September 30, 2005 | 5:00 p.m. ET

Oh, the Humanity (Tricia McKinney, MSNBC-TV producer)

Today I swung a hammer for a good cause, doing a 2-hour stint at Humanity Plaza, the weeklong house-building fest at Rockefeller Plaza.  When I got the e-mail calling for volunteers last week I got really excited because it’s exactly the kind of volunteering I like.  You do something real and concrete where you can see the results right away.  I don’t have a lot of cash to contribute, but I do have brute strength (or so I thought, but more on that later) and some rudimentary carpentry skills.  So I signed up through a nifty little computer application process (when asked, I said I was “handy”) and got assigned a morning shift on the very last day of fun.

I showed up as directed, wearing my sturdy shoes, my work clothes and my happy attitude, prepared to sacrifice fingernails and get splinters all for a good cause.  I had signed up alone and expected to be working with strangers, but it turned out to be a mini-reunion.  I saw a producer I had worked with on “Phil Donahue,” a booker I had worked with on “The Abrams Report,” and even a producer from my (very short) stint at “Sally Jessy Raphael.”  NBC News Specials’ very own Mark Lukasiewicz worked the bullhorn to orient us—and he’s a guy who really has a lot to do for the network, so I was impressed.  They put us in teams of four—I was in Team New Orleans along with my former Abrams colleague.  Other people were envious that we got the cool team name—I think they thought whatever your team name was meant you would build something for that specific location.  But it was just a name.  We all worked together on the same 2 houses.  Still, go Team New Orleans! 

It was kind of cool to be shepherded onto the job site past a crowd of “Today” show gawkers.  Everyone seemed excited to see us volunteering for such a good cause on such a beautiful, crisp, fall morning.  I felt privileged to be a part of it—Pollyannaish I know, but it’s really how I felt.  I’ve read some stuff on the Internet saying this whole endeavor is just a PR stunt, and I actually think that’s true on one level.  But it’s also true that these are real houses we were building, and everyone who was there really wanted to pitch in and help.  So if it gets NBC, Warner Music and Habitat for Humanity a little free publicity, I’m all for it.  And I wore my MSNBC baseball hat just in case I got on camera.  Gotta do what I can for the home team, after all.

The rest of the morning was a blur of 2-by-4s and 16-penny nails and lots of hammering and a strange tingling in my right forearm.  There wasn’t any actual construction knowledge necessary to get the job done.  The 2-by-4s were pre-marked, and all you had to do was be able to drive 2 16-penny nails into each designated spot.  But ah!  There’s the rub.  I was kind of cocky when I showed up, because I know my hammer theory—use the handle as the lever it was designed to be and you shouldn’t have to pound more than, say, 5 times to drive that sucker all the way into the wood.  But in practice I was woefully inadequate.  I think 13 hammer strikes per nail was my personal best all morning.  And sometimes I had to stop and take a rest for a minute before finishing.  Not good for the ego. 

At one point we had framed up a wall and we needed to lift it up and put it into place, so I took a spot on the wall and looked at the guy to my left.  It was Stone Phillips.  He seemed pretty handy I have to say.  I was impressed.  I also met a bunch of people from Lowe’s home improvement stores.  They had provided the lumber.  One guy told me he had been volunteering for two straight weeks and had only missed a day.  I was kind of envious. 

The best part of the morning was when we had finished framing the exterior of the house, and we all got to take markers and sign the walls.  I reached up as high as I could and put my name, the date, and the message, “Good luck and God bless!”  I wonder who will read that message.  I hope they like their house.

When our shift ended the coordinators made us leave even if we wanted to stay longer.  It was time for the next group of recruits to come in and finish up.  Maybe they were going to do the interior walls.  I don’t know.  I turned in my hammer and my nail apron, and they cut off my paper wristband and sent me on my merry way with a thank-you and a free energy drink.  I felt kind of bereft, actually.  I really wanted to stay and do more, even though my right arm probably would have fallen off.

So I went up to the volunteer wrangler and found out there are a couple of chapters of Habitat for Humanity in my local area.  I’m thinking about doing some more with them.  I would highly recommend the experience for anyone who wants to help out in a hands-on way.

Comments: Newsforce@msnbc.com

September 11, 2005 | 9:35 p.m. ET

Katrina and 9/11 (Steven Shapiro, NBC News producer)

Four years have passed since terrorists attacked our country on 9/11.  For me, the day brings back vivid and painful memories.  I was one of the many journalists who arrived at the scene and witnessed the tragedy first hand.  I was lucky to the extent that I didn’t lose a friend or loved one. So many others were not as fortunate.  Since 9/11 I have followed the lives of several families directly impacted by the senseless act of evil.

