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Long Road to Recovery in New Orleans; U.S.-World Relations Focus of U.N. Summit

Aired September 14, 2005 - 08:31   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. CNN is your hurricane headquarters, and this morning we are watching Hurricane Ophelia, a Category 1 storm, getting stronger. The storm should make landfall in North Carolina later today. We're going to have an update from the weather center in just a few moments.
First, though, we want to send it back to Miles. He's in New Orleans this morning. Hey, Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning again, Soledad. I'm standing on a Elysian Fields Avenue. That's right down that way. And as you can see, right about here is where the water begins. A couple of days ago, this would of been waist-high here.

Take a look at what is left behind. And this just gives you a sense. I don't even want to touch it. But you can see the kind of film here that was left behind. This is just a little piece of what lies ahead for this neighborhood, as this water comes back. They have Corps of Engineers pumping it out at about nine billion gallons a day. But a huge, huge toxic mess that is left behind. The cleanup here will take -- it's hard to imagine how long it will take.

Elysian Fields, this road means a lot to somebody who means a lot to us. Our executive producer, Kim Bondy, has a house about a mile down this road, or maybe more accurately had a house. We went to visit it the other day.


KIM BONDY, CNN EXECUTIVE PRODUCER: I was born and raised here, you know. And so much of, you know, our entire life story is on this one street.

M. O'BRIEN (voice-over): Elysian Fields Avenue runs like a river through Kim Bondy's life. Now it resembles a river, and the dark noxious water is eating away at a lifelong dream.

K. BONDY: The second house is my house, with the white. That's my brother's house next door. Wow. Wow.

M. O'BRIEN: She bought the house in her childhood neighborhood four years ago and she got right to work fixing it up.

K. BONDY: It's almost like I don't even recognize it. It's so sad. It's just unbelievable! But it's almost so surreal. It's almost like, that's not my house. My house is cute. This is like my dream house, you know? There's not a whole lot to it. This is exactly what I wanted. I could have lived here forever.

M. O'BRIEN: For Kim, it was an idyllic goal, as much as it was a place to live. She lives and works in New York, a CNN vice president in charge of AMERICAN MORNING. But like all good producers, she had a plan laid out with a timetable, one she pondered on the beach the Saturday before Katrina hit.

K. BONDY: Just thinking about, you know, in a few years, I'll be able to, you know, retire, and I can come home and just live simply in my house. And I don't need a whole lot. I own this house free and clear, there's no mortgage on it, you know? My car was paid for. And I just said, I just want to come home and be with my family and live in my cute little house. And just like that, 48 hours later.

M. O'BRIEN: Her brother, Blayne, lives next door.

BLAYNE BONDY, NEW ORLEANS HOMEOWNER: I just don't have words for this. I mean, this is -- I'm looking at the high water mark in my house, knowing that it's almost six feet high. There is not one thing in there I can salvage.

M. O'BRIEN: But this is really not about things. This is about dreams that flower from deep roots. Blayne Bondy made a separate trip on another boat and tromped through the house was renovating. New kitchen, bathrooms, an added bedroom, all trashed, the things all gone. And now the bloom is off the flower.

K. BONDY: The two constants about New Orleans that are never going to go away, or two constants that will always -- you know, New Orleans will always be in a bowl, and there will always be hurricanes. And to think that we could go through this again. You know? It's too much!

B. BONDY: You can't subject yourself to this. You know? I mean, I'm only 33 years old and I can't see putting my family through this again.


M. O'BRIEN: Joining me now is Blayne Bondy.

Yesterday, what you went through, was it really a big ordeal? And I think there's an important message for people who are watching now and thinking about trying to get back to their homes that might be underwater. Would you advise them to do it?

B. BONDY: Definitely not. The physics of what happened here is just really overbearing. The houses, the wood is swollen. You have to kick in the doors. You know, if your house has any doors that are -- interior doors that are closed, they're jammed. I have wooden floors in my home, they're buckled. It's a very stressful situation already, and then you have to overcome the obstacles that the water has caused.

