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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Sudden Fury: In Katrina's Deadly Wake

Aired August 27, 2010 - 20:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hurricane Katrina is aiming our way.

MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY DIRECTOR: You have about 36 hours now to understand how serious this storm is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go, Earl. Come on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is potentially that worst-case scenario that we have all talked about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that debris. Look at that.

GOVERNOR HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: I would say 90 percent of the structures are totally destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My wife, I can't find her body. She's gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're the ones that always say, why didn't they get out of town?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody need help?

MARK BIELLO, CNN PHOTOJOURNALIST: You could hear the screams of people still being trapped in the attics.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There is no electricity. The sewage is backing up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No food, no water, helicopters flying over our head, it's ridiculous.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Massive looting going on in the downtown area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are dying. There's no water. There's no food.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of the people you see here dying, it's your fault.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, I'm Anderson Cooper reporting from New Orleans.

Since 2005, residents here along the Gulf Coast have been hit with a powerful one-two punch, one by Mother Nature, the other human error.

The most recent disaster to come ashore, the massive oil spill caused by BP. Cleanup could take years, but residents here are resilient, a lesson learned when an unexpected turn and a relatively minor storm became a monster.

In the next hour, we take you in the path of destruction of one this nation's worst natural disasters in history.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa. What was that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This area is completely underwater.

COOPER (voice-over): It wasn't expected to happen this way. On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina plowed into the Gulf Coast with a storm surge close to 30 feet high.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) no electricity, but they did have a generator the .

COOPER: Ferocious winds and pounding rain ripped rooftops from homes, hurled boats on to land and swamped neighborhoods.

For Biloxi resident Gary Stillwell (ph), Katrina's fury was a shock. He and his wife tried to ride out the storm at home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That part of the building, the house just started to float. We floated. As we floated, this house in front of us collapsed.

COOPER: In the next hour, we will also follow others like the Audabehrs (ph), who nervously hung on to hope when four generations of the family fled their homes in Slidell, Louisiana, a small town flattened by Katrina.

They were a family hell-bent on getting home to assess the damage.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) had three foot of water in the house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two or three feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at -- you look at these trees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, God.

COOPER: Two weeks before the deadly storm wreaked havoc on residents along the Gulf Coast, Katrina was nothing more than a harmless wave, one that formed off the coast of Africa and then disappeared completely in the Mid-Atlantic Ocean. Eleven days later on August 24, the system resurfaced as a tropical depression.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It lost its identity, and then it kind of came back. And then tropical depression number 12 came in behind it.

COOPER: Tropical depression 12 gathered strength while churning in the Bahamas, quickly becoming a tropical storm. What had started as an innocuous group of clouds and showers began morphing into one of the most destructive forces on the planet.

MYERS: You have to have high pressure aloft, no wind shear. You have to have very warm water. You have to have the right amount of spin for the storm just to take place originally, and you have to have good outflow.

You couldn't get a Category 5 hurricane without absolutely perfect atmospheric conditions.

COOPER: Those perfect conditions were about to come together. On Thursday evening, August 25, 12 days after the tropical depression gathered steam in the warm Atlantic waters, the storm made landfall on the South Florida coast as a Category 1 hurricane named Katrina.

Residents there experienced a bit of grim irony. It was exactly 13 years ago Hurricane Andrew, one of the deadliest storms in history, plowed into this same area. Katrina socked parts of South Florida with torrential downpours, flooding and heavy winds. At least nine people were killed in its wake.

MYERS: Florida picked up about as much damage as you can get with a Category 1. I think Florida was hit pretty hard.

COOPER: And Katrina wasn't finished. When the storm moved out of South Florida and back into the Gulf, meteorologists predicted Katrina would take a northwestern turn, hitting Pensacola and Destin along Florida's Panhandle.

But the hurricane surprised forecasters by changing course and taking a sudden turn to the southwest.

MYERS: It kept going left. It kept going left. In fact, it even drifted a little bit south, and then it finally made its right- hand turn. And the longer it waited the more Florida was out of the picture and the more Louisiana was in the picture.

COOPER: As the storm began slowly moving across the Gulf, it strengthened and headed toward the Louisiana coast. Forecasters predicted a Category 4 hurricane hitting August 28 or 29. Governors from Mississippi and Louisiana declared states of emergencies. It now appeared New Orleans would sustain a direct hit. The prospects were frightening.

