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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
Nashville Rising; Gulf Oil Spill Reality Check; Exxon Valdez Impact
Aired May 6, 2010 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight we are live in Nashville, from a city submerged to a city rising. How people here are coming to grips with what the floodwaters have left behind. How they're coping with the destruction, the help they're getting from the government and from their neighbors. What life looks like now and for the foreseeable future as floodwaters recede and the recovery begins.
Also tonight: Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, how they are dealing with the disaster and what they are doing to try to help people here on the ground. It's our "Big 360 Interview".
You'll also hear from a lot of other folks, folks who are suffering firsthand and folks who are searching for their loved ones at this very moment and also helping their neighbors in need.
We'll also take you to the Gulf Coast to look at what the spill looks like underwater. Tonight we'll explore the environmental impact, how bad it could be or possibly how much better. We'll also bring you late word on the risky attempt to stop the leak a mile beneath the ocean's surface.
But we begin as we should, and as we should have been beginning for many nights this last few weeks -- this last week -- here in Nashville on the ground. I want to show you some of what we have seen today. Because any block you go down in this area here in Bellevue in Nashville, you see homes that are still standing, but inside, it is very deceiving, because inside those homes are completely gutted, they're completely destroyed.
I want to walk over here and just show you the outside of the home of a woman named Betty Belle Nicks, who -- she lives here. Her home is still standing, but she had floodwater all the way up past those windows. And as we have seen block after block in this entire neighborhood, there are hundreds if not thousands of homes which have been destroyed.
And folks have just been basically taking out all their possessions, trying to air out whatever they might be able to salvage. Here's a chair, a ceramic lamb, a cross over here. Whatever they can maybe save and all the stuff that they can't salvage, all the things like insulation which is soaked with water and already getting mildewed, all the drywall, they're putting out here. The story here is one of a city rising, not a city on its knees. We have seen, and I've got to say, I have never seen an effort by so many volunteers, so quickly in the wake of a disaster. We have seen thousands of volunteers, church groups, individuals, neighbors helping neighbors. It's really incredible and it is a real testament to the strength of this city and the strength of these people.
They call it the volunteer state. And today and for the last several days, they have shown the world why they deserve that name.
We were also out on the river today with a family who is searching for their loved ones. The death toll here is still rising and tonight there are a lot of folks in mourning and there are a lot of folks still waiting to find out word of their loved ones.
COOPER (voice-over): For a mother searching for her missing son, today was unbearable. They brought in a cadaver dog along the banks of the Harpeth River today, looking for a 39-year-old man missing since Saturday.
His name is Danny Tomlinson, an amateur fighter. He works for a prosthetics company. His family and friends have been searching now for five days.
MIKE WILSON, DANNY TOMLINSON'S FATHER: We're doing all we can at this point with the people that we have. I mean, what else can you do but search?
COOPER (on camera): The area of the river they're searching right now is about 15 miles downstream from where Danny was last seen. He was driving with a friend on Saturday night when all of a sudden their vehicle got swept away.
(voice-over): Danny's friend escaped. The car was found on Tuesday, but there's been no sign of Danny.
SHERRY WILSON, DANNY TOMLINSON'S MOTHER: Trying to stay strong. Because I've got to have hope that they're going to find my son. I want to find him alive.
REPORTER: She and Danny's sister come to the river every day, but hope is hard to hold on to.
S. WILSON: He was wonderful. He loved God. He was a wonderful son and a wonderful brother.
Please, God, guide us. Guide us, you know, if he is in the water, which I don't want to think that, just guide us there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: To where he is.
S. WILSON: Guide us to him. You know, for closure.
COOPER: At least 31 people have been killed in the record- breaking flooding in the southeast; 21 of the victims were in Tennessee. When the storm system arrived last weekend, nobody expected this. The rains just kept on coming and the rivers overflowed. At its worst, highways disappeared, buildings, too.
President Obama has declared a disaster area in ten Tennessee counties. Officials say the cost of this catastrophe now tops over $1 billion in Nashville alone. So many homes have been damaged here and so few people have flood insurance.
GOV. PHIL BREDESEN, TENNESSEE: A lot of people who didn't have flood insurance, because they never thought the floodwaters would ever come anywhere near their home. They're really looking at a total loss of their home at this point. So it's very, very tough on a lot of people right now.
COOPER: Nashville is home to country music, of course, and many country stars have been affected as well. Kenny Chesney sent us this home video showing what happened to his house.
KENNY CHESNEY, COUNTRY MUSIC SINGER: I've been here -- I don't know -- 14, 15 years now and I have never -- I've never seen anything like this in my life. There are so many people in Nashville that are really hurting. That, you know, the things I lost, I can replace, thank God. But there are people that -- there have been people that have lost their lives and their livelihood.
COOPER: Nashville today, however, some good news. The Cumberland River which spilled into business districts and neighborhoods is receding.
