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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Hurricane Ophelia Slowly Approaches; Duration of Damage is Concern; Hurricane Hunters Provide Crucial Data Flying Through Ophelia; Press Briefing On the Process for Recovering Thos Who Perished in New Orleans
Aired September 14, 2005 - 1400 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Pounding waves and punishing winds. Live pictures right now, from Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, where Hurricane Ophelia is moving in.
A live briefing on Katrina relief operations any moment now. Admiral Thad Allen will talk to reporters. We're on that when it happens. From the CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Kyra Phillips, this hour CNN's LIVE FROM starts right now.
Ophelia at full force, potentially a two-day ordeal for eastern- most North Carolina, 15 inches of rain, 60, 70, 80-mile-an-hour winds. And the dreaded by product of both a storm surge, perhaps as high as nine feet inland. CNN's Susan Candiotti is feeling Ophelia's wrath on Hatteras Island, she brings us the latest.
SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kyra, here people are playing the waiting game, because there are still several hours and possibly not until late tonight or early tomorrow when they start feeling hurricane force winds here. Unlike the pounding that they are taking in the Atlantic Beach area at this time.
Here Hatteras Island is under an evacuation -- be mandatory evacuation order. So we are seeing very few people, though. Those who remain behind, well, they just prefer to ride out the storm here and take what's coming, what lies ahead.
They can expect some overwash as always happens down here. We're in Buxton (ph), which is where the famous Hatteras Lighthouse is. And over my shoulder, that's Pamlico Sound. A lot of the homes down here -- nearly all of the homes down here -- are built on stilts as you can see. Knowing they can expect flooding whenever a hurricane comes this way.
Most of the schools along the Eastern Coast of North Carolina are closed. That state of emergency exists here. They do have National Guardsmen and other emergency officials pre-positioned to bring in truck loads of water and ice and food, as they become necessary. Statewide so far more than 34,000 customers have already lost power where the storm is already coming ashore south of here. Conditions not so bad on Hatteras Island, but they are expected to get worse and flooding is what worries everyone -- Kyra.
PHILLIPS: All right, Susan Candiotti, we'll keep checking in with you. Thank you so much. It was a long time coming. It will likely be a long time going. Ophelia has lit up radar screens for days now. CNN's Meteorologist Jacqui Jeras has watched it's every twist and turn -- Jacqui.
JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: There have been a lot of twists and turns. Unfortunately, it will be a long painful ride here to get Ophelia out of here, just get it back on the open water and dissipating.
It will take its time in doing so. There you can see the center of circulation is 40 miles to the south and east of Wilmington. That eye wall is trying to make its way onshore. We don't think we'll see the center eye onshore here, it will riding off the coast. We're expecting it to move in a northeasterly direction.
Right now moving about seven miles per hour. So, it is moving faster than it was yesterday, but still seven miles per hour unfortunately not all that fast. And 85 miles per hour, that is the maximum sustained winds, with some gusts beyond that. It does make it a Category 1 hurricane.
There you can see the outer rain bands still continuing to lash the coastal areas of North and South Carolina. There you can see Wilmington area around here. There you can see Myrtle Grove. We'll zoom in here for you. There you can see the 49-mile distance, and this is where some of the heaviest rain bands will be and where some of the strongest winds will be.
We just got a report out of Ricefill (ph) Beach, 68 miles per hour with wind gusts up to 77 miles an hour. So, 68 miles per hour sustained winds, pretty brutal. You can get bet that we'll be seeing more power outages within that area.
Forecast track will then continue to have it push on up to the north-northeast, and just kind of brushing through the Outer Banks for the next 24 hours or so, and then late in the day on Thursday we'll watch it go back over the open waters. Still as a hurricane, but then no longer a threat to the U.S. Kyra?
PHILLIPS: All right, Jacqui, thank you so much.
Well, radar, smadar, that's what some people say. It is just not enough for some people. Hurricane hunters fly right into these massive storms. But it is not in the name of thrill seeking, it's extreme science at work. Our Rick Sanchez rode along on such a mission to bring us some pretty incredible pictures of Ophelia. He joins us live to talk about that.
Hurricane hunters: I'm starting to worry about you. I think you are taking on a new profession.
RICK SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I was thinking, while you were saying that, they can actually increase a forecast by 25 percent.
Folks over at the National Hurricane Center say if they didn't have these people on these planes, there's two of them by the way, there is a NOAA plane and there is an Air Force Reserve plane. It is a C130-J, it's a new plane. They call it the Hercules.
And basically what it does, Kyra, it just flies right into the teeth of the storm. So it is able to get all the sensors and all the measurements to tell folks at the National Hurricane Center, look, this is what it is doing right now. You make the call. You tell people whether it's a Category 1, Category 2 or a tropical storm.
PHILLIPS: We're sitting looking inside, obviously, the aircraft. They have their maps, they're tracking everything. Tell me what's going on inside, as you going, boom, right smack into it.
SANCHEZ: That's Tina Young that you are looking at there. She's a meteorologist who works for the Air Force Reserve and is on board gathering all of that information. As they fly right through the heart of the storm, they are able to get things like the barometric pressure, the wind speeds. And they do so by dropping instruments that we'll show you in just a bit.
