What 60 Minutes witnessed in first Katrina report

Scott Pelley visited New Orleans just days after the hurricane hit and found a city in crisis

Ten years ago this week, America watched helplessly as a beloved city was nearly swallowed by the sea. 60 Minutes was on the ground in New Orleans within days, capturing Hurricane Katrina's heartbreaking aftermath for the story in the video player above. Whole neighborhoods were submerged in murky water as desperate residents waited for rescue.

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Scott Pelley reports, 2005.
CBS News

Correspondent Scott Pelley interviewed then-New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, an inexperienced politician suddenly faced with a disaster of epic proportions. Nagin is now serving a 10-year sentence in federal prison for corruption, largely due to his handling of Katrina recovery contracts. He is appealing his conviction, and a hearing is scheduled for October.

At the time of the storm, however, the mayor seemed intent on saving his city. 60 Minutes found him working out of a shattered downtown hotel with no power or water. Nagin was blunt in his take on how the government had failed New Orleans.

"Too many people died because of lack of action, lack of coordination and some goofy laws," Nagin said. "This is hell. And to have this happen in the United States of America in the state of Louisiana, and to not have immediate, immediate response, regardless of the laws, is tragic."

Pelley and his team flew over the city, roamed neighborhoods by airboat, and waded through flooded streets. They learned about Charity Hospital, where an entire emergency department with more than 50 critically ill patients had to be moved up a flight of stairs to escape the floodwaters.

"Too many people died because of lack of action, lack of coordination and some goofy laws. This is hell. And to have this happen in the United States of America in the state of Louisiana, and to not have immediate, immediate response, regardless of the laws, is tragic."

Dr. Ben deBoisblanc described waiting with an elderly patient in distress for a helicopter that never came. "She died on the rooftop waiting for a helicopter," he said. "I haven't spoken to her husband. I don't even know where he is. I don't even know if he knows she's dead."

Those leading the rescue efforts told Pelley the worst was still to come. The dead bodies - ultimately close to 1,000 in Louisiana alone - were not yet counted.

"We're getting ready to drain this city," Nagin said. "And then everybody's going to start to wonder: Did more people die because of the storm, or because of the lack of response? And that's going to be the big question."