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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Remembering Hurricane Katrina Ten Years Later; Tracking Tropical Storm Erika. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired August 28, 2015 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[20:00:14] ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good evening.
We are live to night from New Orleans. A city in so many ways on the rise. Ten years ago, on the morning of the 29th, Katrina came ashore. And the days that followed, a bad storm became something far worse. It became a manmade disaster. All along the Louisiana-Mississippi gulf coast.
Tonight this city, this national treasure, all who live here all who love it are coming to grips with what happened ten years ago. So are some officials involved. Including head of FEMA, Michael Brown. Brownie, he was nicknamed, just as he did on the fifth anniversary saying don't blame me for what happened here.
His old boss, former president George W. Bush, the man who gave him the nickname and told him he was doing a heck of a job, he was here today. President Obama was here yesterday. And tonight, with a serious storm making its way toward the Gulf of Mexico how two presidents, countless, state, federal agencies and others are and are not living up to promises they made to rebuild homes, and lives to make the levee stronger, to make New Orleans better than it was before the storm. In short, we'll look at what is being done to keep the faith with all the people we have met and good friend we have made here over the years starting in the very worst of times.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are some of the very first aerial pictures of what New Orleans looks look today.
COOPER (voice-over): Who can forget what it looked like? The fires, the flooding, the desperation. The lower 9th ward almost completely under water. More than 1,800 lives lost. More than 100,000 homes destroyed. The levees were flawed in their design. The local state and federal government flawed in their response. Thousands of residents, including many sick and elderly, were left for days in heat and chaos of the super dome and the convention center. Some died waiting for help to arrive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Brownie, you are doing a heck of a job.
COOPER: Ten years later, New Orleans is not the same city it was. Parts of New Orleans are thriving. Restaurants, businesses booming, other parts still have far to go. Mayor Mitch Landrieu says the problems in the city didn't start with Katrina. And he says New Orleans is on track to become stronger and more prosperous than ever.
A lot of people say New Orleans is back. They come here. They can see more restaurants that were never before. They see the school system. They see the improvements. There is a lot of people say it is not back for everybody. That inequalities still exist. Lower 9th ward. A lot need to be done.
MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU, NEW ORLEANS: True. That's absolutely true. But here is the thing. New Orleans before the storm was a descending city. Now New Orleans according to Forbes, "Wall Street Journal," an ascending city. (INAUDIBLE) more people are moving in. They are saying that the fastest growing economy --
COOPER: The economy may be growing and schools better than they have ever been, but with less affordable housing and higher rents, many who fled the storm have never returned. In the lower Ninth Ward, the population is 80 percent less than prior to the storm.
LANDRIEU: Before the storm, city was 67 percent African-American. It is now 60 percent African-American and white population is 32. So, this city is still a majority, minority city and I expect it will be for a very long time.
COOPER: The levees have been rebuilt, flood protection increased, but is it enough to withstand another storm like Katrina.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got to Katrina by ignoring the signs. And my biggest concern was that we, Americans, are still ignoring the signs. And, you know, we are going to have another Katrina.
COOPER: And we'll talk more (INAUDIBLE) here coming up.
Again with hurricane season getting under way. Tropical storm Erika, trending farther westward that anticipated. People here are keenly aware of that.
Plenty to talk about tonight. We are joined by retired lieutenant General Russel Honore who commanded the joint taskforce Katrina and spearheaded military reliefs here, also historian Douglas Brinkley who is living and teaching here at the time, and has written perhaps the book about what happened, "the great deluge, hurricane Katrina, New Orleans and Mississippi gulf coast." It is a pleasure to have you both back here.
General Honore, you hear - I even hear they are talking about another storm. Do you believe city, this coast is still vulnerable?
LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, (RET.) U.S. ARMY: Absolutely. On any given day, Anderson, I don't care where we are. Mother Nature can break anything built by man. We have 100 year levee here. We just need to face that. And of conditions come from a storm, we need to be prepared to evacuate.
COOPER: You say 100 year levee. That means a levee built for a 100 year storm.
COOPER: People say, though, Katrina was a storm maybe that had happened before. It wasn't necessarily 100 year storm.
