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Some Residents Return to New Orleans; Interview With American Red Cross CEO Marty Evans

Aired September 26, 2005 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody. Thanks so much for being with us.
Parts of the Gulf Coast are trying to come back to life tonight. But other areas are still under water two days after Hurricane Rita and exactly four weeks after Hurricane Katrina. The worst disaster zone is along the Texas-Louisiana border, where Hurricane Rita pushed seawater as far as 20 to 30 miles inland; 70 to 90 percent of the homes in some towns have been destroyed.

The cities aren't in very good shape either. Lake Charles, Louisiana, where these pictures were taken, has no power, no sewer system, and no open stores or gas stations. More than a million homes or businesses along the Gulf Coast are without electricity.

In New Orleans, on the other hand, there is something unusual today. People are being allowed back into the city again. And, as you would guess, there was a traffic jam. The Algiers neighborhood, which never flooded and does have electricity, is open again.

Many other New Orleans residents aren't so lucky. People in St. Bernard Parish are getting a first look at their once-flooded homes. But they, unfortunately, aren't finding much worth salvaging, as you can see from these pictures.

The governor of Texas says his state's oil and gas industry took only a glancing blow from Hurricane Rita. However, 16 Texas refineries remain shut down. Oil prices went up today. And President Bush says he will tap into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to prevent any shortages.

And get this. Michael Brown, who resigned in disgrace as FEMA's director, is now telling congressional investigators that he is now being paid as a federal consultant to assess what went wrong in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This comes from a senior official who was at today's closed-door meeting and no doubt will lead to some spirited debates.

Parts of southwestern Louisiana are under 15 feet of water tonight. Vermilion Parish was hit so hard that many of its towns were inundated.

Rick Sanchez has this look at the devastation and just filed this report from the town of Erath.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After Hurricane Katrina, thousands of people living along the Gulf Coast helped those who have been left homeless. Lisa Guidry did her part. Now she, too, is homeless.


SANCHEZ (on camera): It's tough, isn't it?

GUIDRY: Because I left most of my stuff.

SANCHEZ (voice-over): No one here can remember a disaster on this scale. Here's why Rita was so bad. She hit the Louisiana coast around high tide, so the water was already elevated when it was pushed as much as 30 miles inland. That surge caused the Vermilion River to overflow its banks, flooding towns like Abbeville, Perry, and Erath. There, National Guardsmen have been using trucks to rescue people and pets.

(on camera): From this point on, the waters have been so high that most of the trucks haven't been able to get through. The only way to really get in is by helicopter. So, from this point on, we will take to the sky.

(voice-over): We first go from Erath to Forked Island. There, even the dead have been disturbed, tombs lifted out of the ground. Cattle lie dead or dying. This herd has found a hill surrounded by miles of water too deep to cross and full of alligators looking for a meal, home after home, building after building, flooded.

From Forked Island, we cross over toward Intracoastal City, closer to the Gulf. We expect the effect of the storm surge to be much worse here. It is. Along the way, we're struck by an amazing sight, seaweed, acres and acres of it, from the Gulf of Mexico 10 highs away has covered fields and farmlands. Intracoastal City is a town for shrimpers and oil rig workers. We find their boats washed up and overturned, their houses flooded.

Conditions farther south are likely to be even worse. What we find in the city of Pecan Island is true testimony to Rita's ferocity. This is what forecasters warn about when they describe a storm surge, the entire town devastated, homes picked up by water and slammed against trees, other houses simply dragged hundreds of feet several blocks. This home rode a wave for miles.

It's now watched over by an alligator attracted by something. What, we don't know. We see countless foundations, but we don't see the homes that stood on them until we look away. Pecan Island got some of the worst of the storm surge because it's only five miles from the Gulf. Due west is Cameron, just two miles from Gulf waters, which is where Lisa Guidry is from, Cameron Parish. She now shares a hotel room with two other families. They are nine people, including two children, living in one room.

Lisa's community is now in ruins, homes either taken apart by hurricane-force winds or washed away by rising waters. Now that the storm is over, the uncertain future is what worries her the most.

GUIDRY: Yes, sir, it does.

SANCHEZ (on camera): It's hard not knowing what tomorrow will bring.

GUIDRY: Yes, sir.


SANCHEZ: It's a very important to be able to study what this hurricane did, where the winds were strongest, where the surge was strongest. Was it closer to the Gulf? Were the winds closer to the eye? It's invaluable information that can be used -- you almost hate to say it -- but in future hurricanes.

One great piece of news, we're in that town, Erath, that we mentioned during my report. Yesterday, I came through here. The water would have been easily up to my waist. Today, it's below my ankles, a glimmer of hope -- Paula, back to you.

