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Wildfires Threaten Oklahoma; Katrina Warnings Ignored? Rosie O'Donnell's Touch; Fugitive Fater Promised Son a Kidney

Aired March 1, 2006 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
It is the six-month anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Six months ago today, that terrible storm came ashore, and all of our lives have changed forever.

We are in the Lower Ninth Ward tonight. And of all the strange sights we have seen over the last six months -- and God knows we have seen many strange sights -- we think this is perhaps one of the oddest of all. Look at this. It is a house which doesn't belong here. It was ripped off its foundations from the property next door. It came and landed on this house. Another house got tossed over. And it landed on this -- this truck, this car, which was flipped over before the house landed on it.

It is truly one of the most surreal sights here in this place that has, well, grown used to seeing many surreal sights.

We're going to have a lot on the six-month anniversary tonight about Hurricane Katrina, what has changed, what hasn't, what needs to change, what needs to be done. We're going to talk to Rosie O'Donnell very shortly about some of the remarkable efforts she and her partner, Kelli, are doing here in Louisiana to help children.

There is a lot to cover in the hour -- the two hours ahead.

The disasters that engineers had long feared had arrived. The levees were failing. The city -- the city was filling with water. That's the scene six months ago. Lives and homes were being washed away. The world was about to see some terrible things that you just don't expect to see in a country as rich and powerful as ours.

Six months ago, we made a promise to not forget what happened in the Gulf. And, tonight, we're going to spend much of the program remembering.

First, though, we begin with some breaking news out of Oklahoma, where man is again battling nature tonight. Wildfires raging across the state are threatening dozens of homes. Hundreds of people have been ordered to evacuate. At least two firefighters have been injured so far.

Joining me now from Stephens County, Oklahoma, is Terri Watkins. She is covering the story for our affiliate station KOCO.

Terri, what's the situation? TERRI WATKINS, KOCO REPORTER: Well, the situation is, they are still battling this fire.

Let me show you what we have got. Those are hay bales. And they are burning, and they are going to be burning for quite a while. That is just one thing on this piece of farm property. Those are tractors. That used to be an outhouse. Back behind it, you can almost through -- see through the haze there. There is a barn, a barn that was built in the 1940s by this family.

This is still burning here. Now, we have had firefighters move in just a short while ago, because they're working down at the end of the block.

Can you see out there? If you see out there, there is still an orange glow in the horizon. This has been going on for the last, oh, six, seven hours. They have been battling these fires. We're actually working, I guess, close to -- to hour nine.

This is what's going on tonight. I have got to show you some of the things that we saw when we first arrived, when these fires were just ravaging through this area. We began to see flames that sometimes were going 10, 12 feet up in the air. We saw houses that were completely destroyed.

We saw families that were grabbing anything they could, things that mattered to them, things that seemed inconsequential to many people at the time, grabbing them, trying to get out.

We saw horses that were trapped by the -- by the flames that were trying to get out, everybody running from the fire as quickly as they could, but trying to take the little things that mattered to them.

The one thing I saw, I had truly never seen before. Somebody actually grabbed furniture and was trying to take it out. They were able to save it. They said there were pieces that their parents had bought in the 1920s, and they weren't going to let a fire take them -- Anderson.

COOPER: And -- and, Terri, those hay bales which are on fire behind you, I mean, are -- are they just going to let them burn out? What -- how are they trying to fight this fire?

WATKINS: Well, what they're doing is trying to fight the fire where they can fight the fire, and that is to protect the homes.

In the cases like the hay bales that you're seeing on fire right now, those, they're going to allow to burn. In the case of hay bales, they can burn for a day or two days. And, right now, if you try to put water on them, you're going to create additional sparks. And we actually have some houses to the south of that, that have been saved by firefighters.

We have seen firefighters doing amazing things today. And many of them in this part of the country are volunteer firefighters. They are people who left their jobs to come out and try to save people's homes, and they were able to save homes tonight.

COOPER: Terri, I'm a little concerned about how close you are. I assume where you are is safe. Appreciate your report, Terri Watkins with -- with KOCO. Thanks very much.

Conditions are dangerously dry in Oklahoma. Only a quarter-inch of rain fell in the state between late October and January, a quarter- of-an-inch, ideal if you're a fire, of course, the worst scenario if you are a firefighter.

Joining me on the phone now from Missoula, Missouri (sic) is Dick Mangan. He's -- he has 30 years experience fighting wildfires. He joins me now from by the Missoula, Montana, I should say. And on the phone from Duncan, Oklahoma, is Sam Darst of the local fire department.

Sam, let me start off with you.

What is the situation? We have seen a very small picture right there, one location. What's the situation on the ground in Oklahoma? How much damage have the fires caused?


