Guests: George Foresman, Haley Barbour, Ivor Van Heerden, Douglas Brinkley, Bob Riley
ANNOUNCER: This is a SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY special edition. Storm Warning: Hurricane Season 2006. Live from Biloxi, Mississippi, here‘s Joe Scarborough.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: Good evening, and welcome to this special edition of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, coming to you tonight from a community that was crippled by the crushing blow that was delivered nine months ago, when Hurricane Katrina roared off shore just a few miles west of Biloxi, Mississippi. Now, like the rest of the deep South‘s Gulf Coast region, Biloxi residents have barely had time to remove the rubble left from last year‘s hurricane season. But now they face the sobering fact that for them and the rest of the Gulf Coast region, hurricane season starts one week from tonight.
But this year, unlike last, the warning bells have been sounded not only for perennial target states like Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, but also for states like North Carolina and New York and the entire Eastern Seaboard region. Now, for the next 60 minutes, we will tell you what the government‘s predictions for this year‘s hurricane season means for Mississippi, New Orleans, and yes, New York City. We‘re going to be asking whether our leaders are any better prepared for the catastrophes that may soon hit America‘s largest cities this year and whether they‘re more prepared than they were last year.
So what did government officials have to say today when they announced their forecast for the 2006 hurricane season? Let‘s go to Miami and MSNBC chief meteorologist Sean McLaughlin, who‘s live at the Hurricane Center. Last year, of course, Sean, it was worse than most of us in the Gulf Coast region can remember. What‘s it look like for 2006?
SEAN MCLAUGHLIN, MSNBC CHIEF METEOROLOGIST: Yes, last year, Joe, definitely broke all records, smashing every record held for the last 100 years. It was what we called a curve buster back in middle school.
We‘re inside the operations center, the room where the forecast was released earlier today. And this is kind of a perspective that you don‘t really see. In fact, the room is cut in half. On that side of the room is the Atlantic hurricane area, and on this side of the room is the eastern Pacific. Do you already realize we‘re in the eastern Pacific hurricane season? It started on May 15. So the folks in California are already checking out things that are happening in the eastern Pacific.
This is James Franklin (ph). He‘s a senior hurricane adviser, a specialist on the night shift, otherwise known as the Scarborough shift around here. And he‘s actually checking out a couple of disturbances right over here in the eastern Pacific.
An area that you might be very, very familiar with, too familiar, based on last year‘s record-breaking hurricane season is this wall map right here, right out of the World War II era. They list all of the storms and the wind speeds. And of course, we had 28 named storms last year.
But what about this year? What are the new numbers? Let‘s go to that full screen and show you, this was the official forecast now provided by the National Hurricane Center: 13 to 16 named tropical storms, 8 to 10 of them hurricanes, 4 to 6 of those could possibly turn into major hurricanes. That‘s a category three or higher.
Now, you‘re asking, Joe, Well, how does that compare to an average year, and now does that compare to last year? Well, last year, we had, of course, 28 named storms, 15 of those hurricanes, 7 of those major hurricanes.
On average, look at that on the left side of your screen -- 11 is a typical normal hurricane year, 6 -- 11 named tropical storms, 5 of those hurricanes, and 2 of those becoming major hurricanes.
Now, this is the scene coming back live here inside the National Hurricane Center. This is the seat where Max Mayfield sits and does thousands and thousands of remote broadcasts live across the country during hurricane season. And earlier today, in the press conference inside this room, we asked how significant is this forecast, based on last year, and his answer was, regardless of the numbers, he reemphasized over and over, Hey, we got to get prepared.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAX MAYFIELD, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: We‘re in this very active period for major hurricane that may last at least another 10 to 20 years. That‘s not good news. And the message is very clear. We need to be prepared.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCLAUGHLIN: All right, Max Mayfield said it again, We need to be prepared, Joe. And of course, he comes here and he starts to draw where landfall probabilities are. Let‘s talk about landfall probabilities. And we have another chart to think of.
