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Oil & Outrage; How "Top Kill" Works; Oil Watchdog under Fire; Wildlife in Danger; Louis Armstrong's New Orleans

Aired May 25, 2010 - 23:00   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: We're standing here in Port Fourchon, along the water's edge where the oil has come ashore. We're standing at the scene of a tragedy. But what is increasing clear is we're also talking about the travesty. An oil company with a checkered safety record and government regulators in bed, sometimes literally with big oil.

Members of the Obama administration sending out mixed messages, promising to keep a boot on BP's neck and practically in the same breath calling the company a vital partner, a single GOP Senator from an oil state blocking a bill to force BP to pay more than a token amount in legal liability.

BP first saying the spill would be no big deal for the environment, and only changing its tune yesterday, a travesty and a tragedy.

A few minutes ago, I went into the area where the oil is hitting the beach. Just -- just over there. Let's take a look at what I saw.


COOPER (on camera): In order to go into what they call the hot zone, which is the area where the oil has come ashore, they make you put on this hazmat suit basically so you don't get an oil on your -- on your skin or on your clothes. They've already had a hazmat crew in here earlier today that came and cleaned up the beach but already more oil has come ashore.

They put several layers of barriers here; it looks like some metal -- metal tiles. And these are large pieces of stone that they placed as a barrier, and then they have a third layer, a barrier of stone here. But it's all just coated in oil right now even though this whole area has cleaned by a hazmat crew.

There is -- there's oil all over the surface here. It's pretty thick -- on the -- on the barriers. But it hasn't made it past these barriers onto -- onto the actual beach. But as you can tell, it's all over.


COOPER: And that is just the beginning, that's the fear here. Sometime tomorrow, BP will try to stop the leak by clogging the well, the "top kill" they call it. You can see pictures of it right next to AC360 at the bottom of the screen; live pictures of the leak right now.

BP late today are saying they will keep that video feed going at President Obama's request after drawing enormous fire much of the day for talking about shutting it off. Congressman Ed Markey slammed them for it in the halls of Congress, no shortage of anger either, fear or in Washington at BP; and growing frustration as well in both places directed at the White House.


REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), LOUISIANA: Where is the president? Does he not understand the magnitude of what is probably the worst environmental disaster in the country? And then we get mixed messages from his various cabinet secretaries who've come down and they say it looks like they're satisfied with the coordination going on.

They need to come down to New Orleans. The President needs to come down to New Orleans and actually help us and do his job. We're tired of them talking like John Wayne and acting like Pee-wee Herman.


COOPER: That was Congressman Steve Scalise from Louisiana's first Congressional District. We learned today, President Obama will be here on Friday for his second visit since the disaster hit. There are growing reports he's losing patience and reportedly telling aides to quote, "plug the damn hole."

And we've been hearing that around here for a long time, along with "clean the damn beach" and "save the damn marsh." People don't care who does it as long as there's action and accountability; two things that people here say they badly need.


COOPER (voice-over): It is what everyone feared, fresh oil washing up on Port Fourchon Beach. The beach is closed. Hazmat crews just cleaned it but the oil keeps coming and the crews are here again working to do what they can. This brown sludge just washed up this afternoon, some fear it's only the beginning.

In nearby Grand Isle, for now, the shrimp industry is dead.

(on camera): Here in Grand Isle, Louisiana, there is a lot of frustration, a lot of anger directed both at the federal government but especially at BP. Here's a sign, "BP, we want our beach back." Down there there's one that says, "Shame on you, BP."

Fishing is a way of life here. It's been in families for generations. When you talk to a lot of people here and they are worried that that way of life may be gone forever.

At Dean Blanchard's Shrimp Shack (ph) the trucks are idle. Normally, they'd be shipping out hundreds of thousands of pounds of shrimp each day.

JODIE BLANCHARD, SHRIMPER: This is our peak of the year, this is when we make our money. Our adrenaline is pumping, ready to buy shrimp and we're just not able to.

COOPER: Jodie Blanchard and George Danos survived Katrina, but they worry the business and the shrimp industry won't survive the spill.

GEORGE DANOS, SHRIMPER: It's sad to see the situation that's going on right now.


DANOS: I really believe it could have been prevented. I believe they could have stopped the right areas and we could still be fishing today.

COOPER: What's it like? I mean, what's the toughest part?

BLANCHARD: Our future. It's really scary, because we're very resilient people but I don't think we'll be able to spring back from this.


COOPER: We should point out here that we've been trying all day without success to get someone from BP to come on the program. The invitation stands. We interviewed a top official a couple days ago, we haven't heard from them since. They haven't accepted any other invitations. They're welcome on any time they would like.

