Return to Transcripts main page


Broken Hearts; River Traffic; Al Qaeda's New Leader

Aired May 17, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening tonight from Butte LaRose, Louisiana. The waters here, you see them behind me, they are rising slowly but steadily. In a week from now some of the homes in this community likely to be under water. Look around. No sandbags, no urgent flood control efforts. Butte LaRose is one of the small towns potentially being sacrificed, deliberately flooded to protect more populated areas like Baton Rouge and New Orleans from devastating flood levels.

We spent our day today traveling up and down the Mississippi River in Louisiana and in Mississippi, and tonight we will show you its punch, powerful punch in many forms. Right here the pace of change is slow yet certain. Last night remember we showed you the Morganza Spillway from above a helicopter ride. Its gates opened to divert water away from the Mississippi (INAUDIBLE).

This is some of that water right behind me. This is some of that water now. It is rising slowly here as you see it. You see those rails that go up behind me over my shoulder. Those are normally dry, those rails out there. That is the edge of the river. You see the water.

It is rising slowly, more slowly than the engineers initially predicted, but the folks who own these homes have been told by the time the Mississippi crests near here next Tuesday many of these homes could be underwater. Some of them will have the water right up to the edge.

It is very tough to stomach for people like Dwayne Stutes. He moved here just four months ago for the peace and quiet. He says he likes the birds and the schools.


DWAYNE STUTES, BUTTE LAROSE RESIDENT WHO EVACUATED: A lot of broken hearts right now, a lot of broken hearts. But in the back of our mind we all knew that it was -- it would happen. We just didn't know when. So we just, like I said, we just deal with it. That's all we can do.


KING: Tonight there's a bit of a mixed message from political leaders. On the one hand they're very pleased with the early flood control and diversion efforts and they think some areas they initially believed would see deep flooding now might see much less water. Yet Governor Bobby Jindal today also warned the record water levels could last for more than a month and he urged people not to get complacent. More than 4,800 people have been displaced by the flooding in Mississippi.

Here in Louisiana, 4,000 people have been evacuated so far. Most of them, like these neighbors right here, not sure what will be here if and when they're able to return. It is something to watch. The Mississippi is methodical but powerful (INAUDIBLE). Take a look here at these pictures. The swollen river and its steady current as it approaches not just Mississippi. On the left of your screen is Vidalia, Louisiana. On the right is Natchez, mostly built up on the hills. But some low lying homes are being wiped out. And look at this.


KING: Is this a schoolyard -- not exactly. This is a recreation area for members of the United States Coast Guard. This is their station in Natchez Mores (ph), Mississippi. Normally this is a parking lot.


KING: Across the river (INAUDIBLE) we arrive this morning to find a red hot Mayor Hyram Copeland. He had just reached the barriers around his town's river front convention center. They were breaching (ph) and the Coast Guard initially refused to stop the barge traffic that kicks up big wakes and sends more water toward those banks. But the mayor called the governor. The Coast Guard put a 24-hour freeze on traffic past Vidalia. And the mayor told us he is now confident a $100 million waterfront development should suffer only minimal damage.


MAYOR HYRAM COPELAND, VIDALIA, LOUISIANA: One hundred million dollars worth of investment we have on the Vidalia River front, very vital to our economy. It is 300 jobs, but it's of course, the economic impact it would have on our community would exist would be astronomical.


KING: More of our day in a few moments. But let's touch base with our correspondents tracking the impact of this record flooding. Martin Savidge is in Vicksburg, Mississippi, but first to David Mattingly in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana. The community of Three Mile Lake like Butte LaRose is a virtual ghost town and a place with a new challenge tonight, looting -- David.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. Looting is a component of just about any natural disaster, and just as authorities have tried to stay out in front of this flood, they now want to try to get out in front of the looting. The problem they have right now is the flood is not coming up as fast as they hoped it would. When people got the evacuation orders to move out of here, they thought this water would possibly be up to here by now and into some houses.

Instead now we have big ghost towns, these empty houses on dry land, and authorities are very concerned, keeping an eye in this parish alone, on about 700 empty houses. But the sheriff here is also taking it a step further, preparing water patrols to go out onto the water to watch for waterfront houses, to take care of them. Also to be prepared for when the waters do get here to take advantage of the boats, to get to these houses where the looters themselves might be using boats to go in.

In fact we saw one house today that had a six-foot wall of sand and plastic around it, very effective at keeping the floodwaters out, but not so much against the looters. Listen.


MATTINGLY: Is that going to be enough to keep looters out?


MATTINGLY: That's what you're here for.

BOBBY GUIDROZ, SHERIFF, ST. LANDRY PARISH: That's my job, yes. Looters, there's a stairway they can crawl over. They'll bring whatever they need to get in. They'll have to come here by boat. And if they have to get in, they will. So we're going to be here by boat, protecting this.


MATTINGLY: About 10 percent of the people who are in areas that were asked to evacuate are staying behind and just about the biggest reason for that 10 percent they say is to watch their property. They'll take their chances with Mother Nature, John, but not always with human nature.

