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Mississippi River Flooding

Aired May 16, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. Tonight from Morgan City, Louisiana, one of many communities threatened by the slow moving, but still menacing Mississippi River. If you look behind me here, this is this city's flood wall right over my shoulder. Down below, you should be able to walk down there. That's a wharf along the river way, should be able to walk -- pedestrians do all the time -- to look out at the glorious river.

Instead three to four feet of water and it is rising slowly, but it is rising constantly. And so this state is taking extraordinary measures to protect communities like this all across it. Earlier today we have an exclusive aerial flight with the governor, Bobby Jindal. Up over a term you probably heard over the weekend, the Morganza Spillway. Essentially the state making a decision open the Spillway, release floodwaters into some communities, burying some homes in those communities to protect more populated communities like Morgan City, like Baton Rouge, like New Orleans, even further south, one of the many extraordinary measures this state is taking.

And the stakes are enormous. Governor Jindal saying $300 million alone in crop damage likely, tens of millions of dollars more in other property damage. There are a dozen oil refineries in the flood zone. There are chemical factories. There of course are homes and businesses as well. Listen to Governor Jindal here explaining the tough decision to open that Spillway he says will protect larger communities without a doubt but for the families right in the devastated zone, listen to how many homes could be, could be just buried.


GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: Well look, worst case scenario and I don't think the numbers are going to be this bad. (INAUDIBLE) looked at they modeled they said three million acres will be under water, 25 to 30,000 people will be flooded and that was approximately somewhere between 11 to 15,000 homes or structures. Since that time the crest had been revised downward slightly, had not had to open up as much of the Spillway as they originally thought. So the good news is that the numbers of people that will be impacted will be lower than that.


KING: You hear that noise behind the governor as he speaks? That's a pile driver, driving a steel pile into the river bed, another extraordinary step they're taking here. On the one hand, they opened that Spillway. Something else they're doing to stop floodwaters from coming back up into these small communities, they took a 30-foot high steel barge, took it out into the river and sunk it.

They're building a makeshift dam, using rocks to hold it down. Using steel pilings -- that's the banging you heard -- to hold it down essentially to keep the water once they get it past the city from coming back up through other waterways and flooding it, back flooding they call it. Building a makeshift dam, again opening the Spillway to send the water into less populated areas, building a makeshift dam to divert the water into wetlands and less populated areas, all designed to protect communities here.

Much more on this story in the hour ahead -- I want to begin by giving you a glimpse of what we saw today -- we got on an Army helicopter, the National Guard here in Louisiana, up with Governor Jindal, up with the general who runs the Louisiana National Guard, might have to lean forward a bit to hear some of this because of the helicopter noise, but take a remarkable look as Louisiana slowly floods -- look from above.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) bank right now (INAUDIBLE) per second of water (INAUDIBLE) 600,000 feet (INAUDIBLE) of water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They were originally thinking they were going to use 50 percent of the Spillway, which would have been 350,000 cubic feet per second. They've now reduced that to approximately 125,000 cubic feet per second and they've lowered the amount of water they're expecting due to a variety of reasons, you know lack -- less water coming in the (INAUDIBLE) of that. That is certainly modest good news for the state. Now there are still folks who are going to have water on their property, in their homes. This water will be here for a long period of time. They're still saying we're not going to get to normal levels of water in some places in Louisiana until July or August.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you have is this water is coming down the Spillway. (INAUDIBLE) water that's spilling over the bank of the (INAUDIBLE) river (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You say (INAUDIBLE) of us. How deep is the water going to get?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In the basin there are estimates of 20 feet deep.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When the Corps opened the Spillway, they estimated there are about 2,500 people inside the Spillway, but they also estimated outside of the Spillway there are about 22,500 people that would be impacted by backwater flooding. That's 11,000 homes and structures outside of the Spillway essentially impacted by backwater flooding.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are tough people, they're resilient people, they've been through a lot. (INAUDIBLE) they'll get through this. I've talked to a lot of the families. (INAUDIBLE) they know exactly where they're going to go to evacuate. The good news is (INAUDIBLE) given the amount of time they've had to forecast (INAUDIBLE) --


KING: It is stunning when you see it from above essentially controlled flooding, opening that Spillway releasing the waters into the communities. As we were flying over the general from the National Guard explaining to us the water is rising very slowly. Ironically, one of the reasons the water is rising slowly, more slow than they expected was because there had been a drought just before this flood, so the ground is absorbing some of the water, but we're looking down at trees that are 15, 18, 20 feet high, being told that if we fly over in a week or two, those trees will be under water.

That is the scene here in Louisiana as the state rushes to try to prevent damage to more heavily populated areas. If you move up to the north, up to the roof tops around Vicksburg, Mississippi tonight, and the river is not expected to crest there for several more days, CNN's Martin Savidge spent the day in Vicksburg which has never, never seen flooding like this -- Marty.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, you're absolutely right. I mean this is the next city that's going to feel the brunt of this historic flood that is coming down the Mississippi, the Yazoo here and other tributaries. Take a look at this. This is a beautiful old historic southern town. This is some of the great architecture you would see, the 1902 railroad station. Look at the water right up to the front doors. OK, this is the flooding. Let's show you what they're doing to try to prevent it from getting any worse down here. And it's really quite a remarkable engineering feat that they've had to put together in a real hurry.