Joining me now is David Carmadelle, Mayor of Grand Isle, Louisiana where we are now. We are very close. Also Billy Nungesser, the President of Plaquemines Parish. Mayor, thank you very much for being with us. What -- what it -- today, is there any improvement today versus yesterday?

MAYOR DAVID CARMADELLE, GRAND ISLE, LOUISIANA: Yes, we managed to meet with a few the higher-ups today that came in my office and they looked like they're going to make sure that we have a better connection with BP and the Coast Guard.

COOPER: Has that been a big problem, communication and organization between BP and the Coast Guard?

CARMADELLE: Yes, Anderson, you know, we had like -- we have too many chiefs, not enough Indians and the bottom line was -- the communication was just horrible, you know, like to get a green light for us to go ahead and protect our community and to get the fisherman out there and get everybody to work, it was terrible you know for the first few weeks.

COOPER: Billy, you and I talked last night and I've been talking to a lot of fisherman today who were saying they're basically just sitting around and waiting for BP to call them, that they want to help but they are getting told, well, look, there's not enough work to be had. Does that make sense to you?

BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH: No, absolutely not, Anderson. We're at a meeting here in Venice tonight, about 400 people showed up, they're angry. They want to know, they've been on this list now for 35 days. No one's called them. There's opportunity, a boat of opportunity just isn't working.

We need to see some action. We're not satisfied here in Plaquemines Parish. Not with the ability to keep it offshore, there is no clean up going on in the marsh. And we're hearing things like, well, we've got to concentrate on stopping the leak.

I'm sure the guy that's writing the check to the fisherman is not the same guy -- I hope it's not -- that's stopping the leak. It's absolutely absurd that we can't multitask, keep the oil offshore, stop the leak, cleanup the marsh and pay the fishermen. Simple to do: organize and let's get this done. It's absolutely ridiculous.

COOPER: You do hear that, the mayor as well?

CARMADELLE: Exactly. What Billy is going through is exactly what we're going through. Is -- is you know, our fishermen are just standing on the wharf, the shrimp season is closed and we're just trying to activate, you know, get them to activate. What they do, Anderson, they were activated them ten days ago and just let them sit at the dock.


CARMADELLE: And then they couldn't make up their mind whether they were going shrimping or not. And then, once we commandeered Saturday evening -- we commandeered and we simply are going to take over.

COOPER: You basically commandeered a bunch of boats?

CARMADELLE: Exactly, that's what we did. We commandeered a bunch of boats who came in and said let's go to work. And you know, I was flying a helicopter watching the boats just come out on anchor. These fishermen were coming around the bend to change their booms and just BP was telling them to go ahead and just anchor out while oil was coming into my passes.

And I was just very frustrated, the fishermen frustrated. And now, you know, we just -- just went up to them and told them we would take it over. That's what we did.

COOPER: So Billy, if -- if, you know, everyone is hoping and praying that this thing, this "top kill" works tomorrow, that the head of BP gave it maybe 60 to 70 percent chance. If it doesn't work, what do you want to see happen over the next 24 or 48 hours?

NUNGESSER: Well, Anderson, they have no plan; the Coast Guard nor BP has a plan. There's nobody cleaning up the marsh. They told us all along the dispersants would sink it and break it apart. I want to see a plan. If you're not going to have a plan, get the hell out of the way and let us go do it ourselves and let us go rent the skimmers, let us try some new products.

There's a thousand products out there. Some of them have been proven safe for the environment, yet we're still using a dispersant that they said don't use. Something's wrong with this picture. There's a total disconnect between BP, the Coast Guard, and what should be happening.

And I'm hoping the President's visit Friday can get to the bottom of it. Because this is absolutely mismanagement, mis-coordination at the highest level and it's got to change.

COOPER: Do you feel the same way? I mean, what's your message to President Obama?

CARMADELLE: My message to President Obama is, you know, come here and see the operation, what's going on. And what's happening is nobody can give us the command. In other words, we're tired, as elected officials, we can do so much. We're professionals at hurricanes, we can teach school on hurricanes, we can take care of our people.

COOPER: Right.

CARMADELL: But if we had the ok to go ahead and get the green light, we could be doing it, you know, Anderson. That's what we want, the President to get somebody to tell us to go ahead and do what you've got to do. Like Billy said, we've got all kinds of products that we can be using on our beaches and in our marshes.

But our hands are tied. It has to be BP approved and then you've got a 1-800-number, and all the salesmen -- every day, I have thousands of salesmen just holding the line -- the line up at the office and I tell them, to get this number, and they said, it's no good, we can't get an answer back from BP.

