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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

New Orleans Convention Center Details; Coast Guard Rescue Stories; Mississippi Destruction

Aired September 30, 2005 - 19:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Lou. Good evening from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. It is 7:00 p.m. on the East Coast, 4:00 p.m. in the west, and 6:00 p.m. right here in Mississippi. 360 starts now.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: They survived Katrina, only to be left on the streets of New Orleans with no food or water, and little hope.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They left us out here with no lights and no security. This is not fair.

ANNOUNCER: Tonight, what we now know about the Convention Center, and horrors left by Katrina's wake.

Days into a disaster, where a city where thousands were trapped by the floodwaters in New Orleans, what it was like for paramedics on patrol to find those stranded and desperate for rescue.

A small town decimated by Katrina's landfall. We follow residents of Waveland, Mississippi who returned for the first time to find their town, and their lives, turned upside down.

Trapped, confined to a shallow ditch and running out of time, a dolphin stuck in the floodwater's aftermath. We're there for the difficult rescue.

Waiting for the storm. See what it's like when a hurricane hits, how it feels and looks at the moment of impact.

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

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We're going to spend the next hour reassuring ourselves that we really did see all of the hard to believe things we thought we saw in the last month along the Gulf coast of this country. A submerged city, floating bodies, anarchy, tens of thousands of people without food, without water, desperation, stray dogs, stranded dolphins -- can all of that really have happened? Sad to say it did, though at first no one really realized how genuinely awful it was all go to be.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: We're on a pier in -- on the west -- on the east side, I should say, of Baton Rouge. We're just going to kind of keep on walking. It gives you a sense of just how strong the wind is at this point, how difficult it is walking anywhere.

The wind is coming from the north, heading just quickly down the south. You can see there is still a lot of white caps on the Mississippi River. You would be hard pressed to tell this is a river based on all of these white caps. There is a lot of debris that has washed ashore. But the water has come up probably about ten feet or so from where it was in the few hours ago.

Let's try to keep walking. Visibility, though, has definitely improved. As you look across there, and see a boat, like a cutter right in the middle of the Mississippi River, we could not see that about half an hour ago. So you get a sense that visibility has improved.

I probably could see 50 feet about half an hour ago. You can now see several hundred feet, so that is certainly a sign that at least for Baton Rouge, the worst part of this storm may be over. I say may be over. I don't know that for sure, but we all along have been in that northwest quadrant of the storm, the easy part of the storm as they say.

But as you can tell, just by us walking, it is not all that easy even here. We have been particularly concerned about this crane which is on a barge which is basically -- from what we can tell, it seems to have come untethered and has basically hit, knocked into this pier and is resting now on the south side of the barge on the pier.

And I don't know if you can make it out, but the top of the crane is just ripping around in the wind. It has been hitting the end of the pie. When the storm started, that crane was faced in the opposite direction and is now completely come about. And you see a lot of stuff just floating around.

Look, there is -- looks like an ice cooler that is just floating ashore, a little bit of -- a short time ago, we saw a buoy that had come untethered. That too had floated ashore.

But our main concern has been -- excuse me -- it is very hard to look in this direction. The wind is -- the rain is just coming horizontally. And it is like pinpricks in your face as you try to turn north and look into the wind. But our concern has been this barge. We were worried that it might get pushed -- if it is in fact unanchored, it might get pushed either onto the shore or out into the river.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: To tell you the truth, the human brain isn't wired to take in devastation on such a scale or at least not right away. This happened during last year's tsunami in south Asia as well. It takes a little time for the details to start sinking in, and for the big picture -- the shockingly big picture -- to begin to emerge. And then the levees broke and that big picture suddenly became literally appalling.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is hard to believe something like this could be happening in a major American city. This older woman in a wheelchair died. But no one comes to get her. So she sits on the side of the street covered in a blanket. That's another body on the ground next to her, wrapped in a white sheet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These people couldn't leave because they couldn't afford to leave. Superdome people went in that shelter because they couldn't afford to leave. And now we're dying?

LAWRENCE: Virginia Keyes is here with her daughter and grandchildren, living on the street with almost no food or water.