KING: David Mattingly live for us in St. Landry, Parish, Louisiana tonight tracking that important story. You know we flew over a good chunk of the flood zone yesterday, and from up above it gives you a great appreciation for the levee system. The traces, the path of the mighty Mississippi, it is first and foremost a flood wall. But as Martin Savidge tells us tonight, when the roads are underwater the levee can also double as the access trail to places like Eagle Lake, Mississippi -- Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we're in north Vicksburg again tonight. We just want to show you one other thing here, John, before we get rolling. And that is -- take a look at the scene behind us. It looks like an idyllic canal, perhaps in north of Vicksburg. But then you know have the camera pan onto the left and you realize we're on a street.

It's the middle of a community and it's another community up here, five suburbs that are completely now inundated with water. And for these people that water is going to be there a long time. It is water that is coming off a number of the major arteries around this town and in around this area. One of the scenes we looked at today was Highway 61. Highway 61 is a major north/south, very historic artery and it's vital for transportation to and from the city of Vicksburg and the parts beyond.

The problem is now the water has gone completely over that roadway. We road on that roadway just two days ago, now it looks like it's a lake that is out there. That's disrupting commercial traffic. It's also disrupting emergency traffic. And that's the problem for the town of Eagle Lake, which is kind of like what we saw there in David Mattingly's spot, in that you have a community of well over a thousand people that have been totally evacuated.

The area is completely isolated with one exception, the main route in is now riding on the main Mississippi levee, not the usual form of transportation, but that's how we traveled to get in. And once you arrive, it is a ghost town. There is nobody or very few people there. And the water is not in that city at all. However, you've got the Mississippi levee on one side. You've got the backwater levee from the Yazoo River on the other side.

They are just considered to be too great a threat. And it takes too long for emergency responders to get there if there was an emergency. So take everybody out. In the meantime, sheriffs' patrols routinely go through those streets. They're there, even if the people are not -- John.

KING: Important precautions people are taking. Martin Savidge for us tonight near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Martin thanks. Butte LaRose is in St. Martin's Parish. This is a blue collar place. Sugar cone -- sugar cane is the biggest farm crop. Crawfish and shrimp dominate the aquaculture economy. The parish president is Guy Cormier and he's with us now to discuss the punishing impact of this flooding.

Thanks for being with us on a difficult night. As you look around this community, this out here would mostly be dry. The edge of the river would be, gosh, 50 yards out that way. How many homes, how many homes in your parish do you expect because of the decision to deliberately flood it, will be buried?

GUY CORMIER, ST. MARTIN PARISH PRESIDENT: I would say about a thousand homes will be flooded in both upper and lower St. Martin, Parish. That's just an estimate. We're going off the course decision and the weather forecasters saying the river should be at about 27 feet, so that's kind of what we're basing the decision on. But we're taking one on the chin not only for America but for Louisiana as well.

KING: And when you say taking one on the chin and people out there I'm sure are applauding you, people in Baton Rouge and down in New Orleans are grateful. What is it like when you knock on the door and say to somebody, who maybe last time you asked them for their vote, now you're telling them, I'm sorry, but your house is going to be gone?

CORMIER: It's a tough, tough deal. It's heart wrenching to be honest with you and you know we recognize that the Mississippi River is what made Louisiana what it is, a very, very profitable river for us. A lot of us make our living based on what goes on in the Mississippi River. But it's really hard when you go and visit with a family who own and operate everything they have in this area and you know the decision has been made. And we're just going to have to battle it. But we're fighting people.

KING: How are they made whole if the government takes my house to build a highway through eminent domain they have to compensate me, what happens to these folks? What are they taken care of?

CORMIER: Right. These folks, some of them have insurance. Some of them don't. But I mean FEMA is going to -- already told us that they're going to come in and help where they can and help these people rebuild their lives. Again, we're fighting people and at the end of the day this water is going to rise, but we're going to rise again as well.

KING: This is a blue collar community. The average income somewhere in the 30,000 range a year. You got people who shrimp, crawfish, a lot of farming in this community. You've lived here all your life, ever seen anything like this?

CORMIER: Never seen anything and I guess and the weird part about this is that we're in the middle of a drought. My parish hadn't seen any significant rain in quite some time and we're dealing with federal floodwaters is what I call them. It's the rainfall that fell in the central part of the United States and we're having to deal with it.

KING: Because of that drought, this as we look around, because of the drought this water is not as high as you would have thought 48 hours ago when they opened up the spillway and let it out. We were out with the governor yesterday talking about the ground is sucking up more water. Does that leave you confident that in the end yes you may lose a thousand homes but it won't be 1,500?

CORMIER: Right. It sure does. The forecast has come down. Original forecast was 29 feet and we were all in a panic here. We based our decision based on 29 feet. We've moved that a little bit -- we kind of went to plan "B" when they went to 27 feet. But in a sense, it's still a lot of water. It's still a lot of water.

KING: And these homes right where we are right now. You see this home here. It's up on stilts. That home there is up on stilts. The shed is already in the water. That shed -- this water eventually by the crest will be around Tuesday here, so you still got another week before you get the biggest crest here. How high is this water going to get?