While we were out there, by the way, we went out, it was a tropical storm. In the middle of it, after we did the very first pass, we immediately got the first readings back and we knew this had turned into a hurricane.
PHILLIPS: Some people would say how do you remain safe? You say we flew right into the eye of the storm, right, average individual sitting at home might say how come the plane doesn't get destroyed? How do you not put yourself in danger?
SANCHEZ: Sadly, some have. Over the past 40 years or so they have lost four of the planes; haven't lost any since 1974. Technology is such now that it is a very well constructed well made plane. It is the pride of their fleet as far as this is concerned. They call it the C130-J, it is just replaced the C130-H.
PHILLIPS: Right, right.
SANCHEZ: And it's just a piece of equipment that is put together very well. These folks know what they are doing. They know how to fly into the storm. They know when to drop off and they know what they will encounter. Yes, we were strapped in, in case you are wondering.
PHILLIPS: Just in case.
SANCHEZ: In case you're wondering. And biting a few nails.
PHILLIPS: Tell me about this drop song.
SANCHEZ: That's exactly what it's called, it's a drop song. They have a pressurized chamber inside the plane. They take these and they drop them down. At different locations and what this does is -- it does a couple different things. It gets measurements, the winds, and everything. What it does most is -- you see right there? It is a GPS.
PHILLIPS: Wow. SANCHEZ: So it is a little GPS, and they drop 100 of these. It will tell them what the wind speed and what the wind direction is. That's usually how we are able to figure out whether a hurricane has increased in speed, more dangerous, or sometimes, the good news is it hasn't.
PHILLIPS: You can loop into a computer or what is this? It looks like a jack for a computer or a phone line?
SANCHEZ: It has two parts to it, two chambers. Part of it is the sensors, that tells you what for example, the temperature is outside. The other part is GPS. When the wind flows through here, it tells it exactly what those wind directions and wind speeds is.
By the way, there is a little parachute that comes out. The parachute drops off and as it is going down, the parachute holds it. Not to essentially stop it, but just trying to keep it steady. Because if it starts to tumble like this, they are not able to get a good reading of it.
Last night we were up there, and just before we hit the eye they dropped one of these. They weren't able to get any readings from, because it was a bad song, as they said. So we had to go back through the eye once again. When you are in the middle of the eye it is amazing.
PHILLIPS: How many do you drop, of these? Is it just one?
SANCHEZ: They drop about four or five every time they are approach the eye wall. And then when they get to the very middle of the eye, they drop another one. So it is a concurrent series of events.
PHILLIPS: So, you actually found the center of the storm?
SANCHEZ: We did. It is an amazing place to be. Can you imagine? You are in the middle of a hurricane and wind speed is zero. Nothing. No wind at all. It is like being in a giant vacuum and you are 10,000 feet above the ground. And for the first time in a long time, because as you imagine as you are going through the storm, you can feel nothing but a lot of turbulence and a lot of different cloud formations. You look up and you can see stars and you can see the moon. It is perfectly clear.
PHILLIPS: Wow, how beautiful.
SANCHEZ: Quite a place to be.
PHILLIPS: Kind of spiritual.
SANCHEZ: I thought it was eerie, but I guess, spiritual might be a better word to describe it.
PHILLIPS: Is that OK? Or maybe a combination of both, right?
SANCHEZ: Right. PHILLIPS: All right. So tonight at 7 o'clock Eastern, we'll see more.
SANCHEZ: Yes, 7 o'clock, on "AC 360" we're putting together a nice piece of tape to show what we went through last night, as we began this voyage, all of the way to finding out and getting back that this was a hurricane.
PHILLIPS: Cool stuff. Rick Sanchez, thank you so much.
PHILLIPS: Well, the U.S. Senate's Hurricane Katrina investigation is now underway. In the words of the chairwoman of the Senate's Homeland Security Committee, Republican Susan Collins, the government's initial response was sluggish. The ranking Democrat, Senator Joe Lieberman says that today's first hearing, the response to Katrina has shaken the public's confidence in the government's ability to protect them in the crises.
And draining New Orleans, the latest from the Army Corps of Engineers, more than 40 pumping stations are removing more than 9 billion -- is that amazing, or what -- 9 billion gallons of floodwaters a day from the city. It is expected to be high and dry by October 8.
All of that water is still unsafe, but the city's air is OK. The latest test from the EPA and other agencies, show the floodwaters still contain dangerous levels of sewage related bacteria and toxic chemicals. Officials are urging people not to wade in, or drink that standing water.
The status of floodwaters in New Orleans is critical for several reasons as you know. One of the most important right now, the mayor says, the EPA tests will determine when he reopens part of the city. CNN's Sean Callebs is there and joins us live with the latest on the water and other developments.
Are you in the Seventh Ward or did you move, Sean?
SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We're still here in the Seventh Ward, which is markedly different from where the mayor held his news conference yesterday, right at the steps across from Jackson Square. There he talked about -- if he got information from EPA that was positive he wants to reopen the French Quarter, wants to reopen the Central Business District.
Hopes to do that by Monday and bring as many as 150,000 people in here to breathe life back into this once extremely vibrant city. You talk about some of the pollutants that are in this muck, in this groundwater. They are the kind of things you would find in cooling as well as fuels. No real surprise there. The kind of things that can irritate one's eyes.