This water came up -- they had warning, but the water came up in about the last 10 days. Look at the construction they've had to build here. And the question is, is it going to be enough to hold? Basically it's an old fashioned dike system put together with railroad ties, tar in between. You got these huge steel girders here that are literally backing it up and chains as well as another secondary system. But as you can tell, the water, the pressure that is coming as a result of the water coming downstream is massive, which is why you can see it is just gushing and pouring out of every crack and crevice there is.

They've got massive pumps over here that are going around the clock that are trying to pick up the strain and catch the overflow, but right now this is the only thing that is protecting downtown Vicksburg in what's called catfish row, which is an historic part of this town. This is the frontlines of the flood here in Mississippi. And right now they are hoping it's going to hold, but as you say, John, they don't really know because the crest is not here yet -- John.

KING: Martin Savidge for us -- as he noted on the front line in Vicksburg, Mississippi. This is the front line in Louisiana and with me right now is Mike Stack. He's the chief of Emergency Management for the people on the front line, trying to keep the water out of populated areas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans district office.

Thank you for being with us. I know you're very busy. What is your biggest challenge right now? The Spillway is open. Things seem to be going as predicted. What's the biggest challenge this night?

MIKE STACK, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: Well now you know what we're working on is working with the local power, working with the local levy districts to try to get some flood fighting measures in place to help with this backwater effect that's going to come down as the water comes out the Atchafalaya.

KING: Explain to somebody who doesn't -- somebody at home maybe doesn't live in a flood area, what backwater, essentially you divert the water some ways, but then it can loop back up and catch a community even like this, a community that has a flood wall here, maybe this floodwall stops it but it can come up somewhere else. Explain how do you fight that?

STACK: Right and the system is designed to channel the water through the Atchafalyaya River and eventually we have to get the water out to the Gulf of Mexico. And with the low lying marshes and the areas around here, the water before it gets to the gulf, the volume of water is so extreme that it will back up through those marshes and start coming back up through the communities from the south side.

KING: How many homes now that you've actually opened the Spillway. It was a theory until the weekend. Now you've opened the Spillway and the water is coming out. How many homes are going to be buried? How many people essentially are going to have their homes sacrificed to protect more populated communities like this one?

STACK: Well there are about 20 or 25,000 residential structures that could be potentially impacted by this, but like I say, we are working closely with the local officials to get some flood fighting measures in place. We're building temporary levees, temporary sandbag type structures, temporary (INAUDIBLE). We're using HESCO bastions, so we're out here with the levee districts with the state, with the National Guard to get out in front of this and try to get some protection built up to help those communities.

KING: And not since 1973 had the Spillway been opened. People -- this is theory. The engineers work on the models all the time. What has gone in a way, worse than you predicted -- anything?

STACK: Well, you know, the system is functioning as it's designed. We're passing the design (INAUDIBLE) on the Mississippi side through Baton Rouge and New Orleans, and we're starting to divert the flows into the Atchafalaya basin. The system is under tremendous pressure and it will be for a long time, so our key concern is making sure that we're vigilant, we're out there on the system, making sure the system stays intact while we're still working with the communities to try to help with the flooding (INAUDIBLE). KING: And when you turn to something like this, this is working. Now, we should be able to walk down there. A lot of people do in the evenings. We should be able to walk there. When you look at something like this, does this tell you even though the water is up higher here than it normally is, does this tell you that stuff you're doing (INAUDIBLE) opening the Spillway, other steps are working, that you're mitigating the risk to Morgan City?

STACK: Right. The wall that we're standing on top of is actually the alignment or the protection through here, and so the wall is functioning like it is. There are some things on the riverside that obviously are being impacted, but the system itself is intact.

KING: And we were out on the makeshift dam today. Essentially a barge, they drop it down. How long does it take to come up with that? It was done in '73 on a much smaller scale, but to be able to do that so quickly, is that an example. You're in the Corps. You've dealt with the frustrations with the Corps in the state of Louisiana in the past. This time things seem to be working right.

STACK: Yes, (INAUDIBLE) idea it was -- it is taken from the 1973 concept when they tried that. The local levee district came up with it, worked closely with the parish, brought it to us. We took a look at it. We were able to permit it and working with the levee districts, actually doing a joint construction project to get that done and get that done, so it is going very fast and we expect to be able to get that in place in time to be able to help.

KING: Obviously you've had the time to warn people to get out of their communities. Is it your sense now that things will be a little better than you thought maybe three or four days ago because of the way the water is coming out of the Spillway, it is not rising as fast, or do you still have concerns as it still makes it way this way, a lot of it is still up in Mississippi, that it could be worse?

