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THE SITUATION ROOM

A New Explosion of Deadly Violence in Iraq; Food Safety Fears; Rising from Katrina; Tiger's Ex Tells All

Aired August 28, 2010 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: A new explosion of deadly violence in Iraq just as President Obama prepares to mark the end of U.S. combat mission. Are Iraqi forces and American troops left behind prepared for the worst?

Plus, five years after Hurricane Katrina. New tests of the levees and survivors' fears. Is New Orleans at risk of another flood disaster?

And a massive egg recall grows to become the largest in recent history. Officials fear the entire nation could be exposed. Chilling new questions about whether the food we eat is safe.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Just as the U.S. completed its draw-down of combat brigades, militants launched a stunning wave of deadly bombings all across Iraq this week, from suicide bombers to car bombs to roadside bombs. The U.S. military says extremists were out to make a violent statement.

President Obama is preparing to make his own statement about the war. He'll address the nation from the Oval Office on Tuesday as the next phase of the U.S. mission in Iraq begins. Joining me now, the former supreme allied commander in Europe, the retired Army General George Joulwan.

Thank you so much for joining us, General.

GEN. GEORGE JOULWAN (RET.), FMR. SUPREME ALLIED CMDR., EUROPE: A pleasure to be here, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: In light of this week, what we saw, it was a spectacular display of violence in Iraq across 13 cities. You had dozens who were killed. Hundreds injured. Is now the time for U.S. troops to really pull out?

JOULWAN: I think first of all, we expected that there would be violence as the U.S. nears its deadline of 31 August. So I won't call them spectacular. It was impressive of how they were conducted. But much of that was expected. The decision now is what do you do about that? We still have 50,000 U.S. troops there. The Iraqi forces have gotten better since I was there three years ago, doing an evaluation of the Iraqi security forces. And so I think what needs to happen now is the Iraqi political side of it needs to get their act together, form a government. Because the military and police forces of Iraq have gotten much better in the last three years.

MALVEAUX: In light of what happened on Wednesday, how vulnerable are the Iraqi citizens?

JOULWAN: That's one of the tragedies. They are killing a lot of Iraqi citizens. Particularly they're targeting police. Those that are trying to be recruited for the police. That's a very interesting part of it. That's part of the stability that's required. And the Al Qaeda and the other sectarian groups understand that. So I truly think that the Iraqis' citizens are under great threat from some of these bombings. I am confident if a political side gets our act together, the Iraqi military and police can provide for the security and sovereignty of their nation.

MALVEAUX: What is the timetable for the Iraqi government to actually get its act together? Because we've been waiting a long time here.

JOULWAN: That's an excellent question. I would say it better happen sooner rather than later. It has been about six months. That is six months too long. There has to be a lot of international pressure. The U.N. just came out with a statement. I think NATO, the E.U., the United States, all the surrounding neighbors of Iraq, need to put pressure on to get some leadership in here and to form a government. That is what is urgently needed.

MALVEAUX: Does the Obama administration, does President Obama need to do more in terms of pressing the Iraqi government to move forward?

JOULWAN: I think the U.S. is doing quite a bit to try to get this thing moving. As you know, it is a very close vote when the elections were held. But for the sake of that country, for all that has been expended, particularly, by the United States and others over the last seven or eight years, it is important that a government be formed. That a government be formed quickly and I would say hopefully in the next 30 days.

MALVEAUX: Help us understand what our mission in Iraq will be now, now that it goes from a military mission to one that is more diplomatic. What are the U.S. troops that are still going to be stationed there, and going there, what are they going to be doing?

JOULWAN: We're going to call it stability operations. They're training and helping and equipping. It was very interesting when I was there three years ago, they had about 10 or 11 divisions poorly equipped, mostly with old Soviet tanks and equipment.

MALVEAUX: These are the Iraqis?

JOULWAN: Iraqis. We pointed that out. The Iraqis today, they've got soon to have nearly 150 M1 A1 tanks, personnel carriers, excellent equipment. And they bought it themselves. They paid for it themselves. Billions of dollars. So that's why I'm confident that if we can get political side handled, that I think the Iraqi military, and the U.S. military, the 50,000 there, will continue to provide training and support for those forces as they develop.

