Guests: Alan Johnson, Fred Cerise, Robert Jensen, Paula Licciardi, Joe
Licciardi, Dean Sullivan, Mark Mix, Dean Sullivan, Marc Klaas, Antonio
Carlo, Beth Holloway Twitty, Sidney Torres, Tony Torres
RITA COSBY, HOST: Hello, everybody. Again, I‘m coming to you live from New Orleans. Tonight, I‘m in the heart of the historic French Quarter. I‘m standing in front of the Melrose Mansion. This is the first hotel to open up in the French Quarter, a sign that things are slowly coming back to life in this area and this town. As the mayor of New Orleans also said today. that believes that the entire French Quarter, at least a good portion of it, will be open as early as Monday.
Meantime today, some major developments to talk to you about. The Louisiana attorney general may be soon going after more health care providers after 34 abandoned nursing home patients drowned in flood waters. We told you about that last night. Now others who may have left people behind may soon face some stiff charges. Plus, the gruesome task of body recovery is under way right now in New Orleans, but there‘s a major controversy. Why did it take so long to get started? We‘re going to hear from the man who‘s now in charge of removing those bodies.
And there is shocking news tonight in the Natalee Holloway case from Aruba. The main suspect writes us an exclusive letter. We‘re going to tell what you he said. This comes as the judge made a major ruling only a few hours ago that could put an end to the whole saga. We‘re also going to talk to Natalee‘s mom. That‘s ahead on LIVE AND DIRECT.
But first, Hurricane Ophelia is closing in now on North Carolina‘s coast. NBC‘s Mark Potter is joining us now LIVE AND DIRECT from Wilmington, North Carolina. Mark, what‘s the scene from right there now?
MARK POTTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Rita. We‘ve had wind and rain here all day long, and it actually feels like it‘s starting to dissipate some as the storm moves upstream a bit. We—it wasn‘t all that severe here, as far as hurricanes go. We did have hurricane-force gusts, but we did not have sustained winds. The damage in this area has been reported as relatively light, and as we drove around today, that seemed also to be the case to us. Some trees and limbs fell down. There was some localized flooding, some power outages in some areas. The pier at Atlantic Beach, up the road from us northeast, the tip of that pier fell into the water, and that picture was captured.
And also one of our colleagues was doing some reporting, Brian Moore (ph), from that area and was getting blown all over the beach because that was very stiff wind up there. And they are having worse conditions than we‘re actually having here.
The bad news is that this is a slow-moving storm, and so we had it all day. They‘re going to have it all day tomorrow up the road. And the good news is that so far, most of the worst of the wind and the rain has been offshore. But as the storm heads northeast towards the Outer Banks and the eye starts to come in, they will feel the stronger effects of the storm than we got here today.
So more to come. North Carolina is not out of the woods for yet another day. So Rita, more of Ophelia to come. Back to you.
COSBY: Al right, Mark. Thank you very much. We appreciate it. Keep us posted.
Meantime, here in Louisiana, there still is a lot of outrage over those 34 nursing home deaths that we talked to you about last night. Lots of follow-up to report. Those were the elderly patients, of course, who were left behind at St. Rita‘s nursing home near New Orleans, not too far from where I‘m standing now.
The owners are facing negligent homicide charges. And Louisiana officials are getting tough after the tragedy at the nursing home. Authorities are now investigating claims that patients at other area hospitals were also left to drown or die from neglect.
You‘re looking at some of the first pictures from inside the nursing home right now.
And Louisiana officials say that the allegations are pouring in. Rescue crews have already found groups of dead patients at some of the hospitals, but no charges have been filed against any hospitals or staff, at least not just yet.
Among the patients at St. Rita‘s nursing home was 88-year-old Mabel Johnson, and we‘re now joined on the phone by her son, Alan Johnson. Alan, I understand that your mother is still unaccounted for. Is that correct?
ALAN JOHNSON, MOTHER WAS PATIENT AT ST. RITA‘S: That is correct. She is missing. We have some information from parish (INAUDIBLE) workers and Mike Boeheim (ph) that she was possibly one of the ones that were in the flood and drowned.
But I think the more important thing that we need to talk about is the survivors, the ones that were evacuated. We have many who have families that are evacuated, and they have loved ones looking for them. And we now have at least 15 that are two-and-a-half weeks after the hurricane, we re not able to locate, as well as names of all the people that were there.
And right after the hurricane, many people—a group of people banned together and started e-mailing and going on several posting sites and blogging sites and started a Yahoo! group list. And we found many people. But our efforts are now coming to—I‘m going to say not really a halt, but we‘re not gathering a lot of information because the evacuees are now in six, eight states, in various nursing facilities. And with the communication systems we have being down all throughout Louisiana and parts of Mississippi, how do we find the loved ones that have been separated from their families? How do we find...