M. O'BRIEN: I want to pose a question now to photographer Walter Imparato, who's on the other side of that piece of glass right now. Walter, you had a heck of a time. You've been a photographer here for 20 years or so. Have you ever endured or gone through anything quite like that?

WALTER IMPARATO, CNN PHOTOGRAPHER: It was pretty bad. I think that what shocked me was I thought, you know, the outside pictures I had been seeing for two weeks was the worst it was going to be. If you can believe it was actually worse inside than it was outside. And I think Blayne would agree with me. And you know, the smell -- one sense TV doesn't translate is the smell. That's probably a good thing because it was really horrific.

M. O'BRIEN: And, you know, really, you went through -- it was hazardous to your health what you did, just by virtue of the heat and wearing that suit.

IMPARATO: We had to put on these hazmat suits that I don't -- must have been 140 degrees inside. Thankfully, I had, you know, Army guys with me, helping me out, throwing water on me. You know, I would just say, though, for everybody coming back to their homes, you know, the water is going to have been receded, but, you know, its wake will be very prevalent. So be prepared for another -- you know, another shock.

M. O'BRIEN: We just saw that film that was left behind. As you look at that, that gives you kind of a sense of the kind of muck that -- kind of mess. It sort of flies in the face of the message we heard from the mayor yesterday. He said let's get open for business, let's hear some jazz. Are you in the mood for jazz?

B. BONDY: Not at this particular moment. I think the mayor may want to fine-tune his message just a little bit. If you have water in your house, don't try to access it right now. There are pockets that are dry,,. as we've known, we've heard. And I think they're a little easier to access, but, you know, this Gentilly has been submerged for over two weeks and the devastation that this water has caused is going to be a tremendous burden, physically and emotionally for people to try to endure at this particular time.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, I mean, it really is. And I guess probably not the best term, but it will be a drain, quite literally, on the city as time moves toward and will make it very difficult for the city to recover. What are your thoughts? You know, when last we spoke you said, I got to move on. You still feel that way?

B. BONDY: Yes, miles, I do. You know, ironically, I feel lucky. You know, when we turn these cameras off, I get to talk to my sister. I'm going to drive home and I'm going to see my wife and kids and my parents and my grandparents. And there's human remains 50 yards from my house. Somebody is looking for that person. They don't have the opportunity to call them or sit down and have dinner. And you know, we've lost everything. I own five houses in this neighborhood that have been destroyed. But I have my family and we're going to help rebuild and hopefully, in time, you know, all will be well.

M. O'BRIEN: That shot of you trudging through your house, a house that you put so many sweat equity in. You know, I know I've renovated a lot of houses myself, and I know how much you end you loving the place and taking care of a place like that. What was that like?

B. BONDY: You know, I've spent the better part of five years updating, renovating, a lot of sweat equity. Obviously a large financial toll. But it's going to be OK. I hope that, you know, , in the end, everybody will be able to recover from this financially and emotionally and they'll be able to move on and hopefully, we'll build a bigger and better city and we'll get this levee situation under control. And just -- we just have to move on. Progress has to take place.

M. O'BRIEN: Blayne Bondy, thanks very much. Good luck to you, good luck to your family.

Back to you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Miles, you know, Kim and I have been friends for ten years, so it is tough to see her so upset and, of course, to see what's left of her very cute house. You know, and what I guess makes it worse is that you hear these stories about the problems with insurance, not only in New Orleans, but Allan Chernoff is reporting for us, Miles, that Biloxi, Mississippi, this morning, similar problems. Insurance companies are not going to pay.

Let's get right to Allan this morning. Allan, good morning.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just imagine this nightmare. Hurricane Katrina has just destroyed your home. You contact the insurance company, and they give you even more bad news.