MALVEAUX: How dangerous is this next phase of the mission for U.S. troops? They won't be in a combat role but can we expect they'll be faced with danger and trouble?

JOULWAN: Absolutely. They need to have the rules of engage that let them defend themselves. And they do have those. They're going to be in a very interesting, difficult but important role as the focus shifts more and more to the Iraqi police, and military as trainers, as suppliers to them of the equipment, et cetera.

MALVEAUX: What will be the role of military contractors? Are we going to see a greater increase in that? Does that create a murky situation? A murky area where we're not held accountable as we were before?

JOULWAN: Well, I think, yes. But, for example, some of the capacity building within the government of Iraq. The State Department is going to become more and more and more involved. And a lot of that will be done by contractor works for the State Department. The military also has contractors on power generation, et cetera. I think you're going to see shifts to contractors, but in the end, it is going to be the Iraqis that need to take all that, from what they're given in equipment and training, and stand up on their own.

MALVEAUX: What do we expect to hear from President Obama on Tuesday?

JOULWAN: I'm not sure. But I would hope he would point out some of the successes that we have seen, particularly since we measured them. And General Jones was on this commission three years ago and is the national security adviser now. We measured them three years ago, and there has been substantive improvements since then. And I hope he points that out.

But I also hope he puts pressure on the Iraqi government to form a government sooner rather than later. And I would hope in the next 30 days, because then what has to happen, there is another little over a year before the other 50,000 pull out. In that time, the Iraqi government has to stand up and form a good government.

MALVEAUX: OK. General, appreciate your time here on THE SITUATION ROOM

JOULWAN: Thank you.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much.

Shirley Sherrod turns down the agriculture secretary's job offer. The former administration employee tells me how she feels now about her ouster. And whether there is a culture of racism within the government.

Plus, they failed to hold back the floodwaters five years ago. Are the levees in New Orleans strong enough now to withstand another Katrina?

And why Tiger Woods' ex-wife broke her silence and how she is coping now. I'll talk to the "People" magazine reporter who interviewed Elin Nordegren at length.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Forced out of her job last month after a misleading video was posted on the Internet. The former federal employee Shirley Sherrod returned to the Agriculture Department this week for a meeting with Secretary Tom Vilsack. The outcome of the meeting was surprising though, as Sherrod turned down offers to go back to work at the department. Shirley Sherrod sat down with me after that meeting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Tell me a little about today. What was that like to come face to face with your former boss, Secretary Vilsack today?

SHIRLEY SHERROD, FMR. AGRICULTURE DEPT. EMPLOYEE: The second day when he said I stand by my decision, that hurt. So I just needed to have some closure, I guess, and hearing exactly what happened. He did explain what happened that day, he was traveling. He explained that they made a lot of mistakes dealing with me. And they are trying to correct those in the department. They're putting new things in place so that that won't happen to others.

If what happened to me will keep others from having to go through that, hopefully in the future, then I guess that's a good thing.

MALVEAUX: You said, before though, that they were changing the process. But you didn't want to be the one to test it.

SHERROD: Right.

MALVEAUX: It sounds like you didn't have a lot of fated in the Agriculture Department changing when it come to racism or discrimination.

SHERROD: If the secretary is the only person I had to deal with as we move forward, then it probably would be fairly easy. I think he is very sincere about dealing with the issue of racism in the agency. But like I said, if he was the only one to deal with it, it probably wouldn't be an issue right now. That has been going on. Racism in this agency has been going on for more years than I -- than I've been in this world. It's systemic, and you know, I would deal more. I would deal with more than just Secretary Vilsack.

MALVEAUX: Is there a deep culture of racism inside the department? Only the Agriculture Department?

SHERROD: It is not just the Agriculture Department. I've run into others as I traveled through airports. And I remember the first week when I was on my way home and in the Atlanta airport. And young women, young African-American, women who work in other agencies. CDC, one of them. She talked about what she's dealing with and it was the same kind of thing. So it's not just the Department of Agriculture. It is the one we know about the most. But there are issues with minorities and other agencies of the government.

MALVEAUX: Some people look at the mosque issue and they think maybe Muslims are being targeted. Maybe they're the group now that is being discriminated against and people think it is acceptable.