STACK: Well, we are going through a slow opening of the Spillway so that the water is kind of making its way downstream a little bit slower like you touched on the drought condition (INAUDIBLE) so a lot of overgrowth in the Spillway since the last time we operated it. But other than that, we think that -- I lost it on that one, sorry.

KING: That's all right, Mike Stack with the Army Corps of Engineers, a busy man. It's easy to lose your thoughts when you're juggling so many balls. Appreciate your time tonight --

STACK: Thank you --

KING: Best of luck in the days ahead. We appreciate it. Now where is all the flooding headed? There's water everywhere here. When you (INAUDIBLE) from above it, it's just stunning to see water in places where there has not been water for years. Where is it all going to go? Chad Myers will join us in the Weather Center and more of our exclusive tour with Governor Jindal and a conversation with the governor just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: You're looking at live pictures here, Morgan City, Louisiana. No parking on wharf. That means cars, not boats, ladies and gentlemen. The water down on that dock is three, four feet high and rising. You could walk down there; you could drive a car down there. You're looking at now, this is Morgan City. You see how high the water is, the bridge over there.

We are standing on the floodwall protecting this town right now as the state of Louisiana and the federal government take extraordinary measures to try to keep the water away from more populated communities like Morgan City, bigger cities like Baton Rouge and New Orleans, sacrificing some smaller towns and low lying areas as part of that effort. Now before the Army Corps of Engineers started opening floodgates along the Morganza Spillway, New Orleans wasn't expected to see cresting along the Mississippi River until a week from now, until a week from now, but now everything has changed. Chad Myers is in the CNN Weather Center to tell us just why -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: John, up in Morganza, the river splits, you get the Atchafalaya and you get the Mississippi. And in fact those flood gates that they opened were in fact holding the river back from going down the Atchafalaya in the first place, big wall of concrete, metal and wood holding the river into the Mississippi basin. Well now it is not because they've opened some of those Spillways, opened some of those doors so that the water can go where it wants to go, down the Atchafalaya in the first place.

And it will make its way all the way down to Morgan City. The people that lived in this basin knew this was eventually going to happen. They were hoping of course not. Last time it happened was in '73, but Morgan City will be seven feet over flood stage. You still have about another four feet to go where you are.

The water will continue to come up as the days go on. But as you said, the Mississippi River will not really crest in Louisiana south of there any more. OK, so we're getting to about May 17th for Baton Rouge and now May 14th -- that was over the weekend -- for New Orleans. The crest is over. It's not going to come up any more now because they have split the flow. They split the flow down one side and to the other side and so evening out the flow compared to what it was.

We've also talked about this, the Bonnet Carre Spillway. And the Bonnet Carre Spillway -- there's New Orleans right there -- a little bit hard to see, but I'll draw it out for you. And the river comes down like this and then down toward the Gulf of Mexico. Well they opened this last week. And you can see the bubble of muddy water that's now in Lake Pontchartrain, which is right there. It eventually makes its way out.

But there still could be that little problem that we talked about with that algae bloom later on in the season because of all that fertilizer and all those pesticides and everything else in there. So let's go back to -- let's go back to Google Maps (INAUDIBLE). I'm going to take you to New Orleans and I'm going to take you to where this entire thing is going to spill out where this Morganza Spillway will spill.

The water will come out of the Mississippi River dirty as it is whatever it might be. But it will spill where it wants to because it's not being held back any more. It won't be going down the Mississippi as much. We're going to take that crest about three feet from where that crest was in New Orleans and we're going to bring it down. So let's take to the Morganza area here. This is where that Spillway is, that road right there, that's a bridge, that's a road. They've opened up the gates and now all of a sudden the water is spilling out.

Well how deep does it go? Well in some spots very deep, John, 15 to 20 feet deep in some spots. By the time down you get down towards you, about seven feet deep or so. But it could have been a lot worse. Without any protection at all, this didn't happen because there are, obviously, levees. But without any protection at all, the entire Mississippi River floods from all the way from Baton Rouge down to New Orleans. Now obviously there are levees and there are locks and there are dams and there are walls. But just -- to think about this -- without anything like that, without the Army Corps, New Orleans would have flooded again.

KING: Chad Myers for us from the Weather Channel. We'll keep in touch with Chad, a fascinating and thorough explanation there. Thanks Chad. And Chad mentioned all the Spillways and the levees and everything else. As the Corps of Engineers opens more and more gates along the Morganza Spillway while the flooding disaster spreads, unfortunately big towns being protected, more and more small towns in the Louisiana low lands being impacted, but as CNN's Ed Lavandera shows us well it's a slow motion disaster.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, here on the banks of Atchafalaya River, the water is slowly starting to rise. And as the parish president here in this area told me a little while ago, this whole process is slow and painful. That's because the floodgates of the Morganza Spillway are being opened very slowly.

They opened one on Saturday. But as they open each individual gate that means more water comes flowing downstream. Just up stream from where we are they started issuing mandatory evacuation orders already. Here in Butte LaRose, Louisiana, we anticipate that those mandatory evacuation orders will come by the end of the week. In a matter of time, they expect several feet of water in here.