The historic city sits in a depression that dips as much as nine feet below sea level. There would be nowhere for the floodwaters to drain. And there were questions whether the city's system of levees that keep New Orleans dry would hold. DR. WALTER MAESTRI, DIRECTOR, JEFFERSON PARISH EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: This is the one agency in government that not only is allowed to pray. It's demanded. We have got calluses on our knees in this business.

COOPER: Over the weekend, the unthinkable: Katrina grew even stronger and was now a Category 5 hurricane. These incredible photos taken by a hurricane hunter pilot show Katrina's eyewall during the height of the storm. By Sunday afternoon, August 28, an unprecedented, but late order from the mayor of New Orleans: a mandatory evacuation.

RAY NAGIN (D), MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: We are facing a storm that most of us have feared. I do not want to create panic, but I do want the citizens to understand that this is very serious.

COOPER: Bumper to bumper, stagnant rivers of taillights as highways filled with cars fleeing the storm's impending approach.

BROWN: You have about 36 hours now to understand how serious this storm is and to make your preparations to keep your family and to keep your business safe. You have got to do that now.

COOPER: But many in New Orleans had no access to vehicles. And for some 10,000 residents who wouldn't or couldn't leave, the giant Louisiana Superdome became a shelter of last resort.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm kind of worried because this line is so long.

COOPER: Residents and tourists bunker down preparing for the worst.

COL. TERRY EBBERT, HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR, NEW ORLEANS: It's going to be very unpleasant. We're not in here to feed people. We're in here to see that, when Tuesday morning comes, that they're alive.

COOPER: By Sunday night, the city appeared a virtual ghost town, boarded up, shut down. New Orleans braced for a catastrophic blow.

But, when we return: Katrina veers off its projected path, taking a deadly detour.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Debris is flying off the roof, coming into the rooms.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let's go. Let's go, Earl.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It sounded like a boom.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where's Molly? All the windows are busting out. Let's go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm scared, very, very scared.

COOPER (voice-over): August 29, shortly before dawn, Katrina makes landfall.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Already, you can see blown-out windows in the building across the street from us. The wind is howling and circulating throughout this -- the corridors of these streets. What we are seeing here is just water coming up from the drainage system as Hurricane Katrina continues to beat its path at our door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're making our way over here. Come on. Let's go this way. This is what it's like in downtown New Orleans right now. These are the hurricane-force winds.

COOPER (on camera): It's like pinpricks in your face as you try to turn north.

(voice-over): Just before the storm comes ashore, a fleeting bit of good news: Katrina loses strength and drops to a Category 4 hurricane. But sustained winds are still howling at 145 miles an hour, essentially the same destructive fury as a tornado, but on a much wider scale.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The winds are just incredible here in New Orleans. We can see the roof of the Superdome has been shredded.

COOPER: The storm is unpredictable. A last-minute jog shifts the eye of Katrina to the east. New Orleans appears to have avoided its nightmare scenario, as Katrina barrels full force into the Louisiana-Mississippi border.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Easily winds now sustained at 80, 90 miles an hour, gusts to 110, 120.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We're about five, six miles inland and still we're getting hit with winds well over 100 miles an hour.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blow it up and -- look at that debris. Look at that. The entire thing is coming apart.

MARCIANO: We could only imagine what it was going to be like when we went to go check out the damage along the coastline.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Much of Gulfport, Mississippi, 70 miles east of New Orleans is now flooded. The downtown street US-90 along the beach, probably six feet of water. This is basically right now like hell on earth.

COOPER: Reports of destruction continue to pour in from Biloxi, Gulfport, and even as far east as Mobile, Alabama.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Take a look around. This is downtown Mobile. And we're probably eight blocks away from Mobile Bay right now. So, the storm surge is coming in strong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you get out?

COOPER: Some stay behind to try and ride out the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing that I have been through so far in my life compares to what I'm going through now. I'm a strong fellow. I was actually scared.

COOPER: Others narrowly escape with their lives.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were literally racing against the water. The current was pushing the water up into the house. So, it was -- it was beyond devastating.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was washing over our heads, over our heads.

Here's my dream. Yes.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We met a woman in Bay Saint Louis. She stayed in her bed and breakfast with seven other people. She said she decided to stay because that bed and breakfast survived Hurricane Camille. She figured it could survive this. She realized how wrong she was.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My house literally crumbled...

TUCHMAN: While you were in it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: While we were in it -- crumbled, just crumbled.