SHERROD: Let's just say a lot of discrimination goes on in this country. It amazes me how people can think sometimes. That's why I try to say to everyone, I try to treat people like I want to be treated. Then in case someone doesn't want to be treated right, treat them like you want your children to be treated. I think we would all be OK, if we look at every situation like that. My whole thing is how can we figure out in the space that we have in this United States of America, there is enough space here for all of us. We can, we should be able to work it out.

MALVEAUX: What do you think of president Obama's job in dealing with race relations?

SHERROD: You know, the poor president. He can't speak out about anything unless they jump in all over him. I really do feel, and I know he's in a position, he's the first black president. And people look at that. I do think whether it is from him, or some other way with his administration, we do have to talk about race. We need to talk about race in this country so that we can move beyond where we are now. Because we're not in a good place.

MALVEAUX: Your life has been turned upside down, I know.

SHERROD: Yes.

MALVEAUX: Since all this began. What has been the biggest change for you?

SHERROD: You know, I love people. So it's not a bad thing to be able to go out and you think you're not being recognized and people come up to you, and they want to hug you, or take a picture with you. I haven't been that kind of public person, but I'm a people person.

MALVEAUX: You've been invited to speak before a lot of groups obviously about civil rights and race relations. What is the message? What do you want to tell them? What do you want to learn from this?

SHERROD: My message hasn't changed in 24 years. It is so interesting that now everybody is aware of it. I've tried to use my life. I've tried to use what happened to me and how I've been transformed. I've been able to see it is not a black-white issue. It is a poor issue. That as poor people come together to work on our issues together, we can make a change. I would say that. I said it back, that speech for the NAACP, I would still say it today. We can get beyond this.

MALVEAUX: What's next for you? Well, I certainly want to get back to the many letters and card and e-mail messages. The Facebook stuff is something new, you know, I'm trying to-I haven't even dealt with all that. There are so many there. I need to try to get back to people who tried to reach out to me. That's one thing.

I would also like to look at finding those communities, those individuals who are seriously working on the problems of race, and try to highlight some of those. I think we need to really look at the good out there, and put those examples out there so other can see. I would like to promote that.

MALVEAUX: Do you think that there is some fear for people to talk about issues of race? Dr. Laura who resigned over the use of the N word, for example, and she says she is not able to speak her mind. That there is a silencing or a political correctness that is going on. How do you see this?

SHERROD: I didn't see or hear what she had to say. I've heard others comment about it. I think it is the way she did it. But she would have to answer to that.

I think if this country makes it a priority that we're going to deal with race. We're going to talk about it and we'll get beyond this. I think we can do it. I think we can get to a better place with this. Why should we want to keep this going on and on from generation, one generation after another. It doesn't even make for a safe place for us to be, in this country. If I'm afraid of white people or I'm afraid of Hispanic people, or Native Americans, you know, it keeps us fighting each other.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans five years ago, the levees broke flooding the city. Now people are coming back to homes near the rebuilt barriers. Are they tempting fate?

And millions of eggs potentially tainted by salmonella in chicken feed. I'll talk to food author Eric Schlosser about what this latest mass recall signals about our food supply.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August of 2005, New Orleans thought it had first dodged a big bullet. Then the levees broke, filling the basin in which most of New Orleans sits. What if a major hurricane hit New Orleans again? Our CNN Meteorologist Jacqui Jeras looks at the system that failed and the work that's underway to make it stronger.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST (voice over): It wasn't Katrina alone, it was the levees, too. A government task force reports that major levee breaches and pumping systems that didn't work are what flooded the Lower Ninth Ward and other parts of the city. In Louisiana, more than 1,400 people died as a result of Katrina.

(On camera): Of the 50 major levee breaches, those along the Industrial Canal were among the most compromised. Water got pushed from Lake Thorn, it funneled through intra-coastal waterway and then pushed up against the Industrial Canal and it just couldn't hold against that fury.

Here's the Google Earth that shows you what it looked like before Katrina. This is the canal here. And this is what it looked like afterwards. You can see the breaches and the water everywhere. The system was so compromise that had those that stayed in New Orleans after Katrina were concerned that even tropical storm could put them back underwater.