VIRGINIA KEYES, DISPLACED BY HURRICANE KATRINA: We dirty. We waded in that water, that dirty, filthy water and we're dirty. This is not the way we live.

LAWRENCE: Mothers and their babies, stuck outside the New Orleans Convention center, Surrounded by filthy trash and raw sewage, forced to live like animals.

KEYES: Two days with no food.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't see how ...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're hungry.

KEYES: We don't have no running water. We can't bathe ourselves. We hungry.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Miss, miss we don't either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Concentrate on breathing.

LAWRENCE: We saw a man have a seizure in front of us. But there is no doctor or ambulance to help him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's going to be all right.

LAWRENCE (on camera): Some of these people have been waiting outside now for more than three days. And we're not talking just a few families or even a few hundred families. There are thousands and thousands of people waiting outside the New Orleans Convention Center and they have no idea when help is coming.

SHAREEF HASSAN, SCHOOL TEACHER: And we're not angry so much as frustrated and hurt that we felt deserted because not one time I did see or anybody else see an official step out here and talk to these people. LAWRENCE (voice-over): By mid afternoon, National Guardsmen dropped MREs on the crowd, but it is not enough to feed all these people. And it won't protect them from the rioters.

KEYES: Left us out here with no lights and no security. This is not fair.

LAWRENCE: Virginia Keyes and thousands like her survived Hurricane Katrina. But really aren't sure they'll make it through the catastrophe left in its wake. Chris Lawrence, CNN, New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Then there was the Superdome. What was supposed to be shelter from the storm became literally an island in a flooded city, an island crammed with thousands of desperate people without food, without water, fearful, confused, uncomprehending.

Some of the stories that came to be told turned out to be wildly wrong. But the ones that weren't wildly wrong were stomach churning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): Entering the Superdome two weeks after the storm, you still are warned. Wear gloves, wear a mask, don't stay too long.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is incredible.

COOPER: The Superdome is now empty, the evacuees long gone. Left behind, piles of waste, mountains of trash.

CAPT. CASEY GEIST, 82ND AIRBORNE: It is horrible.

COOPER: Captain Casey Geist of the 82nd Airborne has been to Iraq, but he's never seen anything like this.

GEIST: But I thought this was 100 times worse than Iraq. The Convention Center and the Superdome were just horrid, you know.

COOPER: Two weeks ago, some 20,000 evacuees were living here with no electricity, and no way out.

(on camera): Things here in the Superdome were relatively calm, relatively peaceful until the air condition broke. And when that happened, and it started to get hot, people started to get desperate and terrible, desperate things happened.

GEIST: The facts that people were here, they were doing drugs, people were having sex out on the floor, shooting up, raping -- I mean, it just seemed like, you know, just madness, uncontrollable madness.

COOPER (voice-over): City officials failed it provide enough police protection, failed to get buses to evacuate the people until days after the storm. (on camera): It's hard to imagine anyone living here for a day or two, let alone three and four and five days. I mean, the smell now is pretty terrible after two weeks. You can only imagine how bad it was on that first day.

(voice-over): Cleaning crews are now working around the clock, sweeping and raking, cleaning up the mess. The work is dirty, conditions disgusting. Amidst the refuse, hints of the horror, cans of juice, empty wheelchairs a football left behind.

(on camera): A Mardi Gras football.

(voice-over): Officials are trying to decide what to do with the Superdome. There is so much damage, it may get torn down.

(on camera): A lot of people who were here, I think are concerned about is that they don't want this to be forgotten. They don't want this place just to be cleaned up and everything swept away and the memories swept away. What happened here was horrific. And the people who were here want it remembered because they never want it to happen again.

(voice-over): The Superdome, long a symbol of this city, is now a symbol of something far worse, a flooding and failures of promises made and people let down.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: When we come back, the scene in Waveland, Mississippi, people returning home, only to find their homes gone.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: I visited Waveland, Mississippi, initially two days after the storm. I remember walking down what was left of a street that used to consist of neat houses on either side, every one of which had been reduced to planks of wood, random rubbish, people's possessions laying all around.

The worst of it was there was really nothing special about that particular street. That was the way the whole town looked.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): In Waveland, Mississippi, the water is gone, the waves of sadness have just begun.

(on camera): Are you all right, ma'am?