We have pictures of the 82nd Airborne out here earlier today in water some behind me. They were doing some water sampling, as well as sampling of the air and soil, as well. That information of course is going to be passed on to the EPA as they try to make a determination when it will be safe enough for people to get back inside here.
Big concern, PCBs, all the transformers from all these power lines that were down. If indeed, that got into the floodwater, carcinogenics can be extraordinarily harmful. So, they are really worried about that, as well. Here is some of the floodwater where they did the work earlier.
You talk about that 9 million --
PHILLIPS: Sean, stay with us. We'll go straight to Admiral Thad Allen, he's holding a briefing. We'll possibly hear about remains and what's being done about them at this time.
(BEGIN LIVE FEED, IN PROGRESS)
VICE ADM. THAD ALLEN, DIR, FEMA'S KATRINA RELIEF OPS: ... create a closer working relationship with the Department of Defense and the deployment of their forces in response to the federal effort. I worked hand in hand with General Honore, and Joint Task Force Katrina, as we move this response forward together.
As we move from the response phase to recovery phase, it is important to all of us because the country has a lot of priorities that we allocate resources to the proper mission. There are some DOD assets that are employed in the response part of this operation that are no longer needed and the Department of Defense will redeploy those assets. I'm just going to describe them in general to you.
There will be information released at a later date, by DOD, that will have more information. In general two of the large deck vessels that have been operating offshore as what we would call lily pads for some of the response operations, the DOD will redeploy those. Those are the USS Harry Truman and the Woodby Island (ph). They will also take some resources that have been supporting search and rescue operations and redeploy those assets.
As you know, a good deal of the search and rescue operations are over now. In New Orleans particularly we're doing a block-by-block sweep of the houses and looking for persons that are still alive and removing remains.
But as it relates to major search and rescue and the urban SARE (ph) effort that was going on, those resources are no longer needed. To the extent there is concern regarding helicopter support to this operation, DOD intends to remain in the region with 271 helicopter assets to be available for whatever missions that might be needed, logistics and if there is search and rescue it can be covered.
The primary resources devoted to that will be redeployed by Department of Defense. And I'll refer any questions to them when they make their release in association with that.
What I would really like to talk about today is a subject that is very sensitive to everybody. Not only in the state of Louisiana, but for any locale that has suffered a loss of life in association with Hurricane Katrina.
First of all, we express our deepest sympathy to families that have lost loved ones as a result of this storm. We want tone sure everybody that we are exercising strictest protocols in the process that we use to take the remains that are discovered and how they are handled. And I want to go into detail with that a bit with you today so you understand what we're doing.
I had an opportunity last night to speak to the governor on the telephone. I think we are aligned with exactly what the Department of Defense and FEMA assets and the federal team are doing in conjunction with state and local officials to try to carry this out.
I would like to take you through a process that is entailed when remains are encountered so you get an idea of the overall process. When we are through with the brief if you have any detailed questions, we'll have some technical experts that are really well schooled in mortuary affairs, that will be able to answer your questions. When I'm done I'll ask a Doctor Cataldi to make a statement on behalf of the state.
When remains are discovered in the process of our operations, we have a central joint command structure that's been established to take that report and dispatch a retrieval team. A retrieval team consists of four individuals and a chaplain. When the retrieval team arrives on scene, the first thing that happens is an ecumenical prayer is rendered by the chaplain.
That the point the condition of the remains is documented and this is very, very important because there is valuable information at the site that may allow us to identify that victim and circumstances surrounding the passing of that victim. And it is incumbent that we document the exact location, and make sure we get the information that is needed for the coroner to make certain determinations at a later time.
Some of the things that we would collect on scene include the address or location of the victim, any documentation that is associated with the victim, global positioning system coordinates, and any personal affects that may be around the remains.
The deceased is then carried to a transfer vehicle and then brought to a refrigerated vehicle and taken with dignity and respect under a police escort to the disaster portable morgue unit. That is located at St. Gabriel and the vehicles pause before entering the morgue and a prayer is said by the chaplain on duty.
At the disaster portable morgue unit, forensic data is gathered by a FEMA demort (ph) staff that will be used for future identification. And the type of data that is collected includes dental digital X-rays, photographs, fingerprints and DNA sampling. At that first station, the remains are decontaminated to the extent that that needs to be done and an assessment to indicate if there is anything other than storm related to the casualty.
The demort (ph) team then consults with the local coroner who makes a determination on whether or not or perform an autopsy. If the parish coroner chooses to perform an autopsy, the National Disaster Medical System, which is provided by the federal government, has resources to assist in that process.
On completion of the forensic data collection -- I want to repeat -- I want to make sure I'm very clear on this. There will be a ceremonial, symbolic washing of the body to honor the dead as observed in the Christian, Jewish and Muslim faiths. The decedent is then is released to the state of Louisiana or appropriate parish coroner, who will then proceed with the processing of the forensic data.
This includes processing of DNA samples, gathering family information, answering public inquires regarding a family member that may have perished during the hurricane.
A national Find Families call center has been established for people who believe they have a family member who perished in Hurricane Katrina. The number to call is 1-866-326-9393. The lines are open 24- hours a day, seven days a week.