CORMIER: In about five days that water will probably reach that shed, probably be in it and definitely over those people's porch right there.

KING: But you believe these houses, because of the lower water and because of where we are, particularly higher area, not a high area, but a higher area, they'll be OK. CORMIER: Right. They've built on the river, so they built with that in mind. We received backwater flooding. The rest of this community is not protected by that levee that's behind us, so the water is going to come behind it and flood us from the back side and that's -- it's basically where most of our damage will be.

KING: Guy Cormier I appreciate your time tonight. We wish you the best of luck in the days ahead.


KING: Thank you. Thank you for your time tonight. Still ahead here, a closer look at the impact of these rising floodwaters.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Going to have a tremendous amount of infrastructure repair that we're going to have to do. We've got streets and sewage and drainage and so on. I've been here all my life.

KING: Ever seen anything like this?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never have. Never have. It's just unbelievable.


KING: But next, there's other news tonight. Al Qaeda has a new leader. He's an Egyptian but perhaps not the man you expected.


KING: Live pictures tonight Butte LaRose, Louisiana, it looks beautiful, doesn't it? That water is not supposed to be there. Only way over by those far trees should you be able to see the river. Everything you're seeing there, especially in the foreground you should not be seeing. That is water released when the Morganza Spillway was opened. This community being deliberately flooded to protect, to divert the waters from Baton Rouge and New Orleans -- more on the important flood prevention efforts under way in Louisiana and Mississippi a bit later, but there's other big news tonight.

Tonight al Qaeda has an interim replacement for Osama bin Laden. He's an Egyptian. He's named Saif al-Adel, a one-time Special Forces officer. CNN is told -- been told he's been appointed interim chief of al Qaeda because the global jihadist community has grown restive in recent days about the lack of a formal announcement about bin Laden's successor.

Joining us to discuss this from New York CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend, who was the homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush and is a member of the External Advisory Committees for both the Department of Homeland Security and the CIA and with us from Washington CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen. Peter, to you first. You've studied al Qaeda for some time. Why now and why not the number two, al-Zawahiri, but this man?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, according to Noman Benotman, who is the source of this story, a long time associate of both bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, you know the global jihadi community was getting kind of restive about the lack of a formal announcement of somebody to replace bin Laden. So they basically tapped Saif al-Adel, who has played the leadership role of al Qaeda, who's been involved in anti-American activity since 1993, been involved in jihadi activities since the late activities -- since the late '80s to be the kind of de facto leader of al Qaeda while they you know seek the formal announcement of perhaps what will turn out to be Ayman al-Zawahiri, but that hasn't happened.

KING: So Fran Townsend, take us inside the files. When you were in the Bush White House tracking al Qaeda in the days after 9/11, did Saif al-Adel come to your attention? Who is he?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. Saif al-Adel is a certified bad guy. He was an intimate and confidante of bin Laden's in Afghanistan. He's indicted here in the United States, here in the southern district of New York for his planning role in the East Africa Embassy bombings in 1998. This is a guy who sits on the military, is rumored to have sat on the military council, on the Majlis, the ruling council of al Qaeda.

After the U.S. began bombing in Afghanistan, he fled with bin Laden, at least two of his sons and other members of al Qaeda to Iran where he lived with his family for a number of years. So this is a guy who's got real credibility within the ranks. He had set up training camps in Somalia and Afghanistan. He also was the one who sort of authorized and advocated for the beginning of terrorist activities inside Saudi Arabia in 2003.

2004, the Saudis got his diary there, and it revealed that he had actually been one of the few senior guys in al Qaeda who had been briefed on the use of planes for the 9/11 attack. And so this is a very credible guy. He has a somewhat different philosophy than bin Laden did. I mean he looks at regional conflicts. He's out of Egypt. He was a member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, which was responsible for the assassination of Sadat, the activities in East Africa, the activities in Saudi Arabian and so he's very focused on local regional conflicts and unseating those in power.

KING: And Peter, we've talked about this since the death of bin Laden, who would they choose and you've talked about the Yemenis and the Saudis might not want al-Zawahiri because he's an Egyptian and yet here is the appointment of an interim leader who is another Egyptian. Is it an act of defiance or is it a test?

BERGEN: It might be the latter, John. It might be simply a way of greasing the scales for Ayman al-Zawahiri to eventually take over. Ayman al-Zawahiri, of course, is an Egyptian sergeant who has been involved in jihadi activities in Egypt since he was a teenager. It is controversial within al Qaeda to have an Egyptian take over because Osama bin Laden as everyone knows was from Saudi Arabia.

That's the most holy land of Islam and so there is a certain constituency within al Qaeda who would like a Saudi or a Yemeni. But frankly a lot of the more militant members and a lot of the leaderships of al Qaeda have been Egyptian, and so this may be their way of testing the waters for the eventual takeover of bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who will not be as effective as a leader, but nonetheless has been around for a long time.

KING: And Fran, it begs the question when you hear these names, Saif al-Adel tonight, obviously al-Zawahiri we've known about since 9/11. In the sense of the hunt for bin Laden is over, many watching would ask the question, why haven't we been able to find the number two or now the new number one?