Right there, I drew in the Gulf Coast. What is their chance that one major hurricane, a category three or higher, could actually make landfall? And right now, the Gulf Coast is at a 47 percent chance of one major hurricane making landfall. The East Coast—that includes the state of Florida all the way up through the Northeast—that percentage of landfall is 64 percent, that a 64 percent chance that one major hurricane may make landfall on the Eastern Seaboard.
On average, Joe, it‘s about a 31 percent chance. So statistics are leaning towards a possible landfall of one major hurricane during this long season on the Eastern Seaboard.
That‘s one prediction from Dr. William Gray (ph). That‘s his team out of the Colorado State University. He‘s going to update that to hurricane forecasts four times during the year. But today, the big news out of the National Hurricane Center was, Get ready, it‘s going to be another above-normal year.
SCARBOROUGH: And of course, Sean, you talk about the 64 percent, I believe you said, possibility of hitting the East Coast. Some, of course, are talking about the possibility of a category three hurricane or above actually hitting around New York City. The Weather Channel series, “It Could Happen Tomorrow,” actually shows us what a hurricane in New York might look like.
Talk about that. Talk about the possibility of a hurricane in New York or in other East Coast cities, and what people in the Northeast should be doing to be prepared for these type of—these killer storms.
MCLAUGHLIN: Exactly, Joe. Before we go to that video, my apologies to Max Mayfield because he does this better than anybody. But can you imagine a hurricane coming out in the Caribbean and holding together long enough to make it up into the New York City area? And again, statistics show that it is a possibility in the Northeast. It‘s been due. It‘s been several decades since a major hurricane has caused damage in the Northeast. We‘re just going to have to wait and see, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Thank you so much, Sean McLaughlin. Greatly appreciate it.
Now let‘s go to Washington, D.C., and talk to George Foresman. He‘s undersecretary for preparedness in the Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Foresman, thank you so much for being with us tonight. I want to start by asking you, is FEMA, is the Department of Homeland Security and is the White House ready for a killer hurricane season?
GEORGE FORESMAN, UNDERSECRETARY FOR PREPAREDNESS, DHS: Joe, without a doubt. I‘m sure we‘re going to be quite ready for this hurricane season. But it all depends on how well our state and our local partners, as well as the American public is prepared.
SCARBOROUGH: I‘m sorry, we‘re having some audio problems here. A poll of people who live in hurricane areas along the Gulf Coat and the East Coast finds that 83 percent haven‘t taken any steps to strengthen their homes, 68 percent don‘t have a hurricane survival kit, and an incredible 60 percent have no family disaster plan. What can you do, what can your agency do, what can leaders in Washington and across the country do to guarantee that these people wake up and do what they need to do to help themselves?
FORESMAN: Well, Joe, it‘s going to be difficult for us to make decisions and take actions in Washington that are going to raise the level of personal preparedness. But I think, ultimately, it comes down to, Do Americans care about themselves, do they care about their families, are they going to develop a plan, prepare a kit, and are they going to stay informed and watch the weather systems over the summer and be prepared to react if a hurricane does threaten the East Coast or the Gulf Coast?
SCARBOROUGH: How does your agency respond to some of the criticisms on the Hill that the Department of Homeland Security hasn‘t taken enough steps since Katrina and since the killer storms of 2005 to be prepared for the new season?
FORESMAN: Joe, I‘ve been in this business almost a quarter of a century, and the one thing I will offer to you is the level of federal activity in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the lessons that we are capturing out of the House report, the Senate report, the administration‘s own report—we are translating those into tangible improvements in our preparedness postures.
And I got to tell you, I was around during Hurricane Andrew, and many of the issues that we dealt with in the aftermath of Katrina are the same issues that we dealt with during Hurricane Andrew. And it points to the fact that we‘ve got to simply not document lessons, but we‘ve got to implement these lessons and make sure that we tangibly improve our national preparedness. It‘s not something that the federal government should or will be able to do on our own. It depends on, as I mentioned earlier, local, state and federal government working in a national partnership to keep Americans safe.
SCARBOROUGH: But are you satisfied tonight, as you speak to us, again, one week from hurricane season, that the federal government‘s done everything it can do to make hurricane preparedness plans, to prepare the evacuation routes, to make sure that the mistakes that were made last year during Katrina will never be repeated again?