MAYOR KARL DEAN, NASHVILLE: So we are slowly and steadily making our way toward flood level. We still expect to be below flood level before the end of this week.
COOPER: The water is falling and Nashville is rising. Businesses are opening, residents are rushing to rebuild. And everywhere we went today, we saw people volunteering. Church groups and neighbors helping others clean up and dry out.
In Bellevue, Brenda Griffith helped her friends pack up their belongings. She tied plastic bags to her feet and worked for hours in the heat.
(on camera): Even as bad as things have been, this city is coming back?
BRENDA GRIFFITH, VOLUNTEER: Oh, I think so. Nashville has a spirit that won't be put down. So, yes, I have no doubt that Nashville will come back.
COOPER: And you're still smiling?
GRIFFITH: I'm still smiling, I am. Well, the sun's shining.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: And amazing, we saw a lot of people still smiling today. Betty Belle Nicks is with me right now. She lives right in this house behind us. How are you doing?
BETTY BELLE NICKS, NASHVILLE RESIDENT: Pretty good.
COOPER: Pretty good?
NICKS: Yes, we're thankful, because it could be worse.
COOPER: It could be worse. The water came -- what -- from this direction?
NICKS: It came up from the back field.
COOPER: And it happened -- I mean it happened fast?
NICKS: We tried to move the cars out and we were trapped.
COOPER: And you were wearing, what, a sweatshirt and boots and you thought you could wade through the water?
NICKS: Right, we were at my husband's house, and I was swimming down here -- we also own this home, and I just wanted to get a few things up on a higher level. I had boots on, the water was taking me under, I was able to get those off and hang on to the tree.
COOPER: So you actually ended up clinging on to this tree and the water sweeping by you?
NICKS: Right. And then I held on. I was able to do that, and to be able to swim back. So I feel lucky.
COOPER: And you ended up on the roof of your house?
NICKS: On our new home down here, yes, on his home. And we have three small dogs and we were on the roof, but we lost our large dog, because he swam away.
COOPER: Your dog's name is?
NICKS: Ben. A big, yellow lab.
COOPER: Hold on, I'm going to run over here and quickly get a picture of Ben. I should have done this before. I know you wanted us to show this.
NICKS: I do. This is Ben. This is Ben. And I want to say, we've only been married for one week before this happened, and if we could find Ben, it would be the best wedding gift in the world. Ok?
But it's not just for Ben. There are a lot of dogs out there that need help. It could be worse, but this could make it the best.
COOPER: And we're asking people if they have seen this dog in this area, to let us know and send us an e-mail at cnn.com/ac360 and we'll get that word to you, if we can.
COOPER: What do you want people to know -- the thing that struck me today -- I mean I've been, unfortunately, to a lot of bad places -- a lot of nice places where bad things have happened, and I've never seen a community pull together so quickly to respond to a disaster?
NICKS: It's the best. I mean they really say it's the Volunteer State, it's true. They're wonderful. We just need more help. We just -- people are wonderful to give supplies and masks and cleaning things and food and water.
COOPER: And you've had people driving through the neighborhood, just offering up food and water?
NICKS: Absolutely. Clothes, anything you need, places to stay, it's wonderful. But just don't forget about in a month or in two months, we're still going to need help.
COOPER: And a lot of people just don't have flood insurance here.
COOPER: Do you have flood insurance?
NICKS: No flood insurance. We weren't advised to get flood insurance. In fact, they said, no, you don't need it. Your rate will be cheaper, so --
COOPER: So was this -- what happens? I mean is this a total loss?
NICKS: Well, thanks to President Obama that signed the relief effort, if you make sure you sign up, we'll be one of the victim numbers and when they declare a home a disaster, then we'll be able to get help.
COOPER: So the message for folks out there tonight watching around the world is don't forget about us.
NICKS: Please and others. I mean there's so many others that are worse off. People have drowned. So we feel fortunate, but we are asking for help for everyone.
COOPER: I hope everything works out for you and I hope Ben comes back.
NICKS: Good. Thanks. Ben. Thanks. Ok. Thank you.
COOPER: You can join the live chat now underway at ac360.com.
We'll have the latest on the crucial night in the battle to cap the Gulf oil leak. That's coming up. When we come back, country artist Brad Paisley joins us. And later, an exclusive tour of Nashville with Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. The entire country music community lending their talent to a flood relief telethon; TV stations here and across the state are broadcasting it right now, including our local CNN affiliate, Channel 4 WSMV.
Take a look.
COOPER: Well, the water's receding here in Metro Center; Nashville's business and government district reopened today. The Grand Ole Opry goes on, but not at the Grand Ole Opry house. Larry Gatlin is at the Ryman auditorium tonight. Brad Paisley plays at the Ryman tomorrow night, he joins us now.
Have you ever seen anything like this?