This afternoon, Anderson, we lost approximately 30 home in our area, one, possibly two churches. Two firefighters were injured. And we have lost about 7,000 acres of land, all because of arson here this afternoon.

COOPER: Because of arson? I mean, is that how these fires started?

DARST: Yes, sir.

Within the last hour -- and I don't know which entity here in Stephens County made the arrest, but we have one arsonist in custody at this time in Comanche, a small town south of Duncan, and are in the process of apprehending another.

COOPER: And, Sam, I mean, we're looking at some just remarkable pictures right now, a man running with a dog into his car, and just a -- a very fast-moving grass fire. How quickly are these fires spreading? I mean, it's -- it's -- it looks...

DARST: Well...

COOPER: ... incredibly dry.

DARST: Anderson, when you combine 17 percent humidity with the tinderbox that we have -- you mentioned the lack of rainfall that we have had here over the last few months.

You combine that with 40-mile-per-hour winds, three wind changes. We had winds out of the south that pushed the fire to the north. They changed to the west, and then they changed to the north. We made a C. We covered an area of some 7,000 acres in a -- just a matter of a few hours. And it was totally -- total destruction through the area.

COOPER: Dick, in your experience, what -- what's the best way to contain a grass fire like this?

DICK MANGAN, WILDFIRE EXPERT: Well, Anderson, grass fires are significantly different than timber fires.

The best way to do it, given the right kind of equipment, like engines with some water, is to get a flank on them, and try to keep pinching them off and pinching them off. But with the kind of wind and the kind of fuel conditions that were just described, it's very difficult, because they're moving so fast.

And engines are limited by the kind of ground they can cover. They either have to stay on the roads or on some fairly good terrain, where they don't have to run into ditches and across creeks and things like that.

COOPER: So, Dick, in a forest fire, which -- which we have gotten used to seeing, you -- you try dig a trench, I guess. You don't do that with grass fires?

MANGAN: You know, if -- if a grass fire is not moving very quickly, a firefighter can get up against the edge of it and actually either use their hand tools to cut a fire line or to -- to squirt water out of a backpack pumper off of an engine.

But, in a grass fire like this that is moving so quickly, the biggest things that you have to be careful of is the risk to the firefighters. And it sounds like a couple of them did get burned today.


Sam, do you have an update on their condition?

DARST: Anderson, one of the firefighters there -- and I would like to make mention that, in rural Oklahoma, we -- here in Duncan, we are a town of about 25,000 people. And we're one of the largest communities in the area.

These rural fire departments, unpaid, and they -- they put their life on the line. And those two fire -- firemen were caught in one of those wind changes, just like the gentleman just referred to. And one has been transferred to Baptist Burn Center in Oklahoma City. And he is in serious condition.

And the other is in satisfactory condition, the last time we checked, at Duncan Regional Hospital.

COOPER: Well, our -- our thoughts and our prayers are with -- with both of them, their families, and, of course, the other firefighters, who, as you said, are...

DARST: Anderson...

COOPER: ... are risking their lives.

Yes. Go ahead.

DARST: Anderson, can I interject something here?

These people in this area -- we have been fighting wildfires since November. And I say we, and I use that term loosely. It has not been me -- men and women that are these volunteers, they work on their days off out here, repairing equipment. They receive nothing for this.

Some have lost jobs. These are some of the most gallant people you will ever meet. They are truly salt-of-the-earth people. And we want to thank them. And, like you say, our prayer go out to these brave men and their families.

COOPER: Well, Sam, I'm -- I'm glad you -- you pointed that out, because I -- I don't think we point out that kind of thing enough.

People are just volunteering, pitching in, grabbing whatever they can, and -- and doing what they can.

Sam, appreciate it. We will check in with you. I would like to check in with both of you throughout these next two hours. We will keep an eye on these fires, chart the progress of them, and the efforts to fight back against them.

Want to turn back to the disaster here for a few moments, though, something that makes it impossible for anyone, from the president on down, to say that the federal government had no idea how bad it might be. Do you remember that? Do you remember the -- in the days after Katrina hit? There were an awful lot of people out of Washington saying, well, you know, this was unprecedented, unpredictable. We didn't know. No one had any idea.

Well, we now know they knew. The president knew. They knew, in the grimmest detail, about what might unfold here in New Orleans' Ninth Ward and all across the Gulf.

Take a look at this. It's a tape of a top-level federal briefing the day before Katrina hit -- the president there being told, in no uncertain terms, about what was coming.

Now, on a certain level, there is little that is new here. The fact was -- of the briefing was known. And, almost every day, the evidence grows that the federal government, including the president, was well-informed, if not well-prepared, or even, as you're about to see, well-engaged.

But, like the rubble all around me, the tape speaks plainly and powerfully. Unlike this rubble, it was there all along, hiding in plain sight.