FORESMAN: Well, Joe, let me—let me offer this. We‘ve been working closely with our local and state partners, and the one thing that we have to understand is the primary responsibility for evacuating Americans out of harm‘s way primarily rests with local government and state government. And if they lack the resources to be able to do it, then the federal government needs to provide that bridge to fill those gaps.
And the one thing that I will tell you is that I don‘t think there is a governor along the Atlantic coast or along Gulf Coast that has not put hurricane preparedness as their top priority this year. We‘re working closely with our state and local partners. We‘ve done a series of regional exercises along the East Coast, as well as the Gulf Coast. We‘ll do the New York exercise in June.
And the bottom line is, we‘re going to work hard to make sure that all levels of government and that the American people are doing everything they can to be prepared for the upcoming season.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, you know, as somebody that went through four hurricanes in 2004 in the state of Florida and saw how rapidly Jeb Bush responded to it, how rapidly Governor Riley responded to those hurricanes that affected his state in Alabama, a lot of us last year thought the president himself was caught flat-footed because the governor of Louisiana and other leaders across the region didn‘t respond quickly enough.
I guess the question I need to ask you is, Does the president understand that if these local leaders, if these state leaders fail to do their duties in the first 24 hours, that he will be red to mobilize FEMA, the Department of Homeland Security and any other federal agencies that need to be activated to fill in those gaps?
FORESMAN: Joe, without a doubt, we‘re going to be ready to support local and state governments, and if they‘re unable to perform key functions in an emergency, we‘re going to be prepared to provide the necessary resources to support them. I know that the president understands this firsthand. We talked about it with Dave Paulison, the director of FEMA, Secretary Chertoff.
And frankly, one of the things I would point out to you is, for the first time in my—you know, at least in my memory, the entire cabinet will participate in a cabinet-wide exercise this week to make sure that the senior leaders of the federal government are adequately prepared to be able to mobilize the resources of the federal government in support of the nation‘s governors and of local communities. That is unprecedented in this nation‘s hurricane preparedness posture. And again, as I said, I‘ve been doing this nearly a quarter of a century, and frankly, the level of activity this year has just been incredible.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, George Foresman, that‘s good news for a lot of people across the Gulf Coast. Let‘s hope it has a big impact. Thank you for being with us tonight. Really do appreciate it.
FORESMAN: Joe, thanks for having me.
SCARBOROUGH: All right.
And I got to tell you what, friends. For the people that have been through these hurricanes, especially last year‘s hurricane season, what we understand is there was a delay in the federal government. They didn‘t respond adequately for the first 72 hours because, in my opinion, the president of the United States thought that Mississippi and Louisiana would be run as smoothly as Florida and Alabama in the past.
Obviously, Mississippi got up to speed very quickly and they did some very positive things. Unfortunately, that didn‘t happen across the border in Louisiana. And because of that, people died. And when that happens, that‘s when the federal government needs to step in and help out.
Now, when this special edition of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY continues: All around the United States, signs of this area moving forward and cleaning up, but still so many people vulnerable. We‘re going to show you how the land America forgot has risen again, and we‘re going to talk live to the governor of that state. Mississippi‘s Haley Barbour, to ask him what nine months has done for him and his state and how they made a difference.
And later, more people, more buildings are close to the danger zone. The areas experts are most worried about coming up when this special report from SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY continues.
SCARBOROUGH: I‘m here tonight in Biloxi, Mississippi. It‘s a town torn apart by Hurricane Katrina, as you can see right behind us here.
Here‘s a bridge that actually served as one of the few escape routes out of
Biloxi, Mississippi, an evacuation route. And you may remember the
chilling video of this bridge that was just wiped out. This is exactly
where we are in Biloxi, Mississippi. That‘s the bridge that used to be
there. Now you‘re looking at video taken just days after Hurricane Katrina
hit, and it just absolutely ripped the bridge to shreds. It connects
Biloxi with Ocean Springs and other parts of Mississippi, that gets you up
that obviously gets you up to I-10 and allow you to evacuate. It‘s going to take years before this bridge, again, which is totally devastated, can return and be used.