BRAD PAISLEY, COUNTRY MUSIC SINGER: No, not here. I mean I'm from West Virginia and I grew up on the Ohio River, and that would periodically do that, but this is really unique for this town.
This is the kind of thing that only happens, from what I hear -- I've heard conflicting reports -- but 100, 500 years, who knows?
COOPER: Yes. And I mean you go through these neighborhoods and it's horrific to see what we've been seeing, but it's amazing to see the volunteers that have come out. I mean, I've never seen anything like it.
PAISLEY: We've been driving around out here. I cannot believe the way that people just -- they're showing up out of nowhere, just to volunteer when they hear that an area has been hit. And that is what this town is all about. I mean, this is just great people here.
I've lived here since '93 and these are some of the most giving folks you could ever meet.
COOPER: I think what a lot of people don't realize is that a lot of artists have had their equipment completely destroyed. I mean you were saying, just about all the guitars you play with are gone.
PAISLEY: Yes. Yes, pretty much. I mean, my favorite guitar is at home. I can't believe that. I got really lucky, but everything you see me play on any given night from amplifiers on up is -- probably has been underwater. We're getting in tomorrow to look at it, but that's not that big a deal.
Looking at this, it's crazy. I'm really blown away, actually, at just the devastation that I've seen, just driving around. It's crazy.
COOPER: Yes. And I think that a lot of folks feel like the national media hasn't paid enough attention and I certainly take blame for that and we should have been here sooner. But I feel privileged to be here and witness, you know, how this city is rising.
Do you have any doubt that this city is going to come back stronger than ever?
PAISLEY: No. It's the kind of place that -- these are really talented people. It's a very artistic community that's -- you think of the things like the Grand Ole Opry.
That is, to me, an amazing place that is -- it's a show, it's not a building. The building has water in it. But the show itself, tomorrow night we're going to the Ryman, after that, I don't know where we'll be, but we'll find a place.
COOPER: And it's important. That's important?
PAISLEY: It is because it's been going on since the '20s. So we're talking about something that out of principle we have to keep things like that going. And then it's an important thing for this community, artistically, that everybody bands together and keeps Nashville what it is because we have such an identity as an artistic music community.
COOPER: And on the one hand, I know community leaders want the message to get out that the city is coming back. Businesses are open already, Honky Tonk tonight is open. There are restaurants that have reopened.
PAISLEY: You're going there after this, right?
COOPER: If I'm lucky enough.
But Country Music Hall of Fame is going to be open on Saturday. The Grand Ole Opry, as you said, is already performing. And yet at the same time --
COOPER: -- there's going to be need here for a long time to come. And these folks don't have insurance.
PAISLEY: There is. And actually today, I got a call from President Obama, who called to say that --
COOPER: He called you?
PAISLEY: He called me. We played there last year at the White House. The Opry went and did a night for country music, and he wanted to see how the Opry was and to say that it's very important that people realize that FEMA is here, that -- there's a number, you guys can flash it at some point, it's an 800 number -- if you've been impacted by this and you need something, that you basically get in touch with them.
COOPER: That number's up right now.
PAISLEY: Good. They're really ready to help. And also that, I think the government is -- they understand what the heritage is in this town. And that this has to be the kind of place that we preserve, you know. We have to -- we've lost instruments, but the people that play them, thankfully, are all ok.
COOPER: Did you know, it was President Obama instantly when he called you on the phone -- you get somebody who gives you a heads up?
PAISLEY: No, it was one of those --
COOPER: You weren't in the shower --
PAISLEY: Which phone would you like the President to come on and it's like -- well, this one right here and then I'm going to put it in a case. No, but I was pretty shocked by that.
But I think they really want, more than anything, for people to realize that there is help out there. I personally really want to see, you know, the media do exactly what you're doing which is just let people know what's going on here. Because that's the way people can help.
I've been sitting around working on my farm, fixing the things that got flooded and doing what I can do, but I would love to do more.
We're organizing these events. We have a telethon coming up, I believe I can talk about, a week from Sunday, with several stars and that's going to be broadcast, I believe, on GAC.
COOPER: And I know Tim McGraw and Faith Hill they're planning something for June, late in June.
So there's a lot of good folks banding together. Again, we've seen that every block we've been going down today.
Brad, it's really a pleasure.
PAISLEY: It's my pleasure. Thank you for being here and let's keep it going.
COOPER: Yes. Absolutely.
PAISLEY: Get this town back on its feet.
COOPER: Thanks so much, Brad Paisley.
Let's focus for a moment on the work that's going on as we speak; emergency crews going door to door hoping to find survivors, hoping not to discover new victims. Sometimes not knowing until the last minute what they're going to find.
Gary Tuchman spent the day with one such crew.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): they are the Urban Search and Rescue Team. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello? Fire department. Hello.
TUCHMAN: Nashville firefighters and cops, specialists at saving lives. On dry ground now, but not when they first got here this past weekend.