(voice-over): We found Pauline Conaway clutching a picture she found in the rubble.

(on camera): What's that a picture of?

PAULINE CONAWAY, SURVIVOR: My mother. And it survived. I mean, I don't know who's it is. COOPER (voice-over): This is the first time Pauline has been back to her street.

CONAWAY: All gone.

COOPER: Her street, her home is completely destroyed.

CONAWAY: That's my chair.

COOPER: A chair. A grill.

CONAWAY: It's our grill.

COOPER: Precious reminders of a life lost.

Reporters are supposed to remain distant, observers. There is no distance in Waveland anymore.

(on camera): You find just about any block you go down here in Waveland, especially along the beach, I mean, people are just coming back one by one and finding their homes just completely gone, and it's devastating. I mean -- actually, let's...

CONAWAY: This is from our room. It's from our room.

COOPER: It's hard to know what to say to people when they're seeing their homes destroyed and they're coming back for the first time. And, you know, you try to help them pick up some of their possessions, but, you know, what do you say to someone whose life is gone?

(voice-over): A few blocks away, we found doctors Bill and Judith Bradford. They survived the storm, but three of their miniature horses are dead.

DR. BILL BRADFORD, SURVIVOR: If there's anyone from the American Miniature Horse Association, we need someone to come get the minis who did survive.

COOPER: Nine horses survived, but there's no hay left, no food to feed them.

Block after block, homes destroyed, lives ruined -- only the suffering remains.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: And still one month on, Waveland is still struggling to rebuild.

We'll have more from this town a little bit later tonight.

But first, Erica Hill from Headline News joins with us some of the other stories we're following right now -- Erica?

ERICA HILL, CNN HEADLINE NEWS ANCHOR: ... battling wildfires near Los Angeles tonight. Fire officials say they've contained about 35 percent of the fire, but they also expect firefighters to be working for another week at least. A smoky haze is still hanging over parts of Los Angeles at this hour. But most evacuation orders have been canceled.

The fire has burned through more than 20,000 acres between northwestern L.A. and suburbs to the west of the city. Only one home is confirmed burned down.

"New York Times" reporter Judith Miller broke her silence today. Miller was freed from a jail outside Washington on Thursday after spending nearly three months there. Today, she testified before a federal grand jury after the source she had been protecting told her she could. The grand jury is now looking into whether someone at the White House leaked the identity of an undercover CIA agent, Valerie Plame. Miller had been jailed from refusing to reveal her source to investigators, even though she never used information from that source in an article. The "New York Times" reported that Miller's source was Lewis Scooter Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney.

More violence in Iraq ahead of a crucial vote on that country's new constitution. Sunni insurgents bombed two Shiite towns in two days, killing more than 110 people. The violence was apparently aimed at scaring Shiites away from the polls on October 15th. That's when Iraq votes on a constitution that the Sunni Arab minority opposes.

And New Orleans French Quarter and some other neighborhoods officially reopen to residents today. Those areas escaped major flooding after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The neighborhoods account for about a third of New Orleans' half million residents. Most of the reopened areas have electricity. But only Algiers has drinkable water.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Erica, thanks very much.

When we return, angels from the sky. Coast Guard pilots rescuing thousands of stranded residents in New Orleans.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: A week had gone by from when Katrina hit, and there were still lives to be saved and bodies to be recovered. When we originally showed you this piece about CNN's Rick Sanchez's tour with a paramedic search and rescue team, I recall having to warn viewers that what they were about to see was disturbing. It still is.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who is going on this boat? Curt, you're over here with me?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They come from all over the country. This crew is made up of paramedics from Harrison, Arkansas, and this is why they do it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Want Daddy and my momma.

SANCHEZ (on camera): You want your daddy and your momma?

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Six-year-old Mark Franado (ph) is safe now, but separated from his parents. At least he's out. A full week after the hurricane brushed New Orleans, others are still waiting to be rescued.

(on camera): You want us to go out there and see if we can find her and bring her back to you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please, please.

SANCHEZ: What's her name?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joyce Rolle (ph).

SANCHEZ (voice-over): We joined paramedics as they looked for Joyce Rolle in a 17-foot airboat. But when we finally get to the place where she's supposed to be, she's not there.

