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CNN LIVE TODAY
Congress Plans More Relief for Gulf Coast; Texas Town Marks a Tragic Anniversary
Aired September 8, 2005 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Republican congressional leaders have been meeting with President Bush at the White House concerning Hurricane Katrina. Let's listen in to what they have to say.
SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: In our separate sessions beginning on Thursday and Friday, we passed a bill, over $10 billion to show that immediate relief, provide that immediate relief, to our emergency agencies and to those in need of that relief.
Later today, this afternoon today, possibly tomorrow, we will pass another very large, what is called supplemental spending bill that will be over $50 billion. It's a bill that is need, that is necessary, that reflects our commitment, our discipline, our focus on this natural catastrophe, this natural disaster, which is in all likelihood, the worst we've seen in the last 100 years.
In terms of our plans, as the speaker mentioned, we are engaged constantly. All of our various committees are in developing appropriate legislation to respond in the short-term, mid-term and long-term. Some of that legislation will be passed today and tomorrow and through next week.
We will work as efficiently and as quickly as we possibly can in a bicameral, that is, the House and Senate working together, way. We are responding aggressively and we will continue to respond aggressively with respect to uniting, with respect to that vision, which I set out there earlier. Thank you.
QUESTION: Senator, can I ask, when you talk about civility you've obviously heard colleagues in both chambers, Democrats, targeting this president. And Congresswoman Pelosi was rather outspoken, calling this president oblivious and dangerous, being in denial of what's gone wrong. Is it your opinion that that's over the line, that's inappropriate criticism?
REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Let me just say, you know, what we have to do -- we have a lot of work to do. People can join in and help get the job done, or some people can stand aside and criticize. But, you know, we have work to do. We can't be distracted by partisanship, by finger pointing, by name-calling. We have work to do. The American people expect us to get this work done. Certainly, the victims of this catastrophe expect us to get this work done. That's what this Congress is going to do.
FRIST: Let me interrupt. The question was directed to me. Things did not go perfectly. We all know that. A lot of the initial criticism was at our federal government. I think increasingly, people see that there was a system-wide failure at the local level, at the state level, and at the federal level.
The speaker and I announced yesterday in a bipartisan, bicameral way, we'll get to the bottom of that. We announced the formation of a joint committee, bicameral committee, Democrats and Republicans, with the express purpose of addressing what went wrong.
And things did go wrong. And I personally saw firsthand things go wrong when I was in New Orleans on Saturday as a medical volunteer. We'll get to the bottom of that. Our first and foremost focus does need to be response to this catastrophe. That's what we're doing. We'll get to the bottom of it.
Now, in terms of the partisanship, we've got to put partisanship aside. And people have been critical of the president. I think that does go over the line. I think that -- obviously, they can make their comments about the president. Unless it's going to be constructive and focus on the response to that natural disaster in a constructive way, working together, I think the American people are going to dismiss it.
Our conversation with the president today showed that he was not -- I don't know what the words were that were used. He has been focused on this. He's sent his cabinet. They've been with us. He sent people from OMB, they've been with us in constant discussion.
KAGAN: We've been listening in to Senate Majority Leader, Republican. And now we're going to go head and listen to Mary Landrieu, Democrat from Louisiana.
Actually, Harry Reid, the Senate minority leader, now speaking. Let's listen in.
SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Mary Landrieu, elected Senate leadership, and all ranking members. We could, of course, if we had the room, fill this room with all of the Democratic Caucus. But we're here, all of us are here, to speak directly to the people of the Gulf region.
I personally want them to know that we're doing our very best to see you, to understand what happened and what is now happening. I say to everyone in the Gulf, and especially the people of Louisiana, you could not have a better advocate than Mary Landrieu.
You've experienced a serious blow, Mary, we understand that. The people of the Gulf, of which you are a part, have experienced this serious blow with you. And we watched you. And we are doing our very best to comprehend and understand.
We're here today because there are families who've lost everything. It affects everyone. Ricky Guerria (ph) has come to me as an intern from the Greenspun School of Journalism at UNLV to be an intern. Raise your hand, Ricky. Ricky's here and he's mourning, like so many people, his grandfather, resident of New Orleans, died of dehydration. He didn't get the help he needed when he needed it. His family is basically without anything.
But his story could be told tens of thousands of times. His family, families all through the Gulf, need health care, they need housing. Their children need to be able to go to school. And the school districts need to be reimbursed for taking on these students. They need our help.