Here's CNN's Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From roaring winds, to failed levees, to stranded survivors, the Bush administration was clearly warned about it all before the hurricane hit. That case has been building for months. And this latest version of events from the Associated Press is fanning the frustration by showing the president once again, in the calm before the storm, saying the situation is in hand.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to assure the folks at the state level that we are fully prepared to not only help you during the storm, but we will move in whatever resources and assets we have at our disposal after the storm to help you deal with -- with the loss of property. And -- and we pray for no loss of life, of course.


FOREMAN: There is little that is new in this AP report, a few tiny tidbits about exactly who knew what when, nothing new in hearing hurricane expert Max Mayfield tell the administration that the levees could very well fail.


MAX MAYFIELD, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: I don't think anyone can tell you with any confidence right now whether the levees will be topped or not, but that's obviously a very, very grave concern.


FOREMAN: But, then, after the storm, the president said, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees," a theme echoed by Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff.

Indeed, Chertoff insisted time and again, much of what Katrina brought was a surprise, even though his own head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, quite specifically warned him about many coming problems.


MICHAEL BROWN, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY DIRECTOR: I also heard there's no mandatory evacuations. They're not taking patients out of hospitals. (AUDIO GAP) taking prisoners out of prisons. And they're leaving hotels open in -- in downtown New Orleans. So, I'm very concerned about that.



COOPER: Tom, you were saying this -- this is stuff we knew before. Why is it news now? FOREMAN: Well, it's news now, in part, because the AP has discovered a few new things here. We have some new documents.

It's the six-month anniversary. The opponents of the administration are jumping all over this. And, frankly, it's news because the administration, while saying it's not news, is acting like it is.

COOPER: What -- what do you mean by that?


FOREMAN: Well, what I mean by that is this.

As soon as this came out, they said, there's nothing new here, but, oh, by the way, let us send you a bunch of material to refute what is being said. Among the things that we were sent almost immediately was this.

This is a transcript of some of the material that the AP produced of some of the information from the days around the storm. And, interestingly enough, what the administration, Homeland Security immediately did was highlight in here a part that they say we should take note of.

And guess what it is, exactly what you would expect. It's a part where the locals perhaps didn't do their job. In this case, they're pointing out that the governor of the state could not confirm that a levee had been breached in the middle of all this. However, she does mention in here that waters are eight or 10 feet deep.

I think, if you have eight or 10 feet of water in your house, you don't care if the water was overtopped or the levee was breached. You just care about getting help, again, evidence, for many people here, of what they have complained about all along, that there's more concern about P.R. than there is about getting to the bottom of what went wrong and fixing it -- Anderson.

COOPER: And it is the six-month anniversary.

Tom, thanks very much -- Tom Foreman.

Now a question: If disaster recovery rarely goes like clockwork, why are survivors on ships and elsewhere now facing deadlines? Why are important relief programs facing extinction? We will take a look at that.

Also, she -- well, she really is the queen of nice. We will talk to Rosie O'Donnell, putting her money and her time where her mouth is to help people down here in New Orleans, children who so desperately need help.

And, later, the kid needs an organ transplant. His dad is a perfect donor. So, why is the kid going without it? And why is the dad on the lam? The answer -- and it is a doozy -- coming up on 360.


COOPER: It's one of many destroyed houses here in the Lower Ninth Ward. We will show you a closeup view of that house in just a moment.

Not far from here, in Saint Bernard Parish, a Carnival cruise ship is docked and empty. At one time, the Scotia Prince held hundreds of police and firefighters and other residents waiting for FEMA housing. You may even remember, we broadcast from that ship several -- about a month or so ago.

The ship was also used as a makeshift service center and soup kitchen for the parish. Well, today, FEMA told the remaining few dozen on board to leave for other temporary quarters.

And, in federal court, lawyers argued for the ship to stay. The judge asked for written briefs by tomorrow and could issue a ruling as early as tomorrow night. The cruise ship contract is the best known and perhaps most controversial of the multimillion-dollar emergency federal program set to expire or significantly change right about now.

It's not, by any stretch of the imagination, the only one, not the only program, nor are the people who left the ship today the only souls in the balance.

Here's a rundown from CNN's John King.


JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Six months later, clearing Katrina's debris is still under way in Mississippi, only about half the work done in the areas hardest hit.

Federal aid for the effort is due to be scaled back in two weeks. This mortuary in Carville, Louisiana, is another example of federal help, set up and paid for by FEMA. But money for that and other emergency programs is about to be cut back, even though, in many areas, the reconstruction is really just beginning.

Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu sees trouble, as disagreements continue in Washington over long-term recovery spending and priorities.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: Our future of this coast depends on the government getting in their mind that what we have is not sufficient. We need to build a better mousetrap.

KING: Among the coming changes, disaster unemployment assistance, which has cost roughly $200 million for Louisiana and Mississippi, ends Saturday. The Senate passed an extension, but it is pending in the House.