We motor through the overpass, across I-10, enter the city of New Orleans. We're told it's really bad here. We soon realize it's even worse than we imagined. After patrolling for a full hour, there's a sign from above. National Guardsmen are signaling us in the direction of a building. We negotiate the debris in the water and countless cars left in the middle of the road.

We pass a shopping center where locals say many perished, and finally, we spot the rooftop where the chopper was leading us. The white flag signals the way and brings us to the evacuees, who we bring out one by one, all thankful to finally be out.

(on camera): What country are you from?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

SANCHEZ: China?

(voice-over): Turns out they're Chinese cooks from a nearby restaurant, who were suddenly trapped after getting caught in the hurricane and subsequent flooding. They were desperate to get out. Many here, though, are not.

(on camera): You want to stay?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah. If you get out you can't get back in, and everybody talking about evacuating. What you do when your money run out?

SANCHEZ (voice-over): Our return route is marked for evacuation, but our method is not how it was intended. It's a dangerous and complicated journey, and this is why they do it.

(on camera): What are you going to do when you see your mommy and your daddy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm gonna hug them.

SANCHEZ: You're gonna hug them?

(voice-over): They do it so a scared little boy can eventually meet up with his parents. These men, who are strangers to this town, say they'll continue their missions of mercy until the last person, who wants to get out, is found.

Rick Sanchez, CNN, New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Here in Waveland, as elsewhere in Mississippi and over in Louisiana, in New Orleans and all the small towns of the Delta, people were beginning to boil over with anger. They wanted answers. Why was help taking so long to come? Why did everything seem so disorganized? Why were politicians continually thanking one another and not answering questions?

I talked that week to Louisiana's Democratic senator Mary Landrieu.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Does the federal government bear responsibility for what is happening now? Should they apologize for what is happening now?

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: Anderson, there will be plenty of time to discuss all of those issues, about why, and how, and what, and if. But, Anderson, as you understand, and all of the producers and directors of CNN, and the news networks, this situation is very serious and it's going to demand all of our full attention through the hours, through the nights, through the days.

Let me just say a few things. Thank President Clinton and former President Bush for their strong statements of support and comfort today. I thank all the leaders that are coming to Louisiana, and Mississippi, and Alabama to our help and rescue.

We are grateful for the military assets that are being brought to bear. I want to thank Senator Frist and Senator Reid for their extraordinary efforts.

Anderson, tonight, I don't know if you've heard -- maybe you all have announced it -- but Congress is going to an unprecedented session to pass a $10 billion supplemental bill tonight to keep FEMA and the Red Cross up and operating.

COOPER: Excuse me, Senator, I'm sorry for interrupting. I haven't heard that, because, for the last four days, I've been seeing dead bodies in the streets here in Mississippi. And to listen to politicians thanking each other and complimenting each other, you know, I got to tell you, there are a lot of people here who are very upset, and very angry, and very frustrated. And when they hear politicians slap -- you know, thanking one another, it just, you know, it kind of cuts them the wrong way right now, because literally there was a body on the streets of this town yesterday being eaten by rats because this woman had been laying in the street for 48 hours. And there's not enough facilities to take her up.

Do you get the anger that is out here?

LANDRIEU: Anderson, I have the anger inside of me. Most of the homes in my family have been destroyed. Our homes have been destroyed. I understand what you're saying, and I know all of those details. And the president of the United States knows those details.

COOPER: Well, who are you angry at?

LANDRIEU: I'm not angry at anyone. I'm just expressing that it is so important for everyone in this nation to pull together, for all military assets and all assets to be brought to bear in this situation.

And I have every confidence that this country is as great and as strong as we can be do to that. And that effort is under way.

COOPER: Well, I mean, there are a lot of people here who are kind of ashamed of what is happening in this country right now, what is -- ashamed of what is happening in your state, certainly.

And that's not to blame the people who are there. It's a desperate situation. But I guess, you know, who can -- I mean, no one seems to be taking responsibility.

I mean, I know you say there's a time and a place for, kind of, you know, looking back, but this seems to be the time and the place. I mean, there are people who want answers, and there are people who want someone to stand up and say, "You know what? We should have done more. Are all the assets being brought to bear?"