(on camera): So how deep was the water here when you first got here?
CHIEF DONALD ALFORD, NASHVILLE FIRE DEPARTMENT: The water here was probably roughly about 4 or 5 feet.
TUCHMAN: How many boats did you have here?
ALFORD: We had 10 or 15 boats working this one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello?
TUCHMAN (voice-over): About 200 people were rescued on the boats, but more than 400 live in this subdivision, including many elderly. So the search is on for people alive or dead who may have been left behind. A yellow ribbon means the home has been checked.
Police went inside this house because the people who live here haven't been seen for days, but to their relief, it was empty.
(on camera): The rescue team comes into this neighborhood that smells like fish and mold with a healthy dose of apprehension. That's because this is one of the hardest hit communities in the Nashville area. And with the death toll distressingly high in the state of Tennessee, their hope is the casualty toll stays at zero here by the time they're done with their search.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello?
TUCHMAN (voice-over): inside this house, the team finds 47-year- old grandmother of five, Dodi McCloud. She was evacuated on a boat and just returned.
(on camera): Were you thinking at one point, maybe I'll have to swim out of fear?
DODI MCCLOUD, FLOOD VICTIM: Yes. And I don't know how to swim. So I was concerned.
TUCHMAN: This community is right next to the beautiful Cumberland River. This part of the river is about 9 feet below where I'm standing right now. So we want to give you an idea of how quickly the water level went up here.
You know, one thing about floods, they're usually not gradual. People think they have time to get out and they come very quickly. And that's what happened over the weekend in this neighborhood.
This is the water line. This is about 3 feet above here. But keep in mind, behind me, it was 9 feet, so the water went up by about 12 feet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. We're just -- ok, we're just checking. Everybody's accounted for.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Including your pets?
TUCHMAN (voice-over): There is hardship here.
(on camera): Ever had anything like this happen before?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well no, I'm from New Orleans, so I'm used to floods, but never in one where it was in the house, so this is a first.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): But the good news is that every house has been checked. It appears there are no casualties here.
It's time for the team to roll out and head to the next neighborhood.
COOPER: Gary Tuchman joins me now along with Marty Savidge. Marty, you've been here since Monday reporting on the situation. What strikes you now?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think a lot of people are still in shock. I mean, they are recovering and they've had this tremendous amount of volunteerism that's come forward. But as we learned in Katrina, you go through the first couple of days after a disaster like this, running on the adrenaline.
SAVIDGE: You're glad you survived and you've made it through.
The hard part, though, is what comes next. And they're in the middle of that transition, and this is the long, tough road that lies ahead.
COOPER: And it's that mundane misery of realizing that, as you said, the adrenaline's gone. It's like after you lose somebody, everyone gathers around and you have family and friends around. When everyone dissipates, all of a sudden you're just left on your own and the reality hits.
SAVIDGE: And a lot of people, as we already know, don't have insurance, because in many cases, it had never flooded in the areas that got flooded.
So you take it all out, put it in your yard, you dry it off, and haul away what you can. But then what do you do? That's the problem. No one really knows what comes next. COOPER: Gary, I don't like to compare one disaster to another, but I mean in terms of what you've seen today, how does it -- what strikes you?
TUCHMAN: I think what's different about this compared to what we see in the Mississippi River and Missouri and Iowa and Illinois and in North Dakota, the Red River of the north, is there people know this can happen. It's devastating to people, but they have insurance for the most part and they know they get floods every 10, 15, 20 years.
But here and in Atlanta, Georgia seven months, September 2009, where it doesn't get -- you don't have situations like that. People are just shocked by it and they don't have the insurance and they don't know what to do about it.
And the team that I was out with the rescue team today, they don't have a lot of experience dealing with floods. They haven't had a major flood for 36 years here, since 1974. But this particular team I was with today, a lot of those members actually went to Mississippi in 2005 after Katrina. So that's where their experience comes from dealing with floods.
COOPER: And the people you've met over the last five or so, six days that you've been doing this, I mean so many must stick in your mind.
SAVIDGE: Well, we went up to a north Nashville neighborhood. That's a working class, kind of blue-collar kind of area. Everybody up there for the most part lost everything.
And one of the things you find, the trademark of the flood, just like here, you go to the neighborhood, everything they have is on the street, it's on the curb. And as a reporter walking down that street, it's almost like you're eavesdropping on tragedy because everything from the most mundane to the most important things is out on the curb, waiting to be hauled away.
And that was the sad thing we watched, over and over and over, somebody's life being loaded in a truck and hauled off to the dump.
COOPER: I always feel very wary and sensitive about walking in an area where everyone's possessions is and always make sure to ask permission in advance, because really, this is all somebody has left.
TUCHMAN: You know what's amazing, though, is that people are just so grateful that we're here. And it makes us feel so good that we're telling their story to the world.
SAVIDGE: They are very, very grateful.