The early predictions were 15 feet perhaps here in Butte LaRose. The parish president says he doesn't think it will get that high, but regardless 90 percent of the population he says has already evacuated from here, people heeding the warning because the water is coming up, all be it slowly, it's coming up and it will be here for a very long time -- John.

KING: Critically important point Ed Lavandera makes there about the warnings. The Mississippi is moving so slowly. We were up in Mississippi last week, the state of Mississippi, obviously it's making its way to Louisiana now. You see the higher waters around me here in Morgan City. It is time that officials say is their greatest ally right now.

They had time to think about the simulation -- to run simulations to open the Morganza Spillway, time to take some other extraordinary measures. I had a conversation earlier today with Governor Bobby Jindal. You remember him around the country probably, even if you don't pay much attention to Louisiana because of his high profile role after the BP oil spill, well another disaster striking the state of Louisiana. And after an exclusive aerial tour of the flood impacted areas today, we had a conversation with Governor Jindal about the big challenges just ahead.


KING: I need to start, Governor, by asking your sense of the economic impact of this in your state.

JINDAL: Well, look, this will have a tremendous economic impact on a number of different sectors and economies and communities. For example, farmers alone, no good numbers yet, but it will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars of damage. LSU did a study just based on the acreage that flooded in '73, the last time they opened the spillway. They said those same acres with inflation that would be $300 million of damage.

And they're still refining those numbers. You look at the potentially thousands of homes and structures that are in harm's way. You look at the fact that you've got chemical plants, refineries. You've got ports, five of the nation's largest ports, 11 of the nation's refineries that are impacted by this high water. This is significant for the entire country.

What's particularly devastating though is for that family that's in a home. You know, when you really zero in, it's the family that -- they're getting water in their home and they may lose their possessions, they may lose their memories, that's why it's so important we do everything we can to keep this water out of people's homes and out of these communities.

KING: That's progress, the noise --



KING: In the sense of how many people? How many people are going to pay that ultimate price in your view of losing their homes?

JINDAL: Well, look, worst case scenario and I don't think the numbers are going to be this bad. The Corps looked at, they modeled. They said three million acres will be under water, 25 to 30,000 people will be flooded. And that was approximately somewhere between 11 and 15,000 homes or structures. Since that time the crest had been revised downwards slightly. They've not had to open up as much of the Spillway as they originally thought.

Literally could impact thousands and thousands of homes. By doing this, we're going to redirect the water into an unpopulated area, into the wetlands. It will actually help the wetlands. It will be good to rebuild the wetlands, but it will protect those homes as well. In many communities it will lower the water by as much as two to three feet, so this is incredibly important. This will be done by tomorrow.

It's a great, great innovative way to fight the floodwaters. We're literally sinking a barge. We've got three barges holding this one in place. This one is being sunk 500 feet along, 30 feet deep, sunk in place surrounded by sheet piling and rocks. And the idea is you'll see this water, instead of going behind us, because if it went behind us it would go to ultimately Lake Lelore (ph) and the problem is Morgan City has got a 20-foot floodwall.

Morgan City is -- for example, in Morgan City (INAUDIBLE) you've got 11 to 15,000 people, you've got a 20 foot floodwall for the water comes through the Spillway, the floodwall protects it but it comes back around the back through the lake. And this will help stop that from happening.

KING: On the boat ride out you took a phone call from the president. Your state has been through this before (INAUDIBLE) whether it's the oil spill, whether it's Katrina. Now there's been tensions back and forth between local governments, your office, Washington. How are things now?

JINDAL: Actually, I thank the president. We've had somebody from FEMA, the Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard, the National Weather Service in our UCG (ph) meetings every day. The project we're on today is a joint effort. This is the Army Corps of Engineers getting us an oral permit, they're paying for the rocks, the state is paying for part of it. The local parishes are paying for part of it. So this has been a joint collaborative effort. So I thanked the president.

Look this is an unfortunate event. It's an historic amount of water. It's breaking records going back to 1927. Nobody wants to see water in our communities or our homes, but as we speak our agencies are working together, folks are doing everything they can to help protect these communities, whether it's National Guard or the federal U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, so I thank the president.

His agencies are down here working together with local officials as well as the state to fight these floodwaters. Now I will say this will be a marathon, not a sprint. We're not going be done in a week. This water will be elevated for a number of weeks. We're all going to have to work together to get through this.

KING: When you talk about once in a lifetime moment, you have a once in a lifetime flood, you had a once in a lifetime oil spill, before you were governor, you had a once in a lifetime hurricane. What goes through your mind?

JINDAL: You know, when you think about it -- you're exactly right -- we've had four hurricanes, Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Mike, the oil spill, this now. The reality is we're a tough and resilient people. And I was talking to a local guy -- he said look, the good book says God won't give you more than you can bear.

He said I wish we weren't so strong because we keep getting all these challenges. The reality is Louisiana's people are tough. They're resilient. They're going to rebuild. They're going to come back better than they were before. Yes, this is another challenge, but the reality is our people will get through this.

