Guest: Betsy Cox, Bobby Jindal, Petra Nemcova
ANNOUNCER: From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all. Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
ANNOUNCER: It's been one year to the day since a deadly tsunami came out of nowhere and swept across Asia, killing over 200,000 and leaving destruction of biblical proportion.
Tonight, Joe's talk with supermodel Petra Nemcova. She famously clung to a tree for eight hours, as wave after wave swept through, claiming the life of her photographer boyfriend. Many would never want to go back. But now Petra tells Joe what she is doing to help rebuild the devastated region.
And, later, Americans stories of survival during the worst hurricane season on record, from Dennis to Katrina to Rita. Can the Gulf Coast be rebuilt?
Tonight, in a special edition of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, Joe asks the tough questions and brings you the people hit hardest by the meanest season.
ANNOUNCER: And now here is Joe SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY with a supermodel determined to make a difference.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: We are pleased to have with us supermodel Petra Nemcova.
She is, of course, a supermodel. But she's also an author, has written “Love Always, Petra.”
Petra, thank you so much for being with us tonight. We really appreciate it.
PETRA NEMCOVA, TSUNAMI SURVIVOR: Thank you for having me.
SCARBOROUGH: Can you believe that you are coming up on—almost on the year anniversary of that tragic day? Talk about how this past year has changed your life.
NEMCOVA: Well, it has been an incredible year and a lot of things have changed.
It has been difficult because of losing my love, but—my boyfriend. But, as well, there were lots of bad things happening, but lots of good things happening. And I have learned a lot.
And one of the things, it's been about appreciating what we have and appreciating every moment, every second, because, next second, everything can be gone.
SCARBOROUGH: Can you talk about the moment that the waves hit, and you had to grab a hold of that tree to save yourself? Can you talk—can you really remember everything that was happening? What was going through your mind?
NEMCOVA: Well, there was a lot of things happening just before I grabbed on to a tree. There was a time when wood and steel and everything was crushing my pelvis.
And I thought, that's it. Those moments were the last. And the next
· a few minutes later, I was trapped under a layer of trash, not being able to breathe, and drinking black water. And, actually, that moment was one of the most incredible moments in my life, so peaceful and so beautiful, because I just let it—I couldn't breath anymore.
I let it go. And in a moment when I let it go, I got released and I could see the sky again. And it was—I was the most happy to see this blue, blue sky. It was—there was things happening in my mind and thinking.
And I was just sending energy to everybody and praying that lots of people are safe, because I knew that this is reaching out to many people and this disaster will cause a lot of suffering.
SCARBOROUGH: And what got you through the eight hours of your suffering, when you had this terrible pain after you had been crushed and you were holding on to the tree? Were you thinking about, obviously, your boyfriend? Were you think about your family? What pulled you through that terrible time?
NEMCOVA: Well, yes, of course, I was thinking about Simon, about all the people, hearing the screams of people and children.
I was thinking about my family. And just there are so many things going on in my mind. And some of the people were asking me, did you feel anger towards nature? Did you—what—and I didn't feel any anger. I felt like more nature was screaming for help. It was very strange.
At that point, we were all the same, all the people. We were Thai. People were Thai, American, Czech, Swedish. We were that small in front of the nature. And it was just a realization that sometimes we think we are more powerful than nature. And, actually, no, we are not. So, it brought a great respect and a reminder about the respect.
And there—it just—there was lots of things going on in my mind and it was definitely—it's a lot of reminders coming back and great appreciation.
SCARBOROUGH: You decided to get back involved in modeling, but you don't do it full time because you still want to help all those people who were—especially the children who were badly impacted by the tsunami.
What are you doing with your foundation to help those children out?
Well, if you imagine that there are probably around 260,000 people which they have died, it's just an incredible number. And there are so many children left orphaned or affected in one way or the other. And when I went back to Thailand, it was the end of April. And it was the first thing I did as soon as I recovered.
I wanted to go back to find out how I can help. And it was hard to see all the children left orphaned by this disaster and having blank looks, looking through you, not at you, be sleeping on the floor, not knowing what happened to their parents. It was very hard and very emotional.
So, when I returned back to New York, I establish Happy Hearts Fund, together with Give 2 Asia, which is a nonprofit organization here in U.S. and Canada. And, together, we have been helping to rebuild schools, dormitories and providing psychological and emotional programs.