I'm happy that the president has given us another emergency request. We are going to move that as quickly as possible. We support it. But it doesn't do enough. It has serious flaws. Just throwing money isn't the answer, although money is so important.
First of all, the money for the relief effort goes basically to FEMA, more than 90 percent of it. After everything that has happened with FEMA, is there anyone, anyone who believes that we should continue to let the money go to FEMA and be distributed by them?
Second, the present request fails to get families what they need now. His proposals won't assure that survivors get health care, housing or education. That takes legislation. We're prepared to move forward with a better plan that bypasses FEMA and gets the survivors the resources they need and they must have.
KAGAN: We've been listening in to Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. We also heard from the Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. Both congressional leaders out on Capitol Hill today, speaking out about recovery after Katrina.
Let's go to the White House and our Elaine Quijano is standing by there -- Elaine?
ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you, Daryn. Well, a lot to go over. Essentially, what we're seeing, though, is a difference in the approaches, following along partisan lines, really, in what they believe should be done in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
We heard, of course, from the Republican side of things after their meeting with President Bush. Senator Bill Frist, beginning to talk about his vision or the vision, rather, that they have been looking at. Not just to focus on the victims and their immediate needs, but a longer-term vision for the Gulf Coast region.
Now, one thing that is interesting, there was, of course, yesterday, the bipartisan, or they called it a bipartisan joint congressional committee review, to look into what happened in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Interesting, Senator Harry Reid, whom we just heard from a short time ago, saying that he does not believe that was a bipartisan effort at all, that he knows little about the committee and what it would do. So we, again, seeing these different approaches.
What I can tell you from the White House perspective is that certainly, President Bush, according to White House officials here, is very much focused on getting the immediate relief to those people on the ground. One thing that's interesting to note, though, the president today is taking part in a follow-up meeting on a plan to get benefits delivered to people in the region.
Now, this is something that White House spokesman Scott McClellan talked about yesterday as being a very high priority for the president, for the administration. We also know this meeting with the congressional Republican leadership here took a long time. It was over an hour, almost an hour and a half long meeting, a little bit on the unusual side. We'll wait to see later today if there are further developments.
But yesterday, White House Spokesman Scott McClellan saying something very interesting, that the president has certainly said there are enormous challenges ahead, that the president has made clear he wants officials to think big. In other words, to think big about solutions, to think big as far as ideas on how to move ahead.
Now, in the meantime, Vice President Dick Cheney is headed down to the region. He actually is already in Mississippi. That is his first stop of the day. He is going to be making a few stops along the Gulf Coast region, first in Mississippi and then moving on to a couple of stops in Louisiana.
Officials here say really the focus is for him to help ensure that bureaucracy is not getting in the way of people getting their benefits and getting help on the ground. First Lady Laura Bush also traveling as well. She is going to Iowa and also heading to the Gulf Coast region. She'll be in Mississippi later today.
But certainly, officials here very much want to counter the perceptions that the government was too slow in its response. We'll watch to see what are the developments there might be here out of the White House today -- Daryn?
KAGAN: Elaine, some of the strongest accusations coming from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, she has gone and called for the resignation of Michael Brown, the director of FEMA. She was out again today speaking. We have sound from her. Here's Nancy Pelosi.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: Hurricane victims need money, but they also need some real leadership and some real accountability. President Bush should appoint a competent director at FEMA so we can -- and do that immediately, so that we can move on in a better way to meet the needs of the American people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAGAN: Nancy Pelosi had a chance to speak with President Bush yesterday. The account of that conversation, though, coming out quite differently when you hear from Pelosi's people or White House officials -- Elaine?
QUIJANO: That's right, and I don't have the exact phrasing in front of me, Daryn, I have to apologize for that, but what I can tell you is that certainly a senior administration official is saying that the version Nancy Pelosi is putting forward is not necessarily accurate.
That, in essence, these calls for the resignation, or for the firing rather, of FEMA Director Michael Brown is something that was discussed in that meeting yesterday, but the accounts vary different, of course. What was unusual about that is when Nancy Pelosi came out of that, basically directly to the microphones, coming out and discussing what was said in private. That in and of itself quite unusual.
But it really shows, Daryn, the level of rancor, the Democrats fired up. We heard the Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid talking about his own personal experience with an intern of his, who he said his grandfather died of dehydration. They certainly feel that there is some need for accountability. They want to see an independent commission take a look at what went wrong to try and prevent it from happening again --Daryn?