COSBY: ... so heart-breaking. And Alan, I have to ask you, because there are also reports now, I‘m sure you‘ve heard this, that the owners of that nursing home where we believe, you know, your mom was, of course—so now we‘re hearing that the owners were twice offered transportation and said, Look, please take these patients out, that the coroner—we spoke to somebody who talked to the sheriff here, spoke to the coroner, coroner told him, I begged them to remove the patients. They don‘t do it. How do you feel when you hear this? You must just be so angry.
JOHNSON: This is a tragedy. But the thing is, we need to focus on the survivors, Rita. We need to focus on the people that have been evacuated. How to do we get these people back to their loved ones? How do we get them connected? We have elderly people that are maybe a little bit confused. Some of them may not be able to talk and communicate, probably, with what they‘ve been through. Now they‘re in a strange nursing home or a strange hospital. We found one person that was transported to a hospital in Ft. Worth, Texas. I mean, that‘s almost 1,500 miles from St. Bernard parish. Again, the issue is that...
COSBY: That‘s astounding. That‘s astounding, and...
JOHNSON: Yes, and it‘s astounding that we‘re getting our information from being able to talk with the niece of a worker there, you know, through second and third-hand information. But we‘re putting together a list and putting families together. This group has done more than anybody in the organization—the Louisiana nursing home organization to put this—these families back together. And we need help from somebody who can set up a Web site, get this information out across the group to get these families back together.
COSBY: ... and Alan, I do hope that people who are tuning—I do hope folks that are tuning in are going to respond to you and help you connect with the Web site, Alan. Thank you very much for being with us. I‘m sure it‘s tough, and I hope you get some good news soon. Thank you so much.
And now we‘re joined by Dr. Fred Cerise. He‘s the Louisiana state secretary of health and also hospitals. Dr. Cerise, as you hear just this heart-breaking story of this man who‘s trying to locate his mother—we hope he gets some good news soon. This is a common problem, isn‘t it, with -- you oversee some of the hospitals. Tell us about some of the concerns that are taking place there.
DR. FRED CERISE, SECRETARY, LOUISIANA DEPT. OF HEALTH AND HOSPITALS:
I‘m sorry, I‘m having some trouble hearing. Can you repeat that question?
COSBY: Absolutely, because it‘s loud here, too, on this end. I can totally understand, sir. What I‘m asking you is that—we just talked to somebody who‘s trying to locate his mother in one of the nursing homes. You overseeing all the hospitals sir, I‘m sure it‘s a big concern, trying to put everyone together, trying to determine who was where and where they are now.
CERISE: That‘s right. You know, during the evacuation phase, patients were taken to a central location. Most of the patients were evacuated to the airport and put on transport planes. And the military used a national grid, where there was capacity cross the country. And so we do have patients that have been evacuated to neighboring states and to elsewhere throughout the country. That was an essential piece. What they were trying to do is make sure that we had capacity maintained within the state, and so those that could be transported further away, they were.
COSBY: And Dr. Cerise, there are also some reports out, I think very disturbing stories, where some doctors were essentially playing God, where they were administering morphine, saying that, I don‘t believe that these patients are going to live. I‘m going to give them morphine, and basically let them die, which I would imagine is pretty serious stuff, particularly from a criminal standpoint. So are you looking into these allegations?
CERISE: Yes. First let me just—let me say that I have not heard those allegations, or at least haven‘t had any of those allegations confirmed. But we do know that, you know, given the magnitude of what‘s going on here, we will be looking into all of these cases to see what happened and the circumstances surrounding the evacuation or those that sheltered in place.
All of the hospitals have evacuation plans. They were to follow those evacuation plans. We have not had issues raised with us regarding hospitals not following those plans. They all took different strategies to follow through on that. But clearly—so we don‘t have the information that you‘ve described. But clearly, as we get through the immediate aftermath here, we will be looking into all of these hospitals and nursing homes in terms of, Did they follow their plans and how things were handled in the midst of the crisis.
COSBY: And Dr. Cerise, you know, as we look at some of the allegations at this nursing home, in St. Rita‘s nursing home—if, indeed, some doctors said, OK, I‘m going to let these folks die, they did not transport them when they were ordered to evacuate, and also where they essentially did that—what would happen in the case of hospitals, sir? Are you looking at criminal charges? Are you willing to obviously go to that degree?
CERISE: Well, again, what we intend to do is investigate the—all of these situations to see how the evacuations were handled. As I said, judgment calls were made in real time, some hospitals fully evacuated. Others, their plan was to evacuate those people that they thought they could safely evacuate as the storm was approaching and then shelter in place with enough resources to take care of those individuals that remained in the hospital.
And so what we‘ll be doing is we‘ll be looking into all of these situations to make sure that those plans were followed, that they were appropriate.
COSBY: Dr. Cerise, thank you very much for joining us. Please keep us posted. Of course, very disturbing for so many folks.
And everybody, still ahead, the gruesome task of recovering the bodies. There are still a lot of them out there, and it‘s under way tonight. Some say, however, it took way too long to get started. I‘ll ask the man whose company has been hired to do the grim task. He‘s coming up next.
We can‘t replace those. No insurance replaces those.