LANDRIEU: This temporary assistance was basically built around your normal hurricane situation. We don't have a normal hurricane situation.

KING: The federal mortuary program, which has cost about $230,000 a week, ends March 13.

FEMA payments to house Katrina victims in hotels and motels, which has cost $560 million so far, expire March 15. And the 100 percent federal reimbursement of debris cleanup in Mississippi, which has already cost upwards of $500 million, is also set to end on the 15th. But administration and Mississippi officials tell CNN an extension of full debris cleanup payments will be announced soon.

As some of the emergency federal money dries up, volunteer groups are stepping in to help with food, housing, even rebuilding. But Mississippi's deputy emergency management director says there are different government options, too, though information can be hard to come by.

MIKE WOMACK, MISSISSIPPI EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT DIRECTOR: Well, it is frustrating, because, you know, a lot of people, they just don't have the knowledge to know how they need to proceed. That's -- that's a big issue.

KING: At FEMA's Web site, for example, the list of frequently asked questions was last updated two-and-a-half months ago.

FEMA, though, says more than 1,000 of its workers went from hotel room to hotel room, explaining how those about to be displaced -- again -- can apply for trailers or rental vouchers, a new benefit, and a new challenge, at a time trailers and apartments can be hard to come by.

John King, CNN, Washington.


COOPER: Well, you really get a scope of the damage when you're here in the Lower Ninth Ward.

I mean, look at -- as we showed you earlier in the program, this house landed on top of this car, which had flipped over. That house, of course, doesn't even belong there. It belongs to a property which is on the next lot.

And -- and, frankly, you could go down any street here and find similar kind of damage. If I just cross the street here, I mean, every home on this block has some level of destruction and -- and are pretty much a total loss.

I mean, look at this house. You can actually just walk right into what was the living room. Possessions are still scattered all around here. And the place just wreaks of mold. You know, you -- you drive down these streets in the Lower Ninth Ward, and -- and it is that smell of mold.

Look at this. Here's a -- a child's teddy bear just -- just laying out here, all their possessions still around. It's hard to believe it has been six months, and all of this stuff is still just out here, and there's no clear plan about whether or not any of these neighborhoods, any of these homes, will ever be rebuilt. Rosie O'Donnell is coming up in just a short time to talk about some efforts that she is doing, putting a lot of money here into Louisiana to help children affected by the storm. And there's a lot help to be had here, a lot of help, a lot of kids who are still in need.

First, let's go to Erica Hill for some headlines at this hour -- Erica.


President Bush is in India tonight. It's his first visit to that country. Mr. Bush is there to try to reach a deal to separate India's civilian and military nuclear programs. The administration says it is essential to bringing India in step with other nuclear powers.

Meantime, in Nigeria, militants released six of nine foreign oil workers they have been holding captive. Two Americans and a Briton are still being held. The militants want more control of the country's oil wealth pumped back into their region.

In London, British authorities seem to be making fast work in solving last week's $92 million heist at a cash depot southeast of London. Two men and a woman have been charged with various offenses. So far, at least 11 people have been arrested. And police say they have recovered more than $2 million from the robbery.

And police in Ohio have a new ally in their war on drugs. German shepherd Brutus will now be assisted by the little Chihuahua Midge. And, as you can see, indications are, they're probably not going to get into any turf wars.


HILL: She will be taking a -- a nibble out of crime, Anderson, as opposed to a bite.


COOPER: That has got -- that can't be for real.

HILL: It is.

COOPER: That has got to be like a P.R. thing.

HILL: No. I -- I mean, really...

COOPER: Is it really?

HILL: ... it is. Come on. The little people can do it, too. It's not about size, Anderson.

COOPER: Hey, I'm all for...

HILL: It's not about size.

COOPER: I -- I agree. All right. There...


HILL: She's pretty cute.

COOPER: I love that. All right.

HILL: She's like two pounds or something.

COOPER: I -- amazing.

All right, thanks very much, Erica. We will talk to you later.

Here in Louisiana, among the many who have responded to the children of Katrina is Rosie O'Donnell. Coming up, we will talk to her live about all the work she is doing with children here in Louisiana, their needs, and what a little dose of love can do to help them.

Plus, guaranteed -- it is an organ donation story like none you have ever heard -- the elements: a son in need and a father let out of prison to do the right thing, to help his own son. So, did he? Well, you're going to be surprised by the answer -- the story when 360 continues.


COOPER: Well, perhaps no group has been more affected by Katrina than the children of this region.

Last September, Rosie O'Donnell was among those who stepped up, big-time, to help them. Already in place was her foundation, Rosie's For All Kids. And, through it, Rosie and her partner, Kelli, who is from Baton Rouge, have raised several million dollars to help children in this area.