HONORE: Absolutely. But, we had different conditions. Times changed from 50 years ago and 30 years age. Our wetlands are no longer there. So we have deterioration of wetlands, which normally absorb the strength of the storm. That is having impact on how strong storms get to New Orleans and coast of Mississippi.
[20:05:17] COOPER: Doug, you know better than anyone, I think Louisiana is losing like 17 square miles of wetlands every single year. That is stunning.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, HISTORIAN: It is just stunning. It is an environmental disaster zone. And it needs a lot more federal attention. There is some good news. Mr. Go (ph), the Mississippi river gulf outlet got shut after Katrina. Became the wind funnel. It was a boondoggle that engineers trying to connecting the Gulf of Mexico to the port of New Orleans. And now, they, it turns out in the courts that $3 billion settlement that the army corps is going to have to pay for wetlands restoration. That just happened. So it is a little bit of good news. At least we are still talking about America's wetlands.
COOPER: You wrote something recently that, in some ways, and paraphrasing you that the storm is still with us. That the wind are still blowing. Katrina is still among the people here.
BRINKLEY: Absolutely. You know, the dust bowl (ph) which I have written about of the 1930s. It just - it wasn't a big dust bowl and then it was over. This is still the Katrina era right now. I would say on the recovery of city of New Orleans, Mississippi Gulf coast, it is about 50 percent moved forward. But there is still all sorts of problems and social services. And as you mentioned, neighborhoods that are still eye sores, blighted. I mean, the lower Ninth Ward hasn't recovered.
It is stunning statistics. I mean, here in city of New Orleans there is over 50 percent of African-American males are unemployed. That is a difficult problem for city. How do you get jobs and good schools going here? So New Orleans is we can give it a thumb's up for recovery. But it has a long ways to go.
COOPER: Yes. I mean, general Honore, you know, the tourist who come here, the New Orleans they see is a city on the rise. More restaurants than before the storm. I think more hotel rooms than before the storm. The school system here, I think it is 80 percent charter schools now. It is getting more kids, graduating more kids being sent on college. And yet, as Doug said, you are down below ninth ward. There is 80 percent fewer people in the community than it were before.
HONORE: It is a typical case of cause and effect. And you know, most of the people we evacuated from the super dome and the convention center and the top of the interstates where we picked them up and the great work by the coast guard and National Guard, get people evacuating. That being said, earlier, someone described it as, and the mayor I think said, where the majority of the people live in city, most affected by the results of the storm. We can't have any democracy where the majority its doing worse than the minority. It's not going to work. And we have been trying for 239 years to build equity in treatment, in voting, in economics, in education, and we are in living book. What the majority of the people are doing worse than the minority people who are doing better.
COOPER: What do you think the lessons of Katrina are? I mean, have lessons been learned?
BRINKLEY: Somehow. I mean, FEMA was AWOL through it all. Now FEMA is at least starting to get some discipline and that seems better. The levee system is better.
But remember, the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagan, was corrupt. He is in jail right now.
COOPER: He is in jail.
BRINKLEY: Congressman William Jefferson, congressman during Katrina, he is in jail right now.
COOPER: One of the councilmen who I used to interview a lot, he was sent to jail as well.
BRINKLEY: So there has been an effort by the justice department to say we have to take on corruption. Unfortunately, the murder rate still sky high in New Orleans.
COOPER: It is up 30 percent last year. Although, the year before it had gone down a lot. And I think a violent assaults and robberies are down. So it is a mixed picture. But certainly crime is a huge issue.
BRINKLEY: Yes. And there is some great new schools being built. And it is about education. And one, you have too many people without jobs, too many people walking the streets, and you know, plus (INAUDIBLE) separate but equal doesn't get erased. There is still needs a long way to go with integration in New Orleans to be the great city it can be.
COOPER: Yes. General Honore, it is great to have you here. Doug, stick around so I can talk to you about Michael Brown, these new comments he has made, basically kind of absolving himself of any responsibility and also blaming us and me in particular.
HONORE: Thanks to all the volunteers. This city is back because of volunteers they came.
COOPER: Church groups, charities, international groups.
HONORE: Thanks, America. Thanks, world. People from all over the world came. COOPER: And people here are very thankful for that. And you hear
that all the time.
