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CNN "CNN Newsroom" - Transcript


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I want to bring in Senator Mary Landrieu of New Orleans. You are at your home in New Orleans here. I understand that you have spoken with both the head of FEMA as well as Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano. Give us a sense of what people are dealing with now, and particularly in Plaquemines Parish.

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: Well, Suzanne, you are very familiar with this area and this region and it is very unfortunate what is happening in the lower part of Plaquemine Parish and St. Bernard has been getting a lot of pounding. But so has the entire New Orleans region including the center city. It is very unfortunate that people did not heed the warnings that live outside of the federal levee protection to leave. That's what the rescue officials are dealing with this morning.

And you know, our hearts go out to people that were stranded, but the local officials asked over and over again for people to evacuate. So now the Coast Guard has to go out in these very, very tough winds still gusting in some places up to 50, 60, 70 miles an hour and try to do these rescues.

The good news that I can share is that the general area of the metropolitan area and including the Gulf coast -- and I haven't been getting too much information about Mississippi -- but the region in south Louisiana while we have been pummeled by the winds that won't seem to stop, the federal levee is holding. The system that the country invested in is absolutely paying off. We are not out of the woods yet. And something could go wrong, but the investments that have been made here are keeping literally hundreds of thousands and billions of dollars' worth of federal investment safe.

MALVEAUX: Senator, when you say something could go wrong, what are you referring to? What are you talking about? What are the possible scenarios here?

LANDRIEU: Well, I don't have any specifics, other than the storm is very slow-moving. The winds are still coming out of the south and not moving as fast as anyone hoped. It is a nasty and determined storm. It may sound little, because it is only a category 1 and it's broken up some, but don't let it fool you, because it is a dangerous situation down here.

And what I'm saying is, so far so good, Suzanne, but this storm is moving very slowly. The mayor and the governor and the local officials are urging people still here to stay inside. There are some highways that are now flooded. There's some street flooding throughout the region. But again, the Corps of Engineers is on the job. FEMA and Craig Fugate are in Baton Rouge with the governor and the local elected officials. The president has been very engaged, and it is just a matter of a lot of electricity out, but until these winds stop, you can't get your crews out. It doesn't have to be sunshine, but it does have to be safe enough for the Entergy crews to go out to try to start restoring power in the region. Then we can do an assessment of the real damage.

MALVEAUX: I understand, Senator, that there are 75 rescues that have happened in Braithwait. Is there a sense that FEMA can give us, or yourself, about how many people you think are trapped inside of their homes?

LANDRIEU: I think it would be difficult for anybody to give you that. The best person might be the parish president or some of the parish officials. Braithwait is a relatively small community, and again, they were under mandatory evacuation. Lots of people evidently did not or could not evacuate, and sometimes that happens in these storms, people either underestimate their power or they just don't have a way to leave. So the Coast Guard, believe me, is doing everything they can along with state officials, fish and wildlife, to get people to safety.

But I want the country to know that although this is a terrible, determined, and nasty storm, there is no massive catastrophic flooding happening in the region. That's thanks to the extraordinary investments that have been made to elevate homes, and to invest in a Corps levee protection system, and frankly, there were those of us who argued that South Plaquemine should be included. It wasn't. We will revisit that issue, and hopefully people can understand why Grand Isle is so important to protect. It may not have as many people, but the island protects an entire region that benefits the whole country, so we will be working on that when we get back to D.C.

MALVEAUX: And Senator, finally, why is it that Plaquemines Parish did not get that support for a levee?

LANDRIEU: Because the Corps of Engineers has a formula that they use based on economic impact, and so if you are in a rural area or you are in a sparsely populated area, you get much less points than if you are in an urban area. But we keep trying to explain to the Corps, that if you don't take care of some of these rural areas south of New Orleans and this region, you are going to be dealing with having to protect the center of the city, you know, with a 30-foot wall. They are learning, but not quite fast enough.

So we are going to go back and hit it again in Congress to explain. New Orleans is not the only area that has this problem, because there are other places around the country. We are grateful for the investments, and they seem to be working. And the local officials are doing the rescue necessary for the people outside of the protection levee.

MALVEAUX: All right. Senator Landrieu, thank you very much. We appreciate your update and we will get back to you to get more information about the folks trapped in their home and need rescuing.


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