Rosie joins us now from her home in New York.

Thank you so much for being on the program. And thank you and -- and Kelli for what you're doing.


COOPER: A lot of your foundation's work has been -- has been centered around a mobile home site called Renaissance Village, outside Baton Rouge. What -- what have you been doing there?

O'DONNELL: Well, we're trying to set up some mobile homes for Early Head Start, for Head Start, and for after-school programs for the children.

There are about 1,700 people in these -- the Renaissance park, 500 trailers, four to an acre, and approximately 700 children. And there's nowhere for them now to go, to assemble, to play. There's one basketball court, and that's it. And there's a tent that is, you know, used for very many different purposes there at the Renaissance Village. But there's no place for children, and there's no one sort of attending to the needs.

And, as we know from Hurricane Andrew, although these homes are supposed to be temporary, they can last many, many years, until these families get themselves up and -- and back on their feet again. And we want to make sure that the most vulnerable of that population, the children, are taken care of and -- and nurtured.

So, we have been working with FEMA. And they have been, you know, very helpful with what we have been trying to do, to set up a prototype for all of these different trailer park villages, for any kind of national emergency, that we can bring in educated professionals to help the children, not only deal with the trauma of what just happened to them through this horrific experience, but to try to get some normalcy and sense of community back in their lives that have been, you know, so torn apart.

COOPER: And -- and it's so hard to get a sense of normalcy, and -- and, especially for kids, so important.

And I know, within days of Hurricane Katrina, your foundation was down acting, working here in Louisiana, helping. What do you think the biggest challenges are?

O'DONNELL: Well, you know, it was -- there were 350,000 people in a 24-hour period that came to Baton Rouge.

It was -- nearly doubled the population overnight. And no one was prepared, needless to say. And the horrific kind of crisis, and the -- the failures, on many levels, from many different organizations, have led to where we are right now.

And, so, how do we look forward, without assigning blame and trying to, you know, cast aspersions on different aspects of people's character, or lack thereof. We're trying to move forward and go, what can we do to help these people? It's not over.

And Kelli's family is from Baton Rouge. And, you know, after 9/11, I was kind of frustrated with the lack of my own kind of personal SWAT team to go in there. And -- and it's a wonderful feeling to have the foundation set up now, with professionals, and in such a capacity that we can get in there in the first week, that we could evaluate the needs.

And we went around to a -- there were 114 different shelters that were set up through the multi-faith community there in Baton Rouge. We went to about 90 of them and immediately brought supplies, because it was hard.

Red Cross and FEMA, everyone was overwhelmed. but here we are now, six months later, and we have decided to focus our foundation on this specific group of evacuees there in the Baton Rouge area -- you know, survivors, evacuees...

COOPER: And I -- I...

O'DONNELL: ... whatever you want to term them.

COOPER: And I -- and I know one of the things you organized was a fun day. I think you guys even sort of had a mini Mardi Gras this past weekend, from what I read. How -- how did that go?

O'DONNELL: Yes, the mini Mardi Gras was cute, about 500 kids.

The Fun Day, Nickelodeon sponsored with us. It was shortly after -- you know, it was November, I believe. And it was very sad, because, although Nickelodeon threw -- it was a wonderful day for everyone, and 5,000 people showed up.

But, you know, when all the people from our foundation went knocking on the trailer doors to say, we have a party here for your children and for the family, and photos taken, and -- and a lot of the families were afraid to leave, because it was the day that pots and pans were supposed to be delivered by FEMA, or they were waiting to see where they could go.

And, you know, chaos had -- was -- was in control at that point. And we're trying to sort of get a handle on it. And -- and we have put together, our foundation, a book of all the different organizations that can help people in this situation.

And we hope that now when there's another crisis like this people right away know, what are we going to do to take care of them? Because, you know, that's our job as Americans. We take care of each other. That's what makes us a great democracy.

COOPER: That is such a great idea because, I mean, one of the things you hear from people down here is it's so confusing trying to figure out, you know, where to help, what to do. You know, there's no, like, central place. So that's great that you're trying to put that database together.

I also understand that at Fun Day there was a photo booth that was your idea, and that is such a good idea because so many people have just lost their history. They've lost their photos.

O'DONNELL: Yes. And it was heartbreaking to me watching the coverage there. You know, you did a lot of it in walking through the remnants of people's lives. And the most, you know, heart-wrenching part were the broken glass picture frames of little boys in third grade with their little graduation or -- you know, it was heartbreaking, because as a parent, as a mother, as a human on the planet to know that these families have nothing, not even the memory -- and I think for them Katrina will be a dividing line.