And it's been quite a journey. I never thought in my life that I would actually write a book or have a charity, but it happened. And I'm just very happy I can help. And I think, it—I—in one point, when I was in Thailand, I realized, you know, we cannot change the past, but we can make a difference for now and for the future.
SCARBOROUGH: I want to ask, in closing, have you thought about how you are going to spend the day after Christmas this year, how you are going to spend the one-year anniversary?
NEMCOVA: The—well, we planned that already, in June, and I will spend the one year anniversary with my family, Czech family, and my English family, my new English family, which is Simon's family.
And we will be together somewhere sunny and just away from the memories. It will be very hard, the one-year anniversary, but we will try to celebrate, instead of being sad. And that's how Simon would like us to be. He would like us to celebrate life. And that's what he always did in every moment.
And his favorite saying was, the day without laughter is a day wasted. So, we are just going to love a lot and just remember his jokes and his silly things and just try to—I think that's the best way us—we can honor him, just to live the way, as he did. And through that, he can live through us.
ANNOUNCER: Coming up, Katrina, they called it our tsunami. Joe looks at the widespread destruction along the Gulf Coast and the political fallout from this monster storm—and an important interview with the new head of the federal agency charged with protecting us during disasters. He answers the hard questions about what's being done to make Americans safe when the next disaster strikes.
SCARBOROUGH: Incredible destruction, but the question: Has the government learned from our hurricane season? I go one on one with some tough questions with the man running FEMA now—when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY continues.
SCARBOROUGH: You are looking at images of just how bad Hurricane Katrina got. When it broke and roared through Biloxi, things got terrible.
Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
I want you to see where we are right now. We are in Biloxi, back in Biloxi. Now, the last time I was here, it was about 90 degrees at night. There were insects all over the place, a much different scene.
Now, we are out right in front of the Lady Luck Casino. It is a casino, 2,500 tornadoes. It broke loose from its moorings over half-a-mile away.
And when it finally landed here, it destroyed everything in its path. I mean, this is just, again, a devastated region. There were some signs of progress and some signs of hope earlier when we drove in. You can see actually—you can actually see the lights starting to come back, and, in some parts along the Mississippi's Gulf Coast, again, you are starting to see some things that are positive.
We went over to Waveland, though, earlier today. It's where my family went for Thanksgiving. We served with the group HANDS. We served hundreds of people Thanksgiving dinner. But I got to tell you, Waveland and so many other parts of Mississippi, parts of America, quite frankly, that have been forgotten by our leaders in Washington and too many other Americans, they are still suffering.
And the damage is so huge, so powerful, that it's really difficult to understand its scale.
We asked David Shuster, if he would, to take an in-depth look at Katrina and try to put it in perspective for all of us.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the storm everybody feared and then some. Hurricane Katrina killed more than 1,300 people and caused more than $150 billion in damage, the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history.
And no matter how you examine Katrina, the numbers are staggering. The federal disaster declaration area was 90,000 miles, an area as large as the United Kingdom. One million people were displaced from their homes; five million went without power at least a week. And, in New Orleans, America's 35th most populated city, 80 percent of the city was under water.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: This is probably the worst catastrophe or set of catastrophes certainly that I am aware of in the history of the country.
SHUSTER: The storm surge from Katrina actually came ashore in over 200 continuous miles of coastline, from southeast Louisiana through Mississippi and Alabama to the Florida Panhandle. The 30-foot storm surge recorded in Biloxi, Mississippi, was the highest ever observed in the United States.
The surge was so strong that it moved Mississippi casino barges across highways and leveled entire neighborhoods. And when the powerful storm waters retreated back into the Gulf, streets, homes, and businesses were unrecognizable.
(on camera): The debris that is above my head, this was about to 25 feet, was the surge here, and then, on top of that, about another 20 or 25 feet of waves.
(voice-over): Officials estimate that, in Mississippi alone, Katrina created 42 million cubic yards of debris, or, to put it another way, the equivalent of 600 football fields, each stacked 100 feet high. Katrina's historic damage, though, was not just physical.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We got to go and steal water to drink to survive out here.
SHUSTER: The nation and the world watched in horror as an American city descended into anarchy and chaos.
And who will ever forget the New Orleans Convention Center, where, four days after the storm, thousands of people were still without food, water, or transportation out?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're not doing nothing. They are not telling us nothing. They are not doing nothing.
SHUSTER: The dead and dying were front and center.
MICHAEL BROWN, FORMER FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY DIRECTOR:
The federal government just learned about those people today.