ZAHN: A glimmer of hope and yet, Rick, when we all were on the air Saturday night, I think the most frightening thing for any of us covering this story was hearing the sheriff, who we hope to talk to soon, from Vermilion Parish describing that these families were caught so off guard that you had water rising in some cases almost a foot an hour.

SANCHEZ: They didn't believe it, Paula, because they said to me on several occasions, there's been no flooding here. The Vermilion River will never go over its crest, hasn't happened since the 1940s. Those were our grandparents. We heard the stories, but it couldn't possibly happen again.

It did. And it did, as you said, catch them by surprise.

ZAHN: And, Rick, to our knowledge, has everybody been rescued? Has everybody been accounted for?

SANCHEZ: That's a tricky question.

We know that the authorities have been going through all of these communities. And, in the communities like this one, in Erath, where they can almost go door to door and walk into them, certainly, you can say that those people have been accounted for.

But, in some of those communities like Pecan City or Pecan Island, for example, that are out there real close to the coast, it's difficult. Those homes, as you saw in my report, have literally been picked up and moved miles. Is there a possibility that there could be somebody in one of those homes? No one really knows for sure. They have a good feeling that everyone is accounted for.

But when they really go in there with a fine-toothed comb and look through those homes, Paula, who knows what they'll find.

ZAHN: Keep us posted. Rick Sanchez, thanks so much.

Different story in New Orleans tonight. They continue to shore up the levees in and around that city. These pictures came in a short time ago. Repair crews are raising the height of the 17th Street levee by driving in huge steel beams. Then giant sandbags are plugging spots where water from Hurricane Rita ran over the top of Industrial Canal levee -- levee, that is -- reflooding the Ninth Ward.

In the Arabi section of the city, a line of railroad tracks separates wet streets from dry streets.

And, as David Mattingly shows us, some New Orleans residents were actually able to come home today.


DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the latest flood to hit New Orleans. For a short time, traffic crowded the interstates, as displaced residents flowed back into their neighborhoods to resume work interrupted by Hurricane Rita.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Louisiana State Police opened up the roads back into the greater New Orleans area.

MATTINGLY: In New Orleans, only people in the least affected areas were allowed to return. In some of these neighborhoods, flooding never was a problem.

But, to the east, in neighboring St. Bernard Parish, residents were allowed to return for the first time, temporarily, to visit their flood-ravaged streets and homes.

LESTER MESSA, RESIDENT OF ST. BERNARD PARISH: We have been here, what, 29 years, and never thought it would come to this.


MATTINGLY: Members of the Messa family slog through the ankle- deep muck inside their house to recover a lifetime of memories one piece at a time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't want to remember it like this. You just don't. It's heartbreaking.

MATTINGLY: And the heartache has just begun. Areas that reflooded from Hurricane Rita's storm surge will have to remain off- limits even longer. In New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward, ground zero for two levee failures, some streets remain nearly impassable.

(on camera): The only traffic coming through here right now are the helicopters.

(voice-over): The noise from above is the only thing that breaks the eerie silence. Wading through the inundated and deserted neighborhoods, I found trees that are still filled with tattered clothing and rows of houses that have been smashed and shattered. (on camera): Looking at all this water, it's almost impossible to believe that this area had actually been pumped dry by Friday. But now, because of the new flooding, all the recovery work that had been going on was for nothing. It will have to start over again.

And one thing hasn't changed. For all the residents who live here, on that day when they're finally allowed to come back to their homes, many will be coming back to find they have nothing to come back to.

(voice-over): That moment of reckoning will have to wait until the damaged levee is shored up and the water is again pumped out.


MATTINGLY: And there's still a lot of pain to go around for the people of New Orleans. One thing we have learned is that, for many of them, the first round of that pain will begin on that first awful trip home to see what they have left -- Paula.

ZAHN: What a nightmare that will be.

David Mattingly, thanks.

The Red Cross, meanwhile, says it needs more than $2 billion to help victims of hurricanes Rita and Katrina. The organization is facing an enormous challenge right now, dealing with two disasters at one time.

American Red Cross CEO Marty Evans joins us now.

Good to see you.


ZAHN: So, how are you treating this, as one disaster? You're rolling the two hurricanes into each other?

EVANS: Well, we're treating them as two separate events.

But, unfortunately, there are some people that were actually affected twice. I mean, they've been through two major storms now. And people that were evacuated, for example, to Houston from the first hurricane were then re-evacuated to a safe -- a safe place. So, it really does kind of blend together. But we see them as two separate storms.

ZAHN: You have raised close to $1 billion. That's how generous Americans have been. But we made it very clear you need another $1 billion to be able to take care of everything you want to address here. What are the consequences of your not raising that additional $1 billion?