KAGAN: Elaine Quijano at the White House. Elaine, thank you for that.
All right, now let's go ahead and listen in to the commander of the Louisiana National Guard holding a briefing in Baton Rouge.
UNIDENTIFIED COMMANDER: In my hometown, I live in Kentucky. The county seat there in Kentucky, back in 1977, it had a flood wall around it and the water came over the flood wall from the Cumberland River. So it was much like coming across the levee when they -- if you listen to the parish president in the St. Bernard Parish, he talks about the wall of water coming down the street that you can see.
It was similar there in Pineville, Kentucky. So we had to figure out how to get the water out, because it was standing in a bowl inside the floodwater, much like this here. So, yes, I've worked situations like that. Yes.
QUESTION: How many federal troops do you have helping you with the search and rescue operation?
UNIDENTIFIED COMMANDER: I think under the 82nd Airborne with a brigade of the 1st Cav Division, there are upwards of around 7,000 ground soldiers that I'm aware of that are in that area.
QUESTION: How are you splitting up the work between the guards and the military?
UNIDENTIFIED COMMANDER: You know, I promised I'd take two more questions, and I'm glad you asked that one. This will be the last one. But let me talk about that, I think that's important. First of all, I want to say that we all work for the governor of Louisiana, Governor Blanco. We know that. That's not a problem for us.
The military is used to working for civilian leadership, and that's what we're doing here. Then I'll transition through all the confusion down to the soldier level. The soldiers do what their commanders tell them and they're out there doing the job. The bulk of the work is on their backs, and they're doing a great job. So the tasking between active component and the National Guard component is divided up in a couple of different ways. One way is we establish boundaries between units and draw a line on the map. And say, "The 82nd is right here inside this line, and the 45th brigade from Oklahoma is here inside this line. And this is where you'll operate, you'll report to the parish president and that's the way that goes." That's one way.
Another way is by tasking. There are certain tasks that the National Guard is best suited to do, such as the law of posse comitatus comes into play. And the National Guard can detain personnel if necessary. So that's at task that the National Guard soldiers can do that active component cannot do because the federal law prohibits it.
So we look at tasking, you know, what's best suited for each unit. We look at the resources the unit brings. There may be engineer equipment in an active component unit and they will be tasked engineer tasks because of the resources they bring. And so they may be teamed up with a National Guard unit that can transport those engineer vehicles into the area.
So we divide up two ways. One is by boundaries and another by tasking. I hope that cleared up a little bit because that's been a lingering question. And I thank you very much, it's been a pleasure talking with you. And I look forward to meeting you again, thanks.
KAGAN: That's the end of the news conference, the commander of the Louisiana National Guard. Big question coming up is this question of the mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. The mayor, Ray Nagin, has called for that. But there's been some discussion and some debate as to who exactly is going to carry that out. So he was commenting on that.
We also expect to hear more when I have a chance to talk with Lieutenant Colonel Michael Howitz, he is with the Joint Task Force Katrina, about how that all is going to happen, along with other issues, just ahead.
I'm Daryn Kagan at CNN headquarters in Atlanta. Let's move on to our "Mission Critical" and update on urgent issues in the Hurricane Katrina disaster zone.
The Houston Astrodome area is in lockdown at this hour. Thousands of evacuees are in line there to receive debit cards from the American Red Cross. Officials say the lockdown will ensure their security.
The Department of Homeland Security says nearly 12 million meals and 21 million liters of water have been provided to Hurricane Katrina survivors. In just one 24-hour period, the military delivered 2 million MREs, or meals-ready-to-eat.
The U.S. surgeon general is echoing concerns about the health of people in New Orleans and he's urging them to leave. Tests shows levels of sewage-related bacteria in the floodwaters there are ten times higher than acceptable limits.
The U.S. Coast Guard says it will assist local authorities in forced evacuations form New Orleans if necessary. Authorities believe 10,000 to 15,000 people remain in the city. And the Army Corps of engineers is making more headway in the draining of the floodwaters from New Orleans. Twenty-three of the nearly 150 pumps designed to remove water from the city are up and running.
People in the Gulf region and around the country are worried about what's happened to their loved ones since hurricane Katrina hit. We're going to bring you the latest on what we know from our victims and relief desk after the break.