TOWNSEND: Well, it waltzes right into the issue of the day, John, and that is cooperation with Pakistan. We are in a very difficult time with Pakistan, but there are many in addition to these guys. There's the Haqqani network who are working to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. There's Mullah Omar, the Quetta Shurah Council. There are plenty of people that if Pakistan was so inclined to be of assistance to the United States that they could do that.

Secretary Clinton has put off her trip there and sources say that's to make sure that intelligence and military officials can work through some of their issues because there needs to be deliverable when she comes out of those meetings in Pakistan. Hopefully, John, it would lead to the capture or killing of some of these additional leaders of al Qaeda.

KING: And Peter, any other message in this appointment, announcement or development in the sense that since the death of bin Laden when we've been getting source accounts of what are in all the documents, all the computer files, all the videotapes seized from the bin Laden compound in Pakistan. There has been talk of some rift.

Fran just mentioned al-Adel is more somebody who wants to focus on regional conflicts. We know from those documents and sources that there have been some tensions that some of the rank and file if you will thought bin Laden was too obsessed with the United States, too worried about big grand scale attacks. Does this appointment send any kind of a message in that development?

BERGEN: Well I think it does John. I think it was predictable that in the wake of bin Laden's death there would be kind of a debate internally about leadership, direction of the group, all these things were sort of predicted before bin Laden died. And they're happening. And that's a good thing. I mean, we're seeing probably disputes internally, not only just about the leadership, but also, you know, about the future direction.

Those disputes have always been latent and bin Laden was able to paper over them and he was sort of a big tent leader, somebody with a lot of charisma some of the people within the group really loved. But those disputes have been there for more than a decade. So now we're going to see, I think, more of this as time goes on. KING: And Fran Townsend what are your friends still in the intelligence community when you talk to them, what is their sense of the conversations whether it's turmoil, whether it's transition at the top of al Qaeda?

TOWNSEND: Well, it's clear. Peter mentioned it. There are real tensions. And now actually I believe that the naming of an interim leader allows more time and opportunity for this to become divisive. No question. Someone who is a real leader in terms of operational capability has been Anwar al-Awlaki; we've spoken a lot about him. He's the American born cleric in Yemen.

We can expect that some of these affiliate groups will begin to jockey for prestige, for power, and to control the direction, the future direction of al Qaeda. Anwar al-Awlaki obviously has continued to try and target the United States whether it was the underwear -- attempted underwear bomber on a Christmas Day plane, the computer cartridges and cargo planes or Nidal Hasan at Ft. Hood and so that -- he sort of represents that faction of targeting western interests as opposed to Saif al-Adel. Not that he's opposed to it but clearly his focus has been much more regionally and what the intelligence community hopes for is just such tension, just such conflict.

KING: Fran Townsend, Peter Bergen, important help on an important story tonight. Thank you both.

When we come back here more coverage of the flooding impact here and the river still has yet to crest down where we are in Louisiana. We'll go to Louisiana, we'll go to Mississippi, and we'll talk to Chad Myers in the CNN Weather Center. He'll help us understand why this flood is shattering the records.


KING: Live picture there of Butte LaRose, Louisiana tonight, much of what you're seeing should be dry land. Only in the far outskirts of that you see those railings in the shot? That should be dry. The Mississippi -- the Atchafalaya River -- excuse me -- beginning just after that, though the water is rising here because the Morganza Spillway was opened. This is deliberately flooding this community.

Part of the pain and the sadness you find along the Mississippi flood zone tonight. There is pain and sadness, but there's not a lot of surprises. Plenty of warning the Mississippi was swollen and coming south with a powerful punch. The early warning allowed officials down river like here in Louisiana to debate a number of flood control scenarios.

What was ultimately implemented is historic. Three flood control barriers on the Mississippi opened at the same time, for the first time ever, two of them right here in Louisiana. Chad Myers in the CNN Weather Center tonight to help us understand. Chad, let's just begin with that. What is it about this flood that has it breaking all the records? CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The levees, believe it or not, the levees. Because the last time we had a historic flood like this, John, there were no levees. And the water was able to go farther east and west and so the level, the foot level of the river didn't get as high. It got wider, but it didn't get as high.

So let's break this down. A normal flow at Memphis, Tennessee is 450,000 cubic feet per second. Multiply that by about seven you get gallons per second, whatever, just a number. Last week at Memphis, 1.4 million cubic feet per second, but the river was high, breaking records, breaking records not seen since '20, '30 -- '27 and '37. Why -- because the river has been contained in a smaller area so it must go up higher.

It's like putting a cup of water in a tumbler or putting a cup of water in a big highball glass. Well the highball glass is smaller around, so the water appears to be higher than in a flat tumbler. Back in the great flood of 1927, 2.3 million cubic feet per second, almost double the flood we had this year. But because the walls, the levees were not able to keep that water in, miles and miles and tens of miles east and west of the Mississippi were flooded by that disaster, a big time disaster.