EVANS: You know, we have been heartened by how the American public and indeed people from around the world have responded to the call for resources. We have over 900,000 families. That could be as many as four million people that have serious, have extreme financial needs from Katrina, and we haven't even added on the Rita -- Rita needs. So, we -- we are having trouble thinking about the consequences of not providing that emergency financial assistance to people.

The needs are just incredible, as people have to piece together their lives. They have to create a whole new place to live, a whole new way of living. I don't think the American public will not respond to the need when they see -- as they see this extraordinary tragedy.

ZAHN: And yet, you're being forced to make this cry for help. You obviously are worried. Do you think you'll close this gap in the end or not?

EVANS: We are going to do everything we possibly can. You know, back in World War II, one out of every four Americans supported the Red Cross by either making a financial contribution, volunteering, or giving blood.

We are nowhere near one out of four Americans. So, I think we can convince people that, if they've already given once, to step up and make a second contribution, because people really continue to have great needs.

ZAHN: Where are you, then, on the call for volunteers?

EVANS: Well, we have had...

ZAHN: I know you've had a pretty good turnout by folks across the country who want to do good things.

EVANS: We have had a great turnout. And we have about 163,000 volunteers mobilized on this effort, both...

ZAHN: Which is incredible.

EVANS: Well, both in the area and also back at their home chapters, recruiting other volunteers and training.

We need about 40,000 more. And the reason we need it is -- need them -- is that this is a disaster unlike any other disaster. Usually, the Red Cross is doing the emergency relief for maybe 30 days at the most. And then people transition into longer-term situations.

ZAHN: Sure.

EVANS: But, you know, with this extreme situation we're in, it could be 45, it could be 60, 90 days before people are going to be out of our shelters. We have right now 110,000 people in shelters. And we know that maybe 30,000, 40,000 of them are long-term shelter residents.

ZAHN: So sad to even try to get your arms around.

EVANS: It is. ZAHN: Good luck to you.

EVANS: Thanks so much, Paula.

ZAHN: Thank you for dropping by tonight, Marty Evans.

EVANS: Thank you.

ZAHN: And long before anyone had ever heard of Hurricane Katrina, a Louisiana official had a simple, but controversial idea. He asked his neighbors to pay higher taxes for higher levees. Did it work? You'll see in just a minute.


ZAHN: Much of southwestern Louisiana is still under water tonight. Hurricane Rita pushed seawater in as far as 20 miles. And despite all the damage in Vermilion Parish, it seems at this hour that everyone has survived.

Joining me now, Vermilion Parish Sheriff Michael Couvillon.

It's good to see you, sir. The last time I spoke with you on Saturday night, you were very fearful that perhaps 100 lives were at risk. So, everybody is accounted for?


ZAHN: I hope -- yes, I don't think you're getting a clear audio signal.

Sheriff, can you hear me now?

COUVILLON: Just barely.

ZAHN: OK. They're going to try the right level. And I will attempt this one more time.

Are you fairly confident that everybody in your parish that needs help tonight has it?


It appears that we had a very successful controversy and evacuation of all people that were stranded. We're very satisfied with all the effort put forth by the military and everybody that assisted us, wildlife and fishery, state police, all the police departments and all the mayors.

ZAHN: The scariest thing for me Saturday night was to be interviewing you and have you describe this water that was rising, some -- in some cases, as much as a foot an hour. How many people do you think ended up being trapped?

COUVILLON: At this time, I don't know sure about a number. But I would say we rescued at least 200 people. ZAHN: And describe how challenging those rescues were. What did you have to do, given the fact that rain was still falling, the winds were still blowing; in some cases, it wasn't even safe to be out there in a boat?

COUVILLON: Paula, I'm not understanding anything you're saying. If you can hear me, I have one statement for everybody listening.

I wish, for once, FEMA would cut all the red tape and expedite the supplies and the services needed for all of these people that have lost their homes.

ZAHN: I'm wondering if a producer can ask this question, since you clearly aren't hearing me, exactly what resources you need.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What resources do you -- are you requesting, what resources?

COUVILLON: I would like FEMA to come in and assist these people as soon as possible. They lost most of their homes. They need some type of help, some type of funds, so they can start their lives all over.

ZAHN: And I'm going to keep on answering these -- asking these questions through my producer.

Do they have enough food? Do they have enough water tonight?

COUVILLON: We do have reports that water and ice was delivered. I don't know about the food situation in the city of Erath. I talked to one of the council members. He appeared that everything -- he advised me that everything seemed to be going well, other than people suffering with the heat, mosquitoes, and all kind of unnecessary problems that was caused by this storm.

ZAHN: And a little more help on the ground from Sheriff Couvillon.

You are beginning to see the water recede. Just how devastating is Rita's path?

COUVILLON: I can't hear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How devastating is the flooding here?

COUVILLON: This is the worst flood anybody from Vermilion Parish ever remembered.