KAGAN: This just in from Houston, Texas. Our Betty Nguyen had reported that the area around the Astrodome there was in lockdown as thousands of people stood in line in order to get these new debit cards. Each survivor being given $2,000 debit cards. The line went on forever, they took the area all around the Astrodome and the surrounding center and put it in lockdown, they said, to protect the people in line. Never got a complete explanation on that. Now we're being told that lockdown has being lifted. So lockdown lifted on the Astrodome in Houston, Texas.
Let's go back to talking about the role of the military here and welcome in Lieutenant Colonel Michael Howitz. He is with Joint Task Force Katrina and he is in New Orleans today.
Lieutenant Colonel, good morning and thank you for being here with us.
LT. COL. MICHAEL HOWITZ, JOINT TASK FORCE KATRINA: How are you doing?
KAGAN: If could give us an update now on exactly what your people are doing today.
HOWITZ: My soldiers are from Fort Polk, Louisiana, 4th Brigade, 10th Mountain Division. And we move food, fuel and water from the airport to the combat units, forward it to naval air station of the 82nd Airborne Division and the 2nd division 1st Cav (ph).
KAGAN: And your biggest challenge in doing that, besides being able to hear me with all those trucks behind you?
HOWITZ: The biggest challenge is moving big trucks through urban terrain in New Orleans. It takes about 45 minutes to get there in traffic, with some traffic lights working. But my soldiers have been doing convoy training back at Fort Polk and they're ready to move through this terrain also.
KAGAN: What about the question of who is going to help with this mandatory evacuation of New Orleans? Will your soldiers take part in that? HOWITZ: No, my soldiers just provide the logistic support to the soldiers that -- the NSA, down there, just south of the Mississippi River. My soldiers won't get involved in that.
KAGAN: OK, as we're following the chain of command, do you ultimately report to Lieutenant General Honore?
HOWITZ: Yes. About three levels above me he is. I work for the 82nd Airborne Division and the division support command attached to them from Fort Polk.
KAGAN: And I think you just told me that your soldiers are from Louisiana?
HOWITZ: Yes, my soldiers in stationed in Louisiana. We're from western Louisiana, about 260 miles away. And we're glad to be down here to assist in disaster relief.
KAGAN: Do many of them -- did they lose homes and family members?
HOWITZ: Yes. I guess 60 percent of my soldiers have families -- the two captains in back of me both have families with children. A lot of my soldiers are from around here and have been affected by the hurricane, but they're driving on with the mission and doing what they have to do to get support forward to the soldiers.
KAGAN: Well, a lot of people appreciate all the work that you're doing down there. Lieutenant Colonel Michael Howitz with Joint Task Force Katrina. Thank you, sir.
HOWITZ: Thank you. Climb to glory.
KAGAN: And as we check in on Galveston, Texas, it is now hosting victims from Hurricane Katrina. But when we flash back more than a century ago, it too was the center of a deadly hurricane. In fact, it happened on this day, 105 years ago. After the break, a look back at what may still be the country's worst natural disaster.
KAGAN: We are only halfway through, not even halfway through, the hurricane season and there are other storms to watch out there with names. Our Rob Marciano is taking a look at that -- Rob?
ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We're down to the O's already, Daryn. And September 10th, just two days away -- or one day away -- is when we start to see the peak of the hurricane season.
This is Ophelia, a tropical storm now with winds of 60 miles an hour. We kind of have the radar in three-dimensional mode, also highlighting some recent radar flashes. And this is the radar beam coming out of Melbourne. You can see, already, rain bands coming in to central Florida, especially around the Cape Canaveral area. Right now, about 60 miles to the east-northeast is the center of this thing. All right, two-dimensional, we look from above, and we can see how that still spiral bands continue to feed in from the northeast, down towards the southwest. And if this jogs at all a little bit farther towards the west, and right now it's officially stationary, but it's kind of nudging a little bit towards the coastline.
If it keeps that trend, then we're talking about flooding issues because it's not moving very much. And obviously the gulf stream on top of the Atlantic Ocean, a very deep moisture supply there. So it could just rain for days, potentially.
As far as the latest track of the National Hurricane Center, this is what they're saying, developing into a hurricane likely during the day on Saturday or tomorrow. And then they don't really know where it's going to go, but right now, it could do a loop-the-loop. I mean, Hurricane Jeanne did this last year.
And just to give you an idea of some of the computer models that we in National Hurricane Center looks at, each one of these colored lines is one of the models. And, I mean, they take it everywhere into the Gulf of Mexico to out to sea to into Savannah, Georgia. So not a whole lot of confidence in this storm at this point.