Now, in the days and weeks after the storm passed, I travelled not only to Biloxi but across the entire Gulf Coast region. And what I saw was shocking. I saw the devastation firsthand.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Probably 80 percent of the homes and businesses were destroyed. Some of them are coming back, some of them probably will not come back.
SCARBOROUGH (voice-over): Biloxi almost nine months after this sleepy Gulf Coast town experienced a natural disaster of biblical proportions.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We will endure. The important thing is that we‘re still alive.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We all need help.
SCARBOROUGH: But on this peaceful spring day nine months later, much has changed. But too much has remained the same.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don‘t have the money or the means to go anywhere else. Nobody wants to help us.
SCARBOROUGH: As residents from New Orleans to New York City brace for another deadly hurricane season, all local officials like Mayor Holloway can do is prepare for the worst but plan for the future.
(on camera): When do you think the rest of Biloxi‘s going to be open for business?
MAYOR A.J. HOLLOWAY, BILOXI: Most of it‘ll be back 100 percent August 29, the anniversary, first anniversary of Katrina.
SCARBOROUGH: And hurricane season‘s just a little more than a week away in the Gulf Coast. Well, is it prepared? With me now to talk about it, Mississippi governor Haley Barbour. Governor, you all have been through so much over the past nine months. Are you satisfied with how far Biloxi and the rest of Mississippi has come in that short time?
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR ®, MISSISSIPPI: Joe, satisfied is not the right word. And we make progress every day. We haven‘t had a single day we‘ve made as much as I would like to, but we‘ve cleaned up 95 percent of the debris. We had 45 million cubic yards of debris, more than twice as much left in the wake of any other hurricane in American history. Ninety percent of our kids are back in school on the coast counties. A lot of them are not in the school they were in because that school got blown away. But they and their families are back. Our population of this bottom (ph) six counties in this state‘s about 98 percent of what it was before the hurricane. So our people are home, our kids are in school. We actually have a labor shortage on the coast, as I‘m sure Mayor Holloway told you.
We still got a tall mountain in front of us, but we‘ve made a tremendous amount of progress, and the biggest thing is the spirit of our people on the coast, the average citizen and then the local leadership, like Mayor Holloway and the first responders. We never lost continuity of government on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. We got hit by the brunt of the hurricane, but the police never went home, the firemen never went home, the National Guard, the state law enforcement, they all stayed in there. And that‘s why fewer than 10 percent of the fatalities in this hurricane were in Mississippi, despite the fact that we are the place that took the 38-foot storm surge.
You know, it‘s—your viewers might be interested to know that where you are in Biloxi is 50 miles east of where the worst of the storm was.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, Governor, you know, we‘ve been saying over the past nine months that Mississippi really is the land that America forgot. You go to places like Waveland, Pass Christian, they‘re like war zones, and war zones, as I always say, you have rubble. There‘s nothing here in so many different places.
I want to ask you, though, what is the difference? Because everybody‘s going back nine months, trying to figure out what went wrong. What is the difference between what happened in Mississippi and what happened across the state line in Louisiana, where you not only had a breakdown at the highest level of government, whether you‘re talking about the governor or whether you‘re talking about the mayor, but you also had police officers and other first responders who abandoned their posts. That didn‘t happen here, as you just said. What made the difference?
BARBOUR: Congressman, I don‘t know enough about Louisiana to tell you, but I will tell you this. Our people are strong, resilient, self-reliant people. Our people don‘t whine and mope. Mississippians are not into victimhood.
We got hit the worst, most mighty blow in the history of our country by natural disaster. Our people got knocked down, but they got back up and they hitched up their britches and did what had to be done to help themselves and to help their people, their neighbors.
The fellow you had on from Homeland Security—I don‘t remember his name—but he‘s right. The first responsibility for disaster protection, relief, rescue and recovery lies with the states and the local governments, not the federal government. And you talked about Florida and Alabama and how well they did two years ago, and about Mississippi. And I will tell you, Texas—Texas did very well when Rita hit them.
It is—we are the first line of responsibility, and our line never gave in. And it‘s a real tribute to those people on the coast like Mayor A.J. Holloway and the other mayors, but particularly to those first responders.