ZAHN: And we certainly can see that tonight from the pictures. Look at these homes, in some cases, the water line all the way up to the rooftop.

Sheriff Couvillon, thank you for your time.

He was one brave man when we checked in with him Saturday night, actually taking -- taking -- actually participating in rescues of some family members. It was all very personal for him.

And we apologize that he couldn't hear us, not surprising, with no electricity around there, and the complicated hookups that we have to try to accomplish here.

There were some startling revelations today about what really happened at the New Orleans Superdome and the Convention Center after Hurricane Katrina. It is certainly worth another look.

We will get to it right after Erica Hill at Headline News updates the night's other top stories.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Paula, the soldier whose thumbs- up photo with naked prisoners made her the face of the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal could get 10 years in prison. Private Lynndie England was convicted today of conspiracy, mistreatment of detainees and committing an indecent act. She is the last Abu Ghraib suspect to face trial.

In a small town south of Baghdad, Iraqi insurgents shot and killed six schoolteachers. The attackers were disguised as police officers.

Back in Washington, anti-war mom Cindy Sheehan was arrested today after leading a sit-down protest at the White House; 100,000 people attended an anti-war rally in Washington this weekend.

Republican Senator Bill Frist says he will cooperate with the federal investigation into millions of dollars worth of HCA stock he sold just before the price dropped. Frist's father and brother -- and brother founded HCA, the country's largest for-profit hospital chain.

And comedian Don Adams has died in Los Angeles. He won three Emmys as the bumbling secret agent Maxwell Smart in the 1960s sitcom "Get Smart." Don Adams was 82 -- Paula.

ZAHN: And he was always one of my favorites. He's going to be missed by a lot of folks.

Thanks so much, Erica.

Of course, one thing none of us can erase from our minds are these horrible, horrible pictures of the desperate people outside the New Orleans Convention Center in the days after Hurricane Katrina. What kind of crimes really went on inside? And why is it that the chief of police and the mayor continue to make some of those allegations?

Please stay with us for a fresh look.


ZAHN: Some of the stories we have heard from New Orleans over the past couple of weeks have been downright frightening, some of them very hard to believe. Just remember the desperation of evacuees at the Superdome and the reports, even from officials like Mayor Ray Nagin, of terrifying crimes. Here's what Nagin said on "Oprah" on September 6: "They have people standing out there, have been in that fricking Superdome for five days watching dead bodies, watching hooligans killing people, raping people. That's the tragedy."

Well, we think it's important to go back and set the record straight when things become clearer. "The New Orleans Times-Picayune" does that today with a story that says, basically, many of those awful reports were exaggerated, at best.

Joining me from New Orleans is "Times-Picayune" reporter Michael Perlstein, who contributed to the article, and its editor in chief, David Meeks.

Thank you both for joining us.

So, Michael, how is it that the mayor got all of this wrong?

MICHAEL PERLSTEIN, "THE NEW ORLEANS TIMES-PICAYUNE": Well, I think that the mayor was caught up in the same thing that a lot of people were caught up, reporters, officials, and everyone else here included, and that there was a communications blackout.

Rumors spread like wildfire. And, you know, it was very difficult in those early days to separate fact from fiction. He was getting reports from pretty credible sources. But, by then, it had been passed along four or five different times, the story exaggerated each time along the way. And he thought he was getting very credible information at the time.

ZAHN: So, Michael in the end, what do you think is the most egregious exaggeration the mayor made?

PERLSTEIN: Well, when it comes to death, which is obviously the gravest possible circumstance, I think that there has to be a hard body count and some type of, you know, final autopsy or findings on cause of death. And I think that it's -- in the case of Superdome and Convention Center, there should have been at least a pause for that kind of final count to come about.

ZAHN: David, the whole world was shocked by the pictures they saw coming out of the Convention Center. And these weren't even pictures that were terribly graphic of what we were being told by public officials was going on inside. At what point did you begin to doubt the truthfulness of these allegations?

DAVID MEEKS, "THE NEW ORLEANS TIMES-PICAYUNE": Well, you know, Paula, we were the only journalists who were in town the entire time. We were here three days before the soldiers showed up. So, we had all been down to Convention Center Boulevard. I'd been down there myself with our reporting staff.

And everything we were hearing was just contradicting what we were seeing. I don't want to say it was a nice place to be. The conditions were horrible. We had a number of people tell us that, until the reporters showed up, there was no food and water being distributed. But it wasn't the case that these people were trying to hurt each other. They were just hungry, starving, thirsty, wanted a ride out of here, sitting in 90-something degree heat for two and three days.

ZAHN: But I guess...


ZAHN: Go ahead.