Coming up next, Dr. Sanjay Gupta goes back to charity hospital, a place that people said where miracles happened. Yet, where one of the worst nightmares unfolded after the storm.
We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[20:13:35] DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: This is what a charity hospital looks like in the middle of the natural disaster. We are in downtown New Orleans. This is actually an auditorium that we are standing here now. At one time, held up to 40 patients around this place. Several patient still remain here as well.
Really remarkable. Doctors, nurses have been here since Saturday. Pretty upbeat mood still. Trying to take care of these patients. And even though there were reports, saying that charity hospital was heading back to be evacuated, 135 patients still remain end of the week and 90 more sick patients. Patients have nowhere to go right now. And helicopters have been few and (INAUDIBLE). In fact two patients actually died while waiting to evacuate.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Certainly brings it back. The horrible scene from a vital place. For many, it was the only place they could go for high quality medical care without worrying about how to pay for it. That was ten years ago. A lot has changed since then.
CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports.
GUPTA (voice-over): From the moment the doors opened, hopes were high at the place called charity.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Without a doubt, I have seen miracles occur in that building.
GUPTA: Charity was the ultimate safety net. The hospital of last resort. It was built to serve the poor and uninsured in New Orleans and it had never, ever, shut its doors. Not since it opened. Nearly 300 years ago. Until Katrina.
[20:15:04] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what it is like in downtown New Orleans right now.
GUPTA: The doctors you are about to meet were all there that day. But still, at first it seemed the place where miracles happened had survived. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a little bit of a sigh of relief the next
day. You weather the storm.
Hold on. I'll tell you how much sigh of relief. So we all got out. We walked the hospital grounds. Walked over to the super dome. Walked over to the Hyatt hotel and said "OK, we have this."
GUPTA: But then --
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The levee failed that was holding back the water from like (INAUDIBLE). It is dumping water now into the downtown and French quarter areas.
GUPTA: The water started rising.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Charity hospital. Obviously all the windows are opened because there is no air conditioning. There is no light. So it is going to be very dark here shortly.
GUPTA: Well, as you can see the last time I came to this entrance at charity, I came by boat. There was so much water, five to six feet in locations. Hardly anyone was getting into the hospital and even fewer were getting out. I went through those doors and what I saw after that is something I will never forget.
No food. No power. No way out. For days, this charity hospital was forgotten. Not a miracle in sight.
Unable to wait any more, the team at charity hospital planned a daring rescue mission. First, paddling critically ill patients across the flooded roads and then carrying them up seven plights upstairs to the top of the parking deck.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are their only hope. And we are trying as hard as we can to get them some help.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is going to happen to some of these patients if we don't get them out of here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Two of them have already died here on this ramp waiting to get out, in this very spot.
GUPTA: So striking to me these images. For hours on end, doctors, nurses, anyone who could help, pushing air into the lungs of these patients. Patients' lives literally in their hands. Over and over again, squeezing. Stopping was not an option.
They watched as all of the patients from another hospital were evacuated from the parking deck. As the charity patients, some critically ill, continued to wait.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that was an unfortunate incident. You know, that's where the goodness of the private company kind of fell short. They clearly saw all these patients. They boated them over. They should have flown all those patients out too and they chose not to. And I don't know why. And we have seen a lot of footage of how some of the people died there when they could have been in a helicopter and flown somewhere within 30 minutes.
GUPTA: Potentially preventable deaths.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely in my opinion.
GUPTA: Help did eventually come. Choppers from the military and these air boats that took patients one at a time.
Nearly a week after hurricane Katrina first hit, the last patient was finally evacuated. But there was still one more fatality no one expected, charity hospital itself.
One of the biggest controversies to emerge after hurricane Katrina is what would happen to this building over here, Charity hospital. Would it reopen or would the doors remain closed?
This is Charity today. Overgrown with weeds and disrepair, damaged, broken. Hundreds of thousands of patients no longer had the safety net. Katrina had killed the place where miracles happen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean we had to re-create our lives, just to deliver health care. And delivering health care in parking lots afterward, delivering health care in tents at U.S. naval ship comfort, to deliver health care in the convention center, and then to move that to a department store, all within tents for years afterwards. So, so that's not normal. Nor is it, you know, I mean, that's kind of third world medicine in a first world country.