(Voice over): Five years later, the United States Army Corps of Engineers says the city is safer than ever. Thanks to $14 billion worth of federal funds that's being used to build and rebuild the system of levees, flood walls, gates, pump stations, breakwaters and armoring.

(On camera): The project began in late 2005 and the Corps says it is about one-third complete. It promises a 100-year level of flood protection and is slated to be finished in June 2011. Already the three major canals you can see here have been reinforced and gates have been added. It is a very complex system. The levees and walls encircle New Orleans 350 miles around this city. And these walls are as tall as 20 feet. The corps says there is a 1 percent chance on any given year that storm surge or flooding would equal or exceed the level of protection.

(Voice over): The areas most vulnerable today, as shown on this map on the Corps' website, are Eastern New Orleans and the area between Lake Bourne and the Mississippi River. Although the project is still under construction, the Corps said there is better protection now than before Katrina struck.

Even when the multi-billion dollar improvements are complete, New Orleans remains a place of risk. The city is surrounded by water on all sides. For the people here, it is literally like living in a bowl. The ground there is slowly sinking. Add in global warming causing sea levels to rise, and Louisiana is losing a little bit of land every day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: As Jacqui said, city officials say New Orleans is safer now and that the levees are stronger. But as CNN Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve reports, many who live near them just don't believe it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The long road back from Hurricane Katrina has brought Sonja Hill here to one of the handful of houses rebuilt near where the Industrial Canal flood wall gave way.

SONJA HILL, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: I'm looking at the wall. What if it breaks again? What if it breaks right here in front of the door and I'm inside with my kids. I don't feel safe here if a hurricane comes through.

MESERVE: Sonja says she can't afford to live somewhere else.

HILL: Yeah.

MESERVE: But Roy Arrigo doesn't want to move. His house is just a few hundred feet from where the 17th Street Canal floodwall failed.

(On camera): This is the same kind of wall that failed five years ago.

ROY ARRIGO, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: Yes, it is.

MESERVE: Is that scary?

ARRIGO: Yes, it is. This is a fragile wall.

MESERVE: Arrigo was angry at the Army Corps of Engineers and blames it for the destruction of his city.

ARRIGO: We see the work. And we're told about all of the progress. But can we trust it? To be quite honest, I don't think we can.

MESERVE: In the Gentilly neighborhood, near the London Avenue Canal breach, Willean Brown believes the engineering isn't what matters.

WILLEAN BROWN, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: They could be a levee as high as he wants to. God has the power. If he wants to tear it, tear down a building whatever, 25 feet, 30 feet, he can knock it down with his power.

MESERVE: Her faith makes her feel safe here. Not her sister Callie.

CALLIE BROWN, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: I have to give government the benefit of the doubt, that that wall is going to hold. I try. But that don't mean it's going to work.

MESERVE: For Callie Brown, and many others, the shadow cast by the levees is long and dark. Jeanne Meserve, CNN, New Orleans.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Coming up, another personal story from one of the most devastating natural disasters in U.S. history. You'll want to hear the journalist's Kathleen Koch's story about a Mississippi community still fighting for survival.

Then chickens put out salmonella-tainted eggs, potentially, by the hundreds of millions. "Fast Food Nation" author Eric Schlosser fears the latest outbreak and subsequent recall signal a food safety system in serious trouble.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: The salmonella outbreak which led to the recall of half a billion eggs has sickened hundreds of people. Federal officials say the feed given to hens at two giant egg farms is the likely source of the contamination. How worried should we be about the foods we eat? (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Joining me now is Eric Schlosser, author of the bestseller "Fast Food Nation". Thank you so much, Eric, for joining us here. What - can you tell us what does this big egg recall when it come to the safety of our food supply?

ERIC SCHLOSSER, AUTHOR, "FAST FOOD NATION": Well, this is a bad outbreak and tens of thousands of people are going to be sickened by tainted eggs. But to me this is just one more sign of a food safety system that's really broken down. I mean, last year, we had a major outbreak of salmonella linked to peanut butter. And these industry groups would like to blame consumers and hold consumers responsible. But there really shouldn't be salmonella in peanut butter and there shouldn't be salmonella in eggs either.

MALVEAUX: What's the biggest problem? What is the main problem here? What's - where's the breakdown?