What heartens me you're seeing parishes help each other. You're seeing National Guardsmen work 24 hours around the clock building miles of HESCO bastion barriers. You're seeing people who aren't going to be flooded helping people who are. That's a great thing to see. And I talked to these families, many of whom are about to lose their homes, and they tell me, Governor we're going to get through this. We're going to be OK.


KING: You have a better understanding now of the power of the water?

JINDAL: You know I was born and raised in south Louisiana, grew up in Baton Rouge where the Mississippi River is a big part of our economy, our way of life. When you live down here, you know to respect these bayous and these rivers. But even for someone who was born and raised here and lived my life here, many of us have just never seen this water this high before. We've never seen this much water come into these communities. Like I said, you build these levees and it's like having fire insurance on your home. You hope you'll never have to use it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you for coming down.


KING: It's not every day you hear an interview with that banging behind you, is it? That's a pile driver. The governor has the authority to stop that construction. We decided that would not be such a good idea because of the urgency of the flood challenge here. We can show you some pictures of what they're doing.

They took a giant steel barge, it's 30 feet high, 30 feet high, took it out in this river and sunk it. And they essentially are making a dam and if you watch it right there, putting in steel around it as well. They're trying to block the water from coming into the community, send it into marsh and wetlands. And there was a pile driver literally pounding these steel casings down in as we were walking out there with the governor.

We took a boat ride out there. It was remarkable improvisation (ph), trying to protect populated areas by diverting the water into marshlands and some, some less populated areas, a remarkable project under way. They believe they will save -- they believe they will save communities with tens of thousands in them because of this improvisation (ph). We're in Morgan City live tonight in Louisiana. Much more on the impact of the floods, the preparations for the floods here in Louisiana as we continue the hour. But when we come back, presidential politics, The Donald" takes himself out of the 2012 presidential race, it doesn't surprise me. How about you? Turns out, it was all a tease. We'll be right back.


KING: Donald Trump, well he took himself out of the 2012 presidential race today. There was no big announcement, just a written statement. Quote, "I have spent the past several months unofficially campaigning and recognize that running for public office cannot be done halfheartedly. Ultimately, however, business is my greatest passion and I am not ready to leave the private sector."

With us to discuss this and more in presidential politics, CNN contributor Erick Erickson. He's the editor-in-chief of the conservative blog And Joseph McQuaid, publisher of "The New Hampshire Union Leader."

Gentlemen, before we speak, I want to play a little bit of Donald Trump's sound here because I was skeptical from the beginning, thought this was -- shall we say -- a bit of a tease. Listen to Donald Trump saying maybe yes, maybe -- then ultimately no.


DONALD TRUMOP, PRES. & CEO, TRUMP ORGANIZATION: I'm thinking about it. I don't know that I'll do it. I'd rather not do it. I'd rather have somebody in there that's going to straighten out the country.

If and when I decide to run -- and you may be pleasantly surprised in your case, in the case of CNN, that you may be unpleasantly surprised.

Nobody said it was going to be easy. But I had no idea that I would be hammered like I've been hammered over the last three or four weeks. It's actually, I think, a compliment. I'm not sure.


KING: Joe McQuaid, are you going to you cancel the New Hampshire primary now that you don't have Donald Trump?

JOE MCQUAID, NEW HAMPSHIRE UNION LEADER: No, I think we still go on with it, John. You got to come up here and do a debate amongst the serious candidates.

KING: And, Erick, Joe makes a good point, among the serious candidates. You were supposed to sit down with Donald Trump this week, have a conversation with him, see if he could appeal to conservative voters. He canceled that. You were among those, I think, who thought this was a tease from the beginning. Now, they're rid of him. What now?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I don't think it changes anything. I always wondered if Donald Trump were to actually get in for some reason, what would his natural constituency be? I don't see that he has one. And with him out of the way, I don't think it really changes anything, other than I guess, we'll have less salacious news stories now to deal with and we can get on to some of the serious issues.

KING: Now, here's one thing with -- I want the move on from Mr. Trump in a minute. And when we move on tonight, I don't think we'll come back to him. But I wanted just to play a clip of an interview I had with him sometime ago.

It was clear to me back when he was raising the birther issue and when it was very clear that the president actually had both short form and long form birth certificates, Donald Trump doesn't like to be challenged. That if he'd run in Iowa and he'd run in New Hampshire, you don't just have to answer questions from guys like me, you have to answer questions from honest to God everyday Americans. Just watch how he reacts when he's challenged.


KING: But you raised this, say the president should --

TRUMP: No, no, you raised the question.

KING: No, I did not raise this. I did not call the press conference in Palm Beach early this week --

TRUMP: Excuse me, you raised this. And every time I sit down with the press, all they want to talk about is the birth certificate. And I got him to do something that nobody else could get him to do and I've been given great credit for this.

KING: And you raised this issue of his credibility, that if he has it, he should release it.

TRUMP: Absolutely.