TUCHMAN: They all held on to the limb of a nearby tree, a huge tree, for hours.

And the waves were hitting the branch.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Uh-huh.

TUCHMAN: And what were you thinking?

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I started to pray a lot. I truly didn't know if we would make it.

COOPER: Those who stayed behind struggle with tragedy and loss.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How are you doing, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not doing good.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What happened?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The house just split in half. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your house split in half?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got up in the roof, all the way to the roof, and water came, and the house just -- just opened up, divided.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who was at your house with you?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My wife.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is she now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't find her body. She's gone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can't find your wife?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. No. She told -- she told -- I tried. I hold her hand as tightly as I could. And she told me, you can't hold me. She said, take care of the kids and the grandkids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where are you guys going?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We ain't got nowhere to go. I don't know where I'm going. I'm -- I'm lost. That's all I had. That's all I had.

COOPER: By late afternoon, Katrina's deadly power begins to wane, and the storm heads inland.

But, as the rain subsides, a harsh reality sets in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody in the attic in these houses.

COOPER: The nightmare has just begun.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can see multiple people up on their rooftops trying to get help, and lord only knows how many are inside their homes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): As the skies begin to clear over the Gulf Coast, the extent of Hurricane Katrina's wrath is slowly revealed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This area is completely underwater. I'm looking at about five feet of water everywhere we look absolutely underwater.

COOPER: The devastation, numbing from Louisiana to Alabama, block after block after block, communities destroyed, neighborhoods, houses, lives ripped apart by Katrina's fury. BARBOUR: I would say 90 percent of the structures between the beach and the railroad in Biloxi, Gulfport, Long Beach and Pass Christian are totally destroyed. They're not severely damaged. They're simply not there.

COOPER: If the scope of the damage is best comprehended from the air, its emotional toll is felt on the ground, families missing loved ones.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't know where my sons are or how they're faring or what they're doing or nothing. I wish they would contact me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm looking for Gail Dilling (ph). I'm looking for Anita Dilling (ph). I'm looking for Sylvester Francis (ph). I'm looking for my uncle, Thomas White (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I lost my dad, and I -- I want to see him again.

COOPER: White picket fence dreams shattered.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you stay? Do you pack up? Do you leave? It's like, what do you do?

COOPER: In Biloxi, Mississippi, Katrina's 125 mile-per-hour winds and a storm surge estimated at 30 feet combine to wreak incredible havoc.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were sitting there in the storm, and we did not even know, have any idea of the destruction going on around us. When we got out and saw destruction, we just thanked God we're alive.

COOPER: Cars rearranged in a pile as if a child had put them there. Where houses once stood, foundations and rubble are all that is left, mere hints of what was there before.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's nothing left. All I found that belonged to me was a shoe.

COOPER: In Gulfport, one of Mississippi's main economic engines, the damage is equally horrific. Casinos that were the lifeblood of the local economy lay in ruins.

(on camera): That building wasn't there 48 hours ago. That building was about half-a-mile or so to the east. That -- that has been picked up by this storm and deposited over there.

Katrina's eye passed directly over Slidell, Louisiana, located on the eastern edge of Lake Pontchartrain, north of New Orleans. There, an estimated 90 percent of residences are either damaged or destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were telling our folks, just don't come home. There's nothing here. There's no stores open. There's no gasoline. There's no lights. There's no electricity. You know, there's nothing.

COOPER: The damage in downtown New Orleans seems at first almost superficial in comparison. The roof of the Superdome is shredded, but its structural integrity is intact. And in the French Quarter, people feel they have weathered the storm relatively unscathed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing, making a delivery?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) Our electricity is out. These were going to spoil tomorrow. And so we're bringing them to the people who were stuck here from the hotel.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Once this hurricane went through, and it seemed that the brunt of it was in Mississippi, everyone in New Orleans was breathing a sigh of relief, going, oh, well, we took a punch from this, but it's nothing we can't recover from.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: French Quarter residents are pretty hardy types. We're going to start cleaning up and getting the show back on the road.

MATTINGLY: There were people down there already talking about cleaning up, getting ready for the big party again on Labor Day, people making plans to get the tourists back into town already.

COOPER: But, in other parts of the city, an ominous sign of the misery and danger still to come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The devastation that we're seeing as we make our way towards the downtown New Orleans area is absolutely astonishing, completely under water, the entire residential area.