SENG THAI, BILOXI RESIDENT: If no wind and storm bring it in, how did the water get into the house six feet high, eight feet high, and now (UNINTELLIGIBLE) covered.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Biloxi resident Seng Thai venting to his neighbor. An insurance adjuster told Mr. Thai it was a flood, not a hurricane that caused the bulk of damage to his home. Mr. Thai's policy does not include flood coverage.

THAI: Oh, he already came this morning. Above the water line inside six feet high, above they'll cover. Below is not covered, which is everything -- below is damaged, the whole thing.

CHERNOFF (on camera): The same devastating news is being heard up and down the demolished streets of Biloxi. Many homeowners here did not buy flood insurance because the area is not designated as a flood zone.

(voice-over): Thai's insurance company, Nationwide, tells CNN it can't speak about individual claims for privacy reasons. The company says flood insurance is needed to cover damage from water that enters through the home's foundation. Nationwide says a homeowner's policy will cover flooding if water comes through the roof by a tree falling. Flood insurance adjuster Dan Wiley of CNC Insurance Adjusters has been handing out checks to people who have flood insurance. He says there is no doubt flood caused much of the damage.

DAN WILEY, CNC INSURANCE ADJUSTERS: We know for a fact there was a 20-foot surge here, so we know it was done by water. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) beach up there, you have to assume it was done by water because the water had a 20 to 30-foot surge.

CHERNOFF: Bobby Migues has flood coverage. His insurer said only that portion of his policy will apply.

BOBBY MIGUES, BILOXI RESIDENT: If you look around and you see parts of my roof in trees, parts of my roof over here and there, parts of my roof is sitting way over there, OK, which shows you that wind had to take that roof. Give me what I'm due. I want the insurance company to come in here and give me what I'm due.

CHERNOFF: The mayor says insurance companies need to have a heart.

MAYOR A.J. HOLLOWAY, BILOXI, MISSISSIPPI: If they're not in business to help the people, then they need to get out of business.

CHERNOFF: President Bush heard the complaints when he visited Monday, but was non-committal.

BUSH: And I said I would find out the process that determines whether or not it's a wind or water (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CHERNOFF: There are calls for the government to help insurance companies cover flood damage, but so far there's no sign that will lead to changes in the law. Local authorities say they may have to sue the insurance companies while homeowners now without a home are hoping their insurance companies will make good on the policies they thought had been protecting them.

Allan Chernoff, CNN, Biloxi, Mississippi.


CHERNOFF: But they may be out of luck. Mississippi's insurance commissioner tells us the rules are clear: Damage from waves driven by wind are not covered by standard homeowners policies.

S. O'BRIEN: Allan Chernoff for us this morning.

Allan, thanks for that report. It's just really, I think, appalling that people have to deal with that, while they're also dealing with finding a home, getting a new job, figuring out where the rest of their family members are. Let's get Carol. She's got a look at some of the other headlines this morning.

Good morning, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Good morning to all of you.

Now in the news, Al Qaeda in Iraq claiming responsibility for morning attacks in and around Baghdad. More than 100 people were killed in a series of suicide bombings. The attacks mainly targeting Shiite Muslim communities. There were also a number of other attacks on U.S. military convoys. Some Americans are injured. The Al Qaeda claim of responsibility has not been verified.

President Bush is getting ready to lay out his plans for spreading democracy and expanding free trade. The president will address the United Nations general assembly next hour. The group is convening for it's 60th session. The president will also thank countries for their support in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

And within the next hour, the Senate Judiciary Committee begins a second and possibly a final day of questioning for chief justice nominee John Roberts. On Tuesday, Roberts told the committee that he would not discuss matters that might end up going before the supreme court.

CNN will have coverage of the Roberts confirmation hearings, a special "SITUATION ROOM," set to begin at 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

And North Carolina bracing for Hurricane Ophelia. The winds are already picking. Landfall could come as early as today.