Now something else that has happened, obviously they opened up the Atchafalaya. They also opened up the Lake Pontchartrain gates, and the Lake Pontchartrain gates, I just want to give you an idea, 1.4 million gallons from this Bonnet Carre spillway, 1.4 million gallons per minute of fresh water going into Lake Pontchartrain, the entire Gulf oil spill, 200 million gallons of oil.

Now you can't compare fresh water and oil, but to give you an idea of how much water, how much fresh water is pouring into Lake Pontchartrain, it is almost what is -- two-thirds of the Gulf oil spill goes into Lake Pontchartrain every minute. That's why there's a big mud hole now as that muddy water from Mississippi has made its way there -- John.

KING: It is remarkable to see. Chad Myers with important historical perspectives, thank you Chad.

You know when we arrived in Vidalia, Louisiana this morning the mayor, Hyram Copeland he was in the middle of what I'll call an animated telephone conversation with the Coast Guard. Next, he placed a call to the governor.

By the time he came to say hello to us, well he was calming down a bit. The Coast Guard had agreed he said to a 24-hour freeze on big barge traffic past his town. Those big barges cause wake. They send more water to the coastline. Enough time the mayor said he hoped to prevent a big breach in the barrier protecting his town's economic backbone.


MAYOR HYRAM COPELAND, VIDALIA, LOUISIANA: This is the mighty Mississippi River. As you can see the swift current that's going through there right now. Where the trees are, that's just about 20 feet from the normal river.

KING: Right here?

COPELAND: Yes, sir.

KING: On a normal day like this, a beautiful day like this, what would be going on along the river --


COPELAND: Our river walk is full of people walking and enjoying the river. And now, you can sit there, if you want -- we have had some people go down south and fish for catfish and catch pretty good mess of catfish.

KING: This is $100 million investment within the community.

COPELAND: It's $100 million worth of investment we have along the river front. Very vital to our economy. It's 300 jobs. But it's of course, the economic impact it will have on our community, losses will be astronomical. We did this whole project in securing all these buildings in three and a half days.

What we did, originally, we started to go and just put the boxes around out of perimeter. But then we decided this, if it broke, then the whole system would collapse. So, we decided to go in each individual building and build and island within itself. We've got barge traffic coming up and down the river. And we understand that's an economic issue, too.

KING: How hard is the back and forth been? The Coast Guard initially wanted to keep the traffic coming. You have (INAUDIBLE) a little bit.

COPELAND: Yes. We -- and I could understand, probably losing $350 million a day because of this situation and I understand it. And we had a critical issue in the convention center. We asked them to give us a little time to go in and fix that problem. And they did. They agreed to do so.

KING: Twenty-four hours.

COPELAND: Twenty-four hours.

KING: Do you think you can get it done in that?

COPELAND: You got do get it done.

KING: Right.

COPELAND: Got to get it done. And we will.

KING: But how much more water you got coming?

COPELAND: We got about another foot. And a little more than a foot that will crest Saturday at 6.3 feet. KING: You're going to have this water for a long time?

COPELAND: At least until probably June 14th or 15th. After the river goes down, we're going to have a tremendous amount of infrastructure repair that we're going to have to do. We've got streets and sewage and drainage and so on.

I'm here all my life.

KING: Never seen anything like this?

COPELAND: Never have. Never have. It's just unbelievable.

KING: Some people will look at this and say, well, why did you build there?

COPELAND: Some people look at it and say, why did you build here? Well, they built here under the premise that they were above the 100-year floodplain, which is basically 75 feet. They built it to 78 feet. But this is a 500-year floodplain. And no one had any idea or any concept of how quick this happened until the magnitude.

We look at the Mississippi River now and what it's doing. But look at the offset of the economic impact, it's the lifeline of our communities, our water systems, shipping, receiving. So, you know, sometimes it tells you, hey, you think you have me controlled? Let me show you every now and then that's not going to be the case.

And so, we learned lessons from that. Hopefully, we can control it a little bit more than we have. But it's the Mighty Mississippi.

KING: It's the boss.

COPELAND: It's the boss.


KING: Now, you heard the mayor there say the Coast Guard agreed to shut down the barge traffic for 24 hours. We've just received word that from the Coast Guard that in coordination with the mayor, they're now prepared to resume barge traffic back through that community. They've said they have touched basis with the mayor. The repair efforts they need to make on that wall or made, the Coast Guard will resume traffic. We'll keep our eye on that.

When you're in that community, you see the beautiful Natchez Bridge. It connects Vidalia to Natchez, Mississippi. The Antebellum Homes in Natchez is up on the hillside. They're mostly protected from the floodwaters. They're way up there.

But the Coast Guard station, well, it's right down along the river. And the men and women who normally patrol the Mississippi River today are getting an urgent lesson in flood control.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KING: As you can see, we're about chest deep here. Department of Homeland Security, this would be the United States Coast Guard. This is the Natchez station, Natchez, Mississippi, station of the United States Coast Guard.

This is the outdoor parking lot. Obviously, you see the water up here. You're looking about 3 1/2, four feet. You start coming over this way through the parking lot. It's slow going, trust me.

