RAY SUAREZ: Lieutenant Governor, welcome to the program.
LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU: Thank you very much for having me. I appreciate your coverage.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, NewsHour viewers just a short time ago saw a report from Baton Rouge on how it's coping with the large influx of people. Will your capital city be able to hold on to these people long enough for their hometowns to be ready to accept them back home?
LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU: The capital city is opened its arms up like every other city in Louisiana has, as has Dallas and Houston, Texas. Everybody has basically asked us, you know, to tell them whatever it is that we need. And they've been generous and wonderful about providing it to us. And I'm sure that Louisianans will do everything we can to make this happen for the rest of the metropolitan area of the city of New Orleans.
RAY SUAREZ: But it looks like it will be some time before the hometowns that these people fled are fit to return to.
LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU: Well, there's no question about it. You know, I've said in the last couple of days very often that this is an American tragedy. And this is just the first part. You know, this is going to take a long time. It's been very painful. The worst part of this is yet to come, which is when the water fades and we actually have to start recovering the casualties. This is very personal to many of us whose friends and neighbors were involved in this. Many of our homes were lost. We're going to find out that we have many friends that perished. And it's going to be very, very difficult. That's what we're concerned about right now.
But I have no doubt that the people of Louisiana are resilient enough to do what it takes with the help of the American people to rebuild this metropolitan area.
RAY SUAREZ: Lieutenant Governor, have we gotten any good counts yet on how many people are dead? There are estimates that range as high as 10,000.
LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU: Well, I think those are just estimates at this time. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised at any number. I mean, we know of a couple of hundreds of deaths because we've been able to see them. But as I said before, and I want to brace the American public for this, the worst of this is yet to come.
We're moving into the second act of this tragedy. And the most critical part of it is going to be the body recovery when we really feel and find out which of our loved ones perished in this storm. I think it's going to be a fairly large number, whether it's a thousand, two thousand or ten thousand, I think we really don't know.
We have no idea how long the water was standing in those roofs before we were able to get some of those people off. But I think it's fair to say that we're going to find a significant number of folks. And we're going to have a large enough number of casualties to break our heart again.
RAY SUAREZ: Has the recovery operation really found traction now? Are you making significant progress today?
LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU: Yes, I think so. I think, you know, about a day ago, everything really started getting ratcheted up. The communications systems started working better. The folks that were promised actually showed up.
It looks as though the regular army and the National Guard, the state police, wildlife and fisheries, NOPD, NOFD and all the metropolitan areas are working together in a very strong way. And hopefully we'll start making more progress than we did a couple of days ago.
RAY SUAREZ: What do you have to say about the way FEMA has helped Louisiana through this trial?
LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU: Let me say this. I know that Congress does investigations better than they do anything else. And I'm quite certain that they're going to have them and they're going to be aggressive. And I'm sure they're going to look at everything that everybody did and everybody is going to point fingers at each other.
But, honestly, I don't have time to do that right now. I'm thankful for everything that everybody did. I'm focused on the things that we talked about earlier. I hope to have an opportunity to testify at some later point in time. But right now is not the time to deal with that because we don't have the time, quite frankly.
RAY SUAREZ: What are the things that have to be done so that the other necessary things can get done?
LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU: Well, again, you know, from the beginning we've been very focused on saving lives, evacuating people and making sure that they were taken care of. That effort is still ongoing -- most of it outside of the view of the media because the media was focused on the major areas where there were lots of people. But as we speak, we have the wildlife and fisheries agents and folks from the National Guards going through everybody neighborhood in the metropolitan area in New Orleans by foot, by vehicle and on boat to make sure that anybody that's left there that wants to get out can get out.
Of course, while that is going on, we have to aggressively start planning the next phase of this thing. And, again, you know, we have a day or two or three of a lull but when that water goes down, the most difficult part of this for those of us that live in the city of New Orleans is going to take place and then of course after that, as we start thinking about the rebuilding process, it's going to require a tremendous commitment. And one of the things that happens in America very often is we turn our attention to the next thing that happens. This is a major commitment that is going to require an American response from the American people. The people in Louisiana really don't want anybody's pity. What they want is everybody's help.
RAY SUAREZ: Are there still a lot of people in the city of New Orleans who just refuse to leave?
LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU: Well, you know, a lot is a relative term. Almost all of the people that wanted to leave the city of New Orleans have been able to. But there are a number of people that are still in the metropolitan area of New Orleans who have been asked to leave but won't, who just want to maintain their presence in their homes. And of course that's going to cause another problem in the days to come.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, could you give us an example of the kind of thing that you see down the road that you want to urge the rest of the country to stay on task with? What's coming?
LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU: This is not hard to figure out. An entire metropolitan area, a unique place that can't be replicated anywhere in the world has been decimated. Houses, for now eight days, have had six, ten, eighteen feet of water. You have whole neighborhoods that are probably not going to be livable.
You have a city that has really basically been transformed overnight and has to recreate itself. You have huge infrastructure problems. You have huge problems with schools, you have air waves that been uprooted. And this entire thing is going to have to be restructured.
People as they move back into their homes to the extent that they still exist are going to have to move back into livable neighborhoods that make sense to have commerce that actually works and to have something that was better than it was before. And it is going to require a huge investment of money.
It's very hard right now to put the dollar figure on it. But any urban planner or any engineer that looks at this particular problem knows it's going to require a huge federal investment.
And the hard thing is going to be months down the road after Congress has finished all the investigations that they clearly will have is staying focused on the problem of rebuilding people's lives. The blame game has started already. It's taken up a lot of air, you know. But right now what we need to do is stay focused, lean forward, don't blink and think about how you have to rebuild this entire metropolitan area that is so much a part of the American landscape.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, let's talk about the state of Louisiana. People are going to be looking to you for help just at a time when many of the receipts, the resources that you count on from sales tax, property tax, to the tax on other forms of commerce are just not coming in because New Orleans is out of business.
LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU: Well that's exactly the point. I don't know if you recall but back in the 70s, in '76 the city of New York almost went bankrupt. The United States Government through the graciousness of the American people came out and bailed them out. The airline industry got bailed out -- the hospitality and transportation industries. This has happened over time.
These people, you know, who have been called refugees on TV are not refugees. They're Louisianans - they're American citizens. And it's going to require American response. It's going to require the federal government and the American people to step up to the plate and allocate resources to do this. Louisiana isn't a state in isolation. The last time I checked we were part.
RAY SUAREZ: For those people who have everything that they've got left in the world in a plastic bag, how do they get started again? Is it easy now for them to get a duplicate driver's license, apply for unemployment, get help from the state for filing insurance claims? Is the machinery up and running for that?
LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU: That is a wonderful question. And the answer is no, not yet. And the reason is, is because in the last couple of days what we have been focused on is moving everybody out of harm's way. And now what we need to get focused on is how we're going to fix all of those other difficult problems.
The other thing that people really haven't focused in on is we're taking for granted that the weather is going to be nice the next couple of weeks. As you recall last year, Florida got hit with four of these storms in a very short period of time. On top of that we're still in the stages of this recovery effort. So all of these things have to be done. Now a lot of people who are not from here and who are not in the water anymore want to say, okay, what are we going to do now and how are we going to make this happen tomorrow?
This is a huge effort that is going to require a tremendous amount of effort, coordination. People down here have been working on this around the clock. Those are very difficult problems that we don't have answers for yet but we're trying to find a way to get that done.
RAY SUAREZ: Lieutenant Governor Mitch Landrieu, thanks for being with us.
LT. GOV. MITCH LANDRIEU: Great, thank you for having me.