COOPER: In the eastern side of the city, victims of the storm struggle to stay alive.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I am looking over a scene of utter devastation, an entire neighborhood where the water has come up to the eaves of the houses.

And I am told this is not the worst of it, that, beyond this -- this is part of the Upper Ninth Ward, I'm told. I'm told the main part of the ward further down is even worse. The water is over the houses. This is a life-and-death situation. I think, by the end of the night, we're going to find a lot more deaths than we ever imagined.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you upstairs, green house?

COOPER: As afternoon turns to night, the search for survivors begins to uncover a grim reality: Hundreds, possibly thousands of people are trapped by Katrina's waters.

MARK BIELLO, CNN PHOTOJOURNALIST: I jumped on board one of these boats with three civilians that brought up their own boat. And when we got out there, you could hear the screams of people still being trapped in the attics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We came across people on the rooftops, people punching holes in the attic spaces, because the water has filled up all the way up to their attics. And there were many disabled folks, elderly folks. There was one gentleman in his 70s who was a double amputee clinging on to a tree since 6:00 this morning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think anybody, anyone at all realized how many people there were that were trapped in the attics from the rising floodwaters.

COOPER: As darkness falls, the magnitude of the task at hand begins to sink in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you stand in the dark, and you hear people yelling for help, and no one can get to them, it's a totally different experience.

COOPER: When our story continues: another threat in the darkness which would change everything for New Orleans.

MESERVE: It is just unbelievable. I told you earlier today I didn't think this had turned out to be Armageddon. I was wrong.

CROWD: We want help! We want help! We want help! We want help! We want help!

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: When Hurricane Katrina hit Waveland, Mississippi, winds were howling at 145 miles per hour. There was a massive storm surge. A wall of water destroying homes. A number of people in Waveland decided to ride out the storm in those homes and not heed the mandatory evacuation orders. Decisions they would regret.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): All along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, devastation and misery. Hurricane Katrina's heartbreaking magnitude reflected not only in shattered homes and flooded streets, but in the faces, the emotions and the stories of those left in Katrina's wake.

GARY STILLWELL, KATRINA SURVIVOR: The house just started to float.

COOPER: Gary Stillwell waited too long to get out of hard hit Biloxi.

STILLWELL: We watched the tsunami and we said look at this. We're the ones that always say why didn't they get out of town? Some people stay, some people go.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Where did your bedroom used to be?

STILLWELL: Over here.

COOPER: Gary spoke to CNN's Randi Kaye as he sifted through what was left of his two-story Victorian home, a home that had survived every storm since the 1800s, survived, that is, until Katrina.

STILLWELL: Within a span of about an hour or so, the water just rose and all of our furniture started to float.

KAYE: And what did you think when that water is coming up as fast as it probably did?

STILLWELL: Somewhere in there I kept thinking it's going to recede somewhere.

COOPER: But it didn't, and Gary, his wife and three pets were stuck forced to ride it out quite literally.

STILLWELL: This house in front of us collapsed.

COOPER: The Stillwells were trapped in the second floor of their home as it washed across the street. They drifted about a quarter of a mile before the house got lodged in a tree. As their home crumbled around them, Gary and his wife scrambled to escape and somehow managed to climbed into their boat which had floated along with them. Their lives were saved, but the life they'd known, the life they'd loved was now gone.

STILLWELL: We lost our soul, I think, you know. This is, you know, as any couple or family, you know, your home is kind of your mark. Now it's stretched all over.

COOPER: Some stay, some go. But sadly, in the end, their stories sound remarkably similar. Unlike the Stillwells, the Audibert family fled their homes in Slidell, Louisiana.

Katrina was already blowing at their backs as the Audiberts headed inland. Their town sits on the north end of Lake Pontchartrain. Staying would have been a disaster. Leaving has turned into one.

Four generations now crammed into this hotel room in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. There's no power, no phones, no television. Their only communication, two-way radios that buzz with horrific rumors.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Every road going into Slidell is under water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't say that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what they just told us.

COOPER: Hattiesburg was supposed to be far enough off the coast to be out of Katrina's path. Allison Audibert sits in the hotel's dark lobby listening as windows blow out, as doors blow open, as the hotel around her seems to crumble. Their plan is to wait it out and then go home. But to what?

ALLISON AUDIBERT, KATRINA SURVIVOR: We're 15 -- about 15 feet off the ground and he said there's water underneath everybody's houses. He said I don't know how much higher it's going to get.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to head back.