There was life before it and life after it. And we wanted these children to know that, as spontaneously as the horror happened, so can spontaneous good. And that, yes, you can come to this fair all day and get treated with -- with, you know -- with joy and with enthusiasm and SpongeBob. And as random as the act of horror was of Katrina, so random is the act of caring in this country. And this is a public foundation. And I've been very lucky to be in a position to raise money. We've raised over $60 million to give to children's charities across the country. And to now have this kind of entree into a place where you can see the effect, it's very fulfilling for me and for all the people who have supported all the ways that we've raised money all these years.

COOPER: Is there a way if viewers are watching right now they can find out more about what you're doing?

O'DONNELL: Yes. If you go to my Web site on, there's all different ways that you can find out about the foundations and what we do. We've been open nearly 10 years right now, right after the show started. And people were writing in, going, "What should I do?" I'm like, "Let's make a foundation."

And you know, we're very fortunate. We have wonderful people doing it. And we've helped a lot of kids.

And the goal is to help America's children and to make sure that -- you know, one in five children in America are raised in poverty. Half of every black and Hispanic child -- children in America doesn't graduate high school. Half.

You know, this is the richest country in the world. So many children have no health coverage.

COOPER: It is...

O'DONNELL: You know, this is America. And it shouldn't be. And we are the greatest country, and we need to remember what made us the greatest country and move forward in unity together to help all, even the most vulnerable.

COOPER: Those statistics are shocking. Every time I hear them, it just -- it's stunning.

Rosie, I appreciate you joining us on this six-month anniversary and appreciate all the work you and Kelly are doing.

Thank you so much.

O'DONNELL: Thank you. Keep it up, Anderson.

COOPER: All right.

Up next, we're going to head back to the fire lines in Oklahoma where flames are sweeping across the prairie.

Later, a man battling -- actually a child battling a life-threatening illness and is hoping his that dad could help out, but dad is a convicted criminal who's ruthlessly exploiting the situation. A shocking story coming up.

You're watching 360.


COOPER: Back now to the breaking story we are following as it literally burns across the state of Oklahoma. Those are multiple images throughout the state. Wildfires threatening dozens of homes, forcing hundreds of people out of those homes.

Joining me again from Stephens County, Oklahoma, is Terri Watkins, reporting for us, our affiliate station KOCO.

Terri, describe what you're seeing all around you. And, I mean, that does not -- that looks very close, Terri.

TERRI WATKINS, REPORTER, KOCO: Actually, don't worry about us. We're fine. We're in a safe position, because one of the advantages we have is the wind is blowing the sparks and the flames away.

But what we wanted to show you is not only those bales of hay that continue to burn, but look over here. This is the other problem we're having. And we can't tell from the distance -- we're less than a quarter of a mile away right now -- we can't see exactly what is on fire over there. But we do know there are homes, there are outbuildings, there are barns, there are all kinds of things.

And what's happening in the evening is some of the wind continues to pick up. We're continuing to get sparks that move along. But this, believe me, is absolutely nothing compared to what we have seen out here most of today.

We watched as families began grabbing whatever they could grab to try to get out of their homes. Some of them thought they were safe. They used hoses on their -- on their lawns. They thought they were going to be fine, and then just, boom, all of a sudden the flames were coming directly at their houses.

One of the things that had happened is we had a wind shift. The wind was coming from the south. Suddenly it was coming from the north. That just fanned that fire and it just kept moving, and it just spread throughout the county.

We do know in the state of Oklahoma we have had three firefighters that have been injured. Two of them were injured badly around here. They were caught when that wind shift happened, and were caught by the flames.

So those two firefighters were injured. Another one was injured from the town of Carney, Oklahoma, we believe -- exact location.

Many of these are volunteer firefighters. These are people who go to regular jobs but when their pagers go off or when the sirens call, they come running out to help their friends, their family, their neighbors try to put out these fires.

And we're continuing to see them work the streets up and down, the little brush pumper trucks, those sthort little stubby trucks that work the area. And they're continuing to try to put out the sparks and things that they see, because we still have an orange glow in the distance.

We know this fire is still moving and still moving close to flames -- Anderson.

COOPER: Terri, is there any kind of mandatory evacuation for this area?

WATKINS: There was a mandatory evacuation as the fire began to move through. Most of these people have tried to go back in and check on their homes to see what the status is, but many of them -- we don't have any power out here.

The power lines are down, which means the water is down. So many of the people have gone ahead and left their homes. Some, though, are staying there, because if the flames haven't hit them, they want to be there to be able to grab what they can grab and try to get out safely. But there has been a mandatory evacuation in this area for about the last six hours.

COOPER: So some of these spots, I mean, you were talking earlier about those about yerl art the hay bales that can burn for hours. But that spot in the distance that you were showing us a few minutes before, is there anyone working on that spot, or is that just burning out of control right now?

WATKINS: Right now we do not see the -- we saw the fire trucks as they went around the corner. And we can begin to see little spots of the flashing lights that we know are firefighters that are moving into that area.