And a husband and wife see their home for the very first time since the hurricane hit. Can you imagine finding your dining room chair hanging on your chandelier? There‘s a picture of it. And there‘s some of the dishes. I was there with them when they saw it for the first time.
And later, the prime suspect in the Natalee Holloway case writes us an exclusive letter now that he‘s out of jail. What‘d he tell us? This comes as a judge makes a major move that could set him free for good. Find out what happened today, and find out what‘s in that letter. That‘s coming up on LIVE AND DIRECT.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: The failure to execute a contract for the recovery of our citizens has hurt the speed of recovery operations. I‘m angry and outraged by this situation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: And this is Louisiana governor Kathleen Blanco this week, outraged that the recovery of bodies had not begun sooner here in New Orleans. It turns out that both the state and federal governments were waiting for the other to sign the contract with the company that has this gruesome job and difficult job.
Joining me now is the president of that company, the president and CEO of Kenyon International Emergency Services, Robert Jensen. Robert, I don‘t envy you. I‘ve unfortunately been out on those Zodiac craft. I‘ll tell you, the most difficult thing that‘s happened to me when I was here, have bodies bouncing into our craft. I don‘t know how you guys do it. It must be so difficult.
ROBERT JENSEN, PRES., KENYON INT‘L EMERGENCY SERVICES: It is a difficult job, but it‘s probably one of the most important things that we can do, and that‘s to get these people home, get them home to their families. With the devastation and the destruction, I think it‘s one of the—the important things that we can do to show people that people still care.
COSBY: Absolutely. How many of you guys are out there? And what do you have to wear? Because when I‘ve been out there, we‘ve had to wear the hip waders. We‘ve had to use, you know, sanitizing sheets. We‘ve had to do lots of stuff. What kind of precautions? And how many of you guys are on the job?
JENSEN: Well, right now, we have over...
COSBY: ... with you.
JENSEN: Yes. We have over 100 team members working in cooperation with other authorities, people from the local and state level. Our team members have to have protection based on the requirements. Sometimes it‘s going to be the waders. Other times, it may be a tieback (ph) suit, something like this. And it makes it very hot to work in. This doesn‘t breathe well. We had the rubber gloves. We had respirators for certain environments. We have rubber boots. It makes it hard, but we have to do that because we have to protect our people. And we have to do this so we can get these people home.
COSBY: You bet. And how toxic is the water? You know, I‘ll tell you, you know, even when I was out with the 82nd Airborne, they had just layers upon layers, and it was just scorching heat. We were just dripping in sweat. But you‘ve got to take precautions. What‘s the sense on how dangerous it is for you guys to be out there handling these corpses?
JENSEN: Well, it‘s no more dangerous than everyone else who‘s out there. The precautions we have to take are the same they have to take when they go into the areas that still have water. It‘s making sure that we can take care of our people, the way we have been for 76 years, giving them the water, making sure they have the rest. And the support is there to take care of them, so that we can get on to do our job.
COSBY: How many bodies do you believe are out there, and when do you think your task is going to be done? How long do you think it‘ll take?
JENSEN: Well, Kenyon was involved in the tsunami, and we were asked the same question. It‘s the same question we were asked at the Trade Center. I don‘t go into numbers because I think people, when they start talking about numbers, they tend to forget that each number represents a family, a family that‘s life has been changed.
How long is it going to take? I don‘t know. I hope that it will go as quickly as we can, or we will go as quickly as we can. I hope it will be over as soon as it can be because I know there are families that need answers. And that‘s what we‘re trying to do.
COSBY: And Robert, real quick, are you talking weeks? Are you talking months? What are you talking, just hypothetically?
JENSEN: I don‘t know. I know that we had teams in the tsunami for almost eight months. These aren‘t fast processes. To do them right, they take time and effort.
COSBY: Well, and we thank you for doing it because I know it is a very, very difficult task, and as you point out, so important for their loved ones. Thank you very much, Robert, for joining us.
And today, also some good news in the midst of all this, a lot of the water being pumped out of New Orleans, particularly around the levees, which have all been repaired. You can see. It‘s just incredible. And we toured the site today, some of the areas that were so hard hit, particularly St. Bernard‘s parish, which was 95 percent devastated—today just thick sludge.
We actually walked back with some homeowners, Joe and Paula Licciardi, who went back for the first time to see their home.
This was your driveway?
PAULA LICCIARDI, ST. BERNARD PARISH RESIDENT: This was the driveway here. It was 300 feet long, and it had French porter-style lights going up the driveway.
COSBY: Where‘s your driveway now?
PAULA LICCIARDI: It‘s right here, right here with all the junk on it.
COSBY: We‘re here on the driveway. Let‘s walk up to your home. Are you ready to go see it?
PAULA LICCIARDI: Yes.
COSBY: What have you been thinking about before you came here?
PAULA LICCIARDI: It was very hard to imagine that everything that we had worked for for 30 years was just about gone. And some of the sentimental things can never be replaced.
COSBY: This is incredible. But how high was the water at one point (INAUDIBLE) you were told?