COOPER: Tuesday, the morning after, there's no news. They leave almost at dawn to head south. This is what lies ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How long have you been sitting here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About an hour. We've moved about 100 foot.

COOPER: Interstate 59 from Hattiesburg to Slidell should be a little more than an hour's drive. This journey will take most of the day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's just going to get worse later on, you know, the traffic.

COOPER: Time passes, nothing moves. Brett Audibert takes his truck and his father's chainsaw to the front of the line.

Three hours later, the road ahead is finally clear. They've now made it at least to Slidell. It looks like a war zone. Allison's parents' home is across a swollen creek. Katrina spared nothing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's three foot. We had three foot of water in the house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Three feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at these. Look at these trees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, God.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But I'll tell you what, Tony, you got a house.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I got a house.

COOPER: What did survive was a boat. With roads washed away, Allison and husband Brett will go the final leg of this journey by water to see what if anything is left of their home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This much damage, I doubt if mine is standing.

COOPER: The trip is bleak.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at that boat. Look at that boat up in there? Look at it. How high the water got?

Look at the roof on that house? There's another one gone. I don't know, it don't look too good. Sit down, you hear?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hang on. Sit down, relax.

A. AUDIBERT: Relax?

COOPER: The Audiberts live just around the bend. Allison almost can't bear to look.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of these --

A. AUDIBERT: I see it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I see our house. It's there! It's there.

A. AUDIBERT: It's there!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's there.

A. AUDIBERT: It's there. Oh, my God, it's there!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's there.

A. AUDIBERT: UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God, it's there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's there. It's there.

COOPER: But across Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans, much of what was once there is now gone.

Coming up, the Big Easy sinks into despair.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): For decades, this leafy New Orleans neighborhood tested nature, fearlessly standing on some of the lowest ground in the city, 10 feet below sea level and protected by this levee wall. That was before Katrina. This is now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The city of New Orleans is in a state of devastation. We've probably had 80 percent of our city under water.

COOPER: As darkness falls, many believe New Orleans has gotten lucky once again, but perception and reality are two very different things. Ruptured levees throughout the town have already begun punishing a city surrounded by water on three sides.

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And once the levee broke, it was a whole new ball game. Then the bowl started filling up with the water.

COOPER: Under water and under siege, these pictures taken after Katrina just a snapshot of a city submerged. It's hard to fathom a place once known for its lively atmosphere. Its distinct culture, now facing destruction of an unprecedented magnitude, an unknown number of missing and dead. Floodwaters still on the rise. One of the breaches, the length of a football field, the intended band-aid, 3,000-pound sandbags.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the left side looking straight done and the way it goes. One child has being loaded right now.

COOPER: With waters rising, the stranded take to their rooftops, the Coast Guard to the air. The lucky saved by the drop of a metal basket, lifesaving rescues that would unfold a thousand times within the first 24 hours. Meanwhile, others make use of fishing boats.

There were a number of state wildlife officers in flat boats going out from a flooded on ramp at I-10.

COOPER: Taking to the debris-filled waterways that once were streets.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was that we just hit?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A street sign.

COOPER: This rescue worker has to give up his first boat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is my first boat I started out in yesterday. The salt water got into the motor. It won't run now.

COOPER: A man is spotted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You going to hang out, or you want to go in?

COOPER: He refuses any help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We saw two other men who were sitting in recliners on their porch on the second story deciding that they were comfortable enough and they didn't want to leave. And a day later, I have to wonder what happened to them as the water continued to go higher. There were a lot of people making very bad decisions. And unfortunately, who knows how many paid the ultimate price.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're ready to go in?

COOPER: Yet another man, clinging to his porch railing is more than ready for a lifeline.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just kept rising.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, thank you.

COOPER: The next stop, a woman so distraught and exhausted she collapses inside the boat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Talk to me. Are you all right?

COOPER: She's rushed away, aware these victims are headed while not worse, it's far from good. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Calling it a rescue really isn't quite accurate because they were just moving people from languishing on their roofs to languishing on the expressway.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This baby isn't more than two months.

COOPER: And in downtown New Orleans, the situation growing dire, outside the superdome and the convention center, a population getting restless.

CROWD: We want help. We want help. We want help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No food, no water. Almost 90-degree heat inside. You know, small children and sick and elderly people dying every day.