SCHLOSSER: The problem is - the problem, you know, is in the last 25 to 30 years. We've had a major consolidation and centralization of our food production. And that means if you have a problem at one of these processing facilities, you have a nationwide or even an international problem. Now, there was not salmonella in eggs until the early 1980s when the egg producers got very, very big.

And when you cram all of these hens together and one of them is sick with salmonella, they give the other hens salmonella and they wind - that bug winds up in the eggs.

MALVEAUX: What are the -

SCHLOSSER: What we need is tough food safety enforcement, and there's a bill right now that's been stuck in Congress for almost a year, the FDA Modernization Act, that really help with some of these problems.

MALVEAUX: Well, tell us a bit about the conditions on egg farms. Most people don't understand and they don't know what you're talking about when you talk about the kinds of conditions that go from the production of an egg to what we see on our plates. What happens there on those egg farms?

SCHLOSSER: Well, in the 1950s and 1960s, you had hundreds and hundreds of small producers, and there really wasn't salmonella in eggs. Now you have a handful of enormous egg producers, with thousands of birds crammed very closely together. And those sorts of living conditions are ideal vectors for spreading disease.

So salmonella in eggs is a sign of poor sanitary conditions, in the same way that the salmonella in peanut butter last year was a result of very poor sanitary conditions at that plant.

MALVEAUX: Is this industry-wide?

SCHLOSSER: So our food system has changed fundamentally -

MALVEAUX: Go ahead.

SCHLOSSER: You know, among the big egg producers, absolutely. And that's why you need food safety laws and oversight that can handle these changes in our food safety system. I mean, the FDA was created in 1906, but this is the 21st century, and it needs tools to really handle outbreaks like this.

MALVEAUX: Eric, I want to -

SCHLOSSER: So the bill right that's right now maybe - I'm sorry.

MALVEAUX: OK. The bill I understand, obviously, has got to make its way through Congress. Perhaps it stands a better chance now that we've seen this egg recall.

But I do want to give the FDA commissioner -

SCHLOSSER: I think so.

MALVEAUX: -- a chance to respond, because this morning she did talk about the fact that, you know, you've got these 500 million eggs that have been recalled, but this is really less than one percent of the eggs that are produced each year.

Here's how she responded to how they are dealing with this outbreak of salmonella. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. MARGARET HAMBURG, FDA COMMISSIONER: Our purview is food safety and we are acting very aggressively now to make sure that we fully investigate the source of the contamination and how it happened to put in place preventive measures so it wouldn't happen in the future, and to protect consumers by doing a complete and thorough recall of products that may be contaminated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: Do you trust that the FDA can keep the food safe, that they will do their jobs?

SCHLOSSER: This isn't the fault of the FDA. This is the fault of a company that produced half a billion, perhaps contaminated eggs. And if this company had had good sanitary conditions and was thoroughly testing for salmonella, we wouldn't have had this outbreak.

Back to the FDA, the FDA needs the ability to test for contaminated food, trace it back to its source, and order the recall of contaminated food, and it does not have those powers right now. And the industry has fought against the FDA having these powers for almost 20 years.

MALVEAUX: And obviously -

SCHLOSSER: So I'm very critical of government agencies, but this - this outbreak should be blamed on the company that produced half a billion potentially contaminated eggs.

MALVEAUX: And you mentioned that legislation, obviously, that would give the FDA more teeth to actually handle these kinds of cases and these problems as you had mentioned.

But the food industry in general has been able to basically keep it pretty quiet and behind the scenes how they produce our food, whether it's eggs or peanut butter or any - any type of process here. Why is that? Who is complicit in - in keeping everything so under wraps so that we don't really have a clue as to how we get our food and what is taking place behind the scenes?

SCHLOSSER: Well, particularly when it comes to livestock, like hogs and cattle and chicken or the production of eggs, these companies don't want you to see how it's actually being produced, because if you saw it, you wouldn't want to eat it. We've been eating eggs for thousands of years, but we've only been eating eggs produced at these mega, mega facilities for the last 20 years, and we're now seeing the results of this.

So I think people need to educate themselves. They need to be more informed. I think they should right now be cooking their eggs thoroughly. But ultimately, this is the responsibility of the companies that are selling contaminated foods and not of consumers.