JOE LICCIARDI, ST. BERNARD PARISH RESIDENT: It was 12 feet deep. I passed this house with a boat.
COSBY: In your home?
JOE LICCIARDI: In my home.
COSBY: So this is the good news...
JOE LICCIARDI: This is the good news.
COSBY: ... that we‘re walking through.
JOE LICCIARDI: The good news is my house is still standing, when other houses around here have collapsed. (INAUDIBLE) I don‘t know if they could ever rebuild.
COSBY: Whose truck is that over there?
JOE LICCIARDI: I don‘t know.
COSBY: And then there‘s a boat, too.
JOE LICCIARDI: (INAUDIBLE) boats, tanks.
COSBY: These are not your...
PAULA LICCIARDI: No.
COSBY: Not your trucks and not your boat.
PAULA LICCIARDI: No. No.
COSBY: So somebody else‘s boats and trucks ended up in your home.
JOE LICCIARDI: Right.
PAULA LICCIARDI: Yes.
This was the champagne glasses that were given us to as a gift, and we toasted the year 2000 in the millennium.
COSBY: And this was your dining room, then.
PAULA LICCIARDI: Yes.
COSBY: Where were the chairs before?
PAULA LICCIARDI: They were—the table was just (INAUDIBLE), and the chairs were, you know, up against the table.
COSBY: Now, here‘s one of your chairs right here.
PAULA LICCIARDI: Yes.
COSBY: It‘s incredible to see.
PAULA LICCIARDI: Oh, yes.
You can see the water line. It‘s unbelievable.
COSBY: Yes, the water came up, boy, about—up to the second floor.
PAULA LICCIARDI: I‘ve never seen anything like this.
This was outside. This was part of our patio set outside.
COSBY: What‘s the toughest thing here to see for you?
PAULA LICCIARDI: Toughest thing, I think, is my children‘s graduation pictures that used to line that hall. I had four graduation pictures. Now I have none!
COSBY: You can‘t replace those. No insurance replaces those.
PAULA LICCIARDI: No. But we‘ll just have to make more memories, you know, and we‘ll have the memories that we have. And we‘ll have to go on and—there‘s nothing else we can do. I can‘t imagine living anywhere else, especially since I‘ve been in a hotel all this time. I—you know, I really—I miss home. I want to come home. But it‘ll be all right. God will give us the strength.
COSBY: Are you going to be OK?
PAULA LICCIARDI: Yes. I just want to look outside.
COSBY: Joe, What‘s over there?
JOE LICCIARDI: That was my 1826 Ford Model A.
COSBY: Antique car.
JOE LICCIARDI: Antique car.
COSBY: Where was it parked before?
JOE LICCIARDI: It was underneath my carport right there.
COSBY: So it traveled all that distance?
JOE LICCIARDI: It traveled all that distance.
COSBY: It‘s amazing. That‘s one of the only things that survived.
PAULA LICCIARDI: Yes.
COSBY: What does that say to you that there‘s a cross in the middle of all of this, standing up?
JOE LICCIARDI: (INAUDIBLE)
PAULA LICCIARDI: We‘re going to make it, and we‘re going to redo our house. And it‘s going to take a long time, but we‘re going to do it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: And our thanks to Joe and Paula Licciardi. Incidentally, Joe is a major at the sheriff‘s department in St. Bernard‘s parish. The night of the hurricane, he participated and helped save hundreds of lives. Thank you for letting us join you today in a very private moment.
And coming up, the evacuees, particularly some of the young children -
are they being exposed to sex offenders among the ranks? Find out who may have infiltrated some of the ranks here. And also a tour of the FBI headquarters. These guys and ladies are working day and night in some very difficult conditions. We‘ve got an exclusive tour of Camp New Orleans. That‘s coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SR. CPL. MAX GERON, DALLAS POLICE DEPARTMENT: We‘re trying to do everything we can to, number one, maintain the safety and security of the folks that are in the shelters and to get the identified sex offenders that can‘t be with children out and to other facilities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: A lot of bad characters out and about, maybe woven in with some of the refugees. And now word that one of the evacuees tried to abduct a 14-year-old girl. This happened in Ft. Worth Texas. And he‘s said to be in a shelter not too far from the children‘s bus stop, of all places. Lots of interesting characters and bad characters like this guy and also some sex offenders woven in. What does this mixture mean? A pretty dangerous mixture.
And joining us to talk about all of this is one of the individuals from the Ft. Worth, Texas, Police Department, Lieutenant Dean Sullivan. And also with us from the Louisiana State Police department, right there is Sergeant Mark Mix.
Let me start with you, if I could, Lieutenant Sullivan, first from Ft. Worth. What do we know about this particular case with this 14-year-old girl and the evacuee? Is the girl OK?
LT. DEAN SULLIVAN, FT. WORTH POLICE DEPARTMENT: Yes. She‘s—other than being traumatized by the incident, she‘s OK.
COSBY: She is OK? And what do we know about this guy? Did he have any sort of a criminal history? Was there anything that could tip you off?