SHUSTER: The next day, President Bush made his first visit to the region.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Again, I want to thank you all for—and, Brownie, you are doing a heck of a job. The FEMA director is working 24...
SHUSTER: But flaws in FEMA's response to the disaster would soon be exposed, and Director Brown was sent back to Washington. He would ultimately resign in the wake of the controversy.
Meanwhile, governments from around the world were offering help to the United States. Americans outside the Gulf region also responded in dramatic fashion, donating $500 million in private aid and charity the first week.
To date, the American Red Cross has received $1. 5 billion in donations, and, over the last three months, more than 215,000 people have at one point or another done Gulf Coast volunteer work.
But the task is not over. It will take at least another six months to remove all of the debris. And it could be years, officials say, until the Gulf Coast recovers physically, emotionally, and spiritually from what was the most devastating hurricane in American history.
SCARBOROUGH: I will tell you what. There is still so much to do here in Mississippi and also across the entire Gulf Coast region. You can see that, again, when you just—when you drive over here, so much damage, so much devastation and such a long way to go.
Let's go right now to Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Joining us tonight, Congressman Bobby Jindal and also New Orleans resident and presidential historian Doug Brinkley.
Congressman, let's start with you.
We all know how badly the government performed, not only on the federal, but also on the state and local level, back when Katrina hit. Have things improved now that we are coming to the end of this hurricane season?
REP. BOBBY JINDAL ®, LOUISIANA: Well, Joe, I think you see a couple of steps forward, but still a lot of struggles, a lot of bureaucracy, for example, still complaints the SBA is not processing loans quickly enough to keep small businesses open, still complaints housing is not being consistently provided to employees, so businesses can reopen.
So, I think there's still a lot of frustration on the ground. Probably, the greatest concern is that we not be forgotten, because there's a real concern if we don't rebuild those levees properly, if we don't restore the coast, there's a real concern, come next hurricane season, New Orleans and the surrounding area could be vulnerable again.
So, I think it's very important we as a state continue to make as a priority the rebuilding of our levees, restoring of our coastlands, so people can come back, go back the work, and start rebuilding their lives.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Congressman, a lot of people in Mississippi have believed that they have been forgotten by Americans, but now you are leading the charge, the chorus of dissent, for people in New Orleans saying that Washington politicians have forgotten them, just three months after this devastating storm.
Is that the case, and, if so, what can be done to refocus our politicians on taking care of the people that were just devastated by Katrina and the other storms of this hurricane season?
JINDAL: So many people in Louisiana, in southwestern Louisiana and areas outside of New Orleans, have also been severely impacted by Rita and Katrina. I think our state has got a responsibility to set priorities, communicate clearly to Washington, and say, we don't expect the country to do everything for us.
We live in a very compassionate country. We have to set priorities, show that we are helping ourselves. I think part of that is saying, for example, at the top of our list are levees that can withstand a Category 5 hurricane, coastal restoration. Secondly, it's jobs, jobs, jobs. The quicker we put people back to work, the quicker they can provide for themselves.
And, then, third, it's helping people who are having trouble collecting their insurance monies. I think if we can get those three things done, I think that this region can actually come back stronger than it was pre-Katrina. Part of that responsibility is on the state to set clear priorities. Part of that responsibility is our on nation to work with the state to help us rebuild.
SCARBOROUGH: Doug Brinkley, we have been talking about how all levels of government failed the people back during Katrina, but you drive through Mississippi, across the Gulf Coast, just like parts of New Orleans, and this really does look like an unprecedented disaster.
I remember, again, going across Mississippi over Thanksgiving with Congressman Chip Pickering. And I asked him, Chip, where do you start? It's—the problem is so massive. Is this going to be a rebuilding on a historical scale, and are our government leaders up to it?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, NBC ANALYST: Right now, no, the government leaders aren't up to it. The private sector is getting very involved.
I am doing a book, and I interviewed Trent Lott the other day. And, if you look at Mississippi, both Thad Cochran and Lott are piece by piece getting some of the money. The Landrieu-Vitter bill, which had asked for the $250 billion, had gotten shot down.
The concern that I have right now from the federal government point of view is why the Bush administration seems to be turning its back on New Orleans. It's—and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. It would seem to me that this is a historic moment to step up and do something like the Marshall Plan or Tennessee Valley Authority or now create a Mississippi Valley Authority for the region.