As I said, this is a very, very sensitive process. We're mindful of the dignity that needs to be accorded to these remains and we have a coordinated team effort that is put against this mission. And to date we have had a well-running organization between the state and local governments and the federal support to the state in this effort.
I would like to call on the Doctor Cataldi to make any comments he might want to make at this point and then we'll be glad to take some questions. Doctor?
DR. LOUIS CATALDI, BATON ROUGE, LA. CORONER: Thank you, Admiral.
Just as a point of clarification I met the admiral, I think, two days ago, the days are kind of blurring together, because of the sleep variable, but I believe the man is man of his word, or I wouldn't be standing here right now. He's done everything he said he would do for me so far. I feel things are getting better.
The question has been posed of me, are redoing a good enough job? No. No, as long as there is one body floating in that water we're not doing a good enough job and the bottom line is that's my responsibility.
Just as a point of clarification, if there's a situation in which a body after examination by the forensic pathologist is felt to be under auspices of the coroner, Doctor Frank Mineard (ph), who has been by my side since he was evacuated out of New Orleans, having swam to his office, will handle that situation with his pathologist. The state will take care of its own business.
Also, Louisiana state crime lab is processing the DNA. We'll be storing the DNA. We'll retain that evidence. Again, the state is taking care of its business. We greatly appreciate the assets that have been brought forward. We couldn't do it without them. If we did do it, it would take us a long, long time. This is going to be a long arduous process. It will be an even longer arduous process to identify the unidentified remains. It will take months, maybe years. This will not go away. I can tell you that I have been out there with the troops. I have seen demort working hand in hand with Kenyon (ph), and at a ground level I have gone into several hospitals with them, two to be exact.
I been out at the 610 split with them. Not because I don't trust them but because I think I need to be there because they are my people, they are our citizens. As of right now if I had any problem with anything I sure would use this forum to tell you. I'm not a bashful guy. Kind of surprised they let me up here, to tell you the truth.
And I'm hearing things about our people being treated with dignity. We would not tolerate otherwise. We would not tolerate otherwise. These aren't body counts, these are children. These are grandparents. These are parents. These are brothers and sisters. These are our citizens. They will be respected.
If I had any problem with that, would you know about it. I'm confident. I believe that the Admiral has given his word to me and I believe the man. I'm going to hold him to his word, and he'll hold me to mine. If there is a problem or failure in the system and I don't get the job done, I'll take full responsibility for that. And I'm not going to lay it off on anybody else. So, thank you very much.
ALLEN: We'd be glad to answer questions at this time.
QUESTION: When were these procedures put into place?
ALLEN: Let me give you one answer and I'll have the doctor follow up. There are existing procedures in place right now based on the responsibilities of the parish coroners in the state that have always existed. When the operations started and we first started to encounter remains, those were the processes that were in place.
There are coroners in the parishes and the state does have certain responsibilities. Our urban search and rescue people were the first to start encountering remains and they were repatriated back to the morgue units, under the existing procedures that existed in the states and the parish at that time.
Once DOD forces flowed into the area and we had the ability to help on scene, we negotiated a process with the state and local coroner that in general created a joint unified command center for receiving the reports. And the reports generally come in from three or four areas. Right now we have teams that are going out doing sweeps block by block. If they encounter remains, they have a duty to remain with those remains, report back the position and wait for the team.
We also get referrals from 911 calls, particularly in New Orleans, from the New Orleans Police Department. If we get those calls, we respond the same way. We can get referrals from the emergency operations center, here, where someone called in from some other part of the state, or the information came to them. The fourth area that we work on is making sure that we haven't missed something.
During the initial phases of the search and rescue response there were a lot of people that were trying to save lives that happened to see what they thought might have been remains out there. In that case because they couldn't stop, and because there was safety of life issue, they documented the fact that there might have been remains there through a GPS location.
We are systematically going through those reports that go back clear to the start of the event and making sure that someone has gone to those positions and cleared up every one of those reports. Those all come into the central dispatching office. The teams are sent out. The remains are brought back to one of two collection points. There is one in Orleans Parish and one in St. Bernard's Parish. And from that point they are brought back to the morgue unit.
Doctor, would you like to add anything to that?
CATALDI: I think -- I don't know that I understand the question. Could you rephrase it to me?
QUESTION: The question was were these procedures in place from the very beginning?
CATALDI: No, no.
CATALDI: When we were in -- and I was in the Superdome doing triage. We had to establish an area, actually to the left of the triage site, for folks who did not make it and even folks who were expected not to make it. There was no process in place at that time, except we didn't have body bags at the time, except to cover the people respectfully. And we got the body bags brought in by one of the ambulances and we began to utilize those.
It was not a pleasant experience. All of the bodies from -- how am I going to call them by? All the persons from that dome were recovered. There were 10 bodies there, 10 persons were recovered.
ALLEN: In clarification to your question, procedures were established when DOD and federal resources came on scene and we created procedures here by which we would interface with state and local governments.
QUESTION: Sir, can you tell us how much of the affected areas have actually been searched now for bodies, or for those that may have died?