SULLIVAN: Research of the criminal history with regard to the individual we have in custody doesn‘t indicate any type of sexual-related crimes in his past. He is not on any of the registration sex offender databases that we‘ve been able to find so far.
COSBY: And Sergeant Mark Mix from Louisiana State Police—because your job, as well as the FBI—we spoke to a lot of folks at the FBI—sort of figuring out who some of these bad characters are. They were even saying some of the sniper suspects potentially may be wove in with a group of evacuees. How do you weed them out? How do you keep track of who‘s where?
SGT. MARK MIX, LOUISIANA STATE POLICE: Unfortunately, Rita, it did not take Hurricane Katrina to let these people move about throughout the state or to another state. It is their responsibility to notify us within 10 days if they were evacuated before or after Katrina, they have 10 days to notify us or a local law enforcement agency near them of their whereabouts and their residency.
COSBY: And, Sergeant, that‘s all well and good, but you know a lot of them are not going to report themselves. I mean, look at the history.
MIX: You‘re correct, Rita. It‘s—No. 1, it‘s their responsibility. It‘s their—it‘s just like a responsibility of any citizen not to commit a crime. Unfortunately, they did move. We had 500,000 vehicles leave New Orleans before the evacuation process. Some of these sex offenders could have left then, not just during the evacuation. And what I‘m trying to—the silver lining in all of this, is that every parent must be aware that they have to be mindful of this fact that sexual offenders are out there and they are near their children. They have to take that responsibility, looking over their children.
COSBY: You bet and, gentlemen, as we‘re looking right now, this is sort of a listing by state of registered sex offenders by state. Again, as we point out, Sergeant Mix, these are the folks who are registered. We don‘t know of the folks that are not registering. But Lieutenant Sullivan, to you, in northern Texas, your area, how many sex offenders that you know of are there now?
SULLIVAN: Well I don‘t know the exact number, Rita, but looking at the increase in the numbers since this devastating tragedy, disaster in New Orleans we‘ve had a 2 percent increase in the number of registered offenders. Now, our information has been to cross check the shelter list with those available data bases out of the states impacted by this disaster. And I don‘t have an exact number, but it appears like there‘s about a 2 percent increase.
COSBY: All right, you guys, hang tight if you could, gentlemen. I want to bring in Marc Klaas, of course, of the Klaas Kids Foundation. Of course his beautiful daughter, Polly Klaas, was murdered by a sex offender. Marc, you know, what do you make when you hear all this stuff that these guys could of slided out? I could tell, you know, in the heat of chaos a lot of things happened. But how do we keep track of these guys now?
Marc Klass: Well there are certain things that have to be done. I think that basically what one has to do is fingerprint all of the male evacuees, and run those prints against those prints against the APHA system to see who might be in it. One would also want to go onto the sex offender databases and look at pictures and compare those pictures. There should be a national database, obviously, that makes that a much easier job to accomplish. And then I think we can look at some legislation that‘s in Congress right now to protect us from these kinds of situations in the future by doing a number of things.
No. 1, keeping these guys in prison much longer. No. 2, giving law enforcement much better tools to be able to track and monitor these guys, and finally, No. 3, to be able to give the public tools to track and monitor them. But there‘s one thing, Rita, that I think everybody should be looking at right now, because it‘s - it really is a good answer. The new federal legislation that‘s in Congress, the Child Safety Act of 2005, is going to establish some pilot programs for law enforcement to place—to outfit registered sex offenders with best technology tracking and monitoring devices.
Currently, the best technologies that exist are G.P.S. Unfortunately, G.P.S. doesn‘t work under water, nor does it work inside buildings. So one would hope, and I‘m sure, and I know, in fact, that some of the emerging technologies that are coming out are going to give law enforcement a much better ability to track and monitor these guys. And they‘re not going to be able to slip back into anonymity, which is, unfortunately, what they do every opportunity they‘re given.
COSBY: Now great points. Sergeant Mark Mix, are you getting enough support? Are you getting even additional support in light of Hurricane Katrina to try to track these characters down? Not just sex offenders, but, you know, some of the FBI guys were saying to me, maybe even murders, maybe other folks, even more sever got out.
MIX: We‘re getting tons of help, outside agencies, local law enforcement. Everybody is logging onto our website, www.LSB.org. That website has pictures of all known registered sex offenders in Louisiana. With that tool in mind, area law enforcement is really on a heightened alert, not just for sex offenders, for all of those who have been convicted of murders or whatever crimes.
COSBY: All right, guys, thank you. Yes, go ahead. Actually, real quick. Go ahead. Absolutely.
KLAAS: Well what I was going to say is that we should have access to all of these violent offenders. Their privacy should not be protected from the public. With the exception of the registered sex offenders, their right to privacy is more important than our right to public safety, and I think this is a time to start paying attention to that and doing something about it.
MIX: That‘s correct.
COSBY: You bet. I absolutely agree. Marc, thank you. Sergeant and also Lieutenant, thank you very much for being with us. Guys, we appreciate it. Please keep us posted. We‘ll do whatever we can to help.