We rebuilt Europe after World War II. Why can't we rebuild New Orleans? And you are not going to get people back to New Orleans for the jobs that the congressman just talked to if that—if we are not safe for Category 5 hurricanes. And, right now, there is no plan by the federal government to help build the levee system.
It's 300 miles of levees. It's very expensive. And I hope that somebody like Congressman Jindal, who has a relationship with President Bush, starts getting a little more finger in his face, saying, we have got to rebuild one of the great cities in the United States or else it's going to die.
SCARBOROUGH: And, again, not just New Orleans, but...
SCARBOROUGH: ... you can look from Ocean Springs, Mississippi, across Waveland, the whole region, absolutely devastated, Doug.
Doug, what is the one thing that you believe leaders on the federal level need to do to make sure they can turn this corner and rebuild Mississippi and Louisiana?
BRINKLEY: It's about leadership.
When you look at presidents, a Theodore Roosevelt or a Harry Truman or a Ronald Reagan, the great American presidents would not let a region die and suffer. They would have seen this as the bell ringing. This would be the moment that would define their presidency, and it is not too late for President Bush to do that. But he gave a very powerful speech in Jackson Square. The blue lights were behind him, and, if you read that speech, it was wonderful.
But the reality is, the speech is—was phony. And we are not getting the funding. We are not getting the federal attention, and I think that it's tragic. And if President Bush wants to ignore New Orleans, then just say so. Let us know. Let us know not to come back, there are never going to be levees built, that we are not going to be—there isn't going to be a massive public works project.
You know, there are people where I'm at, in Houston, that want to work. They are looking to go back to New Orleans. Why not create a WPA, look at the leadership of somebody like Franklin Roosevelt during the Great Depression? Let's see a little bit of that out of this president.
SCARBOROUGH: Congressman Jindal, has the president forgotten New Orleans? Was it really nothing but words that night he spoke to America from Jackson Square?
JINDAL: You know, my frustration is, we are spending billions of dollars, and the Congress will spend in the next couple of weeks probably $2 billion on Medicaid down here, $2 billion on K-12 education, $50 million on food stamps. We have already spent $400 million on unemployment insurance.
And I think those address immediate needs. The frustrating thing is, unless—and I agree with Doug—unless we have a commitment to rebuilding those levees, restoring the coasts, the private sector won't have the confidence to come back here.
Where I might disagree slightly is, I think there needs to be more of an emphasis on private sector jobs. But I agree that unless we have an explicit commitment to restore our levees, restore our coast, people won't feel safe enough to come back. And Louisiana generates $5 to $8 billion a year off our coast in federal oil and gas revenues. The money is there. We supply the nation 30 percent of its energy.
Other states get a share of those revenues. All we have to do is use that money to rebuild the levees, rebuild the coast. That would be a huge step forward in rebuilding this region.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. All right. Thank you so much, Congressman Bobby Jindal. As always, we appreciate it.
And, Doug Brinkley, same goes with you. Thank you so much for being with us tonight.
We appreciate it.
I want to bring in Tucker Carlson right now. He is, of course, the host of “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON.”
Hey, Tucker, what you got going on with “THE SITUATION” tonight?
TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON”: Joe, tonight, we bring you our “SITUATION” '05 year-end spectacular. It is filled with everything, from the Reverend Al Sharpton, to Sam, the world's ugliest dog. Trust me. He is hideous. From a Wal-Mart expose to exposed man's purses, not to mention Starbucks and Mikey the chimp. We bring you only the best tonight, 11:00 p.m. Eastern.
SCARBOROUGH: Up next here in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, we are going into the eye of the storm with reporters who relive the season in their own words.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, there have been so many questions about how our government responded to Hurricane Katrina, but, tonight, we are going to be talking to the man who is now charged with cleaning up the mess. He is the new head of FEMA. That's coming up.
But, first, here's the latest news that you and your family need to know.
ANNOUNCER: This is a SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY special edition: Hurricane 2005: The Meanest Season.”
Once again from Biloxi, Mississippi, here's Joe Scarborough.
SCARBOROUGH: Welcome back to Biloxi, Mississippi.
You know, we have been all along the Gulf Coast today, getting a sense of how much work still needs to be done. But, first, once again, I want to bring in Sean McLaughlin.
He is MSNBC's chief meteorologist—Sean.
SEAN MCLAUGHLIN, NBC METEOROLOGIST: Thanks, Joe.
Well, in reporting on hurricanes, our correspondents, producers, and crews find themselves rushing into the storm as others are fleeing. But this hurricane season, our reporters found themselves not just in harm's way from the weather, but in the midst of human suffering as well.