SCARBOROUGH: Governor, you‘re telling us tonight that, in the end, when you break this down, the responsibility rests with the local government and with the state government. And if they fail, then it‘s their people that are going to suffer because of it, right?
BARBOUR: Well, first and foremost, that‘s the case. We know the local people. We know the neighborhoods. I mean, we are the ones who are able to convincingly say, You got to evacuate. This hurricane‘s going to be like Camille. That‘s what we started telling people right before Katrina, so people would evacuate.
You know, we had hurricane fatigue, Joe. You‘re from my neck of the woods over at Pensacola. We had had Ivan. We had had Dennis. And both of them had turned east and not hit Mississippi. So a lot of people in Mississippi said, Oh, it‘s probably not going to be that bad this time. But right in the last 36 or 48 hours, we had a good evacuation. But it was because they heard from their local officials, from their state officials, people they knew and trusted who said, Get out of here. This is going to be like Camille.
And of course, we never knew hours in advance it was going to be so much worse than Camille, Joe. The storm winds were about 40 miles an hour less than Camille, but the storm surge, that gigantic wave, was multiples of anything anybody‘d ever seen before.
SCARBOROUGH: It was unbelievable, and of course, anybody that‘s been down Main Street in Waveland sees that sign where the people of Waveland in ‘69 thank the rest of the country for helping them to recover from Camille. Nobody there could have believed before the storm hit that that would be one of the few things that survived in Waveland.
Governor Haley Barbour, thank you so much for being with us tonight.
We greatly appreciate it.
BARBOUR: Thank you. Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: And when we come back, Katrina‘s devastation of New Orleans. Tonight, a chilling new report said human error was to blame for the levees failing. But has any progress been made by now?
Then: Millions of Americans have flocked to live on the Gulf Coast, but experts are gravely worried that a major hurricane could mean major disaster this year.
ANNOUNCER: Live from Biloxi, Mississippi, once again Joe Scarborough.
SCARBOROUGH: Welcome back. We are live in Biloxi, Mississippi. And, of course, New Orleans was the area that was most devastated by Hurricane Katrina as massive flooding overtook the city.
Now, a report by independent scientists that was released just today says the problems with the levees were manmade, and this report is blaming the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
NBC‘s Mark Potter is live tonight in New Orleans with that disturbing report.
Mark, what do you have?
MARK POTTER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, good evening, Joe. You can imagine that the last thing that anybody would want here is another hurricane, with so much of this city still in ruin. And now with the release of this massive report—this is it—on the levees, they have even more reason to feel that way.
POTTER (voice-over): The scientists‘ report blames the levee failures on basic design and engineering flaws and decades of what they call dysfunctional government more concerned about saving money than lives.
RAYMOND SEED, CIVIL ENGINEER: Efficiency was put ahead of safety, and costs were reduced, and the margins were too small. There wasn‘t much room for the uncertainty.
POTTER: The report contradicts the Army Corps of Engineers claim that high water overtopped the levees. It found the levees collapsed from within when the mix of sand and seashells used to make the levees washed away, catastrophic erosion which could happen again.
IVOR VAN HEERDEN, LSU HURRICANE CENTER: There are a number of sections that were weakened during Katrina that could fail this time around.
POTTER: The Army Corps, racing to repair the levee, is telling the public it will be better than ever.
COL. LEWIS SETLIFF, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS: It‘s much more resilient, and they should have more confidence in their hurricane protection system.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my house here.
POTTER: But Katrina victims, like Merlin Flott (ph) and son-in-law Earl Essasiea (ph) are not so confident. They‘re serious about evacuating this year.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘m not going to stick around and go through this all over again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘ve got a hurricane, we may be in big, big, big trouble.
POTTER: Newly re-elected Mayor Ray Nagin says buses and trains will move out residents who don‘t have cars, but where they go is still being worked out.
RAY NAGIN, MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: That‘s one of the things we‘re going to have to get from the state.
