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Hurricane Damages Gulf Coast

August 29, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT

TRANSCRIPT

GWEN IFILL: Now, a look at the damage done so far by Hurricane Katrina. This afternoon, Jeffrey Brown spoke two two officials from the hardest-hit areas. First, Robert Latham, Executive Director of the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.

JEFFREY BROWN: Mr. Latham, thanks for joining us. How extensive an area has been damaged?

ROBERT LATHAM: Well, I think it would be safe to say that this is truly a catastrophic event that could easily be compared to Camille and that we’re looking at significant damage and destruction across the entire Gulf Coast in several counties inland and as the tropical storm continues to move inland, even as a Category 1 hurricane, it will possibly cause more damage inland to include power lines down, damaged homes, businesses, and probably damage to the infrastructure that supports it. So we still have several hours before we’re going to know any idea about what the extent of the damage is, but certainly along the Gulf Coast we know that it’s extensive.

JEFFREY BROWN: Do you have any casualty reports yet?

ROBERT LATHAM: Right now we have one report of a fatality in Warren County. A tree fell on a mobile home.

JEFFREY BROWN: Gov. Haley Barber had worried earlier today about the people who had not evacuated the area. Do you know how many people that is?

ROBERT LATHAM: I have no idea. I know that just based on the traffic counts that we saw on the evacuation routes, they were not as high as I would hope they would be. Therefore, I have to assume that a lot of people did not evacuate. So, you know, based on that, I have to say that there are probably large numbers that did not evacuate.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what about in shelters? Do you know how many people there are there and their situation?

ROBERT LATHAM: Yeah, we have actually several thousand people in shelters, but we have adequate shelter space statewide that could house, you know, additional evacuees, but, you know, at this point we’re not looking at evacuation. That part is over. Now it’s just a matter of our citizens remaining where they are and not leaving the shelter or their friends’ or relatives’ or wherever they may be right now. They need to sit tight, do not attempt to get out on the highways. It is not safe to get on the highways and to travel anywhere at this time. And as this situation deteriorates inland, it could get worse in north Mississippi, so people should just sit tight wherever they are right now, not risking getting out on the highways. It’s very unsafe out there.

JEFFREY BROWN: Tell us a little bit more about the structural damage we know of so far in the coastal cities.

ROBERT LATHAM: Well, all I can tell you right now is because there is significant, you know, winds still down there, we are able at this point to get out with search-and-rescue resources in Jackson County and Harrison County to start trying to rescue some of these people that have been identified as being trapped. We do know we have extensive damage to most all of the hospitals on the coast and suspect there will be major damage to critical infrastructure and certainly homes and businesses as well.

JEFFREY BROWN: And do you know whether some of these cities are still underwater?

ROBERT LATHAM: Absolutely. I mean, we’re talking about it taking as much as six hours for the storm surge that came in– some measured twenty to twenty-two feet, maybe even twenty-six feet– that it could take six hours for those storm waters to recede.

JEFFREY BROWN: Tell us a little bit more about the structural damage we know of so far in the coastal cities.

ROBERT LATHAM: Well, all I can tell you right now is because there is significant, you know, winds still down there, we are able at this point to get out with search-and-rescue resources in Jackson County and Harrison County to start trying to rescue some of these people that have been identified as being trapped. We do know we have extensive damage to most all of the hospitals on the coast and suspect there will be major damage to critical infrastructure and certainly homes and businesses as well.

JEFFREY BROWN: And do you know whether some of these cities are still underwater?

ROBERT LATHAM: Absolutely. I mean, we’re talking about it taking as much as six hours for the storm surge that came in– some measured twenty to twenty-two feet, maybe even twenty-six feet– that it could take six hours for those storm waters to recede.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now a report on the situation in New Orleans. For that I’m joined on the phone by Peter Whoriskey of the Washington Post.

Peter, many are worried this storm could destroy the city. How extensive was the damage?