One of the things they have to do is to try to literally drive the areas and see where the fires are. They can look off in the distance, spot a fire, call for help and then bring other people in there. Because something might not be burning at 7:00 at night, and then you see something like this. In Oklahoma time it's about 9:30 in the evening.

So that can just suddenly flame up, because most of the fire has moved well past this hour. That could be a little spark, it could have been an outbuilding that caught fire, and now you see the blaze that we're seeing in the distance.

COOPER: Terri Watkins from KOCO. Just stunning pictures.

Appreciate you joining us again, Terri. Thank you very much. Stay safe.

WATKINS: Thank you.

COOPER: Another story which really stunned us today and which you can actually help maybe bring an ending to. As people here in New Orleans still recover from the disaster that struck six months ago, people in Iraq are -- well, actually -- sorry, we're having a little technical trouble.

We're going to go to a short break. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Well, tonight there is a convict on the run who could save his son's life. And you, too, can help save that son's life by helping police catch this convict.

The kid needs a transplant. The father is a perfect match for that transplant. He could save his son's life. He's also a man who by the looks of it has put freedom, his own freedom, ahead of his own family, his own son.

From Kentucky, CNN's Susan Candiotti has more.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Destin Perkins has never been able to count on his father. That was about to change. Destin's life depended on it.

DESTIN PERKINS, AWAITING KIDNEY TRANSPLANT: I thought that I would soon be off of dialysis and things would be better.

CANDIOTTI: Destin needs a kidney transplant. His dad Byron is a perfect match. Dad said he would help. Instead he's done something that's led his own mother to call him a scoundrel.

BARBARA BARR, FUGITIVE'S MOTHER: I thought he loved his children and I thought he loved me more than anything. And how can you do this to him and to me? putting us through this? Please come home and turn yourself in.

DAWN IZGARJAN, DEPUTY U.S. MARSHAL: We consider him to be armed and dangerous.

CANDIOTTI: U.S. Marshals call Perkins a career criminal. Records show he did seven years for bank robbery, and has a string of arrests for gun possession, home invasion and drugs. Yet in January, before he was sentenced to a minimum 25 years in federal prison, a judge gave Perkins a chance to, in one way, redeem himself before he was put away. Donate a kidney and save his son's life.

He temporarily would be let out of jail for final testing.

(on camera): During at least four separate hearings before a federal magistrate, Byron Perkins told the court he wanted to help his son. He absolutely would return to jail, and he could be trusted. The court took him at his word.

(voice-over): Perkins was allowed to stay at his mother's house and report to a probation officer. At first, he did the right thing. But on his final day of tests, and freedom, Perkins flew the coop, vanished with his girlfriend.

PERKINS: I couldn't believe he had did it.

CANDIOTTI: Those who saw his courtroom performance now admit they had been had.

(on camera): You're saying he did a good acting job in court.

IZGARJAN: Oh my gosh, I mean, I remember that day. I remember that day. He was crying. His defense attorney was almost in tears. And I was sitting there thinking you know, what a great thing to do.

CANDIOTTI: Now even veteran U.S. marshals are floored.

IZGARJAN: It touched all of us. This is horrible. How can he do this?

CANDIOTTI: Perkins and his girlfriend apparently planned the escape. In recorded jailhouse phone calls, obtained by CNN, federal agents say that the couple compares notes.

LEE ANN HOWARD, PERKINS' GIRLFRIEND: I got my needle box. I just don't want to forget nothing. I definitely don't need to forget my medicine.

BYRON PERKINS, FUGITIVE: Tell her to get up there and get my 38s and some socks and stuff, and what you got that's up there. All right?

CANDIOTTI: The day he fled, Perkins left his mother a puzzling letter. He says, I'm not running out on Destin so please don't think I am. I'll come through for him. What do you think he meant?

BARR: I don't know but if he's going to come through, he needs to do it now. Destin needs him now.

CANDIOTTI: As Destin's mother steels herself for what is to come, this message for her ex.

ANGELA HAMMOND, DESTIN'S MOTHER: He needs to rethink what he's doing. You know, he's -- he has a son that he's let down.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): When you go bed each night, what do you think about as you put your head down on the pillow?

HAMMOND: God be with us.

CANDIOTTI (voice over): For Destin, disappointment and fear as he waits for his runaway father or another donor.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Russell Springs, Kentucky.


COOPER: That is unbelievable. If you have any information on these two people, Byron Perkins or Lee Ann Howard, these two charming individuals, please call the U.S. Marshal Service.

The headquarters is 1-877-WANTED2. That's 1-877-WANTED2.

Take a good look. There's a little boy who very much needs -- needs some help. Back where we stand here in New Orleans, we're surrounded by reminders about what happened six months ago. A special hour ahead on the people, the problems, and the hope, including what is being done to save dogs and cats and other pets that were caught in the storm. We just saw a stray out here a couple hours ago.