KING: There are some people who question yours in middle of this. The other night, you went on Anderson Cooper, and you said you investigators told you it was missing or it wasn't there.

TRUMP: Excuse me, excuse me. Very simple, I had people looking into it. Now, I don't have to have the people -- I can call them back, I hope. I mean, I haven't seen this and I'm sure that a lot of experts will analyze it.

KING: If these serious people told you it was missing or not there, here it is. Here it is.

TRUMP: Would I pay them? I don't. Maybe I'll let you negotiate for me. I can say this, John, let me just tell you -- I don't make up anything. Let me tell you something -- I have done a great service to the American people.


KING: Joe McQuaid, I'm guessing you're not going to miss Mr. Trump too much. But wouldn't you like to have him at a "Union Leader" editorial board answering the tough questions about taxes, about other issues up in New Hampshire, to see him in the two of the town halls that are on your great state, taking tough questions from the people of New Hampshire?

MCQUAID: I think he had suggested early on that even if he did get into this, he would -- his campaign would be a different national campaign and not be in New Hampshire-based campaign, which is probably one of the reasons why he wasn't going to get into it in the first place.

John, we talk about we're all skeptical, but we're all -- we like to watch a car wreck. And it makes the front page because it's interesting.

KING: I think that's a great way to put it.

Erick Erickson, so, Donald Trump is out. Mike Huckabee over the weekend said he is out. Do we have our Republican field now -- Romney, Pawlenty, Gingrich, maybe Governor Huntsman. Who else?

ERICKSON: May be waiting on Mitch Daniels, if Mitch Daniels he gets in, that will be a shake things up for who is the anti-Romney.

John, I would just like to say that I was going to interview Donald Trump tomorrow at 11:00 and he decided to drop out today. Now, some may say that's a coincidence and some may not. That's for the viewers to decide.

But on the rest of the field, I think we're still probably waiting for Mitch Daniels to come in. And other than that, I think we've got our field -- Sarah Palin maybe, but increasingly, it's looking like she won't come in either.

KING: Doesn't look like she will get in. I was, you know, having a conversation with Governor Jindal here, a Republican in Louisiana. He's not running for president. He's had his hunch is -- he said he hadn't talked to Mitch Daniels. He said his hunch is Mitch Daniels gets in. So, we'll watch that one in the days ahead.

Let's focus for a moment on a candidate who is in. We all know that Governor Romney has had trouble with conservative voters because of the Massachusetts health care plan he passed, which had an individual mandate, it actually tells the people of Massachusetts, you must get health care. If you don't get it from your employer, there are penalties involved. There are also some help along the way.

Yesterday, Newt Gingrich, the former Republican speaker of the House, was on the NBC program, "Meet the Press," and that dirty word "mandate" came up. Listen.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've said consistently we ought to have some requirement, you either have health insurance or you post a bond, or in some way you indicate you're going to be held accountable.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC NEWS: But that is the individual mandate, is it not?

GINGRICH: It's a variation on it.


KING: It is a variation of it on a Sunday show. Today, statements, tweets, Facebook postings from the Gingrich campaign, Joel McCraig (ph) saying he's against the mandates, he's against Obamacare -- mandates bad, mandates bad.

Did the former speaker step into it a bit there?

MCQUAID: I think he did. I haven't seen his whole statement about Paul Ryan's suggesting that we change Medicare greatly, but he seems to be against that as well.

So, I think Gingrich is going to add spice to the campaign because he sometimes says things that he then regret, but it was another idea.

KING: And, Erick, we've talked about this in the past, he's a very thoughtful guy, a provocative guy. But that seems to be a mixed message between Sunday and Monday.

ERICKSON: Yes, he's also a very undisciplined guy. One of he word that has trailed him throughout his political career, has been undisciplined. I think this is an example of it -- to go from Sunday to almost a reversal on Monday.

But interestingly in Sunday as well, what was not in the clip there, was he then went on to say that's one reason he wouldn't go after Governor Romney on the individual mandate. And, increasingly, the way I see Newt Gingrich's campaign shaping up is you'll have Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich fighting for roughly the same constituency which I think does neither of them any favors.

KING: Well, now, we'll focus on the candidates. Mr. Trump is out. Governor Huckabee is out. We'll wait on Governor Daniels, maybe one or two more.

Joe McQuaid, Erick Erickson, we'll be in touch as we get closer now to the real field and we'll debate the issues in the days ahead. Thank you, gentlemen, for coming in.

Coming up here: what Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords said while she watched her husband take off aboard the space shuttle Endeavour. We'll get an update from the congresswoman's chief of staff. You don't want to miss it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: Launch of Endeavour.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Blastoff for space shuttle Endeavour Monday morning on its final --



KING: Welcome back. We're live tonight on the floodwall in Morgan City, Louisiana.

Let's check in with Joe Johns in Washington for some of the latest news you need to know right now -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Rahm Emanuel is now the mayor of Chicago. At today's inauguration, he promised to improve schools, reduce street violence and downsize city government.