So we're watching that, Daryn, Ophelia right now no real threat to land. Only just rain across the north central part of Florida. That's the latest from here. Back over to you.
KAGAN: All right, Rob Marciano, thank you.
MARCIANO: You bet.
KAGAN: After New Orleans, some experts consider Galveston the American city most at risk form a major hurricane. Today, that Texas town marks a tragic anniversary, it was the great storm of 1900. Our John Zarrella takes a look back.
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): There is an expression, hide from the wind, run from the water. It is almost always the water that takes the most lives in hurricanes, certainly the big ones. What is taking place in New Orleans, the catastrophic consequences of flooding, is no surprise to disaster recovery experts. They knew what would happen. It had happened before and history has a bad habit of repeating itself.
CASEY GREENE, HISTORIAN: People in Galveston knew that there was a storm in the Gulf of Mexico. It was reported in the "Galveston County Daily News," but they didn't know where the storm would make landfall.
ZARRELLA: September 8, 1900. One-hundred-and-five years ago, a category four hurricane struck Galveston Island. A 16 foot wall of water swallowed the city with waves on top of that and 150 mile-per- hour winds. Officially, at least 8,000 people perished, but historians say they don't really know the true death toll. It could be as high as 10,000 to 12,000. The stories of survival and rescue are eerily similar to New Orleans.
MAYBELLE DOOLIN, SURVIVOR'S DAUGHTER: Some of them were on the roof tops. Some of them were in trees. Some of them were hanging on to logs and stuff in the water.
ZARRELLA: Maybelle Doolin's father and three stepbrothers spent hours in a row boat pulling people from the debris filled water. At an orphanage run by the Sisters of Charity, the dormitories were coming apart.
SISTER PAULINE TRONCALE, SISTERS OF CHARITY: They had cut the clothesline down and each sister had about six or eight children tied to her side like mountain climbers. And in this way they had hoped to hold on to the children and to lead them to safety.
ZARRELLA: It was not to be. Of the 93 children and 10 sisters, only three boys who clung to a tree survived. Before the hurricane, Galveston was called the New York of the Gulf. Street cars ran along the beach, bath houses jetted out into the Gulf. After the storm, a seawall was constructed to protect the city and several feet of fill brought in to raise it.
But Galveston was never quite the same. Houston became the center for commerce and business. Might history again repeat itself?
JOE HUGHES, GEORGIA TECH: I don't see how a city ever recovers from a level of disaster like this, in particular when it has such amazing loss of life and displacement.
ZARRELLA: Joe Hughes believe Baton Rouge, with its deep water port and interstate highway access, is positioned to grow as a result of New Orleans' misery. And in the big easy, once the water is out, where do you start to rebuild? The port? The highways? The tourist centers? And when it comes to rebuilding homes . . .
WALTER MAESTRI, JEFFERSON PARISH EMERGENCY MANAGER: What about the electric systems? What about the plumbing systems? What about your sewage systems? What about all this business? What about the toxic lake that's been filling this community for so long?
ZARRELLA: Experts say business may be reluctant to return if there's no guarantee the same thing won't happen again. Galveston's sea wall has fended off hurricanes since. But how many people will return to New Orleans to live in the shadow of the levees, no matter how high and strong they are built?
John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.
KAGAN: From one day to the next, they are caught in the worst of circumstances. With virtually all they know and own completely gone.
When we come back, we're going to talk to one victim of Hurricane Katrina now living in Houston. What day-to-day life is like now.
KAGAN: Sometime within the last hour we heard from Houston that the area around the Astrodome had gone into lockdown. Now we're hearing that lockdown has been lifted. Our Betty Nguyen is standing by there.
And tell us more. Betty, why'd they change the order?
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, from what we can tell you right now, the east gate that is directly in front of me, that gate is open, everybody's coming in. So it appears that this lockdown, this temporary lockdown, as we're calling it, has been lifted.
And what we're learning from the Joint Information Center, which is pretty much giving us all the information on what's happening here, it's telling us, if you take a look to my left right now, this could have been what was causing the lockdown. A lot of folks within if the Joint Information Center said there was a lot of chaos around these lines. You can see people standing out in the hot sun, many of them, hundreds out there in the hot sun, been standing out here for, oh, Daryn, I guess about 5:00 Central Time this morning, waiting for these debit cards, debit cards that are being issued by the American Red Cross. Now they're also debit cards that are being issued by FEMA. Those are $2,000 debit cards that will go to families. We don't know when those are going to be handed out, but we've been told that those will not be handed out today.