POTTER: With all the publicity about the levees, New Orleans residents are not only buying into warnings they need to prepare for evacuation. They‘re even parroting the language emergency officials have been using.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘re ready to go. The plan is already there.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, you try to take some food, water...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...communication numbers with everybody, so you can know where everybody is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... articles and stuff like that...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... money put on the side for emergency use. I have my RV, which is ready to rock ‘n‘ roll.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out. Don‘t stick. Don‘t stay around.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Leave. Leave.
POTTER: So as you can see, New Orleans residents are already making plans, as scientists say that even a tropical storm could cause massive flooding here, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: That is bad news. Thank you so much, Mark Potter, live in New Orleans.
Now let‘s bring in historian Douglas Brinkley. He‘s the author of the great new book, “The Great Deluge.” And also, Ivor Van Heerden. He‘s the author of the book, “The Storm,” and co-founder and deputy director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center.
Thank you, gentlemen, for being with us.
Ivor, let me begin with you. So, basically, what residents of New Orleans have learned today is that these levees that caused them so much grief nine months ago not only can‘t hold a Category 3 or Category 4 hurricane, they may even break under the pressure of a tropical storm.
VAN HEERDEN: Well, I think the Berkeley team hit the nail on the head. This was catastrophic structural failure of the levee system. There‘s still many, many miles of these so-called eyewalls, and we need to recognize that we‘re no better off than we were pre-Katrina. We still have the same heights of levees and they‘re still many sections of the eyewall and some that got weakened during Katrina.
SCARBOROUGH: Doug, I‘m about halfway through your book right now. And I think one of the things that disturbs me the most is how Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, responded. And, you know, a line out of this report, out of Mark Potter‘s report, “dysfunctional government” leading to this crisis that‘s still with us.
How do you, as a New Orleans resident, respond to the re-election of a man who behaved so poorly when his people needed him the most?
DOUG BRINKLEY, HISTORIAN: Well, we have to hope that he redeems himself in the next four years. We need some leadership, and people in New Orleans are trying to pull together.
The election, really, and this report coming one day later points out that the big problem in New Orleans is the levees. They‘re Lego levees. They‘re cracked at places. They‘re not going to be ready for this hurricane season.
So the only thing we can do right now is have an evacuation plan, get people out on buses, don‘t use the Superdome as a shelter that‘s not—we‘re not going to use it now—and try to get people out. Remember, we lost, Joe, hundreds of thousands of people in Katrina, so it‘s going to be less of an evacuation problem.
But one of the dysfunctional parts, August 29th in that week last year, was the police disintegrating. And hopefully now, under Warren Riley, Eddie Compass has resigned. We have a new police force. The FBI is down there. And hopefully there will be some sort of first responder element in New Orleans that they had in Mississippi.
Governor Barbour, it was a good interview, and he was absolutely right. All the mayors were first responders in Mississippi and all the police stayed on duty. That didn‘t happen in New Orleans. And so hopefully this year Katrina will keep that police force together.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, let‘s hope so, Doug, but I‘ve just got to ask you:
Do you feel safe keeping your family in a city that may not even be able to withstand a tropical storm because these levees still have not been fixed?
BRINKLEY: No, I don‘t, and my wife Anne‘s pregnant, so we‘re going out to see my parents in California to have the child this summer, because we don‘t feel it‘s safe in New Orleans.
The hospitals right now are really taxed. A lot of doctors and nurses have left. The electrical grid—I‘ve talked to somebody very high with homeland security who‘s worried that a tropical storm will black out the city for weeks on end.
We‘re in a very precarious situation. And we‘ve been able to have a Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, and an election, but we‘re not prepared for this hurricane season. And one of the reasons I brought this book out now, and the same with my colleague‘s book, the storm, is to remind people of the dangers that we‘re facing in New Orleans, due larger to these levee failures.
And you just can‘t blame the Army Corps of Engineer. The New Orleans Levee Board, sewage and water, the Louisianans have to be responsible for not properly overseeing the levees as well as the corps for constructing them poorly.
SCARBOROUGH: Ivor, I‘ll ask you the same question. Would you feel comfortable being in New Orleans throughout the hurricane season? Or do you believe that it‘s too dangerous for residents to be there, again, if a simple tropical storm comes through? And I said the levees aren‘t any better than they were with Katrina; it sounds like actually the situation has become even more grim.