ALLEN: The actual block-by-block sweep of New Orleans and the surrounding areas that have been flooded, we're conducting those sweeps in a three-phase process. And this is with DOD support to local law enforcement officers. The block-by-block sweeps are being done in phases. The first phase is what we call a hasty search. And that was in an attempt to get through the entire area block-by-block, and see if there was any chance that people would want to come out, or we might have a search and rescue case where we want to assist somebody. We had 100 percent hasty search of all flooded areas.
The next step is to go into what we call a primary search. That is block-by-block knocking on doors seeing if anyone needs assistance, a more comprehensive look. And if we encounter remains in either one of those processes, through the hasty search and now in the primary search, that is when the procedures that I just described kick in.
Those sweeps are being done by local law enforcement officers or National Guard operating under Title 32 authorities. DOD is in support of them, transporting them and assisting them. When they encounter remains that's when the mortuary team comes forward and assists them. They are staged and come in when they get a report of a located remains.
We are anticipating a third phase, after the primary, which will be a secondary. A lot of this is related to how fast the water recedes and how far we get access. The general way to think about it is as water recedes, and we continue to gain access we will make repeated applications to make sure that there aren't people there that need to come out or remains that need to be dealt with.
QUESTION: When the Guard are going by and knocking on doors, are they allowed to enter these establishments?
ALLEN: The decision on whether to enter an establishment in a primary or secondary search is a decision that is made by local law enforcement officials. DOD is just there in support.
QUESTION: Do you think -- I saw a picture in one of the papers today about someone who was found they weren't able to make contact. They were so ill that they couldn't respond and someone knocked on the door. Do you think there should have been an effort to go into those houses quicker to find people in similar situations?
ALLEN: It is very difficult to conjecture on that, because a lot of it has to do with the environmental conditions around the house, the depth of water. How you would access or egress the spaces. Again, the final decision on whether or not a house is entered is placed in the hands of local law enforcement, and federal role there, either DOD or whoever is there is to support them. And that is, at end, a local law enforcement decision and not made by us.
QUESTION: Do you think more people's lives could have been saved if they had been entering these places sooner?
ALLEN: Not willing to conjecture, only because it would have to be a case of when the timing of the sweeps were done. I wouldn't want to comment on that.
QUESTION: What would you do differently, if could you start over and know what you know now, what could be done differently in a future disaster or differently in this one?
ALLEN: I don't know what do you in a future disaster. Obviously, when you have an event of this order of magnitude, the quicker you can bring to bare the force multiplier effect of DOD and federal support, technical support, for this very, very specific function, the better off you will be.
This particular event, we all know, access into the area was made difficult by the weather and by the lack of communications, and just conditions on ground. As general comment, and I wouldn't want to go any further than that, the sooner you can get the technical resources that the Department of Defense or federal government can bring in support of the state, the earlier you get there the better you are going to be.
QUESTION: That is the second part of my question, because I don't think people have a very good idea of how much DOD support has been out there for this. Can you describe really what you mean by DOD support? And how many people, and what type of equipment, and that sort of thing dedicated to this particular job?
ALLEN: We have those numbers. I don't have them right here. We would be glad to give them to you for background information when the brief is over. We'll make sure someone gets that to you.
QUESTION: You said you had a conversation with Governor Blanco last night. She had expressed her anger. Can you comment on what you discussed last night on the telephone?
ALLEN: First of all, I called the governor and I said that I understand that you have concerns about this process. The first thing I told her was if you have either a real or perceived problem with the performance of the federal government in support of the people of Louisiana, whether it is a function that is being performed or my own performance, that she should feel free to call me directly.
I'm accountable as a principle federal official for this response for the federal government. And while I not control every facet of it, there is an accountability piece that rests with me personally. I made sure that she was aware that she could access me any time she wants, to be able to more clearly understand what we're doing. So, I could communicate that to her. I think the conversation was a successful conversation. Think she understand that now. I think she also understand that everything we're doing is in the best interest of the people of the state of Louisiana.
QUESTION: She expressed some timing concerns, issues of possibly not being able to recover in a timely fashion.
ALLEN: Under the procedures that we have set up, as the doctrine I have explained, each day with the forces available, with the remains that have been identified and reported back to us, we have responded per the procedures I have outlined. And to use a military term, "we have met mission." And I explained that to her last night.
QUESTION: St. Rita's is now considered a crime scene. There's talk that Memorial Hospital may also become a crime scene. Are there other hospitals that we're concerned about where other actions may have taken place? ALLEN: I would really like to defer that to local law enforcement officials. That's really not within my realm and I would defer to them on that.
QUESTION: There's been what seems a lot -- so much tension, afraid (ph), anger, between the various agencies that are trying to deal with this tragedy. You know, to us in the media and to lots of folks right here in this room, it seems like lot of time is being spent on these issues. What would you respond to that?
ALLEN: Well, I would tell you that the relationship between agencies when an event like this occurs is probably no different than a relationship between individuals in a family or a community when they are stressed by an event like this, now to think that it is normal for people to be concerned and express those concerns.
I think everyone has duty in an event like this to let people know what their concerns are. It's good for a couple reasons. Number one, you've got to let that out whether you are a person or agency. Whatever you're doing, if you have concerns and they are not stated where somebody can act on them, that is just going to fester.