PERLSTEIN: We chased many of these false rumors ourselves. And we started becoming suspicious when the rumor was a 7-year-old girl killed. And then it was a 9-year-old girl. And then it was a 13- year-old girl.

At that point, we really had to sit down and question the truth of these kinds of rumors.

ZAHN: I'm going to let that truck pass or plane pass to give you all a chance to hear me.

OK, David, hopefully, you can hear me now.

Clearly, there was a great sensitivity to race in covering this story. But you had an African-American mayor. You had the head of the police department being an African-American. And, clearly, they had to be sensitive that what they were saying was going to have some tremendous impact. You're not suggesting, David, that they intentionally exaggerated this story?

MEEKS: I really don't think they did. I think they got caught up in hysteria.

This was one of the greatest natural disasters ever to strike a city. And like them, we live here. It's striking the city where we live. There's a lot of stories running around. And there's no ability to talk to each other. And information was just passed along and embellished. I think they were trying to draw attention to how difficult the situation was here in New Orleans. They were trying to get help from the federal government. And I think that definitely contributed to some of these stories growing wildly, like they did.

ZAHN: And Michael, very quickly in closing, the man who headed the police department Mr. Compass who we're seeing here, the superintendent, even he happened to be the target of unfounded rumors about his own daughter allegedly being raped?

PEARLSTEIN: Oh, yes. There were rumors flying around about Eddie Compass, the police chief, that he had been kidnapped, held for ransom for an escape bus, that his daughter had been raped, that he had gone off to Baton Rouge and basically left at a critical point in the storm. And all of those turned out to be false.

ZAHN: Well, you've done some excellent reporting on this. And I think in those early hours of that big mess down there, it was hard to make much sense of anything. So, thanks for clarifying this for us tonight. Michael Pearlstein, David Meeks...

I want to put now a human face on another story we've been following. Stay with us for a family's emotional reaction to last week's bus accident when 24 people died. It was the final journey for one man whose life included some really remarkable adventures. Stay with us for that.


ZAHN: Welcome back. You're looking at a live picture of people driving into Houston. Traffic was pretty steady back into the city today. A huge contrast to what we saw at the end of the week when people were trying to evacuate before Hurricane Rita. Some 2.5 million people on the move. In some cases folks only traveling some 10 miles in 12 hours. Different story tonight.

But the evacuation of Houston led to one horrific disaster. And we're just learning tonight about the victims. A bus carrying nursing home patients caught fire, 24 people were killed. Dan Simon brings us the story of one victim through the voices of his family.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The moment these disturbing images flashed on television, Judy White says she had a horrible vision, that her father had been a passenger on the burning bus.

JUDY WHITE, DAUGHTER: And I just had a feeling, this pit in my stomach. I don't know what it is but I just -- I just knew.

SIMON: In fact, 86-year-old London England had been one of the evacuees from the Brighton Gardens Nursing Home near Houston.

WHITE: I prayed he was asleep maybe, since it was so early in the morning and they had been on that bus so long. That's what haunts me.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was trying to be safe. They were trying to keep them safe. He lost his life trying to be safe. We just really have a hard time with that.

SIMON: They are also having a hard time because they too are evacuees. Their house in Kenner (ph), Louisiana flooded. Judy White took her family to live in her father's Houston home.

WHITE: You just get to where you don't even think one day ahead. You think one minute ahead. I have to make it through this day.

SIMON: Questions over the fatal bus journey are mounting. Local authorities say the vehicle, operated by the Texas-based company Global Limo, was not properly registered. But a waiver signed by Governor Rick Perry allowed the bus to be put in service specifically to aid in the Houston evacuation. Perry defended his decision. GOV. RICK PERRY, TEXAS: We took no safety precautions away at all. We were very clear, this was to get as many vehicles on the road to get people out of harm's way. But the safety requirements were absolutely not waived.

SIMON: And in fact, authorities say there weren't any indications of safety problems with that bus. And the company says it will cooperate with the investigation. Some victims' relatives are already talking about lawsuits. But England's family says it's too early to think about that.

WHITE: Right now, the loss is so new and the pain is so great right now. And waiting to bury him. You know. Pay tribute to him. It's been more in my mind than -- than, you know -- than all of that.

SIMON: Relatives say London England was a broadcasting pioneer, helping transmit overseas radio broadcasts for the Navy during World War II. Later, he would take to the microphone himself, reporting on some of the biggest stories of his generation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you met London England you never forgot you met London England. And he loved people. He loved to talk. He loved to tell stories.

SIMON: His grandchildren have their own.

BETHANY WHITE, GRANDDAUGHTER: I'll never forget the way that every time I called over here to check on him, he'd answer the phone, hello. That's how he said hello. And I loved it. I knew that was my papu (ph) on the other end.

SIMON: This family knows London England was much more than a memorable name or statistic in a bus accident.