So that's the kind of --

NUNGESSER: And if they're not -- if they're not going to do it -- if they're not going to do is get out of the way and give us the money and we'll do it. We're not going to lose these wetlands. We're not going to let BP sit by and we're not going to sit on our hands like they've been doing for 35 days.

Had they started the berm project, we would have miles of that in place, catching the oil like it's being caught on Grand Isle.

We don't have the luxury of having a beach like Florida. That oil is seeping into the marsh, killing the pelicans and killing the wildlife. It's going further and further in the marsh everyday and we're doing absolutely nothing but watching it destroy our livelihood and our marshes. Shame on you BP.

COOPER: Let me ask you, Billy. The EPA basically today said, well, now we're going to study the use of dispersants because we wanted them to use other dispersants. They told us basically, there weren't any others that were as effective. And they kind of backed off, and said, ok well, now we're just going to study.

Do you feel like they should have been studying this 20 days ago, 30 days ago?

NUNGESSER: Well, you know, you wonder, Anderson. Did they lie to us? They told us it wouldn't come ashore. They told us it wasn't coming ashore under the surface. We're proving them wrong. Unfortunately, we didn't want to prove them wrong. But did they know that?

So how do you trust anything they're saying and the Coast Guard, too? The Coast Guard is pitching the ball back and forth. I mean, you've got to wonder, are they in bed together? Is this a cozy relationship and we're getting the raw deal? And we're going to pay for many years. And that's unacceptable.

The President has to take the lead and give the ball to somebody else, because these guys aren't getting it done.

COOPER: I think what a lot of people also don't realize who haven't been here, is that, I mean, we're talking about generations of families who have been shrimpers. I mean, this goes back -- you talk to somebody who is shrimping today, their grandfather, their great- grandfather. Is that right?

CARMADELLE: Yes, I'm a fisherman, I got elected by the fishermen in 1988.

COOPER: Do you -- do you worry that -- that I mean, it may not come back?

CARMADELLE: Of course. I mean, I have tears in my eye. Every day, I met with the fishermen this morning. You know, and Anderson, Grand Isle is seven miles long and surrounded by water. Our bedding grounds is in the front, there are great fishing, speckled trout and shrimp and crabs, and you just get off the beach and you catch all you want.

And on the backside, this is the estuaries. There's millions of prawns, there's two million acres of oysters right there in Louisiana, right here in Louisiana. This is the oyster fishermen; you've got the crab fishermen.

You know my dad and all, moved in, in the '40s. They came here fishing crabs and bringing the crabs in bushels to the French market for 25 cents a bushel.

COOPER: It's a way of life here that is threatened.

NUNGESSER: Anderson, you know what we asked BP here tonight in this meeting? They've been waiting for 30 days. Is there going to be another check? They have no plan. We asked them to make a commitment, are they going to pay them for their catch that they lost this year or are they're going to wait until the 30th day, sit by the phone and pray that BP calls back and gives them another check?

So we want a short- and a long-range plan to compensate the fishermen, the dock owners, the haulers, the seafood companies, the little lady that sells it on the corner. We want everybody to have a plan and not have to wait and wonder how they're going to pay their bills next month. It's ridiculous that we've got to wait because they're too busy sealing the leak.

That's not a good excuse. We need some answers.

COOPER: Billy Nungesser -- Billy I appreciate you being on with us again tonight. Billy Nungesser, we'll talk to you again tomorrow.

NUNGESSER: Thank you.

COOPER: And Mayor Carmadelle, thank you so much.

CARMADELLE: Thank you so much, Anderson. Thank you.

COOPER: I truly appreciate it. Thanks. I know it's been a long day, a long month.

Let us know what you think. The live chat is up and running at

Up next, sealing the leak, how the "top kill" works or may not work, how long it could take and what happens if it fails.

Later, David Gergen and Douglas Brinkley on presidential leadership and whether the White House is falling short; tough words for President Obama from both these men when 360 continues from the Gulf Coast.


COOPER: Well, whether it's here in Port Fourchon or in Venice over in Bay Saint Louis, plugging the oil leak cannot come soon enough. The final alternative if all else fails is a relief well which takes time to drill obviously; it could doom the Gulf Coast to many more weeks and months like today.

So people are counting on tomorrow's so-called "top kill" attempt, BP said it could take two days to know if it works. They also said they need daylight to begin the operation. The sun comes up here at 6:02 local time. So that would seem to be the earliest that it could happen.

David Mattingly is here to explain how it works and what happens if it doesn't, that of course, no one wants to even consider. But basically what is the "top kill" procedure?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The "top kill" essentially is BP's best hope to shut this well off. They've got other alternatives ready to go. But this is what they're going with because this is what they believe is their best chance of working.