And I, as the principle federal official in this response, encourages any leader that wants to talk to me about real or perceived problems of what's going on out there to do that. We're not going to improve this response and do what we need to do for the people of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama or whoever is involved in this unless we are openly collaborating, building consensus and community with each other.
That's been my promise since the day I walked on board, and that will continue to be the way that I will act through the entire lifecycle of this response. We have -- the folks here will give you access to the technical folks if you would like. Thank you very much.
PHILLIPS: All right. I'll debrief all of you that FEMA briefing with Vice Admiral Thad Allen, FEMA's director of Katrina relief operations right now. He talked about how they are dealing with remains right now with strictest protocol. I'll talk about that so stay with us. But first, I want to take you live to the governor of North Carolina holding a news conference right now talking about Hurricane Ophelia.
GOV. MIKE EASLEY, NORTH CAROLINA: We expect it now to go to a Category 2 by the time it makes landfall later today. North Carolina is now getting tropical force winds, has been for some period of time in the southern coastal plain, hurricane force winds we anticipate in the southern coastal plain later tonight.
The forward speed on this hurricane was three miles per hour moved to five and it's only up to seven miles an hour. That creates additional problems for us. It was projected to pick up to the normal speed of 12 to 15 miles per hour forward speed. And since it has not, it will create more rain and more storm surge.
Landfall of the eye of the hurricane itself is expected in Carteret County about 8:00 p.m. this evening, expected to exit North Carolina, the Outer Banks sometime Friday morning. The eye of the hurricane I talk about making landfall at Carteret County -- keep in mind we're talking about a 50-mile area of hurricane force winds that can still disrupt the counties to the west of that. To the east of it obviously would be out to sea.
So just because it is expected to come in at the Cape Lookout, Carteret County area, doesn't mean that you won't get the hurricane force winds all up the coast as we go forward. So what to expect from all of this information that we have been given today is the following.
Conditions are going to worsen than what was anticipated yesterday. We will expect heavier rain. Yesterday I told you the projection was five to seven inches. As of today, we expected to get nine inches of rain in eastern North Carolina from I-95 east. We already have five inches of rain in the southern coastal plain. I'm talking about more in the Brunswick, New Hanover area which is getting some of the higher winds as we speak.
The storm surge we said -- yesterday the projection given to us was five to seven feet. Now we're projecting the storm surge will be nine to 11 feet. In the Pamlico Sound, the Pamlico River, the Neuse River, Tar River, will also be affected, but not quite as much storm surge.
As a result of that, we know there will be flooding. There will be flooding in low lying areas. There will be flooding along those river banks. The lower, the more flood and there will also be flooding on the outer banks.
What you will see the hurricane force winds do as they move into the rivers and sounds that I just mentioned -- Pamlico, Neuse, so forth -- they will push the water storm surge up toward Bath and Washington and those areas. And then when the eye passes, the winds shift and comes back the other way so that storm surge will then be pushed back out toward the barrier islands.
So the barrier islands will be getting hammered one way coming up and another way coming back out. As that storm surge water comes back out of the rivers from inland, there will be more flooding. And that's where we expect to see more in the, you know -- the Hollow (ph), the Cedar Island areas, the ones that we saw in Isabel and Alex.
Now, I wan to repeat that again. There is some flooding already down in Brunswick County, New Hanover and those areas. But I want to repeat again, if you got flooded in Isabel or Alex, it is very likely you are going to get flooded in this storm as well, but the flooding will be expected at this point to be worse than it was then because the storm is moving slower.
Power outages -- there are about 50,000 power outages now and that's really about two counties, Brunswick and New Hanover. As I said, they are yet to get the highest winds. And the important message that we want to try to get out to all of our citizens right now is if you have been asked to evacuate, please do so because these floods are going to be worse than anticipated yesterday.
And some are under mandatory evacuation, some are under voluntary evacuation. But either way, once the high winds come, we cannot get in and get you out, cannot get there by boat, cannot get there by helicopter, cannot get there by plane. There are 61 shelters open. There is no reason for someone not to evacuate if they have been asked to do so. So please do that. Help us help you.
Just a little more housekeeping for you. FEMA is up to 250 people on the ground. They are ready to be in the field doing damage assessment Friday as soon as the winds get out of here. The local and state emergency management will be with them as a team so that we all agree on the damage assessment that is finally submitted to Washington.
North Carolina National Guard has deployed a strike force team to the south and southeast. Should be arriving there now. That strike force team is 50 people. High water vehicles and of course the helicopters and other equipment will be coming in as soon as the weather allows. We have got time for a couple questions if you have some and then we've got to get back to -- yes.
QUESTION: You already talked about 250 workers from FEMA here. Was that at your request (INAUDIBLE).
EASLEY: No, we let FEMA make a determination as to what they think they're going to need. And I think I would look at it this way. This storm has moved so slowly. The first day we had ten FEMA workers here, the second day 50, the third day 200, and the next day, today, 250. That's not abnormal. Shelly Boon (ph) -- Shelly raise your hand if you would please -- is here.
That's not abnormal. What is abnormal is it's taking so long for the storm to get here that they are actually ahead of schedule. So they recognize that we're dealing with the entire North Carolina coast. They are going to have to make assessments along a lot of mileage and a lot of area so they have those teams in here and then we're ready to go with them.