ASHLEY WHITE, GRANDDAUGHTER: He lived such a whole life that at a time like this, all you can really do is think back and celebrate it.

J. WHITE: He wasn't just an evacuee on a bus. That he was a really wonderful, wonderful man. And this world's going to be a lot less without him.


SIMON: Well, we are live here at the Brighton Gardens Nursing Home. And obviously, the staff here is just so incredibly saddened by what happened. They obviously thought they were doing the right thing by putting those elderly residents on the bus, Paula.

ZAHN: Dan Simon, thanks so much. You've got to love London England's name.

It seems like one question everybody has been asking, what's the deal with all these hurricanes this year? Well, coming up, a controversial theory. Are all of us to blame? Do I hear global warming, anybody? (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ZAHN: We are back with some breaking news out of Iraq. It has just been confirmed from the Pentagon, a man believed to be al Qaeda's number two operative in Iraq was killed Monday afternoon, according to this U.S. official, who is confirming this report for us tonight. The man is known as Abu Azam (ph). He is considered to be a, quote, "significant figure" in the al Qaeda network. And as soon as more details become available about his death, we will bring them to you.

Back to the wake of the hurricanes now. Tonight, while the people of New Orleans wait for their city to be drained again, parish after parish in southwestern Louisiana is just beginning to deal with massive flooding. One community, though, happens to be dry, and there's a good reason for that. The voters actually paid to make sure it would stay that way. Here's chief national correspondent John King.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thirty-five miles south of New Orleans, breathtaking wetlands. The water exactly where it's supposed to be.

It's Windell Curole's job to keep it that way. This closed floodgate, one of his weapons.

WINDELL CUROLE, SOUTH LAFOURCHE LEVEE DISTRICT: Flooding to the north of us, flooding to the east, and flooding to the west. We're very fortunate that the system was just high enough to keep that flood surge out.

KING: Curole manages the South Lafourche Levee District. It looks like the tip of a finger on this map. And these days, when he looks at Rita's impact on the next parish over, and Katrina's devastation up in New Orleans, he fights back the temptation to say "I told you so."

CUROLE: It's not time to say that. It's never time to say that.

KING: But he did warn them, repeatedly, starting a decade ago, memo after memo, warning after warning, saying a state so vulnerable needed to improve its levees, its pumps and its evacuation plans.

CUROLE: I mentioned for years that it might take a disaster to get the attention we need. Well, it happened before we could deal with the problem.

KING: Hurricane Rita's storm surge delivered this mess, this boat, and waters at one point 6 feet above normal. All stopped by the Lafourche levee.

This is just a few miles up the road and a few steps into a neighboring parish that dropped out of the levee system back in 1968 because its leaders didn't want to pay the costs.

CUROLE: They envy where we are. Today the large portions of that parish are in water, where today we're dry.

KING: Katrina's winds caused damage here, but no flooding. Lafourche Parish was on the drier side of the storm.

But it wasn't just luck.

CUROLE: We took care of those levees. And they function exactly like they were supposed to.

KING: Curole has friends on the New Orleans Levee Board and knows they wanted improvements.

CUROLE: But others sometimes get -- and the political leaders in those other areas get distracted.

KING: City officials blame a lack of federal money. Curole can sympathize.

CUROLE: We're the kind of people that (INAUDIBLE).

KING: But when his federal funds dried up, Lafourche Parish residents voted to finish the work with local taxes.

The water is the lifeblood here. So Curole has little patience for those who say there was no way to predict such a catastrophic storm.

This scene is New Orleans 40 years ago. It could just as well be 28 days ago.

CUROLE: As a good businessman, the success of your business is not just looking at what's working well, but what are the threats to your business? And often in politics we don't look at the long-term threats.


KING: Now, as you could see in that piece, Lafourche Parish is bone-dry, but Windell Curole is simply not satisfied. Already, there are plans in the work for a new lock down by that floodgate. They have plans also, Paula, to raise the levee a few feet -- a lesson learned, he says, from watching these hurricanes over the past two months -- and he believes this time, Mr. Curole does, that there might actually be federal money to help, because of the devastation, the scope of the destruction, back here where we are tonight in New Orleans. But he also worries, Paula, that history will repeat itself, that two, three, four years down the road, people will forget again.

ZAHN: But it does make you wonder, John, in how many other places people would support raising taxes of their own to support this kind of protection.

KING: One of his issues is, A, he says they live closer to the water, so the people understand it. They're way down in the south coast. Number two, he says, there have been corruption issues with some of the other levee boards, and he believes the taxpayers simply don't trust them, so those levee boards don't even go to the people asking to raise taxes, because they know what the answer would be.

ZAHN: That makes sense. John King, thanks so much.