SHUSTER: By the time I got to New Orleans, a lot of the people that you saw at the Convention Center, they had been bused out. And what was left was this very sort of bizarre, surreal environment, where you had this huge city, America's 35th largest city, which had no lights. It had all the sort of buildings and the roads, and there was debris everywhere, but there were no people.
LISA DANIELS, NBC CORRESPONDENT: There was nobody around. The only people that you saw were military personnel, which is why part of me thinks it looked like a military base.
RITA COSBY, HOST, “RITA COSBY: LIVE & DIRECT”: I could not believe how bad it was. It was just miles and miles of destruction.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At some point, we got angry at people who thought they understood the situation, that these people at the Superdome were dangerous somehow, or were intent on doing ill things to the city.
These people were in need. And the hardest thing about the job eventually became convincing people it's OK to come into this city and bring help for those people. They are not dangerous.
COSBY: It was amazing first to see the devastation from the sky and just see how vast, how horrific it was. And then, on the other hand, there we were, and we got to see people actually boarding our chopper, getting safe land for the first time in days, and to see these people just so elated, so thankful to be alive. And it was amazing to be a part of that.
SHUSTER: It was day two of Hurricane Katrina when we were actually finally able to get into Biloxi. Everything within half-a-mile of the beach was literally destroyed. There were homes where all you could see, the only thing you could see were the cement platforms, the foundation of these homes.
DANIELS: The toughest thing for me was not being able to help the people, put aside the ethical conflict, whether we are participants in this moment in history or whether we are journalists. People were coming to us asking us to help find their loved ones.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a dead body under—under the highway, which had clearly been unattended to for a day or two. And when you see an unattended dead body on the street of an American city, that is when everything sort of switched over.
MCLAUGHLIN: We have got that northern eye wall really pounding the Louisiana-Texas border.
SHUSTER: A minute after we were talking about this tree, we turned around, and it had fallen down.
And I can hear people talking about the anchors and the producers who were watching back from the headquarters, just how sort of fearful they were about our safety.
CARLSON: You know, it's pretty easy to get killed by a tree like that.
DANIELS: I always had the feeling that, if a catastrophe happened, that we would be taken care of. And this is not to blame the government. It's not to blame local authorities. It just was the notion in my mind that, if something horrible happened, it wouldn't be the way that I always envisioned it working out.
COSBY: I think it left me with a greater appreciation of life. I value it so much more, just myself. And I think I left there not just feeling different as a journalist, but different as a human being.
MCLAUGHLIN: And one of those correspondents that has rushed into many hurricane zones is joining me live from New Orleans.
He's NBC's Martin Savidge. NBC News has established a permanent bureau there, in the wake of Katrina. And Martin is its first full-time correspondent.
And, Martin, I look at your title, NBC News New Orleans correspondent.
Did you ever think one event would provide you with stories for years and years to come?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC NEW ORLEANS CORRESPONDENT: No. No, you didn't, obviously, Sean.
I mean, when I listen to how people there just describe their feelings, it was a very emotional story to cover, for a lot of reasons. I mean, the primary one was that we were living the story. In a lot of ways, correspondents come in. We sometimes said, we parachute in, we report, and then we leave.
This was a circumstance where there was no exit. You were there; you were stuck there, like everyone else. Food and water was just as critical for us as it was for the people on the street. We had no place to live. We were breaking into hotel rooms to try to find some sort of shelter, and hopefully a door that locked at night. So, you were very much caught up in the same emotions, the same fears, the same concerns.
The only benefit we had was the advent of knowledge. We knew that help was coming, but, keep in mind, most people in this city had no idea that anybody even knew how bad it was. But, once it was realized, as a journalist, I knew that this was a story you would be covering for years, if not decades—Sean.
MCLAUGHLIN: And, Martin, you make your living matching words and pictures. Has basic reporting changed from this one story?
SAVIDGE: Well, you know, we still grapple with trying to put words to it. We still grapple to try to show you the images.
I mean, there has never been an accurate portrayal, whether it be down there in Biloxi or whether it be in the heart of New Orleans or the Lower Ninth Ward or any of the places that Rita struck, to—to try to visually tell you and make you feel what people have suffered. We have still failed in that capacity.
There's a lot of work that needs to be done as a journalist to explain the nuances to this story. It's not just trying to figure who is to blame. We are beyond that. It's what lessons need to be learned. How can this city, how can the rest of the Gulf War rebuild itself? We know that is a monumental task. What is the plan? Where is the money going to come from?