GUPTA: It took ten years. But there is finally some relief. A brand new billion dollar mega hospital, with 60 beds set aside for mentally ill. The university medical center seems a lifetime away from charity. No longer a refuge for the poor and uninsured. Sparkling clean, thick with technology and reinforced windows and steel, to with stand a future Katrina.
You won't find the name charity anymore around here. That is gone forever. Just a plaque, a reminder of what once was. But they are hoping that this is still a place where miracles happen.
[20:20:11] COOPER: And Sanjay joins me tonight.
It's incredible to see, to go back ten years, patients at a private hospital that company was able to afford helicopters to come and rescue those patients. And those helicopters would not take the patient, people died.
GUPTA: Yes. And what of the guts who was there, and I saw this myself, I was there. So look, there was just a really unfortunate incident. What you saw is the people who were not critically ill, even a lot of the staff members were leaving before some of these critically ill patients were being able to evacuate. And you know, that's not medical triage. Medical triage one of the golden rules. That didn't happen here. COOPER: Charity hospital today. What's happening to the building?
And for a long time, mental -- people with mental difficulties after the storm, there was no place for them to go?
GUPTA: It was incredible. I mean, they have 140 beds set aside for people who had mental illness at Charity hospital. And they were used. That's where you went. The police officers knew that. Paramedics knew that. When it closed down for a period of time, there were fewer than 10 percent of the mental health bed in city. So people were just getting picked up. Jails were becoming a refuge for the mentally ill. It was a really terrible situation. I was on a, sort of situation where we saw, the same person picked up 36 times. And that's just what was happening.
The building itself really interesting. You have seen the building. It is a beautiful art deco building right in the middle of the city. They're going to keep the building exactly - you know, at one point, they talked could it be used for a hospital again. The answer seems no. Probably mixed use building with residential, shopping, things like that. But it's fixture in the city. And there has been these rallies for years now. Saying, you know, bring back charity hospital.
COOPER: Just amazing to look back to what happened there.
Sanjay, thank you.
Just ahead, FEMA chief, Michael Brown, again, blaming virtually everyone but himself for what happened here. In fact, blaming this show and me in particular. We'll look at how his claims actually hold up to the facts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
[20:26:02] UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Again, I want to thank you all, and Brownie, you are doing a heck of a job. The FEMA director is working 24 --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Brownie, doing a heck of a job. Kind of infamous word around this part. Shortly before the former FEMA director Michael Brown was relieved of his Katrina duties, he told the "Associated Press," he was eager to get back to Washington to correct in his words quote "all the inaccuracies and lies that are being said in the media about his agency and himself.
Now, for years after Katrina, he tried to work as a consultant, advising paying clients, get this, how to prepare for disasters and emergencies. By the way on his resume at that company which he no longer works for, that didn't mention the word Katrina. He talked it vaguely about working on the 2004-2005 hurricane seasons. He clearly has a vested interest in trying to rehabilitated image. He is now apparently working as a radio talk show host.
Now earlier this week, "Politico," published his latest imagery hub effort, a long piece titled quote "stop blaming me for hurricane Katrina," talking about himself. And in it he writes, and I quote, "people are still saying now as they said then that what went wrong in New Orleans a decade ago was all my fault. They're wrong then. And they are wrong now."
Now, for the record, on this show we have never said it was all his fault. We have always been clear to point out mistakes were made at local level, the state level, the federal levels. But anyway, in this "Politico" piece, Brown blames state officials, he blames local officials, he blames Trent Lott who is at the time U.S. senate from Mississippi. The only mistake he admits making in this "Politico" piece is in how he handled the media and he singles out this show and me by name.
He writes quote "when CNN's Anderson Cooper, shortly after Katrina hit to accompany one of those team, meaning the relief team so he could record the rescue of victims my instinctive answer was to decline the request. If I let a national news figure and a cameraman on the rescue boat, that boat would have two fewer spots on it for victims in need of rescuing. He said no. And he said that was a big mistake.