So the way -- the way this is going to work, they are going to pump heavy drilling fluid into that blowout preventer, that is a huge five story tall device at the bottom of the ocean on top of that well. When they fill this up with that heavy liquid, they hope that the pressure will counteract the pressure of the oil coming up and essentially drown that well and push it back down so that they can put cement over it and end it.

COOPER: So they will try to put cement on top of -- if the thick oil works.

MATTINGLY: Once they've been able to stop the oil from coming out to force that back down, which could create sort of stasis with pressure from above, that's the plan.

COOPER: The CEO of BP yesterday, I think, gave it a 60 to 70 percent chances of success.

MATTINGLY: They've really been walking this back trying to downplay expectations. Because first of all, they've never tried this before, they've never had a disaster like this before. Every single step --

COOPER: Never tried this before at this depth underwater.

MATTINGLY: At this point -- it hasn't been 100 percent successful even on land and in shallow water.


MATTINGLY: So now, when you look at them doing this at a mile down. This is -- every step they take is uncharted waters.

COOPER: And if -- if this doesn't work, I mean, do they have a plan b? Do they have --

MATTINGLY: They have multiple plans. They've talked about putting another blowout preventer on top of the one they've got. They've talked about sheering that pipe off the top and putting a new valve up there that will allow them to catch, like another containment dump, to catch the oil that's coming out of it.

But all of these carry their own risks and they didn't want to try those first because they think the "top kill" is their best way to go. And remember, they're only saying six out of 10 chances that this is going to work.

COOPER: And they're still drilling other wells that weeks from now could alleviate this leak if everything else fails?

MATTINGLEY: Not just weeks but months.

COOPER: Months. MATTINGLY: They started that right away, that's the only sure way to end all of this. Everything else they're doing is just temporary until they get those wells drilled and they get this well filled up with cement.

COOPER: All right, so tomorrow morning we believe it may start.

MATTINGLY: That's right.

COOPER: All right, David Mattingly, I appreciate it.

Talking about how we got here, you can't ignore the government agency that was supposed to be regulating offshore drilling. We've already seen one nearly unbelievable report from the agency's inspector general. Think lines of coke and government bureaucracy sleeping with oil executives.

Now, there's a new report and it's no less damning. Tom Foreman tonight is "Keeping Them Honest."

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, in the 2005 Peach Bowl, Louisiana State crushed Miami. But it was action in the stands that caught the eye of the Interior Department's Inspector General. In this scathing new report, the IG says two members of the Minerals Management Service, the agency charged with overseeing oil exploration, were flown from South Louisiana to that game in Atlanta, each with a family member. They were given tickets and some expenses as well, all as guests of the very companies they were regulating.

The report says not one inspector seems to have covered all the expense or declared the possible conflict of interest in such a lavish gift. Instead, when confronted about the tickets, one inspector said he was a big LSU fan and he could not refuse.

The report goes on, citing MMS employees storing porn on their government computers, using illegal drugs and a long trail of gifts and invitations from the oil and gas industry, to events such as skeet shooting contests, hunting and fishing trips, golf tournaments, crawfish boils, Christmas parties. Some e-mails confirmed that MMS inspectors attended those events as well.

The report says many of these interactions revolved around the Louisiana-based Island Operating Company including a determination that between June and July of 2008, one MMS inspector conducted four inspections on IOC platforms while in the process of negotiating and later accepting employment with that company.

As you might guess, he found no problems with his future employer's rigs, according to this report, which says some MMS inspectors defended their actions by saying they've been lifelong friends with those oil company officials and thought the gifts were personal.

But when we called Island Operating Company and MMS for further explanation today, neither responded -- Anderson.

COOPER: Unbelievable, Tom, thanks for the reporting. "Keeping Them Honest."

Just ahead, the animal impact, Jack Hanna joins us. 360 live from the Gulf. We'll be right back.


COOPER: We're back in Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Five weeks since the rig blew. President Obama is coming back on Friday. Reports say he was frustrated with aides, with BP, with the slow response. Everybody here is, I can tell you that.

New polling today shows the public is losing confidence in the government's handling of the crisis although they trust him much more than they trust BP.

Let's turn now to CNN's David Gergen and Rice University presidential historian, Douglas Brinkley.

David, I mean, a month ago, it seemed like the federal government was on top of this. They were beating back claims by conservatives that this was Obama's Katrina. And now, it seems that may have been premature.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it was, Anderson. But in the beginning, this was a small isolated problem, at least it seemed so. And so it's understandable that the government would leave the leadership on it to BP.