Right under here, somewhere, I'm going to find it in just a second. You drive to work. You have to punch in your code. Here's the keyboard down here. Here's the top of the console right here. You can see, Coast Guards, this is not the way they normally go to and from work, coming out in a little row boat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The only way to get out.

KING: The only way to get out at the moment.

I'm on an incline here. So, if I back up, I'll be underwater pretty quick. You see the basketball hoop, well, that's 10 feet. So, what do you see? About four feet, and 4 1/2 feet from the water up to the hoop. So, you're looking at more than five feet of water there.

This is school yard. Well, not exactly. This is a recreation area for members of the United States Coast Guard. This is their station in Natchez, Mississippi.

Normally, this is the parking lot, the basketball court outside. Instead, what you see is the flood control efforts here of the Coast Guard operation. They have some cement barriers down here, some sandbags on top. You hear the pumps. They got about an inch, inch and a half of water inside. But, so far, so good is their perspective.

The river here will crest on Saturday. Meaning, they expect to get an inch, maybe another inch and a half of water out here. They're pumping it out as fast as they can.

Now, if you look this way, you see the ship there of the Coast Guard cutter against the pier it's tied up. Normally, it would be tied up where the white circles are out there. Those are moorings for the cutter normally. However, because the water is so high, they can't tie it up there because it would buck in this way towards the coastline. So, instead, they've tied it up over there.

Now, the guys say when they were working here the other day, putting out all these sandbags, over here, you can't see the fence. You can see the back end of the fence over here. But if you come across to the left, the fence is underwater as the water here gets deeper.

They saw something swimming over here between the basketball court and the pier over there. They called in Fish and Wildlife. And they pulled out of the water. Ultimately caught a 10'2'' alligator, kid you not. That is one of the challenges here with the water so high, the ecosystem is messed up as are the wildlife patterns.

You see some of the alligators. They said they see here along the levees. As you head south from here, you'll see cow, deer. And Governor Jindal of Louisiana told me, even black bears coming to the high ground along the levee system because their natural habitat is now like this, underwater.


KING: And as we were leaving the Natchez Coast Guard station today, the fire department came by and said that while we were there, they spotted another alligator in the water. One of the challenges, one of the many challenges in all these communities.

As you heard right there, the crest in Vidalia and Natchez is expected on Saturday. Here in Butte LaRose, the high water mark predicted to be next Tuesday. These homes, around here, some of them could be gone by then. But the homeowners here, like Carlos Diagle, oh, still can't believe that.


CARLOS DIAGLE, STAYING IN BUTTE LAROSE: I mean, it's been high here before, but never have I had water in my yard. Never. I'm on the highest piece -- one of the highest pieces of property in Butte LaRose. So, we're just praying it doesn't come up four or five foot, you know? Then everything I did in here would be just devastated. I don't know if I would ever want to come back.


KING: We'll continue our flood coverage here.

Also ahead tonight, new details of that sex scandal that has one of France's most prominent political figures in a New York jail tonight.

And up next, Newt Gingrich says don't expect him to be consistent on the big issues. He's a candidate who debates himself, what you're looking for in a president.


KING: Welcome back. We're live tonight in the floodwaters in Butte LaRose, Louisiana.

A bit more on the flooding in just a moment.

Right now, though, here's Joe Johns with the latest news you need to know right now -- Joe.


Today, Maria Shriver responded to the revelation that her estranged husband, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a child outside their marriage a decade ago. Shriver's brief statement says, "This is a painful and heartbreaking time. As a mother, my concern is for the children. I ask for compassion, respect and privacy as my children and I try to rebuild our lives and heal."

Today, former White House senior adviser David Axelrod discussed the story with CNN's Piers Morgan.


PIERS MORGAN, HOST, "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": In the case of Arnold Schwarzenegger, do you think if the electorate had known that he had a lovechild by his housekeeper, he would have ever become governor of California?

DAVID AXELROD, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SR. ADVISER: Well, I don't know the answer to that. But I suspect the fact that it didn't become public until after suggested he didn't necessarily believe that.


JOHNS: You can see the entire discussion with David Axelrod at 9:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN's "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT."

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley slammed fellow Republican Newt Gingrich today, calling his recent criticism of Republican plans to overhaul Medicare, quote, "absolutely unfortunate."

A Gingrich spokesman says the former House speaker phoned House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan late this afternoon, Ryan is pushing the Medicare plan Gingrich criticized over the weekend. Ryan now says Gingrich apologized. And Gingrich's spokesman says there were not any hard feelings.

So, John, the former speaker has been accused of not having very good message discipline. And it sounds like that controversy continues.

KING: It's been an interesting week. This guy has been in politics a long time. But you know him well, Joe. This has been the wrap on him. He said the other day, you know, well, maybe we'll have an individual mandate in health care. Then in next day said, no, no, that's not what I was saying. Criticizing Ryan's Medicare plan, now says, oh, wait a minute, I want to make amends.

He told our Jim Acosta out in Iowa, I believe. He said, look, he's somebody who's going to raise some ideas in the middle of the campaign and sometimes, he might contradict himself. He says most campaigns, they go into secret concessions. They come up with a plan and then they stick to it.