He writes, Cooper and his cameramen rented a boat and with total disregard or ignorance of the systematic grid driven rescue of victims, managed to find a house with victims yet to be rescued. He goes on to say as Cooper and his cameraman reported on their rescue, the inevitable question of where the rescuers are was asked and the next stage of blame began. He went on to say based on that one, isolated, out of context rescue, the narrative was set that the rescue efforts were just jointed in disarray and uncoordinated.
So, as Mr. Brown sees it, one single incident he alleges I reported on, set the narrative that there wasn't great coordination. Never the mind the fact that there were plenty of reporters in plenty of boats in other locations seeing confusion on the ground.
He also claimed that we rented a boat which by the way we didn't. We borrowed a boat that wasn't being used for about an hour. Most importantly, though, he is saying we came upon some people who hadn't been rescued and that based on that one example we started claiming things were disjointed and disarrayed and uncoordinated.
Take a look at the part of the report that we assume he is talking about.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Seven days after the storm, rescuers are still finding people trapped in their homes in flooded areas. They're trying to pluck somebody out right now from their home. It is amazing to think this person has lasted this long living in this condition. They are right over there. I don't know if you can see them. They are right there. Look at there on the porch.
A boat of rescuers from a nearby town tried to radio the chop their can help. They don't have direct communication.
There they go.
What is frustrating for a lot of rescuers the lack of coordination. There is people, a crew here, from Destin on boat. They could have got in had they know the people were here. They tried to signal to the chopper and they could do it. He is going down again. The rescuer is going down. We believe there may be at least two more people in the house. He reentered the water that washed into the house. Protective bindings around the people and then hoist them up. It is remarkable to see.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Remarkable work by the Coast Guard there. The only lack of coordination that I discuss is the inability to communicate between separate agencies crews by radio, and that was based on what rescuers themselves were telling us repeatedly. As for the people he claims that we then found that we rescued and then made all these claims, they were people who didn't want to leave their home because of their pets. So we actually weren't using them as an example of a failure by rescuers at all. We pointed out in fact in that report the rescuers were doing remarkable things to save peoples' lives. And we did that constantly. It wasn't just - it was Fish and Wildlife. It was people from all over.
And by the way, by the time we did that report, the problem of bad communication was such that Louisiana's governor had appointed a former head of FEMA James Witt in part to better coordinate rescue efforts. I spoke to Mr. Witt that very night on my phone.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: I talked to a crew from Destin who were desperate. They had boats ready to go in the water. And then they had people from Fish and Wildlife, telling them, no, don't put the boats in here. This is our territory. I mean is there a fight over turf going on here?
JAMES WITT, FORMER HEAD OF FEMA: No. It's just a -- a miscommunication and the organization needs to set up to take care of these problems. And that's what we are doing. And Mike Brown and I are in sync on it. And FEMA is in sync on it.
COOPER: Is that going to be up and running tomorrow?
WITT: It's going to be up and running by the end of tomorrow.
COOPER: So that was the Fifth of September. A week into the crisis. James Witt there talking about improving communication and coordination. And organization. One week in, and less than a week, by the way, before Michael Brown was relieved of duty. So, Mike Brown, whatever skills you may have, I hope they're better than your memory. Back with now, us is Douglas Brinkley who again, we should mention, has written the definitive history of the Katrina disaster. The book is "The Great Deluge." If you haven't read it you really should. Michael Brown, you read the piece in "Politico." He seemed to blame everybody put pointing finger on himself.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, AUTHOR "THE GREAT DELUGE": He is coming off as a very pathetic figure here on the 10th anniversary. I am surprised that Politico published that kind of gibberish - he's somebody who never has credibility. "Time" magazine, shortly after Katrina, showed how he pad his resume. Makes up different things that he did in his life when he never did it. But bottom line was that the Bush administration didn't like FEMA. They saw it as a Jimmy Carter invention. Carter created it in 1979. So, they go to - dumped it into Homeland Security and strangled it without proper funding. And Brown, Brownie is simply a Bush crony part of the little club. He used to run Arabian Horse Society. He was not qualified to oversee something like - any hurricane that might be in, but particularly something with the magnitude of Hurricane Katrina.
COOPER: And for him to say that everybody is saying, he was the only one responsible. I mean there is criticism at the state level, at the local level, at the federal level. There is plenty of criticism all throughout the system.