MALVEAUX: OK. Eric Schlosser, author of "Fast Food Nation." Thank you so much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: When covering a disaster becomes personal, we'll talk to one journalist covering Hurricane Katrina and arrived in her home town to find it wiped out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Five years ago, reporters from all over the world were covering Hurricane Katrina. And for a handful of us, it was very personal. Our former CNN colleague Kathleen Koch arrived in her hometown of Bay St. Louis, Mississippi to find it wiped out.

Well, she has written a book about it called "Rising from Katrina" and she joins us in THE SITUATION ROOM to talk about it.

Kathleen, it's so nice to see you again. You are in New Orleans right now where my - my family obviously suffered from Katrina but they're doing much better. You have your own personal story and you wrote about it. Tell us why you decided to write the book and how are things going.

KATHLEEN KOCH, AUTHOR, "RISING FROM KATRINA": Well, first of all, Suzanne, I decided to write the book primarily because most Americans have no idea that the Mississippi Gulf coast was even impacted. When in reality, what happens in New Orleans, that - that was a manmade disaster when the levees gave way. And tragic as it was, the eye of the hurricane itself actually came in at the border between Louisiana and Mississippi, and therefore - and then the eye cut east over Mississippi. So Mississippi caught the worst, the physical brunt of the storm. A hundred twenty-five-mile- an-hour winds, 145-mile-an-hour gusts, hop-scotching tornadoes. And then, Suzanne, a massive wall of water - 30 plus feet, an American tsunami essentially and it flattened everything in the first half mile along the entire 80-mile long Gulf Coast.

They're doing better. They're recovering. They're building back as New Orleans is. But they - I'd say they're only halfway there.

MALVEAUX: What do they need the most, when you go back and you visit and you talk to folks, what do they tell you?

KOCH: A couple of things. One thing that they need is - is acknowledgement. People are still suffering. As I've been going around the South on my book tour, people pour out their hearts to me. They share their Katrina stories and they're very frustrated that the president of the United States himself isn't coming here on this very important - coming to Mississippi on a very important anniversary. So acknowledgement is a huge part of the healing process.

What else do they need - volunteers to come down and rebuild homes. They need business. They need people to come and enjoy the wonderful restaurants on the Gulf Coast, the beautiful white beaches.

I was just there a few weeks ago, no trace of oil anymore. So that's what they need, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: How difficult was that? I mean, obviously, Hurricane Katrina hit first and then you have the oil spill. I mean, the double whammy of both those. Are - how are people coping and how do they move on?

KOCH: Suzanne, people start to reach out to me as soon as the oil spill occurred because the population here on the Gulf Coast from Louisiana, all the way over into Alabama, is newly vulnerable since Katrina. They realized how quickly they can lose everything.

And so they were terrified. You know, that Katrina was like an amputation. It was swift and brutal but right away you saw what you've lost and you knew what you had to do to rebuild. And people rallied together and there was no rallying against the spill. It was more like a - like a slow-moving plague and you never know where it was going next and who would it impact and would it deal a lethal blow.

It's - it's been so hard for people to - to come back from that. But they're optimistic, at least now that it has been capped that they'd be able to fish the waters again, the seafood will be clean and the business will come back. But it's - it's been real tough.

MALVEAUX: You have an excellent book here, "Rising from Katrina". What do you hope people take away from your journey and from this book? KOCH: You know, Suzanne, it's not just a hurricane book. The hurricane is over in the first 40 pages. What it is, is an exploration of how do people move forward? What sustains them when they've lost everything?

And it's a really timeless message, you know, with so many people because of the poor economy now, losing their jobs, and the mortgage crisis, losing their homes. They're just losing hope. You can take page from the brave residents of the Gulf Coast of Mississippi who lost it all but clung to what they had left, and that was family and friends and, you know, faith and community.

And still I get choked up because they're so special and that is what has kept them going.

MALVEAUX: It's obviously still very emotional for you, Kathleen.

KOCH: It is.

MALVEAUX: Explain why. Tell us why.

KOCH: Because you can't see the people you know and love lose everything, and the house you grew up in reduced to rubble and not be devastated. And not be furious that it has taken them so long to come back and that help initially took so long to get there right after the storm.