But since then, in the last two or three weeks, this has become a growing national emergency. And it has come -- it now demands a national response. It should be unacceptable and I think it is to most Americans to let the fate of our precious coastline and the waters off our shores rest in the hands of a foreign-owned company like BP.

This is a problem for which government -- it's fundamental that government be there, protect us in times of war and in national emergencies. The President must take charge of this, especially if BP fails tomorrow in this critical effort to get that "top kill" in place.

COOPER: And Doug, you know, you have the Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar saying we're putting the boot on BP's neck. But it doesn't seem like there's much pressure being applied to that boot if it's there at all. I mean, the EPA sent out a letter about you know, stopping using dispersants but that's basically been ignored. And now the EPA today is kind of saying, ok, we'll now we're going to do our own research and try to find out.

Why haven't they been doing research for the last month?

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, that's a good question. And I agree with everything David Gergen just said. I think the Obama administration finds itself in a very difficult position right now. They can't really go after BP until they cap that well, in the way that perhaps they'd like to, meaning unleashing the Justice Department against BP.

There are other possibilities of having a new -- a different company drill relief wells. But what can you do now when we have a clock that's ticking 24 to 48 hours where this last Hail Mary attempt to plug that mile-deep disaster is going to happen?

I think on Friday, when President Obama comes to the Gulf south, goes to Louisiana, if that's not capped, he is going to have to take on a whole different tone of leadership. And as David said, talk about what a glorious place the Gulf of Mexico is and what these coastlines mean and the fisheries and why this is like our Great Lakes or Mississippi River.

We haven't had a bullhorn moment from President Obama. We haven't heard the passion. And you know he's sickened by all this. It's a time we don't need the cool, collected Obama, we need the order and the leader who's emotive.

COOPER: You know, David, those who defend the Obama administration and that's certainly not my job, but those who do say, well, look, what could they have done? The U.S. government doesn't have the expertise of a company like BP, in terms of, you know, dealing with disaster at this depth in the water?

GERGEN: That's true, Anderson, the government cannot solve this. It does not have the capacity. But what government can do is to mobilize the forces that have answers.

And the way the presidents, forceful presidents do it is they put somebody in charge. There -- it's not clear who's in charge now in the administration. Is it the Interior Department? Is it Thad Allen, who is wonderful at the Coast Guard? Is it somebody at the White House? We don't know.

There has to be someone in charge. And then you bring in all of the representatives, the CEOs of all the drilling companies and say, ladies and gentlemen, you have a collective responsibility to come up with your best technology, your best scientist, your best engineer and get this problem solved.

Call in the best minds of the country. Put the National Guard in a far more aggressive position trying to defend our coast, build these berms. Do whatever is necessary and call in for citizen volunteers.

And put the cabinet on notice. If we don't get this problem solved in the next 30 to 60 days your jobs are in jeopardy. That's what it means to take charge.

And I'll tell you this. Doug Brinkley may think this is stretching a little too far, but I do believe that if our government had fought World War II the way we're fighting the oil spill, there's a good chance many of us would be speaking German today.

BRINKLEY: I've been saying, Anderson, I have to use the word "high commissioner." That's what John J. McCloy used to be. But we need a George Marshal figure, somebody like a Colin Powell now to do what David's saying, be a coordinator of this.

Ken Salazar is a wonderful man at Interior. But he has to deal with the MMS scandals which are profound. He's got to deal with the wildlife refugees that being devastated in the Gulf south. And then look at Thad Allen didn't lose a single asset, not a boat or helicopter in Katrina, great man at the Coast Guard but he has his hands full dealing with Coast Guard issues.

It's too fragmented. President Obama has to streamline this, have a regular leadership. If we had that from the get-go, the footage of all that oil pouring out would have been there from day two or day three or day five instead of waiting a month for it.

It's people -- we live in a very fast 24/7 time cycle and people want answers. They want to see action and they want to feel that the White House understands that a whole region is in peril right.

COOPER: It is sort of fascinating, David, for a president who watched Katrina and saw the failures of the Bush administration and there were failures also at the state and local level, we all know, in Katrina. But for a president who saw that and, you know, was very critical of it, to now find himself in a situation in which he's being criticized for the lack of response or lack of coordination, is kind of stunning.

GERGEN: It is kind of stunning. You've been so close to both of these. You just must scratch your head and watch, as we all do. But I think the critics who are saying this is sort of a coming Katrina in slow motion have a point.

I am very sympathetic with what the administration has -- this is tough, very tough. President Obama clearly cares. We have to appreciate that. But it's not enough simply to care, you have to take charge. We've reached that moment in this crisis when I think he has to take charge.

BRINKLEY: Every time I see BP CEO Tony Hayward in Louisiana seeming to be in charge of our Gulf of Mexico, the failed CEO of BP, it comes off as pathetic.