COOPER: Prisoners and patients in hospitals forced to find higher ground.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People came up to us and asked us, well, you know, is there any way you can help me find my mother? I don't know where she is. Or another woman walking up to a police officer, she was in tears. Shaking. Her mother, a dialysis patient hadn't had her treatment in a couple of days, she's very ill. And the policeman said there's nothing he could do. And the woman just collapsed. My mother's going to die, she said. I'm going to watch my mother die.

COOPER: A city cut off from the world, locked in survival mode.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's bad around here, people trying to even survive.

COOPER: Scattered looting and violence. Law and order lost in the aftermath of the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We saw people with grocery carts stacked to the top with televisions, with Nikes, with athletic wear, with food. I mean grabbing just about anything that they could put their hands on and we're standing there talking to a police officer who's watching us pull our cars and he's out of this hotel and he's telling us there's nothing I can do. It was just him.

COOPER: A frustrated mayor of New Orleans sends out an SOS and lashes out at the lack of federal relief.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't tell me 40,000 people are coming here. They're not here. It's too doggone late.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At the hotel. Pushed them down on the steps at the hotel. And I need you to get them to the hospital.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You have people, of course, who've lost their lives, but there are others who have lost everything they own. They can't get to their jobs. Their jobs probably aren't there. The businesses can't rebuild because there's absolutely no infrastructure. COOPER: The catastrophe so long feared is now a reality. Most roads impassable and tens of thousands stranded with no clear way in or out, their anger over the lack of help --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are the policemen at?

COOPER: Reaching a breaking point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Breathe, man, breathe. Breathe, baby, breathe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't give up.

COOPER: Up next, a mayor demands action.

VOICE OF MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: Get off your asses and let's do something.

COOPER: And five years later, their lives today.

HARDY JACKSON, KATRINA SURVIVOR: Every time I woke up, I've been wishing it was a dream. In fact, I just want to give up.

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(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): Katrina in its wake, untold personal tragedies, lives lost, lives turned upside down.

Imagine your home gone. Imagine your neighborhood under water. Imagine nearly your entire city flooded. Four days after Katrina's landfall, convoys of federal aid and military troops finally start rolling into New Orleans.

VOICE OF LT. GEN. STEVEN BLUM, CHIEF NATIONAL GUARD BUREAU: We expect 3,600 to arrive today so that we can help with security, support the civilian law enforcement.

COOPER: Survivors plucked from rooftops were put on roadways without food, water or shelter. The Superdome, long designated as a refuge of last resort, didn't have sufficient plumbing or food and little emergency power.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Too many people there, they got dead bodies in there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dead bodies in the Superdome?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.

COOPER: At the convention center, thousands waited in the heat for buses that didn't come.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I blame you Ray Nagin because you should have helped some people. Your people out here need you.

COOPER: The mayor enraged turned around and pointed the finger at the federal government.

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS, INTERVIEW WITH WWL RADIO: Get off your asses and let's do something, and let's fix the biggest God damn crisis in the history of this country.

COOPER: But it wasn't fixed. Not for months.

Five years after Katrina, there has been recovery and rebuilding along the Gulf Coast, but progress has been slow.

BRETT AUDIBERT, KATRINA SURVIVOR: Sixty-something houses along the lake here, I think, they only had like three or four standing out of 60-something.

COOPER: Remember the Audibert family? This is what their home on Lake Pontchartrain looked like then.

ALLISON AUDIBERT, KATRINA SURVIVOR: It's there! It's there! Oh, my God, it's there. Oh, my God, I see it.

COOPER: This is the home today. Brett Audibert did many of the repairs himself -- a new roof, new steps, rebuffed floors -- everything is reinforced.

B. AUDIBERT: It probably took me a year and a half to rebuild. We just made it stronger and you know make it through any more disasters, Mother Nature throws us, you know?

COOPER: But should another storm come this way, Brett Audibert does have one concern.

B. AUDIBERT: They're building on these flood walls and all these levees up to protect the wall. All that's going to do is push more water to where we live, you know.

COOPER: A risk the Audiberts are willing to take because it's a lifestyle they enjoy.

B. AUDIBERT: You fish and hunt all your life and it's like a party, you know. And if it happened again, I'd probably rebuild and do it again.

COOPER: From the waters of Lake Pontchartrain to the streets of Biloxi, Mississippi, residents are struggling to rebuild.

GARY STILLWELL, KATRINA SURVIVOR: My office used to be right here.

