurricane Rita disaster zone. Which area was hit the worst? Stay tuned.


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