Live from the Ninth Ward, this is 360.


COOPER: As people here in New Orleans still recover from the disaster that struck six months ago today, people in Iraq are fearing a disaster that could be on the horizon. On Monday, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq said that the risk of a civil war breaking out after last week's shrine bombing is over, but apparently his words may have been premature. At least 38 people were killed today in sectarian violence in Baghdad and other parts of the country.

Meanwhile, the man who once held Iraq together with his oppressive regime is now making some surprising admissions.

CNN's Aneesh Raman reports from Baghdad.


ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A second car bomb in this Baghdad neighborhood in just 24 hours. This one less than 100 yards from yesterday's attack. Twenty-four killed here, more than 400 in Iraq since last week's attack on a sacred Shia mosque in Samarra. And yet another call for unity, but this time from the man accused of holding Iraq together by brut force.

SADDAM HUSSEIN, FMR. IRAQI DICTATOR (through translator): Our interest is to be united. Religions, nationalities, creeds, we should all be united against the invasion. Apart from that, we all have our own take on the situation at hand.

RAMAN: A message of unity widely regarded in the courtroom as pure posturing by a former dictator fighting to save his life.

Minutes later, prosecutors offered evidence that Saddam personally signed orders to execute at least 146 innocent villagers after a failed assassination attempt on him in 1982. Also, Saddam's handwriting on a memo on how to execute boys, some as young as 11, even though they were below the legal execution age. And another document showing Saddam branded his criminals, four innocent men, who had already been mistakenly executed by the government.

Evidence so strong that for the first time in this trial, Saddam didn't even try to deny it. In fact, this time he took the blame. And a stunned courtroom fell silent.

HUSSEIN (through translator): Why are going to these people? Saddam Hussein is telling you that he is responsible. So do you think I'm going to deny responsibility or rely on others? RAMAN: Yet Saddam did not admit guilt. He claimed he was acting legally against those who tried to assassinate him. In the past five months, as Saddam and his co-defendants have repeatedly thrown tantrums and walked out of the court, most Iraqis have viewed the trial as a source of entertainment.


COOPER: A source of entertainment, Aneesh. But, I mean, do -- do most Iraqis even care about this trial? Are they following it closely?

RAMAN: At this point, no. We've had hundreds killed here, Anderson, in the past week alone. Many Iraqis now see the trial simply as irrelevant.

Part of the past that they're trying to move beyond as they deal with what is at best an uncertain future. And also keep in mind, for virtually every Iraqi, there's no question of Saddam's guilt. Many just waiting for the day that he'll be executed -- Anderson.

COOPER: All right. Aneesh Raman.

Thank you, from Baghdad tonight.

Coming up, stories of hope and courage six months after Katrina. A special hour of 360. But first, Erica Hill from "Headline News" has some of the other stories we're following tonight -- Erica.


Taking a look at business news this hour.


COOPER: All right, Erica. Thanks.

We want to thank our international viewers for watching. For the rest of you, much more still ahead on 360.

We'll flash back to what may forever stand as the worst night in New Orleans history, the night and height of chaos.

Plus, the courage and an absolute refusal of survivors to see the darkness instead of the light.

And don't forget these guys, so many abandoned pets. What is their fate? How many still need a miracle?

From New Orleans, you're watching 360.


COOPER: Good evening from New Orleans, from New Orleans Ninth Ward, with the warm echoes of last night still ringing through the cold rubble of six months ago. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANNOUNCER: Six months ago today, Hurricane Katrina slams New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Thousands of lives are torn apart. Tonight, 360 takes you inside the storm that was a wakeup call for the entire country.

Twenty-five billion dollars of your money poured into the Gulf in the aftermath of Katrina. Why still so little rebuilt, so many yet to return.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It may be 20 years before we fully get these communities back.

ANNOUNCER: 360 is keeping them honest.

And Katrina's lost pets. Six months after the storm, they still roam the streets, and time is running out. But for some, miracles do happen.


ANNOUNCER: This is a special edition of ANDERSON COOPER 360 -- "Katrina: Six Months."

Live from New Orleans, here's Anderson Cooper.

COOPER: And good evening again. We are joining you from the Lower Ninth Ward, where six months after the storm hit, six months to the day, little has changed here. The water, of course, in the Lower Ninth Ward is gone, but the devastation remains.

Take a look at this. A stranger site we have not seen; a house on top of a car that has flipped over.

This house, of course, does not belong here. It belongs, we believe, on the lot next to it. We believe this house over here, we think this is the house over here that actually should be over there. We think this is the foundation right here for that house.

It is like a jigsaw puzzle, a terrible, terrible jigsaw puzzle, and it is impossible right now to put the pieces back together.


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