COOPER: Gary Stillwell who lost his home in Katrina is now facing the BP oil spill.

STILLWELL: We want to go back to work. You got an industry that's probably cause and effect to half a million people that are just sitting and waiting.

COOPER: With the shrimping industry crippled by the oil spill, he's had to rely on other income, including earnings from his t-shirt business.

STILLWELL: We work a lot of the fishing charter tournaments because here everything is geared towards shrimp. A bit of a novelty, but they sell well.

COOPER: The Stillwells went from living in a two-story Victorian home to living in this cottage.

STILLWELL: This is our mainland cottage which we were fortunate enough to get from the Mississippi Emergency Management Group. They were offered to people after Katrina. And we were fortunate enough to get a two bedroom cottage. And they are, you know, they're great.

COOPER: Yet, when he returns to his old neighborhood, he sees empty lot after empty lot. It's hard to believe this was once home.

STILLWELL: I lost my soul because I thought Biloxi was the final resting spot for me. There was a great feeling here and it's gone. It's gone.

COOPER: Two miles away on the north side of Biloxi, a mangled pier or empty lots and shattered lives.

HARDY JACKSON, KATRINA SURVIVOR: Everything that I have -- I feel is gone.

COOPER: This is what Hardy Jackson has returned home to.

JACKSON: It don't make sense. They're too much.

COOPER: It's here five years ago his own life was torn apart. His grief captured by our CNN affiliate WKRG hours after the hurricane waters receded.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who was at your house with you?

JACKSON: My wife.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where is she now?

JACKSON: She's gone. I'm lost. That's all I had. That's all I had.

COOPER: Hardy and his wife rode out Katrina and were forced into their attic. He managed to climb on to this tree when their home imploded.

JACKSON: When she came up from the big wave, I reached and I grabbed her hand. I looked at her and I told her, I said please hold on. I said please hold on. I said think about the kids. I said think about the grandkids.

COOPER: But she couldn't hold on. In their last moments together, they prayed and Hardy agreed to one final promise.

JACKSON: She said you can't hold me. She said take care of the kids and grandkids. I prayed to God, please don't take my wife, please don't.

COOPER: Five years have not eased Hardy Jackson's sorrow.

JACKSON: They say my wife's body gone to the bay. There's nothing I can do. Makes me feel less than a man. It do, it makes me feel less than a man. Many times I woke up, I've been wishing it was a dream.

COOPER: Returning to the scene is painful. Jackson brings the only photo of his wife he was able to find in the rubble.

JACKSON: Only things we had left. No photograph of the kids, nothing. I just looked up and found (INAUDIBLE) a copy made of -- (INAUDIBLE).

COOPER: One memory saved, but there's another reality Hardy Jackson finds difficult to cope with, the uncertainty of whether his wife's body was ever recovered. She's never had a proper burial.

JACKSON: It's hard. You can't go. Put no flower, grave or nothing. I feel like I ain't got nothing left of what I've been through. It takes a good, strong man to go ahead on and try to make it and raise the kids. It's hard.

COOPER: Since the storm, Hardy Jackson has had some good fortune. Frankie Beverly of the R&B group Maze purchased this home for him. Hardy along with two of his kids and three grandkids now live in Palmetto, Georgia, suburb of Atlanta.

JACKSON: God, thank you for everything you did for my family in keeping us together. Lord, thank you. Amen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Amen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Amen.

COOPER: For Hardy's daughter Tony, the pain is still overwhelming.

TONY, HARDY JACKSON'S DAUGHTER: I just pray that we still have our dad with us, even though we don't have our mom. He makes sure that anything we need, don't matter what it is, he tries his best and his hardest to make sure that we get it.

COOPER: Beyond the emotional toll, Tinette Jackson's death has also been a huge financial hardship. Hardy has been on disability for more than a decade, and without his wife's income, the family is struggling. He talked to CNN's Don Lemon.

JACKSON: I use my whole, most of my social security check to get my water back on and stuff.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No lights and no water?

JACKSON: The lights stayed off for like two days.

They need clothes. Sometimes I need to get shoes and clothes and just all of that.

LEMON: Are you going to be OK?

JACKSON: Yes, I had to be OK. I have to. Look around at what I got.

COOPER: The Jacksons are among tens of thousands of families whose lives were forever changed by a series of tragic events. One storm, one surprising turn. A changing course that led to one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history.

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