And speaking of help, the FBI needs a little bit of help. They are doing a great job on the ground here in New Orleans. And boy do they have a tough task. I got a tour of their headquarters, which has been destroyed. We got a special tour with a special agent in charge, Jim Bernazzani, who took us through that tour. It‘s amazing what they have to deal with in tough times. But take a look at what they‘re enduring.
COSBY: Jim, what part of the building is this?
JAMES BERNAZZANI, FBI SPECIAL AGENT: This is the western portion of the roof, this is the last part of the roof that came off. Basically, the storm came from the south. Back to the east of the building and parts of the southeast corner of the roof ripping that entire roof off. That‘s what you see over there. As water began to flow in, I ordered the people who securing the buildings to the western portion of the building that were still secure. And as the storm passed, the counter clockwise motion of the winds got the northwest corner. Ripped that roof off, and that‘s what you see here. So basically water was coming in on both sides, while at the same time to west the levee broke, to the east the levee broke, the water was surging towards us, and we were only 150 yards from Lake Pontchartrain. And that‘s where all the experts were saying that we would have a 15 to 20 foot surge coming across, which, basically—
COSBY: So you were in the thick of it, then?
BERNAZZANI: Oh, yes. Yes. That‘s exactly right.
COSBY: The parking garage.
BERNAZZANI: This is the only place where human beings can breathe with confidence.
COSBY: And I see this is part of your team over team over here, right?
BERNAZZANI: That‘s right. That‘s part of the Atlanta FBI S.W.A.T.
Team, which has responsibility now for the protection of the building.
COSBY: What‘s in here?
BERNAZZANI: This is our emergency operation center. This is where we managed the storm, but it looks like that the storm managed the center.
COSBY: Yes, it sure does. Take a look—what is this? These are desks worked out of?
BERNAZZANI: Those were all desks with computers. You can see some work is being done on the roof as we speak. We‘re trying to get this building stood up as quick as possible. But this was our emergency operation center. Now, obviously, it‘s going to have to be gutted and replaced.
COSBY: What was it like being here in the middle of the hurricane?
BERNAZZANI: There was a lot of unknowns. We didn‘t know if the building could withstand the winds that they were projecting. We did not know if the building could withstand the surge that everybody was talking about.
COSBY: Jim, what‘s this room?
BERNAZZANI: This is my office. This is the office of the special agent in charge.
COSBY: This was your desk.
BERNAZZANI: Yes, this was the eastern side of the building that took the majority of the hit from the hurricane. And as you can see, this building suffered some damage too. I mean, this room suffered some damage too.
COSBY: This was your conference room.
BERNAZZANI: This was my executive conference room.
COSBY: It looks like it was a nice place at one point.
BERNAZZANI: This was a beautiful building. It‘s only six years-old and it looks like we‘re going to have to take this down to the studs and rebuild.
COSBY: So you basically had water all around you. You were basically in a moat.
BERNAZZANI: Yes. we were surrounded water, and our concern was with the wind damage that we sustained, we didn‘t know if we could survive the surge of water coming in. But, luckily, the water never came over the levee.
COSBY: When you come back, whether it‘s eight months or a year from now, do you think the people here in the building can be better than ever?
BERNAZZANI: Absolutely. I mean, we are the FBI. I mean, we‘re going to rebuild just like the city. And we‘re part of the community, and we expect this building to come back better. And we fully intend to occupy it and carry out the bureau‘s mission.
COSBY: And our thanks to Special Agent Jim Bernazzani for that tour.
And still ahead, everybody, we‘re going to switch gears just a little bit. The main suspect in the Natalee Holloway case in Aruba, Joran van der Sloot, writes us an exclusive letter. Find out what he has to say. This comes on a day of a major decision taking place. And Natalee‘s mom, Beth Holloway Twitty, is going to join us live to tell us what she has to say.
COSBY: And while we have been here in New Orleans talking about Hurricane Katrina, we have received some very interesting mail. Joran van der Sloot who is the prime suspect in the Natalee Holloway disappearance sent us a handwritten letter. It was written while he was still in prison in Aruba and after our NBC News crew visited him in jail. In it he said, quote, “I don‘t think it is the best idea for you to come visit me here in KIA,” which is the prison there in Aruba, “because you‘re only allowed visits once a week. And I would like to use that time with my parents and friends.”
He also said, quote, “When I‘m released, we will talk one way or another, I promise you that.”
The letter was signed, quote, “Regards, Joran van der Sloot.”
And you can see his handwriting right there.
Well, we got Joran‘s letter on the heels of a major hearing today in Aruba that basically cuts right at the heart of the prosecution‘s case. The judge saying that Joran van der Sloot and the Kalpoe brothers could no longer be held because of, quote, “a lack of sufficient evidence.”
The three men remain suspects in the Holloway case, however. And to catch you up on the case, Joran van der Sloot was released from the Aruban prison just a few weeks ago. He‘s now attending college in the Netherlands flying there just days after being set free.