COOPER: Seeing him walk the beaches, I think it was yesterday, with camera crews following him, this photo-op, they decided not to have him be interviewed in offices because that made him look bad, so he was out on the beach. But to see him walk the beach followed by cameras was kind of a manufactured situation. It is the kind of thing you want to see government leaders and you want to see the President of the United States and get the feeling that they're the ones in charge.

David Gergen, Douglas Brinkley, I appreciate you being on tonight. Thanks.

GERGEN: Thank you.

COOPER: A lot more ahead. If you look at the oil spill cam that we're showing you, the live pictures; and I'm told you can see a robotic arm probably operated by one of the submersibles actually doing some work on it right now.

Still ahead, the oil spill's impact on animals, fish, dolphins, birds, turtles and more; is it too late to save them? Will they recover? That's next with Jack Hanna on this special edition 360 live from the Gulf Coast.


COOPER: It's interesting talking to a lot of the shrimpers today over in Grand Isle. They were saying, you know, they're certainly concerned about the oil that they can see on the surface of the water. But what really worries them are the dispersants that have been used in the oil that's below the surface that they can't see and what impact that is having certainly on shrimping and oysters and on crabs, which is their livelihood. It forms the bedrock for businesses here on Grand Isle and Port Fourchon.

Tonight, we want to take a closer look at the impact this catastrophe is having on the wildlife in and around the Gulf Coast. From the bottom of the sea to habitats on the shore, the impact is devastating. It's still trying to be figured out exactly. Fish rendered toxic, pelicans and other birds coated in oil, unable to fly, turtle nest eggs damaged or destroyed.

Jack Hanna, I spoke to him a short time ago.

But first, let's go to Rob Marciano.


ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hot day with hopefully some smooth sailing. One of the experts we're going to be talking to throughout the day is Maura Wood. She runs the coastal Louisiana rehabilitation project.

What do you expect to see? First of all, where are we going, exactly?

MAURA WOOD, COASTAL LOUISIANA REHABILITATION PROJECT: So today we're west of the Mississippi River to Barataria Bay, to try to get a firsthand look at what's going on over there.

MARCIANO: When you look at these reeds, you look at these marshlands, do you see kind of see Mother Nature's womb for marine life?

WOOD: Absolutely. Marshes like this, where the tide goes up and down inside the reeds are a protective haven for juveniles of all different kinds of species, fish, crabs, all different kinds of things. When it's coated with oil, it becomes a poisonous soup instead of a protective haven.

MARCIANO: You see the blotchiness of the oil, it's obviously had some dispersants in it; definitely been weathered.

James, where about are we on this map here? UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're up here at Cat Island, right here. We've come through Four Bayous Pass through the Gulf and then we come up to the Cat Island, where all the pelicans are sitting that we're looking at.

MARCIANO: I can't believe how many birds are up there.

WOOD: These are incredible nesting grounds, aren't they?

MARCIANO: Hundreds of pelicans just plopped down in that one spot, surrounded by boom, some of that boom covered in oil. I can totally see where the oil made landfall, and those pelicans are just hanging out right in it.

WOOD: I see one there, right there by the water's edge. It looks like he's completely coated.

MARCIANO: Putting the waders on, jump in there and try see if the oil actually made it onshore. This stake is where this absorbent boom was laid out but obviously it just snapped and that's where the oil made it to shore.

You can see the delineation line between the green grass and oil on the grass for sure.

WOOD: And here you can see there's a little bit of sheen on the water. You can see how thick and sticky it is, too.

MARCIANO: I'm just trying to get this off my gloves and you can't do it. That's when you know it's definitely oil. If that was mud, it would wash right off.

That's the state bird of Louisiana right there. That one looks pretty healthy. But we've seen a number today that definitely had oil, no telling how many more out there that have been hit with it. That's gorgeous.


COOPER: A symbol of Louisiana, the state bird, the pelican. That was Rob Marciano reporting.

Even if the leak is stopped tomorrow and it's not going to be another probably two days they say before we actually know, there's a lot of concern it may be too late to save these oil soaked birds and fish and other wildlife in the Gulf that you saw there in Rob's report. And remember, that's just the oil we can see. There are millions of gallons of oil under water and all these dispersants doing who knows what to the ecosystem.

A short time ago, I spoke to Jack Hanna, director emeritus of the Columbus Zoo and host of Jack Hanna's "Into the Wild."


COOPER: Jack, in terms of wildlife, what is your greatest concern about this spill?

JACK HANNA, DIRECTOR EMERITUS, COLUMBUS ZOO: Well, the greatest concern is obviously the animals that are there right now. But when you have animals migrating this time of year, as I said, it couldn't be a worse time of year to happen.