Today, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner informed Congress the U.S. government has hit the debt ceiling, but there are enough legal tricks to keep things going for another 11 weeks or so.

Jimmy McMillan, guy who ran for New York governor last year from the Rent is Too Damn High Party, has a new cause. He wants people to take pictures of the gas pump during their next fill up and post them on the Web site, which is sponsored by the conservative and pro-oil drilling group Let Freedom Ring.

In Florida this morning, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords watched the launch of the space shuttle Endeavour. Giffords' husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, is commander of the 16-day mission. As you can see, low clouds obscured all but the first few seconds of the flight.

But one lucky airline passenger was in the right place at the right time with her iPhone. Stephanie Gordon posted this video to Twitter. And that's a pretty amazing picture. I actually re-tweeted that, John. She picked up a thousand Twitter followers after people saw that picture.

KING: That is great stuff. And you're right. What timing there. You look out the window. Well, hey, there goes the shuttle Endeavour. Great work, intrepid work with that iPhone there.

And, Joe, as you mentioned, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, she's recovering from the gunshot wound, of course, to the head. She traveled down there to watch today's shuttle launch. Her husband is the commander, Mark Kelly.

A short time ago, I spoke with congresswoman's chief of staff, Pia Carusone.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KING: Pia, let me just start with the basic question. What did the congresswoman tell you was going through her mind, what were her thoughts when she watched Endeavour lift off?

PIA CARUSONE, REP. GABRIELLE GIFFORDS' CHIEF OF STAFF: Well, you know, John, when we watched the shuttle launch. It was actually a sort of quiet moment on the roof of the launch control center. The noise of the shuttle was very loud and we were listening to the communications between the shuttle and mission control. But, you know, there weren't a lot of words exchanged.

After the launch was done, you have three or four minutes into it, we -- people started talking or, you know, cheering and applauding. But, you know, one thing Gabby did say to me -- I looked over at her and she said, "Good stuff." And I got to agree. That was good stuff this morning. It's beautiful and really powerful moment to be there.

KING: If you say powerful moment, it's interesting because she has been through so much in recent months. She has been through so much with her recovery and her therapy and everything else. And yet, for those few moments, I assume there's a bit of apprehension as the liftoff starts, of course.

Take us through that moment.

CARUSONE: Yes. It's -- you know, I think it's -- there's a sense of relief, obviously, a couple minutes into a launch like this when, you know, you know that at least the beginning portion has happened safely, because prior to it, there's sort of anticipation and anxiety that runs through the astronaut families. And I think that's normal. It's risky business, obviously, flying the space shuttle.

KING: She obviously came for the launch, it was delayed. She went back to the rehabilitation center. She comes back again.

Physically, is that taking a toll on her?

CARUSONE: Actually, it's quite the opposite. The travel to Florida has been a therapeutic process for her and a milestone in her progress, because, you know, it's physically challenging moving around and travelling. And that's something the doctors said they're looking forward to for her, and not just that, but the new environment, meeting new people.

So, it's exciting for her. She -- you know, there's a lot of adrenaline that fills the environment right now for the families. And she's doing great.

KING: And Commander Kelly begins the mission, the entire crew begins the mission. I understand he left some gifts behind?

CARUSONE: He did. At the main engine cutoff, which is sort of major milestone where, you know, they've reached orbit and a lot of the potential for early problems is gone, Scott Kelly, Mark's brother, delivered a bouquet of red tulips to Gabby and red roses to his daughters Claire and Claudia, along with some note cards. It was really sweet. And I really appreciate it.

KING: What are the conversations with the congresswoman about her prognosis about perhaps returning to Congress one day?

CARUSONE: You know, it's not a conversation that's started in earnest yet because at this point they're really focused on the day- to-day. And for Gabby, you know, she still has the sort of hurdle of the -- you know, the brain surgery that's left to be done, which is to replace the portion of her skull that was removed. So, it's really day by day and, you know, in the moment for her.

KING: Pia Carusone, chief of staff to Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, thanks for your time today.

CARUSONE: Thanks so much, John.


KING: More of our flood coverage when we return. Also, tonight, a major sex scandal unfolding in the United States is shaking up the world of international finance and French presidential politics. Details on that, next.


KING: Nothing shakes up a presidency race like a sex scandal. And while the presidential race we're talking about tonight is in France, the sex scandal is right here in the United States.

Today, a New York judge refused to grant bail for Dominique Strauss-Kahn. He's the head of the International Monetary Fund. And he's been considered a top potential challenger to the French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Strauss-Kahn is accused of attempting to rape a house keeper on Saturday in his $3,000 a night New York hotel suite.

CNN's Richard Roth joins us now with the details.

And, Richard, takes us inside the courtroom as this drama played out today.

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just minutes after other defendants faced charges on drug possession, burglary and public urination, one of the most important and significant financial giants walked into this courtroom, packed with journalists from the around the world. He was in a glass-enclosed booth for much of the time, talking privately with his attorneys through a glass hole, almost like he was a suspected war criminal.