COOPER: But there is -- you know, we shouldn't pretend -- there is a lot of frustration that the national media hasn't really descended on this event as they have in so many others, with the situation in Times Square going on and obviously the Gulf oil spill.
I mean, you've been here since Monday, but, you know, I didn't cover this as much as I should have earlier in the week. And I know a lot of folks here, it's not that they want to see us, it's that they want the attention that these stories, that this can bring.
SAVIDGE: It's a fine line. Especially in a community that relies on tourism, because, yes, you want the public to know how bad it was, but you always need the public to know that it's getting better.
COOPER: Right. And that they can come and go to museums and go to the Country Music Hall of Fame, which is going to be open Saturday.
COOPER: And I mean the mayor was trying to make that point last night on the program. That's why we're calling this hour "Nashville Rising", because this city really is, we flew in today, and you look at it and it looks, in the downtown, back to normal where the tourists would go.
SAVIDGE: And they need the tourists, because that's what starts the cycle to rebuild.
COOPER: There's a lot of great music, already a lot of great food, a lot of restaurants opened up. Marty, appreciate all the reporting, Gary as well.
Still to come tonight: Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. We walked around a lot of Nashville areas with them today. We'll talk to them.
And late word on efforts to cap the Gulf oil leak, as well as the potential impact of all that crude. A lot of people pointing to the Valdez spill as an example of what this might look.
But is that really a fair comparison? We're going to try and get past the hype, get past all the politics and the name calling and the partisanship and actually just give you the facts.
We sent a reporter up to Alaska and we're going to compare the two, coming up.
COOPER: In just a moment, my exclusive interview with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill as they took a walk with me through the streets of Nashville, a city now rising from the floods. That's coming up, but, first, a busy news day with some very important stories.
Let's go to the latest. Let's get Tom Foreman with the "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- Tom.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Anderson.
A freefall today on Wall Street -- the Dow nosedived nearly 1,000 points during trading. With a late-afternoon rally, it ended the day down 348 points -- technical glitches in the market and the worsening economic crisis in Greece believed to have triggered the slide.
In Greece, the violence is growing. Protesters slashed again with riot police today, as lawmakers announced new deep cuts, while raising taxes, all in an effort to secure international loans.
In Britain, a change of the guard -- exit polls suggest David Cameron's Conservative Party will take the most seats in the House of Commons election, though not a majority. That means Gordon Brown could remain prime minister and try to form a coalition government.
And, Anderson, not exactly a closed movie set back near your home in New York for one production. A filmmaker used a convenience store to shoot an armed robbery scene. The actors were into it -- the cops, not so much. They thought it was a real holdup and ordered the actor holding the gun to drop his weapon. He did what he was told. The director apologized for the misunderstanding -- Anderson.
COOPER: Man, that's quite some misunderstanding.
Up next: the latest on the Gulf spill in the -- in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil is hitting land. We will show you where. At the same time, officials are hoping a containment dome will stop the leak. We will have an update on that for you.
Plus, "Nashville Rising": Tim McGraw and Faith Hill join me for the "Big 360 Interview," our tour of some of the devastated neighborhoods ahead.
As we go to break, we want to give you another look at tonight's flood telethon happening now.
COOPER: Oil from the BP spill came ashore today on a barrier island off Louisiana, a moment everyone along the Gulf Coast has been dreading. Here's what the slick looks like now from above.
The ruptured well has dumped an estimated 4 million gallons of oil into the Gulf so far. Take a look at this. We put a camera under water and this is what we see -- pretty amazing -- all of that you see floating around are globs of oil. You can actually just see them there in the water.
They've got controlled burns today to try to get rid of some of the oil on the surface. Also today, the giant steel and concrete dome they hoped to use to cap the spewing well made it out to the leak site.
There was also word that BP's lawyers have assured the attorney generals of the Gulf Coast states that BP will pay whatever it takes to clean up the spill and compensate all losses from it. It's impossible at this point to know now how bad the damage is going to be.
Now, in a moment we're going to take you to the Prince William Sound in Alaska, where residents are actually still feeling the effects of the Exxon Valdez spill in 1989.
But first, Tom Foreman looks at what the two spills have in common and what they don't -- Tom.
FOREMAN: Hey, Anderson.
Those are fascinating pictures you just showed us, because we've been looking at the difference between what happened in the Gulf of Mexico right now and what happened up here in Alaska.
Make no mistake about it. Valdez was huge, about 11 million gallons. And it happened pretty much all at once, giving neither humans nor animals much time to react or get out of the way or try to prevent it or anything else.
The Gulf spill, so far, is only about a third as big, 11 million for Valdez, as you said approaching 4 million down in the Gulf. That's 4 million gallons since that rig exploded on April 20th. And the oil is entering the ecosystem at a much slower rate than it did in Alaska, through these pipes under the ground. And this is a photograph from under the water there, as you can see.