VAN HEERDEN: Well, we have to recognize that, with the present system, if we got a heavy rainfall event, we would actually get serious flooding in the city, because the pumps no longer have the capacity that they used to have. So we could have flooding, both from surge and from rainfall.
What I tell my friends that live in New Orleans is understand the risks and recognize that you‘re going to have to get out if there‘s anything out in the Gulf threatening us.
This is a very, very precarious situation. The levees are not of the best design. We know they failed. They weren‘t built to the original congressional requirements. And so, for New Orleanians, the situation is not very good right now.
SCARBOROUGH: It sounds awfully bleak. Thank you so much, Ivor, and thank you, Doug Brinkley. I greatly appreciate both of you being with us again.
And coming up next here, see why too much of a good thing is putting millions at risk during this storm season.
SCARBOROUGH: Welcome back.
Anybody that lives in the Gulf Coast region knows that more people are moving to the coast and building along the Gust Coast than ever before. Since 1988, 33 million people have moved to the Gulf Coast, a population increased of 58 percent in the southeast, 45 percent along the Gulf, and 75 percent in my home state of Florida.
That‘s where NBC‘s Michelle Kosinski is live tonight with more on those problems being brought about by the population boom.
Michelle, good evening.
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Hi there, Joe. And much of that development that you mentioned happened during a slower hurricane cycle, after the 1970s. And, of course, many of those buildings were not built as strongly as what we‘ve seen down here since Hurricane Andrew.
Florida has the most coastal insured property, in terms of what it‘s worth, followed by New York. So we pour all of this wealth and all of this construction onto the very edges of our country, and that‘s one main reason why hurricanes have become more and more costly.
In fact, we have seven of the 10 costliest hurricanes in U.S. history happening within 14 months, between 2004 and 2005.
KOSINSKI (voice-over): Never before have so many people lived in such vulnerable places, where many have hardly recovered from last hurricane season. But sun and surf keep realtor Javier Gonzalez here. He and his wife just bought an ocean-front condo.
JAVIER GONZALEZ, CONDO OWNER: And you know that you‘re going to have to deal with some hurricanes. And you‘re going to have to deal with, you know, the kinds of things that they bring. But at the same time, you get this 365 days of the year, and you‘re going to get maybe one or two bad weeks.
KOSINSKI: Eight hurricanes here in two years are not stopping people. And well beyond Florida, coastal development have boomed in the last decade, even on barrier islands that used to buffer the mainland from storms.
Take North Carolina‘s outer banks, hammered by hurricanes, many homes made of wood. In fact, about half of our country‘s gross national product now comes from coastal regions.
And the density. By 1990, more people lived in just two coastal counties in south Florida than lived on the entire coastline from Texas around Florida and up to Virginia in 1930. And that growth has only escalated. More baby boomers are retiring in these places, with more storms likely, a tradeoff growing ever more costly.
ROBERT HARTWIG, INSURANCE INFORMATION INSTITUTE: If we look at states like Louisiana and Mississippi, in fact, the storms of last year basically wiped out all the premiums earned for a period of up to 25 years and wiped out all the profits ever made in the history of homeowner‘s insurance in those states.
KOSINSKI: Economist Robert Hartwig says that‘s why skyrocketing insurance premiums will keep going, already up 100 to 300 percent in some coastal communities since last year, as people continue to add hundreds of billions of dollars of property to those areas.
KOSINSKI: You know, we talked to civil and architectural engineers, and basically asked: Is it wrong to build so much on these vulnerable coastlines? Is that something that we just should not be doing?
And they told us absolutely not. They say we have the means to build structures that can withstand extremely high winds. The materials are there, and more are being developed.
They say, though, it does cost a little more, of course, to build these buildings, but they say it‘s necessary, because if we don‘t create buildings to be as strong as possible, we only end up paying more, in terms of hurricane damage—Joe?
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, Michelle, you were talking about Hurricane Andrew, obviously, in 1992. So much of Miami‘s infrastructure was torn to pieces because there were a lot of buildings that weren‘t built to code. But it sounds like, from what you‘ve said, they‘ve learned from their lesson, right? They‘ve learned from their past mistakes, right?