LANDRIEU: Anderson, Anderson...

COOPER: I mean, today, for the first time, I'm seeing National Guard troops in this town.

LANDRIEU: Anderson, I know. I know where you are. I know what you're seeing. Believe me, we know it. And we understand and there will be a time to talk about all of that, trust me. I know what the people are suffering. The governor knows. The president knows. The military officials know. And they're trying to do the very best they can to stabilize the situation. Senator Vitter, our congressional delegation, all of us understand what is happening.

We are doing our very, very best to get the situation under control. But I want to thank the president. He will be here tomorrow, we think. And the military is sending assets as we speak. So please, I understand. You might say I'm a politician, but I grew up in New Orleans. My father was the mayor of that city. I've represented that city my whole life

And it is just not New Orleans. It is St. Bernard and St. Tammany, and Plaquemines Parish that have been completely under water. Our levee system has failed. We need a lot of help.

And the Congress has been wonderful to help us and we need more help. Nobody is perfect, Anderson. Everybody has to stand up here and I know you understand. So thank you very much for everything you're doing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Here is the question we asked three weeks in this disaster. If the roundly criticized FEMA had done so much to put its house in order, remember Michael Brown had resigned by this time, and things were supposed to have been if not completely fixed then at least much improved, why, if that was the case, why have so many survivors not been touched at all by the hand of the federal government. CNN's Tom Foreman investigated.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many times have you heard where is FEMA?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every day. Every day.

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

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

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

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 120,000 are in shelters. Their temporary housing another month away. Victims complain of spending hours waiting on FEMA's phone lines or trying to connect to help services by computer. Fifteen disaster recovery centers have been set up. But many residents say they can't find them. And even when they do, results are slow.

MAYOR RUSTY QUAYE, D'IBERVILLE, MISSISSIPPI: I was promised tents yesterday for my people. When I got over there they said it would be 13 days. I can't wait 13 days. I need tents now. FOREMAN (on camera): FEMA continues to say Katrina was just so big, did so much damage, getting to everyone will take time. But with another storm bearing down, patience is running out.

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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely, yes. 100 percent.

FOREMAN: And Ron believed him.

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

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

What do you think of FEMA now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: An 800 number is not adequate. There was no vision, no leadership. I don't have FEMA supporting me to do anything.

FOREMAN: Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: We all still have so many questions about that initial response by the federal government by state and local officials as well. We'll continue to investigate. When we come back, an interview on a boat in New Orleans that didn't go quite as we expected.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm so sorry for what the hurricane did to you and what it took from your life. If there is anything you need, please write me back and if I can get it -- if I can't get it, I am so sorry. I promise that to pray for you and send you something I hope you will -- you like what I've got you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know you're sad. But keep up the courage and hope will come soon. I'm drawing a picture for you and maybe it might make you feel better. Love, your friend Molly Coleman. PS, don't lose hope and stay strong. PPS, you will be loved.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Not just the survivors but we reporters, too, were constantly reminded of how much we used to take for granted. Clean water, food, electricity, telephones. The ability quickly to drive from place to place.

In New Orleans, before the pumps were made to work again, transportation was mostly by boat. And the thing about traveling by boat is that pretty often you end up at some other place and some other story than the one you started out looking for.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): In New Orleans, you never know where the day is going to take you. We set out to do a story on what is in this flood water.

DR. GREG HENDERSON, PATHOLOGIST: In this water, you can expect that anything that lives in the human intestinal track is thriving and growing in this water.

COOPER: Dr. Greg Henderson is a pathologist. In the dangerous days after the hurricane, he said he set up a treatment center for New Orleans police and also tried to help the approximately 15,000 evacuees stuck at the Convention Center.

HENDERSON: Very simple words this is a dirtiest water you could ever possibly imagine.

COOPER: We just started motoring around when we spotted this man wading through the water.

HENDERSON: You need help? You need to get out of that water. Can we help this guy out?

COOPER: Of course, absolutely.

HENDERSON: Where have you been?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've been in that building up there for I don't know how long.

HENDERSON: They didn't come check you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody knew I was up there.

COOPER: Here you go, sir.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got it.

I'm all right.

COOPER: Have a seat.