But we also know that in Alaska, we had a finite amount of oil. Here, we don't know when it's going to end. So if they can't cap it soon, we could still wind up with much more oil than we saw up in Valdez, Anderson.
COOPER: Tom, we're also looking at vastly different areas in terms of geography. What kind of difference does that make?
FOREMAN: That's a really good point. It could be a huge difference. Prince William Sound is basically 11,000 square miles. The spill there was held captive by surrounding land. There's only one little inlet here. Imagine -- one over here. Imagine pouring a tiny cup of oil into a sauce pan of water.
Now, imagine pouring that same cup of oil into a wading pool. Look at this. The Gulf of Mexico is 615,000 square miles; huge difference -- 11,000 versus 615,000 square miles.
Right now the spill area is about the size of Prince William Sound. And there could be different things at work here. Wild cards we have to think about.
What if you get different types -- we have different types of oil here and in Alaska. You get different tidal patterns. You can get different winds. They may push it up to the coast. They may also push it out into the open where it could be diluted, break up. That's still not good for wildlife in the open seas, but it's different than hitting the super sensitive marsh lands.
And when you include all of these things involved here, plus the wild cards, plus the possibility of something completely unexpected happening, just bad luck or good luck. We find ourselves saying we really don't know what it's going to add up to at this point, but it could be much worse than Valdez, or it could be much better -- Anderson.
COOPER: At least it's interesting to see the differences. Tom, I appreciate that.
Let's dig deeper now. We want to take you to the town that felt the brunt of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Two decades have passed, of course, but frankly, the scars, the financial and emotional scars, run deep. We asked Dan Simon to travel up to Cordova, Alaska, and here's what he found.
DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John Platt is a commercial fisherman here in Cordova, Alaska, ground zero for the Exxon Valdez catastrophe two decades ago. It's been hard times ever since.
JOHN PLATT, COMMERCIAL FISHERMAN: I love to fish. I'm a third- generation fisherman, but this other crap is beyond my control. I wasted 20 years of my life.
SIMON: About 3,400 miles from here, the BP accident in the Gulf has leaked an estimated 4 million gallons of oil. Up here, the Exxon Valdez leaked 11 million gallons of crude and left 1,500 miles of Alaska coastline blackened. Birds, sea mammals, fisheries and people were devastated.
PLATT: We got hosed here in Cordova. And nobody cares.
SIMON: Platt says his story is typical. The spill caused such stress, it practically ruined his marriage.
(on camera): You're just one fisherman in this community, but you speak for many.
PLATT: People's lives were ruined. I mean, there were damn good fisherman, damn good fishermen here in the sound that just said, "Screw it."
SIMON (voice-over): They left because the fish disappeared. The herring industry alone lost $400 million. Three years after the spill, they vanished and never returned. Exxon says it had nothing to do with the spill, but no one here is buying it.
MIKE WEBBER, FISHERMAN: People went bankrupt, people lost things.
SIMON: Mike Webber lost his marriage. With the fishing industry in ruins, he says he began drinking heavily.
WEBBER: I blame my divorce on Exxon. And the oil spill. SIMON: Sociologists spent years here since the disaster. They concluded a fifth of all commercial fishermen had severe anxiety and as many as 40 percent had severe depression. Divorces, alcoholism, and even suicides went up.
(on camera): The spill occurred about 60 miles away from where we are on Prince William Sound, and even after all these years, oil residue can still be found on the shore. As a matter of fact, the local science center here keeps bottles of it on hand.
RJ KOPCHACK, PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND SCIENCE CENTER: So you can take a look at it, and it's still heavy oil and if you smell it, highly aromatic, still hydrocarbons flowing right out of that poison yuck.
SIMON: That really smells like oil.
KOPCHACK: It actually does.
PLATT: It's been, expect the worst and hope for the best.
SIMON (voice-over): Money has not made the problems go away. John Platt got his final payment from Exxon last year, nearly a half million dollars. But fishing's not what it was, so he used it to pay off debts on his fishing permits and boats.
PLATT: I think the general perception is that we were compensated a long time ago, everything's rosy, and that's not the case.
SIMON (on camera): It's a much deeper story.
PLATT: Big-time. Much deeper.
SIMON (voice-over): So what do things look like 21 years later? The oil stains may no longer be as evident, but they're still here, just below the surface.
SIMON: Well, that is the Cordova Marina behind me where so many livelihoods were affected. Anderson, I want to share with you a statement we got from ExxonMobil today; Exxon merging with Mobil 11 years ago.
The statement says in part, "The 1989 Valdez accident is one of the lowest points in ExxonMobil's 125-year history. As a result of the accident, Exxon undertook significant operational reforms and implemented an exceptionally thorough operational management system to prevent future incidents." That, from the company, Anderson.
But I can tell you that 21 years later, not a whole lot of forgiveness here in Cordova. Emotions are still very raw -- Anderson.