KOSINSKI: Right, the codes for buildings really were strengthened after that time. And you see that now. And you go and study some of this, and you see the differences, even down to the number of nails it takes to nail on a roof, the number of posts, how walls are constructed. So you can go and actually see that.
And some of the experts we talked to said that building codes have actually been strengthened up and down the coastlines, but it‘s really a jurisdictional thing. So in some areas they‘re not as stringent as they are in other areas.
Now, some experts see that changing. They see us going to a more uniform system in this country, especially with so many storms hitting the coast in various areas. But right now that‘s not case. And, really, where you live, how old your building is makes a big difference, in terms of what kind of damage you see in certain communities.
SCARBOROUGH: You‘re right. Thank you so much, Michelle Kosinski, greatly appreciate it.
And I just want to say, friends, in my home community of Pensacola, Florida, northwest Florida unfortunately doesn‘t have to build to as rigid a code as the rest of the state of Florida. And that may be why some businesses and homeowners are having so much trouble getting insurance.
We‘ll be right back. Stay with us, because, on the other side, we‘re going to have the governor of Alabama, Bob Riley. That‘s when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY continues.
SCARBOROUGH: Alabama Governor Bob Riley is with us now.
Governor, thank you for being with us tonight. Good to see you again.
GOV. BOB RILEY ®, ALABAMA: How are you, Joe?
SCARBOROUGH: Obviously, I said earlier—doing all right. I had said that Florida and Alabama did it right. I‘ve got to ask a tough question. You may feel uncomfortable answering it. But how does Alabama, how does Florida handle these storms so well, and Louisiana fall on their face?
And I ask that question looking forward: What should states be doing right now to make sure another Katrina never happens again?
RILEY: Well, Joe, you know, the only thing I can comment on is Alabama. But what we‘re doing right now, we‘re practicing. We‘ve practiced contraflowing our highways last week. We‘re prepositioning all of our ice water, MREs. We‘re trying to get everything in place.
We‘ve built some new scenarios where we can shelter people in place and our two-year systems where we can keep them up to two weeks if we have to. You know, some things that we learned from last time.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, Governor, it sounds like you‘re wargaming it, right? It sounds like you‘re wargaming it, right?
RILEY: We‘ve been wargaming it. We actually brought all of our agencies together about a month ago. And we went through a potential Category 4 coming into Mobile Bay.
So the only thing I know to do is keep practicing, make sure—you remember Bear Bryant said, you know, if you got a good game plan, then you‘ll be successful. We‘re trying to build a game plan and wargaming it literally every week right now.
SCARBOROUGH: Is the Gulf Coast, is the region working together to make sure that the mistakes of Katrina don‘t happen again? Like, for instance, are you talking to Louisiana officials, Mississippi officials, Florida officials?
RILEY: We really are. But, Joe, I think one of the things that‘s going to really help is now we‘re going to have a federal official here who can make decisions on the spot. We won‘t have to go up through the bureaucracy that we did last time.
And I think that‘s going to make a tremendous difference in our response time. If we can get a person here and he‘s coming in before we get into hurricane season, so we know him, he knows us, he knows what our capabilities are, we know what he can and can‘t do, I think that coordination is going to make us a lot more effective than we were in the past.
SCARBOROUGH: Quickly, Governor, what‘s your advice for a northeast governor that may be facing a Category 3 storm this fall?
RILEY: Well, the biggest thing that I think you can do right now is make sure you‘ve got cots, blankets, you‘ve got shelter in place, and you have all your commodities already pre-staged. Get to a point where you can practice this and know what you‘re doing and then work your game plan once it happens.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Governor Bob Riley, as always, it‘s great to have you with us.
RILEY: Thanks, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: We‘ll be right back with more SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY straight ahead.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, again, to recap what we‘ve learned today, we had the prediction, the new hurricane season, 13 to 16 named storms, eight to 10 hurricanes, four to six major hurricanes. Of course, those predictions are about in line with last year‘s predictions, which of course were dreadfully low. We‘ll see what happens this coming year.
But we‘re going to leave you tonight with some of the sights and sounds from the city of New Orleans, where the music is once again played.
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