But a lot of the people who are standing in those lines, who have been there for hours on end, think that they're standing in line to get $2,000 worth of FEMA debit cards. So there is a lot of confusion, a lot chaos, and that may have been what led to the lockdown. Folks within the information office say that is one of the factors. We're going to learn a lot more in about 30 minutes from now when their press conference is scheduled, and hopefully we'll bring you that information.
But in the meantime, I want to introduce you to someone, amid all of this, still looking for family members. This is Tara Cordier- Williams. She is eight months pregnant, by the way.
And you're looking for her mom. When did you last see her?
TARA CORDIER-WILLIAMS, NEW ORLEANS EVACUEE: Saturday evening.
NGUYEN: Saturday evening before the hurricane hit?
CORDIER-WILLIAMS: Before the hurricane hit.
NGUYEN: And where was she?
CORDIER-WILLIAMS: At home in her apartment complex.
NGUYEN: And so do you have any idea where she might be?
CORDIER-WILLIAMS: No, ma'am, no idea at all. All I know that she was at the Superdome. She evacuated at the last minute, and she was transported somewhere, but where I have no idea.
NGUYEN: But you do know that she is alive?
CORDIER-WILLIAMS: Yes, just don't know where she is.
NGUYEN: And all of this, of course, is causing you a lot of stress, because you told me that you're having medical problems of your own?
CORDIER-WILLIAMS: Yes, ma'am.
NGUYEN: Tell me about those.
CORDIER-WILLIAMS: I was so worried and crying that I had to go into the hospital. In the left side of my face, all the muscles won't move, shutdown completely from stress, the doctor said, due to overwhelming stress.
NGUYEN: And you're also stressed not only about finding your mother, but she has some health concerns of her own?
CORDIER-WILLIAMS: Yes, ma'am. She's a diabetic, she's a mental patient, and she suffers from high blood pressure.
NGUYEN: Well, let's get her name and number out for people who may know who she is, or maybe even if she's watching she can contact you.
CORDIER-WILLIAMS: She's Joyce Lynn Navar (ph). She's 56 years old. Her birthday is 5/23/48, and she may be travelling with my stepfather David Jean Marie (ph).
NGUYEN: And the number where any one can reach you with information.
NGUYEN: I want to give you that number one more time, 504-247- 6695. Tara Williams is really looking for her mom, and her name is Jocelyn Navar. So if anyone out there has any information, she desperately wants to hear from you -- Daryn.
KAGAN: Betty, and we wish the best of luck to that woman as she tries to get in touch with her mother.
We are getting word that people are moving up and out of the Astrodome, that the population there is getting smaller. Are you finding out the same thing?
NGUYEN: That's exactly right. We learned yesterday that the number have dwindled considerably.
When we first got here on Tuesday, we were hearing that there were about 27,000 evacuees in the four main shelters here in Houston. Well, yesterday, we learned that that number went down to 8,000. And this morning, we got a new headcount, and it is at 8,096. So from 27,000 down to 8,096, it's evident that people are finding homes, they are finding jobs and they're getting on with their lives outside of these shelters, and that indeed is some progress -- Daryn.
KAGAN: Betty Nguyen, live from Houston, Texas, thank you.
And for more on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, you can check our Web site for up-to-the-minute information. The address is CNN.com.
LIN: Good morning again.
I'm Carol Lin at the victims and relief desk here. We are still receiving hundreds of e-mails from those looking for loved one. For example, Laura Rheams is looking for her friend Debra Leard. This photo was taken about six years ago, so Debra now is about 50 years old, and her last known address was 18th Street in New Orleans. So please contact Laura Rheams if you know anything about Debra.
And Tim Skinner is looking for his mother, Adeline Skinner. She was last seen Tuesday in New Orleans. If you know anything about Adeline, please contact her son.
Now, it's one thing to tell evacuees to log onto a Web site or call an 800 number, but it's another thing to troll through all the resources that claim they have lists of names to help people find each other.
John Galloway is one of the brains behind the Katrina Data Project a Web site making the search for loved ones a little easier and safer for hurricane victims.
Good to see you, John.
JOHN GALLOWAY, FOUNDER, KATRINA DATA PROJECT: Thank you.