Watch yourself.

COOPER: We brought Thomas (ph) on to a highway on ramp trying to figure out what to do next.

HENDERSON: Is there anybody else up in there?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A lot of people up there. People on the eighth floor. They leave, they come in the water.

HENDERSON: Has anybody been up there? Have nay federal officials ... UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody been up there.

HENDERSON: We spent a few moments ago, you asked me what was it like at the Convention Center. Fifteen thousand people in this condition this man is symbolic of what was here in New Orleans and is still here in New Orleans. This is what we gotta treat this is who we gotta think about. This is who we gotta take care of.

COOPER: Dr. Henderson is fed up with the slow federal response he's seen in New Orleans. He calls it a national disgrace. Is it a crime what has begun on here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know none of that. I don't want nothing to get in trouble.

HENDERSON: It is about as close to a crime as you can get. I hate it call anybody a criminal, but this is just a damn bad situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got my ID right in there.

COOPER: I know ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My bus card, my food stamp card.

COOPER (on camera): He says there are 25 people holed up in that building over there. He said he's seen helicopters passing overhead for days now but no one has come to that building. It is hard to tell exactly how accurate he's being, but then we think, all right, we'll go over there but they could be armed so you think, well, we'll try to call some police but how do you call the police? There is not that level of organization at this point. You don't know who to call, exactly who is in charge. So we're going to try to figure out what to do.

(voice-over): We decided to take Thomas to a triage center that Dr. Henderson helped set up.

HENDERSON: Everything you see here, everything that was started and gotten running was done by people, resourceful people on the ground.

Look, man, anybody trying to tell you that there isn't failure from ground up wasn't at the ground where I was. I was with those police officers who didn't sleep for six and seven days. I was with those police officers who had open wounds on their legs and walked in that water.

COOPER: Thomas was checked out by physicians and then evacuated to baton rouge. It is not clear where he'll end up. Dr. Henderson told his emergency coordinator the location of the building where Thomas came from, where he said there were other survivors. She promised she would check it out.

The lesson of all of this is what? The lesson -- what we saw in the boat, what what we saw with Thomas is what? HENDERSON: The lesson on the boat, this ain't over yet. Anybody who is sitting here thinking, OK, the worst is passed, the worst is not yet passed.

COOPER: There is no way to know how bad it will get, no accurate number of how many people still need to be evacuated, how many people have died in their homes. Today one man named Thomas reached safety. The question is, how many more like him remain behind?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (on camera): Honestly many of the stories of this calamity truly hard to report this one certainly did. Like so many, it is about people suddenly forced make excruciating choices about friends and family, life and death.

This one is about a woman who could be rescued but only if she left behind her dog. Sounds familiar. But it is not. At that moment of crisis, she to choose between her own life and that of her seeing eye dog companion. Leave alone and live or stay with her best friend in the world and perhaps die. That was how it seemed to her.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of my problems and all of my ways

COOPER: In a ramshackle rental in a poor part of town, an elderly lady waits for a sign. The dog is Abu. The woman Miss Connie. A preacher, a widow, she's alone and legally blind.

MISS CONNIE, EVACUEE: He's my service dog. My dog goes where I go. I don't go. See my sky light.

COOPER: police came to evacuate Miss Connie, they told her Abu would have to stay.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Temporarily.

MISS CONNIE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You'll be taken care of.

MISS CONNIE: No, dear. I'm sorry. Not being hard case. But I can't see.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guarantee you won't be left alone.

MISS CONNIE: My dog goes where I go. That's not too hard to do for a dog.

I don't trust very much law officials for this reason. They can't make up their mind.

COOPER (on camera): Miss Connie is not sure what to bring with her besides her dog. Abu. She doesn't have any bags to put things in, she says. So she's going try to take a couple pieces of clothing and she's not sure where she'll end up.

MISS CONNIE: Let's rephrase that one.

COOPER: All right.

MISS CONNIE: I'm not sure where I'll end up but I'm very sure that God knows where I'll end up. And my son, who isn't very religious, backed it and said your ministry is done here. It is time to move on and minister to other people somewhere else.