Speaker Gingrich telling Jim Acosta, you know, I really think you're better off when you engage the American people in a dialogue where they get to participate in the development of ideas. So, essentially saying that "sometimes I might debate myself."

I'm not sure how that will play out, Joe.

JOHNS: Well, it's a good way to say I'm not going to stay on message and get everybody to understand it, I guess.

KING: Well, maybe. Maybe people will like it. Most people look for a president, I think, who sets down his markers and they judge him from that. But you know what? The speaker is an interesting guy. We'll see how this one plays out. Joe, we'll see you a bit later.

Ahead, veal patties and noodles for dinner? New York's well- known Rikers Island jail is far from the lavish lifestyle of one of France's most prominent political figures, far from what he's used to. We'll have the latest, including why some in France are outraged over video showing him in handcuffs.


KING: The latest now on a sex scandal that is dominating world headlines.

Tonight, the International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss- Kahn is under a suicide watch in New York City's Rikers Island jail.

We also learn new details tonight about the woman who is accusing him of sexually assaulting her in his hotel room on Saturday. The woman, a member of the hotel's housekeeping staff, is a 32-year-old single mother originally from Guinea.

CNN's Deb Feyerick is tracking the case and joins us now from New York.

Deb, did anything specific trigger the suicide watch, or is it a protective measure?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is a protective measure. They put him on suicide watch.

You know, this is a man used to meeting with presidents and prime ministers and power brokers. He's now alone, isolated from the general population of the prison on a special wing at Rikers Island. He is checked every 15 minutes.

Now, his wife, the famous French TV journalist, Anne Sinclair, arrived yesterday -- too late to see her husband in court. Strauss- Kahn's lawyers both declined to speak with us today, but they've said that he's going to plead not guilty. And they believe the forensic evidence will indicate there was no forced encounter.

When we asked the lawyer for the alleged victim, the 32-year-old West African, whether this could have been consensual, here's the answer we got.


JEFFREY SHAPIRO, ATTORNEY: There was not any aspect of this that could be misconstrued as consensual or anything other than physical and sexual assault of this young woman. She's frightened. Yes, totally frightened. And this is a person who assaulted her and raped her. And she's -- any television program that she turns on, he's pictured on it.

And she has to relive this. It's a nightmare that keeps recycling in her mind, and she can't escape from it. She has no point of refuge.


KING: Deb, 32 years old, a West African originally. What more are we learning about the woman at the center of this alleged assault?

FEYERICK: Well, we know that she has a 15-year-old daughter. She's been working legally at the Sofitel for about 2 1/2 years. Her lawyer describes her as dignified, intelligent, a woman who really has no agenda, no pretense, who gets along well with her supervisors and her coworkers.

The day of the alleged assault, the housekeeper entered the luxury suite about noon, thinking it was empty. And that's when Dominique Strauss-Kahn supposedly shut the door and the alleged assault took place. The lawyer tells us that she's afraid to go home and afraid to go to work, her future uncertain because of what happened.

KING: Do we know? Has she testified before a grand jury yet?

FEYERICK: As of this afternoon, her lawyer said no. She had not. She's prepared to. She's got her story. The grand jury has until Friday to vote on whether or not to indict that indictment, whether it were to happen, would be sealed. So, we'll know at such time that a second court date is set, John.

KING: Deb Feyerick with the latest on the legal case for us tonight -- Deb, thanks.

And before his arrest, Dominique Strauss-Kahn was considered a leading challenger in next year's presidential election in the state of France.

Thierry Arnaud is a senior political correspondent for the French network, BFM TV, was with us last night. Kind enough to come back and join us tonight.

And Thierry, let's start with the reaction to the pictures of Mr. Strauss-Kahn handcuffed. That has caused a bit of a blowback in France. Has it not almost in sympathy?

THIERRY ARNAUD, BFM TV: That would be an understatement, John. You know, I spoke to my mother this morning. And the first thing she told about on the phone was how upsetting she found these images.

Now, if you knew my mom, John, you would know that she does not condone in any way, shape or form sexual violence. But there's not such thing as a perp walk in France. You would never imagine you could see something like this and it is, indeed, illegal for about 10 years or so as it is deemed to be incompatible with the presumption of innocence. It cannot work that way. And interestingly, the French equivalent to the FCC put out a statement today reminding all television networks that these kind of pictures were illegal in France. On our network, we have a French lawyer for Dominique Strauss-Kahn, and I can tell you, was very angry, indeed.

KING: You mentioned the anger. I want to read just an editorial. People in the United States might not know that, that it's not your culture, not your custom to show these photos. They are for better or worse quite common in the United States.

"The Le Monde" newspaper wrote this editorial," When one of the worlds' most powerful men is turned over to press photos, coming out of a police station handcuffed, hands behind his back, he is already being subjected to a sentence which is specific to him."

So, essentially, that editorial saying that perhaps we say in the United States, innocent until proven guilty. They don't believe it in France. Is that right?