And then that you had the battles that went on for years with the insurance companies, not really even resolved until the fall of this year when the Mississippi Supreme Court finally said yes, these clauses that the - some of the insurance companies were using to get out of paying for the wind damage on people's homes. These were ambiguous and unenforceable.

People should not have had to suffer like that. I t should not have been so difficult for them. And that it makes me angry and so I'm passionate about them. People in New Orleans, people in Louisiana and Mississippi have suffered far too much, for far too long.

MALVEAUX: Do you feel any new confidence with the new leadership, in FEMA, for instance, that people will not have to go through that same kind of experience? That kind of frustration and anger that you and others feel?

KOCH: You said - I - I missed the top of the question with the new -

MALVEAUX: With the new FEMA head, some of the new people in charge now that - yes. Do you feel a sense - a greater sense of hope?

KOCH: I hope, Suzanne. But at the same time, you know, when people ask me as you've been touring the country, are we ready, are we ready for another Katrina? You can never be completely ready for a hurricane of that magnitude.

The best things to do is get out of the way, to evacuate so you don't have a massive loss of life that you had here and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Yes, we have better communications in place. That makes a huge difference.

And I do think people understand now where to position yourself after a hurricane - in the face of a hurricane, not to position yourself so far North as they did in Mississippi so that rescue workers are cutting their way through miles and miles of downed trees. They've learned where to be when one of these things is coming your way, so you can get the help in quickly.

But I think we are better ready, but you're never completely ready for anything like that.

MALVEAUX: The failure of Tiger Woods' marriage played out in the glare of the spotlight. Through it all, the golfer's wife remains silent. Now that the divorce is final, ex-wife, Elin Nordegren tells her story to "People" magazine and exclusive details of that interview, next.

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MALVEAUX: The final act in the highly public marital meltdown between Tiger Woods and Elin Nordegren played out this week as their divorce was finalized. And now she's speaking out about the drama, appearing on the cover of "People" magazine and telling her side of the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Sandra Sobeiraj-Westfall, thanks for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM, for "People" magazine.

SANDRA SOBEIRAJ-WESTFALL, PEOPLE MAGAZINE: Hi.

MALVEAUX: You really did have quite an opportunity to sit down with Elin, 19 hours, I believe, to talk to her to get her side of the story when it comes to her divorce, her separation with Tiger Woods. How did this come about?

SOBEIRAJ-WESTFALL: You know, Suzanne, you know from covering the White House, we've been there together, it's all very controlled. There are a lot of layers to get through press secretaries, communication's directors, not at all with Elin Nordegren. She thought she wanted to tell her story. She wanted to explore what that would mean.

So she and her lawyers, from the firm McGuireWoods down in Richmond, Virginia, they approached us. They knew our - our style, our sensitivity with stories like this. They knew that we would be fair and honest, but they also knew we had a reach.

And since she was going to tell the story one time and one time only, she wanted to make it - make it big. She wanted everybody to hear it because she's not saying it again.

MALVEAUX: Why did Elin want to speak? What did she want to say?

SOBIERAJ-WESTFALL: You know, she is not a public person. She does not want to have a public megaphone, but - but you get the sense from talking with her that she's been biting her lip for nine months, that there are several things that have been out there that - that she hated people thinking about her. She hated that - that people thought she was violent. She - one of the hardest things was the image of violence, that she might have taken a golf club to her husband.

MALVEAUX: She never did that? She said that wasn't true?

SOBIERAJ-WESTFALL: She says she's never been a violent person, that she's never committed an act of violence against him. There's never been violence in their home. And the thought that she would take a golf club to him is just truly ridiculous in her words.

But she also wanted to know it pained her that people thought she might have known and turned a blind eye. And she said, "As stupid as it makes me feel, that I didn't see and I didn't know, the fact is I didn't."

MALVEAUX: She didn't know that he was being unfaithful? She had no idea?

SOBIERAJ-WESTFALL: She said she was home for those three-and-a-half years with two pregnancies and two toddlers and taking college classes, and she sort of had her head down, focused on the business of raising a family while he was on the road, and being a trusting person, she didn't believe she had any reason to distrust.