LIN: So a quick summary. You're actually getting information from all kinds of resources like churches, civic centers, anything where evacuees may be falling through the cracks, if they're not at a Red Cross shelter.
GALLOWAY: That's correct. We're trying to reach out to those local churches, the local civic groups that have taken in volunteers, and taken in evacuees, but might not necessarily be an organization that's officially recognized by the Red Cross, or on some sort of Red Cross list.
LIN: And you have something like, by the end of today, you may have close to 200,000 names.
GALLOWAY: By the end of the day. Right now, we have volunteers who are importing these data files that we've gotten from many different shelters into our central database, and we should have all those in by the end of the day. More is going to come in. Hopefully a lot more comes in, and we'll get that in, too.
LIN: Now you got this brainchild, because you were actually watching CNN and a pretty aggressive interview by our Soledad O'Brien of a government official, why there wasn't one central database for people to try to find one another?
GALLOWAY: That's correct. I was actually sitting in an airport terminal last week and said that interview on CNN, and said, why doesn't this exist? we can get something like this up and running in 24 hours. Twenty-four hours after that interview, we were collecting data on our Web site.
LIN: So the Web site, how does it work? You log on, and you can go to, if you're an evacuee, you can go to searchkatrina.com, and fill out a form?
GALLOWAY: That's correct. We've got a form, you know, as much information that you feel comfortable giving us. We realize that you should always be cognizant of giving out information to someone on the Internet. If you can fill out information for us, name, address, phone number, we'll put that into the central database so that it's searchable by anyone who comes to the site.
In addition, if you can send us a data file, if you're at a shelter, if you're at a location and you have a list of people who are there, it might be five people, it might be 10 families, you can e- mail that data file to us, and we have volunteers who will import the data into our database.
LIN: Right. So the idea is one-stop shopping. Have you been able to reunite people?
GALLOWAY: Yes, we have. What we're doing is, as we find a contact, if you don't instantly find the contact on our Web site, we will actually send you an e-mail if data that matches a search you've made comes into your...
LIN: Oh, great, so you don't have to keep logging on and logging on and logging on.
GALLOWAY: That's correct. The people at these shelters don't have a lot of Internet access. There is one shelter in Louisiana that has a couple thousand people in it and 12 computers.
LIN: But people are giving you very private information. They're giving you their mother's maiden name, a child's name maybe. What's to say that they're not giving that information to a thief who's going to steal their identity?
GALLOWAY: That is one of the main concerns we had whenever we created the Web site. There are a lot of Web sites out there who gathering this information and just posting it up for anyone who wants to come by on the Internet to download. I've seen Web sites that have things lists of mother's maiden name, your street address, your phone number. We are not asking for mother's maiden name. That is not one of the things we want to collect, but we really want these sites that are out there and collecting all this information to think about the consequences about what you're posting up about these people.
LIN: Do you really think that there are thieves out there trolling the airwaves and Web sites to gather this data?
GALLOWAY: There are a lot of us trying to gather the data for good purposes. For every one of us that are trying to do something good, I would imagine there are couple people out there gathering lists for things like spam, things identity theft, all those type of nefarious...
LIN: All right, so just be careful, even though people are so desperate for information.
GALLOWAY: Be careful. Be careful, especially.
LIN: All right, I know you're looking for volunteers in three different states, right, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi?
GALLOWAY: Any state that has disaster victims in it, we are looking for volunteers on the ground to go to their local shelters, whether it's a church that has five people there, go there and help us learn about those people; send the list of people back to us so it can be entered into the central database.
LIN: All right, the Web site is katrinadataproject.com. If you want to volunteer, it's searchkatrina.com if you're looking for someone.
GALLOWAY: That's right.
LIN: Thanks very much, John.
GALLOWAY: Thank you.
LIN: Good luck.
All right, we also want to hear from you. Whether folks are lost or found, we want to hear about your loved ones. So e-mail us at hurricanevictims@CNN.com. If you're looking for information, we also have a list of resources. We should probably share them with John...
LIN: ... at CNN.com/helpcenter. We also have more on the worsening health crisis in the Gulf region. Daryn's right after a break.
KAGAN: We continue to bring the latest pictures as they put the story forward. This is a picture of kids at the Astrodome doing something kids all around the country will do this morning, get on a school bus and go to school, something so simple and yet something so symbolic for these children. We had heard earlier that a lot of parents weren't really that enthusiastic about enrolling their children in school when they're at the Astrodome, because as they move around and transition, then they're just going to have to change schools again, and yet nothing can be more in bringing some basic structure and some normality to the schoolchildren as going to school. So they are off on their way in Houston, Texas.