Rita and Katrina are just the latest of close to 100 hurricanes that have hit the U.S. since 1990. And the number of storms and their intensity have a lot of people debating whether global warming is to blame. Here's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the wake of all the hurricanes that have hit American shores in recent years, some scientists are convinced they have spotted a trend. Global warming, they say, is making these big storms bigger.

Peter Webster is a professor at Georgia Tech, who studies rising ocean temperatures, and he sees a simultaneous increase in the ferocity of storms.

PETER WEBSTER, GEORGIA TECH: But what you see is a universal change in character of the hurricanes and move towards more intensity that can't be explained by any natural variability that we know of or understand.

FOREMAN: Webster and others have expanded on their theory in prestigious scientific journals, and the idea is simple. The world's oceans are getting warmer, only by about 1 degree Celsius over the past century, but that is enough, they say, to make storms grow more rapidly and furiously as they feed off of that warm water. And then, the steady supply of heat makes them last longer, too.

Their evidence, based on storm measurements and computer models, is so compelling even some experienced hurricane watchers are becoming at least tentative believers.

HUGH WILLOUGHBY, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY: What global warming may have done, and I emphasize may, is made a hurricane like Katrina a little stronger at its greatest intensity.

FOREMAN: Other scientists, however, have doubts, especially with regard to storms that hit the U.S. As bad as hurricanes have been here in the past decade, the 1940s produced stronger hurricanes and more of them. So when one computer model predicts a 6 percent increase in hurricane wind speed over the next 80 years, researcher Pat Michaels says natural cycles could easily account for that.

PATRICK MICHAELS, CATO INSTITUTE: If you plot out hurricanes from year to year, they do this, and trying to find a 6 percent change in this is going to take a long, long time. We have bigger fish to fry.

FOREMAN (on camera): Still, even some doubters say the idea of a link between global warming and these terrible storms should be investigated. If only because we've built so much along the water, and it could get so much worse.

WILLOUGHBY: If the worst scenarios that the global warming people imagine come to pass, it's a major problem for humanity.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Neither side in this debate has indisputable proof at this point. But like people all along the Gulf, they are watching the skies to see what comes next.


ZAHN: Tom Foreman reporting for us tonight.

And I wanted to clarify a number we just used. The bottom line is there have been close to 100 hurricanes in the United States since 1950.

Now, more than 2 million people fled from Hurricane Rita. What is it like to go back home wondering if you even have a home anymore? Rob Marciano's dramatic journey to where he used to live and work. What's left?


ZAHN: The city of Lake Charles, Louisiana, is still flooded tonight. The water is starting to recede. Lake Charles is in southwestern Louisiana, about 40 miles from the Texas border. The mayor saying tonight the city still doesn't have any power, sewage system is not up and running.

And meteorologist Rob Marciano once lived in the area, and surveyed the damage today.


ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST (on camera): Now, we're going to drive into Lake Charles. We're going to catch up with some people and -- and see how their lives have been changed.

All the exits are blocked. They don't want you getting off the -- off the highway, obviously. There's going to be streets flooded and blocked all over this place.

Wow. This is the -- this is like the Lake Charles signature building. It's made out of glass, or at least the walls are, and that's not -- that's not a good recipe when a hurricane is coming through. Look how all that glass is blown out. That kind of looked somewhat like this -- there was an ice storm the last year I was here. There you see these trees. Don't see a lot of ice storms, and haven't seen a hurricane in a while either.

(voice-over): I used to live in this neighborhood.

(on camera): My house was on the other side of those trees. It's like every tree on this street is knocked down. It's not Katrina, but it's going to be tough living here for a while, that's for sure.

I can't even see the house where I used to live. Every big tree is down for the rest of this block. (voice-over): Block by block, signs of Rita were everywhere. It was time to track down an old friend. I couldn't connect with him on phone. The lines were down.

(on camera): We're just going to drive down there and see how far we get, and hopefully not run into too much high water.

(voice-over): Along the way, we ran into Sonny Lannin.

SONNY LANNIN, RESIDENT: Hurricane Audrey was a drop in the bucket compared to Rita.

MARCIANO (on camera): No kidding?

LANNIN: Yes, sir.

MARCIANO (voice-over): He's using his boat to go back and forth between his house, where he rode out the storm, and dry land.

When Sonny left, we continued our search.

(on camera): Is there a way for me to get to Ricky Poole's house?

TERRY FAULK, CAMERON PARISH SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: No, we're not allowed to let anyone off of the main highway, other than maybe the residents.

MARCIANO (voice-over): We tried anyway, and just when we had given up...

RICK POOLE, RESIDENT: How are you doing, buddy.

MARCIANO (on camera): Good to see you, buddy.

(voice-over): My friend Rick Poole is a builder, who was helping in New Orleans.