I mean birds are coming through there, eating fish, sea turtles laying eggs eating what they eat, the manatee are getting ready to come up that way in the summertime, obviously eating all sorts of grasses, sea grasses.

And of course, when a bird eats a fish or something and then flies further north, someone asked me, what will be the effect of animals we don't see? Well, that's something we'll probably never find out. Maybe two or three years from now we'll find out during the nesting season how many birds go back and forth.

That's one thing that I don't think many people have thought about is what's going to happen when these animals come and go and us not knowing anything and then what happens with those animals.

COOPER: Does it surprise you that we haven't seen large numbers of animals washing up on shore dead?

HANNA: Yes, it does surprise me. I thought there would be more. But you know, I think God everyday that there aren't more. And I'll just pray to God again that this thing will end in about a week.

What's happening to them, who knows? You know, there's animals that eat animals, that type of thing. We all think of the dolphins, the sea turtles, the birds and that's all great. But remember, plankton is the source of all food sources. When that's affected, how does that affect everything else in the chain?

And this is a perfect example. People sometimes don't believe in the chain of life. But this is a perfect example of what can happen when it goes to oysters, the little animals that siphon water, that's what really concerns.

And of course, you know, we can sit here all day long and knock the federal government, knock BP and everybody else. The point is we all need to pull together now, like you've always done, and try and always get together to figure out how we we're going to solve the problem and then we can take off from there and put the blame on somebody.

COOPER: A lot of the shrimpers on Grand Isle, a lot of the shrimpers around here today and in Port Fourchon; they're concerned their industry may never come back because the shrimp are bottom feeders, and with these dispersants, the oil is sinking down and no one really knows how much oil there is underneath the surface of the water and what effect it's going to have long term on the shrimp.

HANNA: Right. You will never know that. Of course, it's not just the shrimp for human consumption that affects human lives, as well. But also, many, many animals eat the shrimp. I don't know -- I mean I can sit here and list a bunch of them. But you're exactly right. No one really knows what's going to happen.

I can tell you one thing, Anderson. The only good thing that can come out of this and I say good; the good thing that -- where you are now, you have the Audubon Institute, the Audubon Zoo, The Audubon Aquarium, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, which you can go right down the coast there with SeaWorld and all these folks who have been familiar with all these -- some of these oil spills. So if it had to happen anywhere, thank God these folks are there on standby.

And the other thing is make sure that nobody that's listening tonight goes out there like you right now -- I don't know what you're dressed in, I can't see you -- but no one goes out and touches these animals, not just because of the oil, Anderson, but because the animals that are affected, sea turtles, the birds, if you go up to them and expose them to yourself, they're going to be afraid of you. And that puts ten times more stress.

All you've got to do is leave them alone, make a phone call and let these folks and professionals in the Zoo World take care of it.

COOPER: And when we see these pelicans, you know, coated in oil, can they be saved?

HANNA: Yes, they can be saved. They can be washed with Dove -- I think it's the Dove -- I'm not sure what soap they're using. But yes, we've proven that before in the Valdez oil spill, where the Zoo World took part up there, as far as SeaWorld.

All these folks -- right now we have 222 zoos and aquariums, Anderson, on stand-by right now, but you've got the three finest right there in New Orleans. And so if that is an overflow area, and we've got all these other folks that are ready to send their folks there to help out. We can be thankful for anything that we have help waiting to be there.

COOPER: Jack Hanna, appreciate you joining us tonight. Jack thanks.

HANNA: Thank you.


COOPER: Up next the impact the oil spill is having on this Louisiana town when our coverage from along the Gulf continues.


COOPER: We're along the Gulf tonight reporting on the oil disaster. As we've been telling you, BP will try that "top kill" maneuver tomorrow morning. A lot of people here are hoping it's going to work -- praying it's going to work.

At the same time, the people here are growing increasingly angry with the response from both BP and Washington.

With me now is Chett Chiasson, executive director of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission. Thanks so much for being with us. What're your greatest concerns right now?

CHETT CHIASSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, GREATER LAFOURCHE PORT COMMISSION: Well, my concern is this. We are the service base for a lot of what's going on offshore in the New Orleans gas industry and we were the service base for the people --

COOPER: It all goes through you port?

CHIASSON: Correct. All the commodities needed to drill the wells go through our port. And the relief wells are being serviced out of our port right now.

You know we service 90 percent of all the deep water activity in the Gulf of Mexico and 18 percent of the nation's entire oil supply out of this port. And this industry is our life here. And it's important to maintain our industry.