Let's move on to your "Daily Dose" of health news. Congress is delaying a plan to trim Medicaid's growth by $10 billion. That's because state officials expect a surge in Medicaid applicants after Katrina. The health program for the poor is a federal/state partnership, but states want Washington to cover 100 percent of the costs for people added to the Medicaid rolls because of the storm.
The government counts four deaths now from water-borne bacteria in the hurricane zone. The CDC says the water that has swamped New Orleans is filled with germs. There's E. coli and a bug found in saltwater. The bacteria apparently entered the victims' bodies through cuts in the skin as they waded out of the city.
Well, that putrid water, that very water that has engulfed New Orleans, looks set to cause an ecological disaster in Lake Pontchartrain.
Our Rusty Dornin looks at that.
RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The rules that apply to the water in the streets of New Orleans are pretty clear. Don't touch it and don't drink it. But what happens when all that filthy flood water gets pumped out of New Orleans and back into Lake Pontchartrain? Water now contaminated with raw sewage, dead bodies, oil spills, industrial chemicals and who knows what else.
The immediate problem is oxygen. There isn't any. When animals and people decompose, and when sewage breaks down it consumes oxygen. So the water being pumped out can't support life. And that, according to oceanographer and LSU professor Eric (sic) Laws means fish are going to start dying in Lake Pontchartrain.
(on camera): What is the likelihood of this happening?
PROFESSOR ED LAWS, LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY: I would say the likelihood is pretty close to 100 percent. I mean that water is really foul. And --
DORNIN: When would we start seeing it happen?
LAWS: I would expect, you know, as soon as they start doing serious pumping you'll start to see some dead fish.
DORNIN: And that iridescent sheen floating on the surface of the flood waters -- it's probably gasoline from submerged cars and flooded gas stations. And that's not to mention the city dumps now covered with flood water -- one, a toxic land fill in downtown New Orleans. The EPA has already found dangerous levels of lead in the water. Mercury is also likely. They call them the heavy metals.
LAWS: These things do tend to biomagnify and work their way up the food chain if they are not taken up directly by the fish and shell fish. DORNIN: Lake Pontchartrain has a history of pollution, but they've been working to clean it. Just five years ago it was opened to swimming for the first time in three decades. Even manatees, endangered for years, had begun to return. The massive flow of pollutants going back into the lake will set this progress back for years. And the contaminants won't stay there.
ERIK OLSON, NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: -- that the lake will eventually -- at least the surface waters will eventually flush into the Gulf. The problem is that there are many other water bodies where the contaminants, this real toxic soup of contaminants, is going to stick around for awhile, get into the ground water.
DORNIN: Lake Pontchartrain empties into Lake Borgne and flows to the Gulf where there is a big oyster industry.
LAWS: The oysters filter the water. They take up metals from the water. So the oysters may be contaminated for some time.
DORNIN: Just another reminder that life here may be nothing like it once was for a very long time.
Rusty Dornin, CNN, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
KAGAN: And for more on Katrina's health impact, log on to our Web site, the address is CNN.com/Health. There's a medical library with everything you want to know about the toxic germs in the floodwaters.
KAGAN: Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate, had some comments earlier. Let's roll that tape.
SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: Everybody anticipated the breach of the levees, Mr. President, including computer simulations in which this administration participated. Even the clay figurine, Mr. Bill, from "Saturday Night Live," anticipated the breach. His creator, a friend of mine, has used him in public-service announcements for over two years -- public-service announcements, saying this will be the effect if this happens. How can it be that Mr. Bill was better informed than Mr. Bush?
We know secretary of Homeland Security pronounced himself, quote, "extremely pleased with the response of every element of the federal government," even as the cable news networks were showing images, telling how he was so tragically wrong. We know that FEMA was unaware that 20,000 Americans were stranded at the convention center without food, without water, without security, without clothes, without buses, without toilets, and with no way out. And I had to stand there and listen to the news media say these people were lawless? These were mothers and fathers trying to find water for their kids. I might have been a little upset under the circumstances myself.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAGAN: Some harsh words from Mary Landrieu, the senator from Louisiana, for the news media and also for President Bush. The response as our coverage continues here on CNN.
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