POOLE: My heart goes out to these people. I was thinking, my God, this is terrible. But when it hits home, it seems to be -- I mean, I'm not -- it just -- it changes things.

MARCIANO: Rick gave us a ride to his house in the back of his tractor.

(on camera): It's worse than I thought it would be.

POOLE: Welcome home.

There's enough in there that soap and water can't clean up. It doesn't look like it got too, too high in here.

This is my son's room. And this is our bedroom. You know, the roof held. I don't know who put the roof on, but they must have done a good job. This is something that happens, and the good Lord is going to -- the good Lord gave us the house, and he'll give us the strength and the ability to fix it up again.

We are still blessed. Our lives still intact. So we're in good shape.

MARCIANO (voice-over): For the Pooles and many other families, the long cleanup begins after the water finally recedes.


MARCIANO: A lot of folks still have their homes. What you can't see in those pictures is the smell. Those floodwaters do a tremendous amount of damage just with the smell, and I suppose with all that we've seen with Katrina, we start to become numb with these pictures. And you know, until you're there and see what it does to people's lives and turns them upside down, you don't really get the grasp. But these are people's lives that are being turned upside down.

By the way, Paula, my house, we found it, there were trees on and around it, but it managed to survive. The people who live there now evacuated and weren't home, like a lot of folks here. And that's a good word. I mean, folks got out and at least they survived. Back to you.

ZAHN: Yeah, they were lucky to go home to something. I'm always amazed by the spirits of these people who have lost everything. Just extraordinary. Rob Marciano, thanks so much.

We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: In parts of southwest Louisiana, thousands of cattle have drowned or are dying in the intense heat. There may be as many as 30,000. And the military says it will drop bales of hay to try to keep them alive.

But just south of New Orleans, Keith Oppenheim found one farmer who lost almost everything but is determined to save what she has left.


KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Do you have an idea how much money you've lost?

PATTY VOGT, PORT SULPHUR RESIDENT: I wouldn't even want to try to guess.

OPPENHEIM (voice-over): Patty Vogt survived the storm that flooded her farm and destroyed her home.

VOGT: I mean, it's devastation here. OPPENHEIM: But in her community, Port Sulphur, rumor got around that a body had been identified as her corpse. And from that, she got her nickname.

(on camera): They call you dead Patty?

VOGT: Yeah, that's what they say. I was in a bag, positively identified. They had put me in a bag, the sheriff's department.

I'm very much alive.

OPPENHEIM (voice-over): Dead Patty is alive and angry.

VOGT: And they tell you the cattle ain't worth saving. That's what burned my ass.

OPPENHEIM: She took me by boat through foul-smelling water.

(on camera): All right, Patty, you tell me what to do, OK? I'll give you a hand.

VOGT: All right, we're just going to get the feed out.

OPPENHEIM (voice-over): To feed her cattle. More than 60 cows and a few calves trapped on a levee since the hurricane struck. She says about 250 of her stock are already dead, and she's trying to save what's left.

VOGT: If I could get this cow in some good grass and fresh water, give her some medication, we could save this cow. But without getting out of this toxic hazard that we have, these cattle don't have a chance.

OPPENHEIM: Six times a day, Patty, her brother John, and other workers endure punishing heat, hauling heavy bags of feed and fresh water by motor boat.

(on camera): Why are you trying to save these cattle, if they're already by toxic water and could die anyway?

VOGT: These cattle is fighting for their life just like a person is fighting for their life in a hurricane.

OPPENHEIM: And so it's the right thing to do?

VOGT: It's the only thing to do.

OPPENHEIM (voice-over): Patty says she's been trying to get help from Plaquemines Parish or the military to move the cows.

VOGT: We tried to get helicopters, we tried to get those amphibious vehicles. We've gone to see the colonel, the EEO and the CEO and the DEO, and the ASSS. You understand? But I mean, we've got to get these cattle out.

OPPENHEIM: These cattle are raised for slaughter. A few already look stressed.

VOGT: The cattle deserve a life like anything else.

OPPENHEIM (on camera): You raised them?

VOGT: That's right.

OPPENHEIM: And so, because you raised them, you want to keep them going?

(voice-over): Under the circumstances, some people might think Patty Vogt is just a stubborn farmer, trying to hold on to what she's bound to lose. But dead Patty believes that life, any life, is worth saving. And now, with no farm and no place to go, all Patty Vogt really has left is this mission.

VOGT: My brother can have the place. I'm gone. I'm finished with Plaquemines Parish.

OPPENHEIM (on camera): Why are you trying so hard to save cattle...

VOGT: I'm going to take these cattle where I'm going.

OPPENHEIM: Somewhere?

VOGT: That's right. I'm going to take what's left.


ZAHN: We wish her luck. Thanks so much for joining us tonight.


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