PETER WHORISKEY: I don’t have my hands on any precise figures; I’m not sure that there are any out there yet, but it certainly wasn’t the storm that destroyed New Orleans, downtown New Orleans as I walked through today. There’s a lot of repair work to be done; there’s several downtown high rises that are windowless, but it wasn’t the kind of end of the century storm that everyone had predicted.

JEFFREY BROWN: What kind of structural damage are you seeing?

PETER WHORISKEY: The most striking damage was in the Hyatt Regency which is in the downtown. It was a place where lots of people had for years ridden out the hurricanes in New Orleans because they do this — have this thing they call vertical evacuation in which they get up. The big fear here is water, of course. The problem this time was that the windows in the Hyatt Regency blew out. And they had to evacuate those guests to ballrooms inside the hotel.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what about the flooding situation, are there parts of the city that are underwater? Is it easy to get around?

PETER WHORISKEY: It’s very difficult to get around. The flooding is — it’s here and there but where it is, it’s one or two feet. That’s difficult for even, you know, high-riding pick-up trucks to get through as we learned. It’s not the kind of flooding that they had feared but it’s still enough to make things a mess.

JEFFREY BROWN: Is there any determination of casualties at this point?

PETER WHORISKEY: I have asked that. The answer that I’ve gotten back from some of the local emergency people is it’s too early to tell. They don’t have any to report, the ones that I’ve spoken with, but they haven’t finished their rescue missions either.

JEFFREY BROWN: Early in the day, the mayor talked about as many as 20 buildings that had collapsed. Have you heard any more about that?

PETER WHORISKEY: I have not heard anything more about that. The buildings that I saw in the downtown, you could see that there were some old buildings that looked like they had been in a state of collapse already that were already falling down. Those are now — already fallen down. But, you know, most of the habitable buildings don’t look to me certainly in downtown New Orleans like they’re falling down.

JEFFREY BROWN: There was a lot of talk, of course, about the levees that surround the city, whether they would be overrun, whether they would hold up. What’s the situation with those?

PETER WHORISKEY: Substantial success. There are numerous reports of problems here and there, but had there been the kind of levy breaks that they had feared the French Quarter would be underwater and right now you can walk down portions of the sidewalk.

 

JEFFREY BROWN: We have heard reports of as many as 40,000 homes flooded in the area just east of New Orleans. Do you know anything about that?

PETER WHORISKEY: No. I’m in New Orleans and it’s hard enough getting information out of — in New Orleans itself given how difficult it is to get around. People, even some of the emergency people, don’t know what’s going on a couple miles away.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, that was my next question about the emergency people. Are they able to get in to neighborhoods? Are they able to get at anything at this point?

PETER WHORISKEY: Sure they are. They have — some of the state emergency people have some 12 boats out there looking for people in difficult-to-get-to areas, areas that I presume ordinarily you could drive to but are now under water.

JEFFREY BROWN: You mentioned the Superdome. We’ve heard a lot about the people sheltered there. Do you know how many people are there and what about the reports of damage to it?

PETER WHORISKEY: There was substantial damage to the exterior of the roof. About half of the roof covering has flexed off, just sort of peeled off in the heavy winds. But it didn’t look to me, as I went by today, that there was any daylight peeking through or substantial amounts of daylight anyway.

JEFFREY BROWN: Are there other shelters? Are you seeing people back out on the streets at this point?

PETER WHORISKEY: I was out just about an hour ago. There were only a handful of people out there. It’s very difficult to get by. A couple of the cars, including one of the ones that I was traveling with got flat tires, because of the debris on the road. The others stall out in the one or two feet of water that they have.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, after that huge evacuation, are officials talking yet about when they’re going to let all those people back into the city.

PETER WHORISKEY: They haven’t said yet. They’ve only said we don’t want ‘em back yet; it’s too much of a mess here.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Peter Whoriskey of the Washington Post, thank you very much.

PETER WHORISKEY: Sure.