Joran‘s friends, the brothers Deepak and Satish Kalpoe were released the very same day.
And with us now on the phone from Aruba is Antonio Carlo, Joran van der Sloot‘s attorney. Antonio, the prosecution basically was totally undercut today. The judge saying that there wasn‘t sufficient evidence. I‘m sure you and your client have to be happy with the news.
ANTONIO CARLO, JORAN VAN DER SLOOT‘S ATTORNEY: Yes, of course, I spoke with my client today in Holland. And he was very happy to hear the decision of the court of appeals.
COSBY: Now, the ruling does still say that they‘re still calling them suspects. So, they‘re not eliminating that other evidence could come down the road. Is that correct?
CARLO: No. This ruling has no bearing whatsoever on whether they remain suspects or not. It only—the court of appeals only terminated the pretrial detention. That‘s what the only decision taken by the court of appeals today.
COSBY: But it certainly sends a strong signal when they say that there was not sufficient material. What do you think of the prosecution‘s case against your client, Antonio?
CARLO: No. Again, I‘m not going to speculate about—this is now up to the public prosecutor to decide what further steps to take.
COSBY: Did your client have anything to do, Antonio, with the disappearance of Natalee Holloway or anything in a possible cover-up?
CARLO: I have said it many times before. My client maintains his innocence.
COSBY: And Antonio, what is your client doing now? Because a lot of people were wondering why he left the country so quickly. What is he doing?
CARLO: No. He left not quickly. But he had to go to Holland on short term because the course he is attending—he‘s attending a college in Holland. And he is following the course in international business management. And he had to be in time so he can enroll and be part of the classes that have begun like two weeks ago.
COSBY: All right, Antonio, thank you very much. We appreciate you being with us.
And joining us now is Beth Holloway Twitty. Of course, the mom of Natalee Holloway.
Beth, you know, last time you and I spoke, we were both in Aruba. It was before the decision was made. All of the men were behind bars. It looked like they were rounding up some more. This has got to be heartbreaking for you today.
BETH HOLLOWAY TWITTY, NATALEE HOLLOWAY‘S MOTHER: Oh, it‘s just devastating, Rita. But, you know, Rita, you were on the island with me. You know, I don‘t even think any of us are surprised by the appeals being denied. I think we‘ve known early on, since as early as June 1 where this was going, Rita. And that‘s what is so sad about this whole tragic ordeal is we‘ve been dragged through it, not only the family but the entire world has been dragged through it.
And I‘m so grateful that they‘ve been able to, you know, I‘m not alone in experiencing and witnessing everything that they‘ve done to us.
COSBY: What do you make of Joran van der Sloot? I don‘t know if—
I‘m sure you heard at the beginning. He wrote us a letter, Beth, saying that he would talk to us soon. We‘ll see if he keeps true to his word. But here he is, we just heard from his attorney. He‘s going to school in the Netherlands, moving on with his life.
Are you concerned? He‘s out of the country. He‘s out of jail. Are you worried that this is falling apart now?
TWITTY: Well, Rita, like I said, we‘ve been worried as early as June 1 when we saw torn statements at a police station. We‘ve had falsified documents. I mean, we‘ve seen key elements omitted from uniformed police officers‘ statements. We‘ve had a D.E.A. whose statement was never taken.
You know, I think the handwriting‘s been on the wall early on. We just chose to take the high road and really tried to remain respectful of the Dutch government and allow it to work. But as you can see, it has not worked. It has failed terribly.
COSBY: You know, now when you and I were in Aruba, Beth, there was a sense that they were closing in on the folks and trying to use leverage on one another. I cannot think of the timing of it all. Suddenly, the American press leaves because of a disaster in our country and all three boys get led let out. What do you make of what is happening in the Aruban government?
TWITTY: Oh, you know, September 1, the interrogations were going well. The Dutch interrogators were getting information from—these young men had divided. Joran and Deepak and Satish had divided. They were not denying a crime anymore. They were implicating each other. And, you know, the prosecuting attorney, the defense attorneys are there. You know, everyone was absolutely shocked when the judge reversed his ruling. You know, it was just perfect timing. It was a P.R. dream for the Dutch government to release these suspects.
COSBY: Yeah. And I tell you, my jaw dropped when I heard the news too. Because there was a different climate when I was there just a day or two before.
Beth is the search still going on? And what are going to plan to do now?
TWITTY: Well, you know, I‘ll be forever grateful for Jossy Mansur, who is there. And he has been so instrumental. And he‘s just a hero to all of us. And his son, Eduardo Mansur, you know, they‘re always coming up with different places and areas to search. I believe that they were trying to get together a dive group and were concentrating on a specific area to search.
And, you know, he‘s my only hope on the island. And we‘ll be forever grateful to him.
COSBY: Are you, Beth, planning on going back to Aruba? What are your plans?
TWITTY: Oh, absolutely. We will keep going back to Aruba over and over again. This is far from over. They know—they have the answers there on the island. and what is so strange when I hear Joran‘s letter that he is written to you all is when he‘s released. Know, it‘s not if, but it‘s when. So, the defense attorneys have been running the show since the beginning.