COOPER: A few blocks away, evacuees from around the city are brought in by police and soldiers. Nearly all have pets, and the soldiers let them in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're trying to get a flight, hopefully we can fly them.

COOPER: Back at Miss Connie's, the police have decided she can take Abu along. She believes it is a sign that the time has come to go.

MISS CONNIE: I believe the lord gives you guidance and will talk to you if you'll listen. And if you'll do.

COOPER: God is still watching over New Orleans?

CONNIE: Absolutely. Absolutely. Will she rise again? Yes, indeed. Absolutely. My Jesus you are Lord of all

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: A lot more from New Orleans and Mississippi. But first, Erica Hill from Headline News joins us with some of the day's other top stories. Hey, Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNNHN ANCHOR: Hi, Anderson. The worst seems to be over for the wildfires near Los Angeles. Officials say they've already contained about 35 percent of the fires. Those fires have burned through more than 20,000 acres between northwestern L.A. and suburbs to the west of the city. Firefighters expect to be working, though, for another week. And a smoky haze is still hanging over parts of Los Angeles.

But most evacuation orders have been canceled. And only one home at this time is confirmed burned down.

Iraqi security forces are getting better according to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. His comments coming just a day after the top U.S. commander in Iraq told Congress the Iraqi military has only one battalion capable of fighting on its own.

Comments from General George Casey prompted lawmakers of both parties to criticize the apparent lack of progress in Iraq and to question whether it will be possible to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq next year. A school bus full of seventh and eighth graders from a Catholic elementary school in New York flipped on its side today on a major New York City highway. Authorities say all 42 students on board were taken to the hospital to be checked. It is not clear at this point how many were injured.

A spokesperson for the archdiocese of New York said the children along with 10 adults had been attending a funeral for a teacher in the Bronx. Another car was involved in the accident.

Today was the first full day on the job for Chief Justice John Roberts. He was confirmed and sworn in to office yesterday. The Supreme Court's new term begins Monday. Roberts, who is 50, spent most of today meeting the courts' employees and moving into his new offices. Roberts' predecessor William Rehnquist died suddenly on September 3rd.

Meantime, President Bush's spokesman says the president is finished consulting with the Senate about who should succeed Sandra Day O'Connor who is retiring. And an announcement is expected in the next few days. With that, Anderson, we'll hand it back to you.

COOPER: Erica, thanks very much.

Coming up, a rescue of animals trapped by the storm.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My mom is thinking about taking up a family from the terrible hurricane. Don't give up hope. Keep your spirits up, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dear friend, hello. My name is Hannah. I am nine years old and my birthday is September 13th. I don't have in friends outside school. Do you want to be pen pals? I would love that and I know you would too. I hope you will say yes. Yours truly, Hannah.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: There were so many victims, so many men, women and children, the dogs and cats that shared their houses with them, barn yard animals, horses. But then there were other victims as well. Victims you would think would thrive in so much water but had so much trouble. So much trouble. This was a story from CNN's Randi Kaye.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For five days, this watery ditch has been home to an animal that doesn't belong here. A seven foot long dolphin that usually calls the Gulf of Mexico home. Marine biologists have been searching for this dolphin for days. After someone reported it stranded near South Cameron High School.

HEIDI WATTS, MARINE BIOLOGIST: We got a report of a dolphin that is stuck in a ditch-like area by where the Cameron High School used to be. Where are we at, right here?

KAYE: On Tuesday, Heidi watts and her team from the Dolphin Rescue Network searched for hours by boat. No luck.

WATTS: It is disappointing we haven't found it. But we're going to do everything we can as soon as we get back to land. We're not going to give up on it certainly.

KAYE: Twenty-four hours later, we spot the dolphin from our helicopter during a flight with the 82nd Airborne. We land and find Watts on the ground.

What is the condition of the dolphin?

WATTS: Seems to be doing really well. We have been monitoring it, monitoring its behavior. Its respirations and it seems to be doing good.

KAYE: The 300 pound dolphin is trapped, confined to a shallow ditch. The dolphin is running out of time and Watts is running out of ideas. Could you airlift him out on a helicopter?

WATTS: Yes.

KAYE: It is a possibility?

WATTS: That's a possibility.