S. O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, the as the U.N. general assembly perhaps for its historic 60th session, what is America's standing within that world body? We've got a closer look just ahead.


S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

Within the hour, President Bush is going to stand before the largest gathering of world leaders in history. While 150 presidents and prime ministers listen to Mr. Bush, they're going to be considering the U.S. relationship with the rest of the world.

Andrea Koppel is CNN's State Department correspondent, has a look at that this morning.

Nice to see you.


S. O'BRIEN: What a difference four years makes.

KOPPEL: You took the words out of my mouth. By the same token, I don't know about you, but I had a sense of deja vu. When you -- since Katrina, to see the outpouring of international sympathy and aid, and what a position for the United States to be, the one that's usually giving the aid to be on the receiving end, over 110 countries and over 12 international organizations. But it's so different from 9/11. The big difference, of course, is that there was Iraq, and the fact that the U.S., President Bush decided to go outside the U.N. to invade Iraq. And so there is the sympathy on the one hand for the United States, but on the other, there is still a lot of resentment among some countries.

S. O'BRIEN: What about the other difference, which is, after 9/11, the U.S. was really a victim of a terror attack. And, Katrina, is, I think, many -- the foreigners I met in the foreign press would say, I can't believe it's happening in America.

KOPPEL: Absolutely.

S. O'BRIEN: A victim of a slow response.

KOPPEL: Absolutely, and the criticism that we've seen of the Bush administration, certainly that's been the headlines in this country for the last several weeks, has also been headlines around the world. The fact that how could this not just happen in the United States, but how could this slow response, the fact that it took five days to get aid to so many Americans who were, by the way, on the mainland of the United States?

S. O'BRIEN: In a major, major city.

KOPPEL: In a major city.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's talk about Condoleezza Rice, because she'll be addressing the U.N. General Council as well, I believe, or the session, the general session, as well.

She is black, obviously, from the region. And she very quickly defended the president against any charge of sort of racial motivation behind the slow response. What do you make of what she said?

KOPPEL: Well, I make that she is a very close friend of President Bush's. She is a close adviser. She's not just the top U.S. diplomat. And the fact that she really felt this was something -- she was very adamant about the fact that she wasn't asked.

She came from the South. She's from Selma -- she's from Alabama. She grew up there. And as she put it, the soft bigotry of low expectations. In other words, the fact that just because your skin is darker that you shouldn't have the same -- that people shouldn't expect the same of you. She said, I lived that.

So she went down to Alabama, after one of the countries that was hit by the hurricane, because she's from the South, and because she's the most prominent member of the president's cabinet who is African- American.

S. O'BRIEN: What's on the agenda out of the U.N.'s meeting? I mean, main, big top line issues?

KOPPEL: Obviously, Iraq. But during this session, President Bush and Secretary Rice are going to be trying to step up international pressure on Syria. We've heard in the last couple of days really exceptionally critical criticism of Syria, saying time is running out for that government to stop insurgents from crossing the border -- not just because they're crossing the border, because U.S. officials saying they're landing in the airport in Damascus to get into Iraq. So there's going to be stepped-up international pressure on Syria. By the way, Syria's president, Bashar Assad, canceled his trip here.

You're also going to see stepped-up international pressure on Iran. In particular, President Bush just met with China's president yesterday. He's going to be meeting with Russia's president at the end of the week. He's going to try to get those two permanent members of the Security Council to agree, if it ever ends up, if Iran ever comes to the United Nations, to agree to support sanctions. They're a long way away from that, but that's part of the behind-the-scenes diplomacy.

S. O'BRIEN: We're only eight minutes away from it starting, I believe.

KOPPEL: Great.

S. O'BRIEN: Andrea Koppel, thank you very much.

A short break, and we're back in just a moment.


S. O'BRIEN: And that's it for us. Let's send you right to THE SITUATION ROOM with Wolf Blitzer. Good morning to you, Wolf.


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