COSBY: Well, Beth, we thank you. We continue to keep you in our prayers. And I know you‘re going to be back with us on Monday night with also “America‘s Most Wanted” host John Walsh. And we‘ll talk with you more then. Thanks so much, Beth. It‘s good to talk with you.
And still ahead, everybody, take a look at the French Quarter. This is in the heart and soul of New Orleans. The big news, everybody, their lights on! This is a main hotel back in business. A sign that life is coming back. We‘re going to tell you how it‘s all going down when we come back.
COSBY: And the Port of New Orleans opening and functioning today. The first vessel going out. This is, of course, a major port and critical for commerce, not just here but in basically this whole region. Two of the 27 terminals are functioning, so there‘s still a long way to go, but at least some good news.
And some good news from here, the Melrose Mansion, you can just take a little, little shot of it over here. This is a beautiful, old, elegant Victorian hotel, very classic New Orleans like. And joining us now, one of the owners, and also his brother. We‘ve got Sidney Torres, and his brother, Tony Torres.
Tell us first of all—I think this is great. You guys were the first hotel to open up in the French Quarter.
SIDNEY TORRES, OWNER, THE MELROSE GROUP HOTELS: Yes, ma‘am.
COSBY: Why did you this it was important to hurry up, because I bet it cost a lot of bucks.
S. TORRES: It did. It did. And what happened was, I was sitting in Florida—first off, I wouldn‘t even leave. And then I saw Ray‘s face on the news. And I saw—I know him.
COSBY: Ray, the mayor.
S. TORRES: Ray, the mayor. And I saw him on the news. And I said, you know what, he looks kind of paranoid. And I decided to pick up myself and go, and I went to Florida.
When I got to Florida, I didn‘t think it was any big deal, because most times when they ask you to evacuate, it‘s not really—you know, nothing really happens. You board your windows, you close your shutters, and it just passes over to a little rain, no big deal. Well, this time, I thought it was going to be the same thing. And when I turned on the TV Monday morning, I couldn‘t believe what I saw.
COSBY: And you were here during the storm, right?
S. TORRES: No. No. I wasn‘t here during the storm. I left at the last minute. I went to the airport. They were shutting the airport down when I was getting on the plane.
And when I got on the plane, I left, I was like, why am I leaving. I really didn‘t even want to leave. But I left. And when I was in Florida, I woke up. And I said to myself, the next morning when I looked at the TV, I said, I can not believe what happened. I‘ve never seen anything like this in my life.
COSBY: It is incredible.
S. TORRES: Incredible.
COSBY: And I think what—big credit to both of you, because this is a big deal. I‘ll tell you, a lot of people were talking about this today, finally life in the French Quarter.
S.TORRES: That‘s right.
COSBY: Who are your clients right now?
TONY TORRES, EXEC. ASSISTANT, THE MELROSE GROUP: Well, ma‘am, we have some of the U.S. marshals, Secret Service, and Orleans Parish Sheriff‘s office and the St. Bernard Parish...
COSBY: So this is probably the safest place in town tonight.
T. TORRES: You know, I had some of the Secret Service guys and a couple of the 82nd Airborne guys walking me to the street. And I told them, I said, I have never felt this safe in my neighborhood, ever having 18 guys.
S. TORRES: It‘s a wild feeling to be outside, the whole city is blacked out. And here you are with all this light. You know, it‘s really cool.
T.TORRES: We‘re throwing—we are having a barbecue every night.
COSBY: I see. For all the folks helping out.
T. TORRES: The idea was to be able to just provide some hamburgers and steaks, but what‘s happened is, it‘s become like the social gathering. And every night, it‘s just grown and grown. And it‘s really—it‘s just become really special to be able to sit down and talk to the different guys in the relief effort. And it‘s just been really nice to meet the guys.
COSBY: We appreciate you doing your part here, too. And it‘s great to see the place open. I got a little tour. So, looking forward to seeing more of it later. Thanks guys.
And everybody, we will be right back as New Orleans is coming back.
COSBY: And everybody, as we look at a picture of President Bush, who has been in New Orleans a few times, he is going to be back again tomorrow. And he is going to address the nation from here in New Orleans. Myself, also Chris Matthews, we will have wall to wall coverage of New Orleans, of the speech. So everybody, make sure that you stay tuned for that.
And everybody, the good news, back here in New Orleans, when the president comes back, they are rebuilding, they are rejuvenating. We are back here with also Sidney and his brother, Tony.
What is the motto of New Orleans right now?
S. TORRES: We are coming back. And we are coming back strong.
COSBY: What is the motto?
T. TORRES: We are coming back. And we are coming back strong.
COSBY: Hey, they don‘t just look alike, they also speak alike. Both of you, thanks so much, guys. And the hotel is great. It‘s nice to see some business. And good news out of New Orleans for a change.
And Joe, over to you in Biloxi, where I hope they‘re rebuilding as well.
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