KAYE: That possibility turns into a plan. We watch as rescuers slowly make their way into the water. Then form a straight line to corral the dolphin. Then trouble. The dolphin starts swimming down the canal created by the storm. The dolphin is about to get tangled in the weeds when they grab him, struggling and scared, they load him on to a stretcher in the water t takes ten to lift him out. It takes 10 to lift him out and into the back of a pickup truck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On three. One, two, three.

KAYE: Another problem. The dolphin is too long for the truck. But Watts won't turn back now.

(on camera): Now that they've gotten him out of the water, they're loading him on to the Coast Guard helicopter. It will be a two to four mile flight before they can safely land on the beach. A quick trip but the dolphin must be kept cool and kept in place.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm holding his fluke because it is very powerful. And if it gets loose, it can break bones.

KAYE: In just minutes, they're off to the Gulf in search of a beach. The sponge baths continue onboard. The dolphin is named Igor after the helicopter transporting it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ready for landing?

KAYE: Safely on the ground, Igor is unloaded and released into the waters where he belongs. It doesn't take long for Igor find a friend. Just what his friends back on dry land were hoping for. Randy Kaye, CNN, Oak Grove, Louisiana.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: When we return, taking you into the eye of the storm. Hurricane Rita as we saw it first hand.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dear friend, my name is Joseph. I just want to say hi. But if you need anything like toys, just write me a list of things and I'll get them to you. Only to you. If you want to talk, just send a letter. And don't think I won't pray for you. Because I will. This is coming from the heart. Love, Joseph Summers (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wish you a happy future. You are a special person. And don't forget that. Lots of people are helping you and other parents and kids. To me you're number one. Don't lose hope. Love Kenan Aguilar (ph).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: While this region was still reeling from Hurricane Katrina, then came Hurricane Rita. Our cameras captured the action as the storm came ashore. Now we take you behind the scenes of our coverage.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): Waiting for hurricane a hurricane, it is often a tense time. You read the latest forecasts, try to find a safe location to broadcast from. We set up near the Natchez River in Beaumont, Texas. We also had a fallback position for when things got really bad. It got dark pretty quick. The rain was constant. And in a matter of minutes, we were all completely soaked. By around 1:45 a.m., we retreated to our more secure location.

(on camera): It is just miserable out here t continues to be sort of nonstop this pouring rain. Just every minute after minute after minute without any letup.

(voice-over): As the hurricane approached, the rain increased and the winds shifted dramatically. The winds are just constant now. It is just whipping. And it is like thousands of needles pricking you as you're trying to stand out here.

I'm just going to try to get over there because there is a -- can't even look into it. You cannot look to where the wind is pointing because it is just too extreme.

Around 3:30 a.m., we lost our satellite truck and could no longer transmit live images. Producers and engineers tried to get us back on the air. It is frustrating to be there and not be able to broadcast. I called in to CNN on my Blackberry. A photographer captured what I was seeing in pictures.

The site I'm seeing now, I wish we could be broadcasting now. It is a sight that I have rarely ever seen before. It looks like a solid white -- just a solid wall of white that is just sweeping across the entire region. There are just a few trees visible. There is one light which is -- actually a car light from one of our vehicles. And it is casting an eerie glow to this wall of white wind and water. It is eerie, it is beautiful and it is horrible at the same time.

About the about 20 minutes later, our engineers were somehow able to get the satellite dish working again. The winds were nearing 90 miles an hour.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have Anderson Cooper back with us, who is in Beaumont. Anderson?

COOPER (on camera): For us, this is without the doubt the height of the storm. You probably -- it doesn't do it justice when you're seeing behind me. But it is literally this solid wall of white. And it almost -- when you're here, it looks like you're in the middle of a snowstorm, like it is just a blizzard of snow. But it is not. It is just water and wind.

I have never seen anything like this.

(voice-over): There comes a point in every storm when you have to decide whether to stay or go. After that live shot, we moved indoors. We sat inside for the next few hours, some of us fell asleep. We were all tired. And wet. But happy we had once again had made it through the storm.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (on camera): It is truly been an honor and a privilege to be reporting from this region for the past month, to be with these people as they try to recover and rebuild their lives. Thanks very much for watching tonight. I'm Anderson Cooper. CNN's primetime coverage continues.

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