So nothing is -- the real unusual thing, the anomaly here, is not the preparation, it is not the response that you're going to see. It is the forward speed of the storm. It is so slow that it is changing preparation and the way that we respond to it. But it's working in our favor in that regard.
Anybody else have anything (INAUDIBLE)?
QUESTION: You describe that on the one hand as (INAUDIBLE) working in your favor. What are your concerns (INAUDIBLE) increase because of rains and winds and damages?
EASLEY: That's exactly the problem, that the -- the fact that the storm is moving so slow gives it more time to create a surge. Consequently, the storm surge is going to be higher than what was projected yesterday, according to the latest information we were given. It also gives them more time -- gives the storm more time to drop rainfall. That's why we've gone from a prediction of five to seven inches, now they say as much as nine to 11 inches. And that, of course, affects flooding. It affects the root surface of trees. And as the wind builds up, if you get to -- right now we're at 85 miles an hour. If it gets to Category 2, that's 95 miles per hour. That, and soggy soil, make for a bad combination.
Mark (ph)? And then one more and we'll go.
QUESTION: Governor, given the (INAUDIBLE) you laid out, do you have any concern that you'll be able to get all the people in low- lying and flood prone areas out to (INAUDIBLE)?
EASLEY: We have a concern that the people in the low-lying and flood prone areas need to get out. They need to evacuate. They need to go to one of the shelters. That is our biggest concern because of flooding. And we're just asking them and begging them to please do that, because it is going to be very difficult for us to get in and get them out later. That's the biggest concern.
Yes, Gary (ph), and then we got to scoot.
QUESTION: The -- you said something about Isabel and Alex, saying that flooding was (INAUDIBLE) worse this time, compared to Alex and Isabel. If that's true, (INAUDIBLE)?
EASLEY: Well, there -- if you look at -- Alex was actually more of a smaller spot as you go north. Isabel followed pretty much the same track, got up to a Category 2, but it moved through faster. It didn't have as much time to create as much storm surge. And that is why we're more concerned about the flooding now than we were with Isabel, I think, two years ago. OK.
PHILLIPS: The governor of North Carolina, Mike Easley, pulling no punches. Jacqui Jeras, Dave Hennen, both of you standing by, monitoring what he had to say; monitoring, of course, the weather patterns. I guess a lot of leaders learning a lesson from Hurricane Katrina and making it clear he wants everybody to evacuate and not take any chances.
PHILLIPS: And so far, the most remarkable thing about Hurricane Ophelia is how slowly that it's been moving. Even though it is moving slowly, you heard from the governor saying he still wants people to evacuate. He doesn't want to take any chances. And that's giving people time to prepare, of course -- coming out this early and talking about that and giving them warning. It also could mean more rainfall, though, as the storm passes, even though it's slow.
Why is Ophelia such a slowpoke? Well, let's talk about it more with meteorologist Dave Hennen. We've got Jacqui, Dave, Rob, the whole team, Chad, working all angles of this. We learned a lot of lessons from this last bout with Hurricane Katrina. Why is this one moving so slowly?
DAVE HENNEN, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, a couple of different factors, Kyra. The one thing to keep in mind, this is a Category 1 storm. A whole lot different than Katrina. But nonetheless, still a hurricane, so it's still very dangerous.
Let's show you the graphics and show you what we're talking about. Here is a look at the hurricane right now. You see very distinctly the eye of the hurricane just off coast, as it has been. And as you mentioned, Kyra, this storm moving incredibly slowly. It's been around now for over a week.
So right down here in Florida is where it started. And look at the track. It's a bit like this. Different loops. Why is it doing that? Big area of high pressure building into the north. Remember, a hurricane always wants to move north. The purpose of a hurricane is actually to transfer heat from the equator northward, and so a hurricane always trying to move north.
This blocking high has moved in, and that kind of cut off Ophelia from moving northward for days and days. What's happening now, though, the high moving off toward the East, and that's kind of created a little window of opportunity here for the hurricane to get picked up by the flow around the high pressure. You can see the clockwise flow. And we have a trough of low pressure, or storm moving in from the east. That has helped to push the hurricane further to the north and take it on a course that will take it out into the Atlantic.
We were a little concerned earlier in the week that it may track closer to the Northeast. Now appears like the hurricane will track far away. You'll still have high surf in the Northeast, but we're not looking for those hurricane conditions.
PHILLIPS: Dave Hennen, thank you so much. We'll continue, of course, to check in with all of you.
Straight ahead, is it unconstitutional to say the pledge of allegiance in some schools? Well, guess what? A judge in California says yes. We've got the developing story, right after a quick break.
PHILLIPS: A banner controversy reborn. A federal judge in California says it's still unconstitutional to say the pledge of allegiance in public schools. You may remember that original decision from the Ninth Circuit Court in 2002, igniting fireworks from sea to shining sea, and finally eliciting what many say a dud of a judgment from the highest court in the land.
Joining me to shed a little light on what's happened today, CNN's senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin. Explain it to us, Jeff, as best as possible.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: All right, what happened was, three years ago, the Ninth Circuit said unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. The use of the term "under God" was an endorsement of religion, illegal.