And then, as we are talking about tonight, there is next year that could be very bad. And they need to get ready in a hurry—Sean.
MCLAUGHLIN: So many angles to cover.
Thank you, Martin Savidge. And we will watch for your great work out of the New Orleans bureau.
Let's go live now back to Biloxi and Joe Scarborough—Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, thanks so much, Sean.
And if you look at the reporters and what they did, the journalists all across the Gulf Coast during this storm season, they really did great work out there. And it was one of those times when reporters, when journalists, when editorial writers really made the difference in the life of the people across the Gulf Coast and in the life of this country—so many people that need to be applauded for the great work that they did.
Coming up next, these storms raised serious questions about our government's ability to protect its citizens, and it left Americans with many questions about the problems that were exposed. When we come back, we are going to be talking live exclusively to the man in charge of FEMA, and going to be asking him what that agency and what we all can do to be prepared for next year's hurricane season.
That's when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.
SCARBOROUGH: Welcome back.
When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast, it hurt so many people in this area and exposed troubling questions, obviously important to all Americans.
SCARBOROUGH (voice-over): This meanest season wiped cleaned the landscape of America's Gulf Coast. Mississippi saw years of economic progress destroyed in one day. Florida again was pummeled by Mother Nature.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's not right. It's not right.
SCARBOROUGH: Oil and gasoline supplies were disrupted. And prices went through the roof.
In the aftermath of one of the worst natural disasters in American history, the Big Easy became a big question mark. Can or should it rebuild?
BUSH: There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans. And this great city will rise again.
SCARBOROUGH: But Congress has only allocated a small amount of the billions of dollars needed to repair hurricane damage, and residents of the Gulf Coast are beginning to fear that they are being forgotten by Washington.
PROFESSOR ROBERT DUPONT, UNIVERSITY OF NEW ORLEANS: There's an obligation on the part of government to do something to help the people that were the victims of this, victims twice, by nature and by man.
SCARBOROUGH: At the top of the post-hurricane to-do list, repairing the levees in New Orleans. The Army Corps of Engineers is working to rebuild the levees to a Category 3 level, while the state tries to round up funding to bulk them up to Category 5 level, at a cost of at least $20 billion.
DUPONT: I think the levees are probably more like a five-to-10-year project than anything immediately, but unless people have that guarantee and see work getting started, they are going to be reluctant to come back to the city and invest their own funds.
SCARBOROUGH: Environmentalists say the city can't be saved until wetlands and barrier islands are restored.
PROFESSOR SHEA PENLAND, UNIVERSITY OF NEW ORLEANS: We need to learn how to live with the coast. And to do that, we need to learn how to drain it. We need to learn how to build levees to protect it and—and to deal with all of the natural hazards that there are.
SCARBOROUGH: The wrath of Katrina forced FEMA to reorganize and rededicate itself to its original mission, a way of repairing the social contract between the government and its citizens.
DUPONT: I think what it exposed was a tremendous void of leadership. I think that, under almost any circumstances, with such a catastrophe, things would break down. But I am not sure they have come back quite as quickly as we need them to, to get things moving again.
SCARBOROUGH: And that's actually the task ahead for our next guest, to get things moving again.
He is the acting FEMA director, David Paulison.
Director Paulison, thank you so much for being with us.
You know, there are a lot of questions that we could ask you about what went wrong several months ago. I just want to ask you a personal question, though. When you saw what was unfolding throughout September, August and September, and you see these images now, how does it hit you personally, as an American, to see all of that suffering going on. And what kind of burden does that place on you as we move forward to make sure the mistakes that were made after Katrina never happen again?
DAVID PAULISON, ACTING DIRECTOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY:
Well, it's just obviously a tremendous burden on all of us here at FEMA.
I went through Hurricane Andrew. I was a new fire chief there, and saw our—our homes destroyed and our people in—and really hurting. And now you see it all over again. But, in Katrina, we have a storm of unimaginable proportions, you know, 90,000 square miles, as you pointed out earlier, and literally a million people had to leave their homes.
We have people who have simply lost everything. They have lost everything they own. And, you know, we want to make sure that we can do everything possible to get them back on their feet, get them jobs, get them some decent housing, waiting to get a new start on life again.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, has FEMA been fixed? Obviously—and I said this all along—in the 2004 hurricanes that ripped through Pensacola, Florida, and the three others that went through the other part of the state, FEMA's response, I thought, was heroic.