BRINKLEY: That's right. But he catches a lot of the flak because he was the person that needed to tell President Bush how bad things were. He didn't think it was so bad. He was hanging out in Baton Rouge. And away from the disaster zone. You were here, and we just saw the video. Many people were here. Brown was, was no where to be found. So, FEMA was -it became the scapegoat in many ways for everything that went wrong here. Because Brown and FEMA became the symbols of dysfunction.
COOPER: Has FEMA got in better since he left?
BRINKLEY: Much so. Once they got rid of Brown. And they rethought FEMA. I think they have a vast improvement. You hear President Obama, doubling down on his belief when he came to New Orleans on Thursday that FEMA is not the FEMA of the Bush administration. And so, it would be impossible to do a worse job than FEMA did. And so you would have to say, it's only up from there.
COOPER: Were you surprised when you heard that Mike Brown was offering his services to a company as a consultant on disaster relief?
BRINKLEY: I laughed in a way. And then you have to remember all the deaths. In relief and rescue, you have about a 48-hour window. You're going to get to people. Or they're going to die. And FEMA started not, they were having like a clipboard and documents they wouldn't let rescue trucks come through. They didn't want boats coming in. They were trying to control it in a bureaucratic way. What Brown and FEMA didn't do, is improvise. And that's what you have to do - and they didn't know how to improvise properly.
COOPER: Doug Brinkley. It's great to have you here. Thank you.
BRINKLEY: Thank you.
COOPER: I appreciate all your work here. Just ahead, I'm going to talk to the man who warned New Orleans that levees simply would not hold if a category 3 hurricane hit. No one listened. Question now, what about the rebuilt levees? Billions have been spent. Does he think they are going to hold when the next Katrina hits? We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Is it scary? I mean you are virtually the only one in this neighborhood at night. There is no electricity around here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Man, I ain't scared of nothing. And I have been all overseas, World War II carried me. All over the word I made it through Japanese and the Germans. I made it. And I came back. I can come through Katrina.
COOPER: You're not scared?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I'm not afraid of anything.
COOPER: Not afraid of nothing. Herbert Gathrie (ph), the lower 9TH Ward. That was in 2007. About a year and a half after the storm. He was one of the just many amazing people that we were privileged to meet down here. Mr. Gathrie, we are sad to say passed away last year at the age of 91 years old. His neighborhood was mostly underwater ten years ago. When the levees around the city failed. The catastrophe that unfolded horrified. But it didn't surprise hurricane expert. For years he had warned that a storm the size of Katrina would flood the city, but really no one listened.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IVOR VAN HEERDEN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR LSU HURRICANE CENTER: You know, it is an absolute dread. It's like - you know people are going to die. And you feel helpless. I am trying. I am trying - I am trying. Trying. Sorry. Still some deep scars.
COOPER: The scars are deep for many people here still. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ultimately took responsibility for the failure of the levees. Admitting to what Ivor was saying. Admitting to a string of design and engineering mistakes. Now, they've rebuilt them. They say they will be able to handle the next Katrina. Ivor van Heerden joins me now, along with Mark Schleifstein, a Pulitzer-Prize winning environment and hurricane reporter for NOLA.com and the Times- Picayune. And we should point out, is the father of Rachel, the producer here on "360". We are very lucky to have. Ivor, is Katrina, is this place ready for another Katrina?
VAN HEERDEN: No, the important thing is Katrina missed New Orleans. If we had a storm like Katrina that came up the river on the west side. No. They would be -- very significant overtopping of the levee system. This whole definition of the 100 year that is an insurance thing, is not an engineering thing.
COOPER: People said, we are building levees for a 100 year storm.
VAN HEERDEN: You know, that assumes that Katrina is a one in 400 year storm. Which the Corps keeps claiming. But it was actually a one in 30 year storm.
COOPER: You've seen, there have been storms like it 30 years before.
VAN HEERDEN: Oh, I mean just you can go back from now, Ike, Rita, Katrina, Betsey, Camille, and then there were other storms in the '40s and the teens. A major storm hits Louisiana about once every 28 years.
COOPER: You have done a lot of reporting on this, Mark. When you look at the levees as they're built now. What do you see?