What the United States Supreme Court did two years ago was they threw the case out, but on procedural grounds. They said Michael Newdow, the doctor/lawyer, the instigator of the case, had no standing. He had no right to bring the case, because he didn't have custody of his daughter, who was the plaintiff -- the other plaintiff in the case. So they threw the case out, but they never ruled whether the Ninth Circuit was right or wrong on the issue of whether "under God" was constitutional.
Newdow and some other families filed the case again. A district court judge in San Francisco today said the Ninth Circuit was right the first time. It is an endorsement of religion, unconstitutional. The appeals will begin, and I bet they're successful.
PHILLIPS: So what happens now? With what we have learned today, what does this mean for tomorrow when kids walk in and sit down and normally, I mean -- I grew up in California, that was the first thing did you as you started off the morning.
TOOBIN: And when I went to P.S. 166 in New York, we said it, too. And what I am sure will happen tomorrow is business as usual. There has to be some sort of stay issued for people to stop saying the pledge of allegiance. So I don't think there will be an immediate impact. The appeals will begin. It will go back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
And I think a lot of people, myself included, thought that that Ninth Circuit opinion -- the original opinion -- was kind of an outlyer, kind of a surprise. After all, this is a country where it says "In God We Trust" in a lot of courthouses, the currency -- God is on the currency. The United States Supreme Court begins its day with the marshals saying "God save the United States in this honorable court."
It's -- and there is no problem with virtually all of those things. I am confident that, as this works its way through the appeals, either in the Ninth Circuit or ultimately in the Supreme Court, that they will say "under God" is fine in the statute -- and in the pledge of allegiance. But at the moment, the law of the land, at least in this area, is that it's unconstitutional. But the schools, no order to change their procedures, at least not yet.
PHILLIPS: All right. Jeffrey Toobin, thank you so much.
TOOBIN: All right.
PHILLIPS: We're going to take a quick break. More LIVE FROM right after this.
PHILLIPS: We have been talking so much about Louisiana. We also want to make sure we give fair coverage to the state of Mississippi, which of course got hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. CNN producer Peter Tedeschi came across an area, Long Beach, Mississippi, not far from Gulfport, not far from Biloxi. But he had chance to go through there. And Peter, you are telling me there is a story untold here.
PETER TEDESCHI, CNN PRODUCER: Absolutely. You are absolutely right, Kyra. Military police along the area told us they received orders yesterday to tighten security in the hardest hit areas of Long Beach, Mississippi. Now what we witnessed were rolls and rolls and rolls of barbed wire being stretched across the town. I saw more than two miles of it myself.
And fire department officials say they plan to stretch barbed wire across the entire four-and-a-half miles of the town covering an area about a half mile wide, more of less, down to the Gulf of Mexico. The fire department official told me that they don't want looters in their town but military police are telling me and another fire department official is telling me that they expect to find a fair number of bodies.
They didn't want to speculate on a specific number, but one told me they wouldn't be surprised if it would be more than 100 in the rubble. Now, I will tell you just from what I witnessed, it was a massive amount of destruction in what looked were once very large, nice, upper middle class homes along the beach. I've spent several days now in Biloxi and Gulfport where devastation is terrible but this area was unlike anything that I have seen so far.
PHILLIPS: All right. Peter Tedeschi. As you can imagine we've got folks like Peter and other producers scattered out throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, even still parts of Alabama but really focusing on Mississippi and Louisiana as this rebuilding process and even the searches continue in these areas.
We're finding out more and more about areas like Long Beach, Mississippi and we're trying to bring those stories to you and update you on progress in those areas.
Well, more bad news for workers now. We're talking about business. Health care costs are on the rise, but wages are not keeping up. Susan Lisovicz, more now from the New York Stock Exchange -- Susan.
SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Kyra. Why do I think we already knew this, that health care costs we know are not -- are much higher than what our wages are in terms of increases, even though the growth rate for health care plan premiums slowed this year, it is far outpacing both the growth rate in wages and inflation.
According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, premiums for family coverage plans jumped more than nine percent. And while that's down from the previous year, workers' earnings rose by 2.7 percent. And more companies seem to be shying away from offering coverage as a result of rising costs.
The study found that 60 percent of employers surveyed provide workers with health care coverage. That's a big drop from 2000 when nearly 70 percent of companies offered health plans. Most of that decline due to fewer small businesses offering benefits which means that low wage workers, once again, being hurt the most -- Kyra. PHILLIPS: All right. We've got to check on those markets before we go, Susan.
LISOVICZ: A lot of red today. Sharply higher oil prices, Kyra, and weaker than expected economic news holding stocks in check today. Industrial output flat in August because of Hurricane Katrina cut back production of petroleum and chemicals along the Gulf coast.
Retail sales meanwhile fell two percent last month, the worst showing in nearly four years. That was mainly due to weak auto sales.
And oil prices, back near $65 a barrel following three straight sessions of declines. So yes, stocks are down. Dow Industrial's down 36 points. The Nasdaq is down three-quarters of a percent. And that's the latest from Wall Street. Kyra, back to you.
PHILLIPS: All right, Susan. Thanks so much. And that wraps up this edition of LIVE FROM for today. I'm Kyra Phillips, the CNN Center Atlanta. Now, Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM." We'll see you tomorrow.
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