COOPER: Yes. What are some of the other lasting effects from the spill? SIMON: Well, believe it or not, there are still 20,000 gallons of oil there in Prince William Sound behind me. And we're told by scientists that certain animals, certain wildlife such as sea otters and harlequin ducks are still exposed to the oil.
And we've talked so much about the emotions. I can tell you that the situation in the Gulf not making things easier for these people, some having a difficult time conjuring up the past, still so much pain two decades later.
COOPER: Yes. Dan, appreciate the reporting all the way from Alaska tonight.
We return now to Nashville right after the break, with Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. We walked around some of the devastated parts of Nashville today. You'll see the exclusive interview, coming up.
And later, a Hall of Fame football player accused of rape; charges against Lawrence Taylor ahead on 360.
COOPER: That's just some of the devastation taken out of one person's home here in the Bellevue section of Nashville.
I'm joined now by David Perkins and his son, Will.
We've been talking, David, about you know, so many of the volunteers that we've been seeing. You and your son went out to volunteer. You were trying to rescue Will's great-grandmother.
DAVID PERKINS, NASHVILLE RESIDENT: Great-grandmother. We left home at 8:15 Sunday morning to go after Will's great grandma --
COOPER: In a boat?
D. PERKINS: In a boat.
COOPER: And she had already been rescued, but then you got word that other people needed rescue.
D. PERKINS: We did. We -- Steve Mattis (ph) and his family needed their in-laws rescued. Steve got in my boat, stayed with me for seven hours. Will was the command center for us.
COOPER: So Will, you were the command center?
WILL PERKINS, NASHVILLE RESIDENT: Yes, sir.
COOPER: Yes? How was that?
W. PERKINS: It got kind of boring just sitting there all by myself.
W. PERKINS: So -- but I was checking in with my worried mom.
COOPER: You were on the cell phone.
W. PERKINS: I was on the cell phone.
COOPER: Were you ever scared?
W. PERKINS: Not --
COOPER: Because you were right by the water's edge.
W. PERKINS: Kind of. The water was rising very quickly.
COOPER: Yes? He was a big help to you then?
D. PERKINS: He was a big help. When we got the call at 8:15 that morning, Will ran up into the yard, and he got stuff for my boat.
COOPER: How many -- how many people did you end up rescuing, bringing into your boat? And I know there were a bunch of people out there with boats doing the exact same thing you were doing.
D. PERKINS: There were several boats. At River Plantation, I think we made 15 or 18 trips with people in it. We moved to a different location with the fire department, Engine 37. Those guys are heroes. They're heroes every day. We stayed with them until 8 p.m. last night.
COOPER: So you just -- you ended up taking dozens of people in your boat?
D. PERKINS: We did. We did. We moved from River Plantation to the interstate and we moved people from the interstate over to dry land.
COOPER: What do you want people to know about what's happened here and what is going to be happening over the next --
D. PERKINS: You know, there's a lot of devastation. There's going to be a lot of need for donations. All these people that I talked to, no flood insurance, which I know you all talked about -- a lot of rebuilding.
So there's been a lot of volunteers. Tennessee's come together. Nashville's come together. It's a great city. It's fantastic.
COOPER: Had you ever seen anything like this, Will?
W. PERKINS: I have not.
W. PERKINS: I know it happened in 1979.
D. PERKINS: There was a flood.
COOPER: There was a flood. Not as bad as this one, though.
D. PERKINS: Right.
COOPER: Wow. Well, you'll be able to tell your grandchildren one day, you -- you were there and you participated in helping people. Thanks for what you did. Nice to meet you.
W. PERKINS: Nice to meet you.
COOPER: Thanks, Will, thanks so much.
D. PERKINS: Thank you for being here.
COOPER: Thanks. I know you were reluctant to come on TV. I appreciate you coming on.
D. PERKINS: Absolutely.
COOPER: All right.
In tonight's "Big 360 Interview", Faith Hill and Tim McGraw spent part of today walking around Nashville, various parts of the downtown with them. This is a city that they love, a city which has been good to them and a city which they care about, a place they call home. Take a look.
COOPER: So have you ever seen anything like this in -- I mean, in Nashville?
FAITH HILL, COUNTRY MUSIC STAR: Oh, gosh no. No, not even close.
TIM MCGRAW, COUNTRY MUSIC STAR: No. Not here.
HILL: Not here.
COOPER: This neighborhood is Belleville?
MCGRAW: We're ten minutes from here. Literally, our home is ten minutes --
COOPER: And this whole area was under water?
HILL: Two days ago, it was under water.
MCGRAW: Two days ago it was under water, yes.
HILL: Barely the tips of the roofs were showing in this area. And this is an indication of what it -- I mean, this is how it is for miles that direction.
COOPER: Is that right?
HILL: North, south, east and west of Nashville proper.
COOPER: Basically, people have already started clearing out their homes. You can smell the mold and the mildew in the air.