SCHLEIFSTEIN: I see a system that is modern. That is built to new standards that were created in the aftermath of Katrina. That are designed to a standard that is not adequate for a major metropolitan area.
COOPER: How can that be with all the money that was poured into?
SCHLEIFSTEIN: It's because what Congress did was they said, well actually, what I call the devil's bargain. The corps of engineers said we will rebuild the levee system to protect you from what the National Flood Insurance Program will insure you for. And that is a 100-year event. Well, a 100-year event is a fairly small event. And in fact, I have been having an argument with the mayor about that right now. He keeps calling the system a category 3 system. And it's not. Karen Durham-Aguilera, who is a senior official with the Army Corps of Engineers said the other day that a category 1 hurricane will be able to put water over the top of these levees in some locations. The difference is that the levees will stay in place this time because they're properly built, they are properly designed much better designs. So the flooding will be less. But they're still there to protect the property, they are not here to protect people.
COOPER: What was it like for you to have this information, to see the modeling, to, you know, run models. To go out to see the problems with the levees. To be raising these red flags. And not have people listen. And even subsequently when you were saying -- this wasn't over topping. This was a failure of the levees. The Army Corps of Engineers did not build these properly. They were fighting back against you.
VAN HEERDEN: Well, it was extreme frustrating. But what we realize. Very early on. Was that we had become the voice of the people. You had the science for every - hundreds of thousands of families that have lost everything. Lost their livelihoods. Their homes, everything. They were voiceless. And we were in a position with the science, with the engineering - and knowledge to go in and look. And, you know, it was extremely frustrating in the beginning to get traction. But in many ways, it was the media that helped. You know, Mark Schleifstein gave me some data that really helped. Other people gave us data. Your helicopter flight that you took me on was unbelievably useful to us. But it was incredibly frustrating because we knew that the Corps of Engineers was lying. And we knew that they had a very powerful public opinion machine. And we had to do something.
COOPER: And they came after you. They came after your employment. They came after you in a lot of different ways.
SCHLEIFSTEIN: They did. They did, but the most important thing was to get the truth out. And we were, we felt we were the only ones in the beginning who were on site. Had the data. And, and we, from Louisiana. This is our city.
COOPER: And Mark, you know, it's not just the levee system here. It's the coastal erosion here, which is such, I mean, it's not a story that is easy to show on television. But Louisiana is losing. I think they figured out - I read - it was 17 square miles of land every single year.
SCHLEIFSTEIN: Right. Right. At least that. And it depends. If you have another hurricane. Hurricane Katrina and Rita caused 200 square miles to disappear.
COOPER: 200 square miles.
SCHLEIFSTEIN: 200 square miles.
COOPER: And why is that - I mean for some one that doesn't follow us.
COOPER: Why is that so important? What is the coastal land there?
SCHLEIFSTEIN: You have got this basically, this pillow in front of the levee system. That stretches out for miles. And so, it reuses the hide of storm surge when it is healthy marsh in front of it. And in the wetlands. What the state's plan is to put those wetlands back in specific areas to protect the levee system. Along with some ridges as well. Along with a, a regrown cypress forest on the eastern side of the city that will help reduce the size of storm surge.
COOPER: Mark, I appreciate all of your reporting. Mark Schleifstein, thank you so much. Enjoyed our talking to you. Ivor Van Heerden, so great to see you.
VAN HEERDEN: Thank you very much.
COOPER: Thank you.
Just ahead one man's inspiring journey from despair to hope. Russell Gore, he lost his wife in Katrina. Then nearly lost his will to live. Ten years later he looks back at the lifelines that saved him.
[20:50:04] COOPER: It's the New Orleans jazz vipers by the way, and they are playing at my favorite bar, in a Marinated Spotted Cat here in town. Check them out. It's a great place to go. Katrina shattered so many lives in so many different ways that the despair it unleashed ten years ago is, in many ways it's immeasurable. And it's really unforgettable for those who experienced it. More than 1800 people died, and left behind loved ones who survived the storm, but still bear the hardships. This is the story of one person, Katrina took his wife, nearly took his will to live without her. In the last ten years though he has found unexpected gifts that have helped him to heal. Gary Tuchman has his story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Russell Gore is a creative soul.