But then the attorneys went at it with the prosecutor's office. The chief argument: would he receive freedom, temporary freedom, on bail? The prosecutor said he was a flight risk, similar to film director Roman Polanski, someone who wouldn't return. They charged him with six criminal counts of sexual assault and illegal imprisonment and went in to very graphic language in their criminal complaint.

The defense attorney said that he could pay $1 million in bail and that he has a daughter here in Manhattan with an apartment who he could stay with. The judge said he's going to be treated just like any other defendant, but he indeed is a flight risk because he was on an Air France jet bound for Europe. Though, his defense attorneys say that was a ticket bought long ago -- John.

KING: And, Richard, we also understand we have new details of this alleged incident tonight. What do we know?

ROTH: Well, a law enforcement source telling CNN that the police checked hotel records which say they -- he checked out, Strauss Kahn, of the hotel, Sofitel, in Times Square, about 12:28. They suspect the incident happened at noon. The defense attorneys in court said, yes, he was rushing -- he was rushing out to have a lunch with an unspecified person. There are some reports it could be his daughter.

The lawyers indicated maybe that person would testify maybe for him, some sort of alibi. He is now at Rikers Island, we're told, the notorious Rikers Island, in an isolation prison cell, not to mix with other members of the population there.

KING: Richard Roth live for us in New York tonight with the details.

Now, the French presidential election isn't until April of next year. So, there's plenty of time for the sex scandal to reverberate.

Thierry Arnaud is a political correspondent for the French network BFMTV.

And, Thierry, let me start with the basic question. The media impact -- this is one of the most powerful men in international finance. One of the most prominent political figures in France. What is the reaction back home?

THIERRY ARNAUD, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, BFMTV: Well, it is an enormous political earthquakes, John. The shock wave is tremendous. It's always very risky to call the presidential election ahead of time, but you could very well make the case that the presidential election was his for the taking.

He had not yet announced that he was going to run, simply because he would not have been allowed to do that and remain as the head of the IMF. But privately, he made it very clear that he would do so. The first step for him was to win the primary of his political party, the French Socialist Party. He was a very heavy favorite in that.

The second step: the potential runoff against President Sarkozy. And some polls had him as high as 60-40 to the current French president. So, he was in a very good and strong position up until Saturday afternoon.

KING: Up until Saturday afternoon. This is not the first time. These are serious criminal charges, but not the first time there have been some allegations of inappropriate behavior around women. Take us back through that.

ARNAUD: Yes, absolutely. I mean, it's been -- there have been a lot of stories about Dominique Strauss-Kahn inclination. But, you know, it's one thing to be a skirt chaser and it's a completely different story to be accused of an attempted rape.

It has always been a concern. It was going to be an issue during the presidential election. And remember the time he was appointed as the head of the IMF, some of my IMF sources came to me and said, are these sources true? You know, is it dangerous to have him head of the IMF? Is it likely at some point it might blow up in our faces?

And we have seen what is happening today. Obviously, we don't know the facts for sure. He is still presumed innocent. But he certainly is in a very, very difficult position today.

KING: And his American-born wife, Anne Sinclair, saying in a statement, "I did not believe for one second the accusations brought against my husband. I have no doubt his innocence will be established."

His spouse is standing by him, Thierry. But in terms of other political supporters, especially back home in France, is there a rally around this gentleman or is there a lot of silence?

ARNAUD: There is not exactly silence, but everybody knows -- even if it's too early to say so in their current difficult political personal circumstances he is facing right now -- everybody knows this is the end of the road for him, not only as the head of the IMF, but as a French presidential contender.

So, they just don't want to ad to his misery at some point and to say this, as frankly as I just did. But, you know -- so they're paying tribute to him. They're saying he's going through a very difficult personal circumstances, that we have to wait for the justice system to do its work.

But, again, everybody knows this is the end for him.

KING: Thierry Arnaud, the senior political correspondent for the French network, BFMTV -- Thierry, appreciate your insights tonight. We'll keep our eye on this case as it plays out in the courts and in French politics.

When we come back, floodwaters threatening so many communities here in Louisiana -- a few final thoughts as we continue our live coverage from Morgan City, Louisiana, tonight.


KING: As we leave you tonight, we're on the wharf here of Morgan City, Louisiana.

As you can see the water on the wharf, pretty low, just about boot-high. It gets a little deeper this way, it's a lot deeper as you go that way. It's in the area of two to four feet. About seven feet a little bit farther down.

This is a wharf right along the city. Obviously, you see the river out here. The waters are up substantially. There's a flood wall right here. The floodwall runs about 20 feet high.

Now, had they not opened the spillway, the waters here would already be higher. But, right now, they expect the waters to keep coming up over the next couple of days. As you can see, this is not so bad. Normally, as you can see the sign there, no parking on wharf. Cars could be down here.

One community that's so far -- so far -- all of the efforts to keep the waters out of the more populated areas to the less populated areas, the lower bayous, are working so far.

We're going to continue our coverage here tomorrow as we watch the waters of the Mississippi rise. We'll see you tomorrow night.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.