COOPER: It's this fine balance, because on the one hand, I mean everyone here -- people are upset at BP, but they also know they need oil. It helps this local economy.

CHIASSON: Right. I mean coming out of the Gulf of Mexico is $7 billion annually into the federal treasury, second only to the IRS servicing our federal treasury. So it's important that we get some of that share of those funds to repair our marsh lands.

COOPER: Seeing the pictures of the oil in the marsh lands just has to break your heart,

CHIASSON: It does. It breaks our heart. I grew up here. I live here. I work here. And it's important to us to maintain our culture and heritage.

COOPER: Can those marshes be saved? I mean can they come back?

CHIASSON: They can come back. They can be saved. We need the funding here coming down from the federal government. We need to share in these revenues.

You know, across the United States, inland states get 50 percent of the revenues coming from their state on federal lands. Out here in the Gulf of Mexico, we receive less than 1 percent of those funds. And we need those funds now to repair our marshes.

COOPER: Do you think it's going to work tomorrow? This "top kill"?

CHIASSON: I hope it works.

COOPER: A lot of people do. Chett, appreciate your time. Thank you very much.

CHIASSON: Thank you very much.

We're going to have more 360 ahead.

Also, looking at the results of the spill that we have seen over the last several days.

Also tonight, honoring Louis Armstrong by finding the next generation of jazz geniuses in New Orleans; one musician's vision to rebuild his beloved city, when we continue.


COOPER: Five years ago, of course, it was hurricane Katrina. Now it's the BP oil spill. The Gulf Coast has had way too many hard knocks. But each time, it gets back up again.

Tonight, another example of that incredible spirit and grit; you may have heard of Irvin Mayfield, the Grammy-award winning trumpeter. He was born in New Orleans and serves as a cultural ambassador to his hometown. Check out what he's doing.

Here's Soledad O'Brien with our "Building up America" report.


IRVIN MAYFIELD, GRAMMY-AWARD WINNING TRUMPETER: Louis Armstrong showed the world the vision in the dream of New Orleans. That's what he did (INAUDIBLE).

And it was unfortunate being a trumpet player who's now 32 not finding, you know, an abundance of young, talented trumpet players following in that legacy.


MAYFIELD: Well, we don't invest in the things that make American culture great. So I think that's been happening. And then you had the storm which put the period on the end of the sentence.

O'BRIEN: The storm, of course, was Katrina. The hurricane not only dispersed musicians and set back his beloved jazz scene it also claimed the life of his father who drowned after the storm. Today, inspired to rebuild the city he loves, Irvin Mayfield created the Seeking Satch (ph) contest, invoking Louis Armstrong's nickname, Satchmo, given to him because of his smile, wide as a satchel bag.

MAYFIELD: There are those who want to be the next Louis Armstrong; they just don't know how to be. So that's what "Seeking Satch" is about. It's about seeking that next generation.

O'BRIEN: The judges were renowned jazz instructors and musicians, including Mayfield, himself. They gave pointers.

MAYFIELD: Song has a lot of brilliance to it. So now it's about dotting the i's and crossing the t's.

O'BRIEN: And musical advice.

MAYFIELD: I can tell you can hear it. Knowledge is a question of understanding; understanding what you're hearing. I think five years later after Hurricane Katrina we really were looking for a way to get people to understand the New Orleans story and to not be the Katrina story only.

O'BRIEN: Explain that to me. You're parsing the difference between New Orleans and Katrina and for many people, they're one in the same.

MAYFIELD: Yes. Well, I think Katrina is a great tragedy that James Carville calls an engineering failure. That's one aspect of time of the city. But New Orleans is almost 300 years old. We have to look forward as if we plan to make another 300 years.

O'BRIEN: And that plan for Irvin Mayfield includes a vibrant jazz scene; something that this young trumpet player Doyle Cooper, known simply as red, understands. He was the winner of the "Seeking Satch" contest and will perform at the summer Louis Armstrong Satchmo festival in New Orleans in August.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And our grand prize winner this afternoon, Doyle Cooper.

DOYLE COOPER, WINNER, "SEEKING SATCHMO" CONTEST: This is a great honor to be an ambassador of Satchmo.

O'BREN: So when you look around, there's progress or not so much? Or none?

MAYFIELD: There's tremendous amount of progress, the question is where do you really look for progress? The story of New Orleans is the people. They answer to the question that follows Hurricane Katrina, and that question is "What is the city?" And the city is the sum of its people.

And New Orleans is a great city because of the people.

O'BRIEN: Soledad O'Brien, CNN, New Orleans.


COOPER: It's the great American city.

That does it for this edition of 360. Thanks for watching.

"LARRY KING" starts right now.