RUSSELL GORE: They are one for five, two for nine. I'm the artist who makes them.
TUCHMAN: Earrings, pins, broaches. He makes and he's sold them for 27 years at the famous French market tourist site in New Orleans.
GORE: I make a pretty decent living. Enough to feed myself.
TUCHMAN: Many people know his face. But very few know anything about the torment he has dealt with in his mind. Russell Gore lives in the city's New Orleans east neighborhood. In this house. The same house he lived in when Katrina came through. A day, in which his life changed in ways he never could have imagined. We met him at this house seven years ago when Hurricane Gustav was about to hit New Orleans, which was three years after Hurricane Katrina. When he and his wife Cynthia climbed into the attic to escape the nine feet of water, Katrina brought into the house.
GORE: I jumped up in rain, grabbed her. Don't panic. I said we are going to be all right. She sat done beside me. Next thing I know I was talking to her, she leaned over. She was dead. I did everything I've seen on TV that they do to survive a person. Tore her shirt off. Beating her chest. Breathe in her mouth. She was gone.
TUCHMAN: Russell says doctors told him, Cynthia died of stress combined with a heart condition.
GORE: I was a day and a half before she died and I stayed here a day and a half after she died.
TUCHMAN: He built a small home on land behind the main house. Because although Russell did not want to move somewhere else. He had difficult time sleeping in the house where his wife died.
(on camera): Tell be about what's on your right arm.
GORE: It's like a memorial for Cynthia.
TUCHMAN: It says "Love for life. Rest in peace. Cynthia."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TUCHMAN: Russell learned that hitting golf balls into the lake across the street from his home helped him deal with his stress and anxiety. And his passion for art always helped soothe him.
GORE: Thank you, ladies.
TUCHMAN: And then he met a woman who became his girlfriend and her two sons.
GORE: They came in my life at a time that I really needed somebody to trust.
TUCHMAN: Russell Gore says it finally started to dawn on him that his life needed to go on.
GORE: When it first happened I blamed myself. If I could have committed suicide, I probably would. But I don't feel that way in a moment.
TUCHMAN: You feel today. Ten years later you have healed.
GORE: I feel good. I feel good.
COOPER: What an incredible story. I understand something kind of interesting happened that reminded you to check in with Russell.
TUCHMAN: When I did the story back in 2008. I didn't know he sold his art at the French Market. So, last year I was here on vacation. I took my youngest daughter to see New Orleans. We went to the French Market and she was looking at earrings. She called me over. I walked over and the man behind the table said Gary Tuchman.
TUCHMAN: I said yes. And he goes, I'm Russell Gore. The guy you did the story on. I'm the guy whose wife died. I said Russell that is so great seeing you once again.
TUCHMAN: I want to tell you something. When that story aired on CNN, on "AC 360." And people all over the world saw it, it helped heal them. Because I knew so many people watching I was no longer alone.
COOPER: It's so incredible to be able to come back time and time again. You vacation here. I vacation here. And to see the city change. And to see people we met ten years ago. And see how they're doing now.
TUCHMAN: I remember days after, Anderson, how decimated the city was. And a lot of people were giving up on people, and never move back to New Orleans. And we are here now, ten years later. And it's different.
TUCHMAN: But still it's vibrant, amazing place.
COOPER: Yeah. What's special about it is still special about it. Gary, thank you so much. Just ahead, the healing sounds of New Orleans. The city filled with music. Ten years after Katrina. We go to a short break. Another taste of the sounds that make this city so special.
COOPER: Here's "Washboard Jazz."
COOPER: New Orleans ten years ago and today. Now, anyone who has been here. Knows that that music is part of the city's fabric. Part of its heart. It is its heart. New Orleans is the birth place of jazz. Has its own style of blues. It's part of the DNA, and it is much stronger than a storm. Even a storm like Katrina. I want to take a moment just to listen a little bit more of Washboard Jazz, who we met years ago here in New Orleans. And he's actually playing tonight down at the Spotted Cat. Let's listen.
COOPER: And yes, that's a washboard he is playing. Which is why they call them Washboard Jazz.
That does it for us tonight. "CNN TONIGHT" with Don Lemon starts now.