MCGRAW: You've got to get it out fast.
HILL: As soon as the water started to recede, yes, that's what they did.
MCGRAW: And that's what's so deceiving, too. And I think that people, even people that live in our community, and even us to a certain extent, that you can be sort of lulled into a sense of that it's really not that bad. Because you can be in one area, and everything seems fine. All the stores are open. People are going about their business. Kids are in school.
But then you can just go just a couple of streets over, and there's total devastation. And it's like that all over the city and all over the subdivisions and the communities outside the city.
HILL: I'm just kind of in shock right now.
COOPER: Are you really?
HILL: I am. I mean, I -- we've seen it all under water, but -- this is a lot.
JACK OLIVER, NASHVILLE RESIDENT: Good to see you, Anderson, Jack Oliver. Faith.
HILL: Hi Pastor.
OLIVER: Good to see you all. Thank you for being here. Thank you for being here.
COOPER: So you brought your whole congregation down here?
OLIVER: Well, not our whole congregation, because a lot of folks are still working, obviously. And what we try to do is find people in our church who either they were flooded or their family members were flooded.
COOPER: So what are you doing here? I mean, do you -- can we go over here and just look at some of this? You're basically just yanking everything out?
OLIVER: They're getting all that insulation out. We have to --
COOPER: All the mold?
OLIVER: And same with sheetrock. That's why, you know, most places you'll travel, you'll see they've got it cut out at about 5 feet, because it came up to 4. And then it's bled up. And so they come out and they trim that out.
COOPER: It's amazing, because we were in New Orleans together, and it took months, in some cases --
MCGRAW: Just to get to this point.
COOPER: -- to get to this point. To see this just a couple days after, I mean, it's a sign of how organized things are here. And largely thanks to volunteers.
OLIVER: It's just the sense of community and the small-town feel of it that, hey, we've got to help our neighbors.
MCGRAW: That's so true, about the New Orleans thing, just to get to this point took so long.
MCGRAW: Of course, the water probably stayed a little longer in a lot of places too. You know, it was more widespread, a bigger catastrophe, but when it's one family dealing with this, it's a catastrophe to them.
COOPER: What do you want people around the country to know about what's happening here, about what's going on?
MCGRAW: I think that it's going to be a process that's going to be ongoing for a long time. There's going to be help needed for a long time. There's going to be funds that are needed for a long time. And it's not going to go away anytime soon for these families.
But this stuff's going to take a while out here. And I don't think that people should think that just because you saw it on TV one day and the water's gone, that it's going to be going away. It's not going to be going away.
HILL: The worst is yet to come.
COOPER: The disaster remains.
HILL: The disaster remains, yes.
COOPER: Yes. A lot of people in need. And as we said, without insurance, there's going to be a lot of -- a lot of problems, a lot of hassles for a lot of people.
Tim and Faith told us that they'd have information coming shortly about a fund-raising event that they're going to be putting together next month. They promise to keep us posted. We'll let you know about it as soon as we can.
In the meantime, there are a couple Web sites if you're looking for ways to help the people in Nashville.
CoolPeople.org is a nonprofit. They're selling "We are Nashville" T-shirts. I want to show you one of their T-shirts. I've got it right here -- if we can show that. There you are. "We are Nashville" T-shirts. The T-shirt was inspired by the writings of a local blogger, and obviously, all the donations go toward helping people.
TNFlood -- I'm sorry, T-NFloodFund.com set up a flood relief fund. The people behind it belong to a local church group from Cross Point Church. We met them today. They're led by Pastor Pete Wilson and have had -- they've had 1,000 volunteers since the flood, going door to door, helping folks. Again, T-NFloodFund.com; that's T-N.
You can also join the live chat happening now at AC360.com. You can also go to CNN.com/Impact to find out other groups -- American Red Cross, a lot of groups doing good work here.
Also, other stories ahead tonight. Former NFL linebacker Lawrence Taylor has been charged with rape; the alleged victim, a 16- year-old girl. All the details on that coming up.
Plus another huge ash cloud from the Iceland volcano causing new problems for air travelers -- if you can believe it. We'll tell you where that is headed next.
COOPER: Let's get a quick update on what's happening in other stories. Tom Foreman joins us again with the "360 Bulletin" -- Tom.
FOREMAN: Hey, Anderson.
NFL Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor is denying rape charges against him. He's accused of having sex with an underage prostitute in a hotel outside of New York City. L.T. is free on $75,000 bail.
A new volcanic ash cloud from Iceland is combining with others already there to form one massive cloud that's growing larger by the hour. It's again forcing the airports in western Ireland to shut down.
And it is official. Chaz Bono is now legally a man. A California judge has granted Bono's request to change his name from Chastity to Chaz after gender reassignment surgery -- Anderson.
COOPER: Hey, that's it for 360.
"LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.
I'll see you tomorrow night.