In 2005, it seemed like everything that could go wrong went wrong. How can we know that 2006 is going to be more like 2004, instead of this year?
PAULISON: Let me put things in perspective about Florida. We had four hurricanes to go through there, and FEMA had its biggest housing event ever in its history. We housed 20,000 families.
In Hurricane Katrina, we had to house 400,000 families, obviously far beyond the capacity of anything we have ever dealt with before. We have a lot of work to do. There's no question about it. The secretary, Secretary Chertoff, is very, very committed to retooling FEMA.
We have been working with him very closely. We know we have to make FEMA more nimble, be able to quickly respond, be able to be more adaptive to the environment around it. And that's what we are—we are planning on doing.
SCARBOROUGH: Director Paulison, I have been in Mississippi over the past several days, and what I have—I have heard complaints from people here that say that, if you look at the money that FEMA is spending to rebuild Mississippi, only 5 cents out of every dollar is actually going to Mississippi businesses, Mississippi contractors.
They say, not only is that not good for Mississippi; they say that violates the Stafford Act. What can you do to assure people in Mississippi and Louisiana that their people will be getting more of these contracts in the future?
PAULISON: No, they are absolutely right on target.
When I took over, a very small percentage of those dollars were actually going to local contractors. And we know—we have learned from history, what we saw in Hurricane Andrew and other hurricanes, that we have got to get those local businesses up and running again.
Just this past Monday, two days ago, we put out bids on the street that are primarily focused strictly on small businesses, minority businesses and disadvantaged businesses. We want those dollars and all those contracts to go to those local business people, because we know that's what's good for Mississippi, that's what's good for Louisiana. That's what's going to be good for Texas also.
SCARBOROUGH: So, the people of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas can be assured that, under your leadership, you are going to start making sure that more FEMA money that is spent on Mississippi and Louisiana and Texas actually is going to be going through businesses in this area to help rebuild the economies, right?
PAULISON: That's correct.
And that's what we want to happen. We know that we want that money flowing down at the local level. We have been working with congressional members. The secretary is on board with this, and so is the president, to make sure that those dollars that we are getting ready to spend now will go to local businesses.
SCARBOROUGH: Director Paulison, final question. Obviously, you heard a lot of criticism from—even from congressmen and senators that voted to put your agency under the Department of Homeland Security. They say it needs to be an independent agency, that you need to have complete autonomy yourself.
Is there any chance that that's going to happen, or do you think that FEMA can be fixed under its current structure?
PAULISON: Well, I have to tell you that, since I have been here—it's only a couple months—I have gotten a tremendous amount of support out of Secretary Chertoff and the president directly.
So, I can only deal with what I have now. What Congress does with FEMA or not, that's for down the road and somebody else. But I am here to tell you that the support that I have gotten and the leeway that I have gotten to operate this organization has been nothing short of spectacular. They are letting me run the organization, but yet they will give me all the support possible to help me get this thing back on track.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, Director Paulison, obviously, this is very personal to me, personal to people across the Gulf Coast. Our lives are literally in your hands.
Do we have a reason, do all Americans have a reason to believe that FEMA has been fixed and that we are moving forward in a positive direction?
PAULISON: We are moving forward in a very positive direction. We have a lot of work to do. There's no question about it. We have got a logistics train we need to work on. We need to work on some financial issues.
There's a whole bunch of things that need to be tweaked. But we have got a good solid base. There are good people inside of FEMA that know what they are doing. And we have hundreds and hundreds of people who could have gone home for Thanksgiving, but stayed and worked, because they knew they had a job to do. I am excited about working with them. I am proud to work with them. And, yes, I think we are on the right track.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, Director Paulison, good luck, and God bless you. We really hope that things go well in the coming year, and we appreciate you being with us tonight.
PAULISON: Thank you, sir.
SCARBOROUGH: All right.
And, coming up next, I am going to take you about 30 minutes from here, to a place that really was literally wiped off the map. See how they are recovering with help from donations sent by you through SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
SCARBOROUGH: Welcome back.
This morning, I took a trip about 40 miles, 45 miles from here, to a place called Waveland, Mississippi. Now, it's a very special place, a place where we spent Thanksgiving. But it's also a place that was literally wiped off the face of the Earth by the storm surge in Katrina.
Now, in spite of that, the people there are showing a spirit that is nothing short of inspiring.