MALVEAUX: Did she talk about any type of effort for the two of them to reconcile, to make it work, to move on together?

SOBIERAJ-WESTFALL: She did. She moved out of the house, the family house, her and the kids, in December of last year just before Christmas time, and she said at that time it was just to get some space and some breathing room. And she really only expected to be away for about a month while she took some time to think.

And she said for months and months, they worked on reconciliation. She did not want to talk about what was the tipping point that made her realize it wasn't going to work. Only that in the end, she decided that as much as she wanted her children to have an intact family, that it was more important to her that they have a happy family, and that happy apart was better than staying together without trust or love.

MALVEAUX: Did she talk at all about the healing process, either for herself or for Tiger Woods? Whether they are undergoing counseling or therapy or speaking to one another?

SOBIERAJ-WESTFALL: First and foremost, she was very careful not to speak for Tiger. The few questions I did ask her about him, she said, "He's going to speak for himself. I'll let him speak for himself."

On her healing, you know, she's a psychology student. People have known her or thought they knew her as a former swimsuit model and nanny, when, in fact, the more apt description is a psychology student and a mother of two. And she's working on her bachelor's degree in psychology, and what she's learned in class, she's applied. She - she said she's very sort of thoughtfully gone through the stages of grief. She's been journaling on her laptop to try to sort through some of her feelings. And she's been in therapy. She says, you know, "I have no qualms about admitting to you that I've been in intensive counseling and I think, frankly, everybody would benefit from talking to, you know, some objective outside person," and it's been very helpful for her.

MALVEAUX: There have been some wild figures thrown around when it comes to the divorce settlement, anywhere from $100 million to more than $700 million. Did she address that at all?

SOBIERAJ-WESTFALL: She would not and not surprisingly in this kind of a situation. You know, I think good estimates are probably, you know, more than $100 million, but $750 is wildly off the mark. I mean, that's, you know, probably his net worth.

All she would say is, you know, "Yes, I'm going to be a wealthy woman. But, you know, money can't buy happiness, and it's not going to put my family back together." What she did say is it will make it easier to heal, because she has the luxury of being able not to go out and work for a while, but to stay home with the kids, get them adjusted, and then she said she does want to have a job. She wants to put her degrees to work. She hopes to get a master's degree in psychology and then figure out what to do with it.

MALVEAUX: And I know that they have joint custody of the children, that they will be living in the same vicinity, at least same state. What is the takeaway that she gets from this terrible and painful experience now that she seems to be moving forward and moving on?

SOBIERAJ-WESTFALL: You know, she is a remarkably strong woman. And she said that the one fear she had was that she would leave this experience not able to trust people again. She even said to her mother right after it happened, you know, I've always been inclined to believe the good in people, and I'm afraid I might have lost that.

And sort of ironically, she told me that just being able to take the leap of faith and tell this story after being such a private person, sort of restores her faith that, you know, "I haven't lost it, and maybe I can fall in love again." She certainly does believe in love.

MALVEAUX: Sandra, thank you so much. It's an excellent read there in "People" magazine. I really appreciate your time. Good seeing you again.

SOBIERAJ-WESTFALL: Thank you. You, too.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Five years after Katrina, New Orleans on the rebound. When we come back, images of a city being reborn.

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MALVEAUX: As we mentioned, five years ago, Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast. Recovery has been slow and parts of the region remain in ruins.

On cnn.com we asked you to go back to the spots that you photographed after the storm and show us what they look like now. Many of your iReports show a positive change which we highlight on our "Hot Shots" today.

In downtown New Orleans, a car covered in bricks is now an opened parking space. Flooded streets that paralyzed the city for weeks, are now drivable. And outside the Convention Center, the debris has long been cleared away.

Thank you to all our iReporters for these images, pictures truly worth a thousand words.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux. Join us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 5:00 to 7:00 P.M. Eastern and every Saturday at 6:00 P.M. on CNN and at this time every weekend on CNN International.

The news continues next on CNN.

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Two big developing stories to report to you tonight, one in New Orleans and the other in the nation's capital.

At this very hour, five years ago, people all along the Gulf Coast and especially in this city were fighting for their very existence, fleeing a massive hurricane headed...