ARNAUD: Yes, exactly. The point is, it is deemed to be incompatible with the presumption of innocence. You know, there's a reason why the perp walk is called the perp walk. It's because the person who is actually walking the walk, so to speak, looks like he or she perpetrated a crime. And that is the case for Dominique Strauss- Kahn in the eyes of many French people, is being, in a sense, found guilty by these pictures even before he has undergone a trial.

KING: I'm fascinated by this. Your network took a poll, and 70 percent, am I right? Seventy percent of the people --

ARNAUD: That's right.

KING: -- in your poll think that this is somehow some kind of a plot, a setup?

ARNAUD: Yes. It's very interesting. And what it says to me, John, is, if you want to ask these people, "Who did the setup?" -- most of them would tell you they don't know. If you like to ask them why, most would tell you they don't know, maybe they would tell you because the people behind this wanted him to lose the French presidential election.

But in my opinion, the real reason is, it's just incomprehensible. Why would a guy in this position, praised by almost everybody for the way he was running the IMF, on his way -- well on his way to becoming the next French president, why would he do something so reckless, so stupid, so violent? It doesn't make any sense.

And that's what in my opinion this poll is saying. This story, as it is today, doesn't make any sense.

KING: And yet, you talk about those poll numbers, the disbelief many French have about this. You talk about the sympathy because of the perp walk, the handcuffed public photos. But what about other cases of women coming forward? We talked last night about the history here. There's a French journalist who now is considering filing a police complaint because of some alleged incident back in 2002?

ARNAUD: Yes. Her name is Tristane Banon. She met with Dominique Strauss-Kahn. She was writing a book at the time. And she wanted to interview him for the book and apparently he sexually assaulted her.

The friend's mother is actually a friend of Dominique Strauss- Kahn and she talked to her daughter and obviously convinced not to press charges at this point. But a couple days ago, we had this mother on our network and she told us that she regretted her decision, that she had made a mistake. She told us that in a way, what she did was try to protect her daughter. She didn't want to -- her to have this reputation, to be remembered as a victim, as the girl who had been assaulted by Dominique Strauss-Kahn for the rest of her career.

But it seems that the whole family has changed their mind and they are going now to press charges. So, there might very well be another serious case for Dominique Strauss-Kahn in France in the very near future.

KING: Thierry Arnaud from BFM TV in France, we appreciate your help and your insights again tonight. We'll stay in touch.

It's a fascinating case as it plays out here in the United States, being watched, of course, in France and around the world.

As we mentioned, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is staying in New York City's Rikers Island, the infamous Rikers Island jail, as he awaits his Friday's court appearance. The accommodations quite a change from what he's used to.

The jail's breakfast menu, for example, consists of one apple and banana, a box of dried cereal with milk, two pieces of toast and coffee or tea. The breakfast menu back at the Sofitel hotel where he was staying on Saturday lists, 28 items on that list, including a choice of four breakfast cocktails. Prices range from $30 for grilled steak and eggs, 14 bucks for cereal, a banana, and milk. Well, just like at Rikers.

We'll be back in a moment with some final thoughts. We're live tonight in Butte LaRose, Louisiana. The floodwaters are rising.

You see the scene behind me. You may think that is scenic and beautiful. It looks peace you feel, doesn't it? Most of that water is not supposed to be there.


KING: We're live in Butte LaRose, Louisiana, tonight.

If you see, we step into the water. This is not supposed to be here. This water is not supposed to be here. Right now, up to about my chest.

If I walk out here, it drops off pretty quickly. It goes down, pretty slushy and mushy underneath me. Drops off pretty quick as you go down. As you see, it goes down. It's pretty slushy and mushy underneath me, drops off pretty quick as you go down this way.

If you look out at this deck right there, that's where the river is supposed to begin. The river is supposed to begin right there. And all of this land on this side would be dry. That's the deck. You can go out there, obviously. You could sit, you could tell, put a chair up there. You could dive off that deck.

Over here, over my shoulder, (INAUDIBLE), you see those metal rails. That's the end of a walkway. The rails to hold on, you get out to the walkway. Then, there are 20 steps down, we are told, to the river.

Again, this water is not supposed to be here. It is not here just because of a flood. It is here on purpose. Remember last night, we showed you the Morganza Spillway. They opened that spillway, diverting the water into this community on purpose so that the Mississippi River, the Atchafalaya River, will not be as high. They'll bring it to these communities to keep the Mighty Mississippi away from Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and more populated areas.

If you look around the houses right here, they are hoping because the levels are rising, a little less high than these homes here. But up and down here you heard the president of this parish earlier tonight saying as many as 1,000 homes in this community could be completely inundated.

And you watch the waters rise. You watch the damage here. Some people have been coming by on their boats as you watch this play out.

There's no sandbags here. No one is taking any kind of a dominant effort because they believe they're just going to let the waters rise -- this being done on purpose in this community. It looks quite peaceful, but this -- none of this, none of this should be here.

There's an alligator sunning over there a bit earlier. So, we're looking around, just in case.

That's all for us tonight. We'll see you tomorrow night, we hope.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.