MARK CUMELLA, SAINT CLARE CATHOLIC SCHOOL AND CHURCH: He said that he was in Alaska at the time of the storm, realized the devastation that had occurred on the Gulf Coast.
He called his company and told them to mass produce these units that are 20-by-50. And he told me himself, Joe, that when he got to South Beach Boulevard and saw school imprinted in South Beach Boulevard, the road, he turned in to inquire. He found out that it was a school. He found out it was a church, and he told his men, this is where we were sent. Let's unload, and we are going to build this school.
SCARBOROUGH: So, here's a guy that is not asking for any money. He is doing it because he feels like God has called him...
SCARBOROUGH: ... from Alaska to Waveland, Mississippi, a place I know he has never even heard of in his life.
SCARBOROUGH: He says, pull in; this is where God sent me.
And, as a result of it, you all have your own makeshift school.
CUMELLA: We have our own school, absolutely.
SCARBOROUGH: This—for people that don't live on the Gulf Coast, and that don't understand the power of a hurricane, all they have to do is look at your old school bus, which—tell me, how far did this thing fly in the air when Katrina came on shore?
CUMELLA: Joe, we are about 150 yards from where we used to park our bus.
SCARBOROUGH: It's home after home after home after block. I mean, it's unrecognizable. An entire town has been destroyed. How do you rebuild it? Where do you start? I guess that's the question, isn't it?
CUMELLA: It is, Joe.
And I think, with my limited ability, as far as the clean-up process after a devastation like this, I envision it taking years to—just for the cleanup process, before the—this local community can actually start the rebuilding phase.
SCARBOROUGH: Boy, I will tell you what. This place is devastated.
And we are here right now in Biloxi, as I said, with Betsy Cox and Jeff Redding (ph), with the group Helping Americans Needing Disaster Support, better known as HANDS.
We are sitting here and I'm complaining about how cold it is, very different from when we were here right after the storm.
And, yet, I remember when you were calling over to us and asking for things. You were asking for tents. And the reason why you were asking for tents is because, even now, there are still people that are living in tents, right?
BETSY COX, HELPING AMERICANS NEEDING DISASTER SUPPORT: Yes. We are still asking for tents today and Coleman stoves and sleeping bags and even food, 90 days after the storm.
SCARBOROUGH: I heard, a teacher that was at the school that we toured earlier today is raising two grandchildren, living in a tent. It is unbelievable. Most Americans still have no concept of just how bad things are in Mississippi.
COX: That's right.
And I personally was sleeping in a—the Quonset huts that you showed earlier, and I got to go home to a warm bed. Saturday, it rained all day. It was wet. It was drippy. There were bugs, chiggers. These folks are washing clothes outside. They went back to bed in their tent with wet clothes and wet food and wet for the night.
SCARBOROUGH: It's so sad.
Tell our viewers, if you will, because the—the outpouring of support was just unbelievable after the storm.
COX: It was.
SCARBOROUGH: I think we raised over $500,000. And so much of it went through HANDS, where you all didn't keep anything.
And the reason why we sent it to you is because you had a rule. You don't keep it on the floor for more than three hours. You get it out to the people. Talk about the operation over the past three months.
COX: Well, Joe, we started off in our church there in Jackson. Then we outgrew that very quickly and move to a vacated Winn-Dixie. And then a number of us who felt a compassion to continue on with this ministry started HANDS. And now we find ourselves in another building doing the same thing.
SCARBOROUGH: Just keep growing, right?
CUMELLA: Keep on going, yes.
SCARBOROUGH: And despite the fact that you and your husband are LSU fans, you're good Christian people.
SCARBOROUGH: We forgive you for that.
COX: That's it. That's right.
SCARBOROUGH: And the lord may forgive you for that, too.
SCARBOROUGH: Roll Tide.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, thanks. I want to be—seriously here, again, you all have done so much. Your organization has done so much. If people want to help you all out, how do they do it?
COX: They can go to www.HANDS.ms. And lots of projects right there.
You can see it on the Web site, and they can help out.
Thanks so much.
COX: Thanks, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: Greatly appreciate it.
Thanks a lot, Jeff.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: God bless you.
We are going to be back with more from Biloxi coming up.
Plus, “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON” follows straight ahead.
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, thanks so much for being with me tonight. That's all the time we have from here in Biloxi, but a special thanks goes out to MSNBC chief meteorologist Sean McLaughlin.
And don't forget the Gulf Coast. We certainly won't.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.'s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.