Just two weeks ago, the Friday before Katrina hit, I sat down with the Wainio family who lost Elizabeth on flight 93.  I didn’t know at the time that within 48 hours I would be in Biloxi, Mississippi bracing for what would become the worst crisis this nation has faced since that September morning.

Of course there are stark differences between Katrina and 9/11.  Katrina was a natural disaster.  We can question the response, but the event itself was a product of Mother Nature. Acts of terror, at least in my book, are reprehensible on every level.

As I report to you from New Orleans I can’t help but think back to 9/11 and what we witnessed in the days and weeks that followed. The outpouring of support was overwhelming, as was the news coverage. In that respect, there is a similarity.  Hurricane Katrina has taken over the public consciousness the way 9/11 did.

Of course, this is not a contest.  Both 9/11 and hurricane Katrina took many lives and devastated families.  For those of us who were fortunate enough to be spared, we should be thankful.  It’s our friends and neighbors who weren’t so lucky that should be in our thoughts today.

Comments: Newsforce@msnbc.com

September 7, 2005 | 10:58 p.m. ET

No shame in asking for help (Steven Shapiro, NBC News producer)

NEW ORLEANS -- It's hard to believe a city with such passion for life is now fighting for its own survival.  But that's exactly what's happening in New Orleans.

My own personal experience with the city prior to Hurricane Katrina brings back fond memories.  I was in college and some friends and I were spending spring break in Panama City, Fla. On a whim we decided to make the drive over to the Big Easy, figuring why not, you only live once.

The city didn't disappoint.  We ate tons of crawfish, visited the bars in the French Quarter and listened to some great jazz.  The locals couldn't have been nicer and the whole vibe just sat well with me.  New Orleans was a breath of fresh air, a place different than any other, and a place I looked forward to returning to.
    
For whatever reason, I never made that return trip, not until this week anyway.  Needless to say this wasn't the way I had remembered the vibrant town I had visited years ago.    

A lot of people are saying New Orleans will never recover.  I'll choose not to believe that.  I'm not naive.  Being on the ground, I've seen with my own eyes how bad things are here.  But I've also seen the steady streams of relief workers, the fire crews pitching in from New York and the Oklahoma National Guard keeping everyone in line.
    
The response reminds me of September 11 and the massive support New York received from across the country.
    
In the wake of that awful tragedy we learned a valuable lesson that should go a long way towards getting New Orleans back on its feet.  There is no shame in asking for help, and there is great honor in offering it.

Comments: Newsforce@msnbc.com

September 6, 2005 | 12:19 a.m. ET

An inspiring return flight (Steven Shapiro, NBC News producer)

NEW ORLEANS -- After spending all last week in Biloxi covering Hurricane Katrina and her aftermath I went back to New York for a 36-hour siesta.  It was about enough time to do some laundry and get a good cup of coffee, but I'm not complaining.

Next assignment: New Orleans.  I flew through Dallas to catch a connection to Baton Rouge, and it was on that connecting flight that I witnessed something very special.
  
A few days ago I wrote about the human spirit and how it was the one thing that will overcome this tragedy.  American Airlines flight 9254 was a case study in the human spirit.
    
The entire flight, with the exception of myself and MSNBC Correspondent Lisa Daniels, was filled with disaster relief professionals and volunteers. People from across the country, from all walks of life, sacrificing their own time, and taking great personal risks, to help those in need.
   
I was seated in row 17 with Mark Edmondson and James Tejada.  Mark is from L.A. and became a Red Cross volunteer just this past week. "The massiveness of the disaster was so great," he said. "I had to do something."
    
James Tejada is a paramedic from Brooklyn, N.Y.  I knew I didn't need to ask him what his motivation was, but I did anyway.  "I was at the World Trade Center," he said.  I nodded, "Me too."
    
James told me that at least 25 of his fellow paramedics were on our flight.  Bravo.

I'm not sure what my experience in New Orleans will bring.  If my week in Biloxi was any indication, it will be a rough go.  But if Mark Edmondson and James Tejada can make it through, so can I.

Comments: Newsforce@msnbc.com

September 5, 2005 | 4:53 p.m. ET

Vet's precious papers survive flood (David Shuster)

BILOXI, Miss. — We first met 75-year-old George Rockwell at Biloxi‘s largest shelter.  

In the shadow of Keesler Air Force Base, his entire identity, including papers, proving his status as a 25-year veteran who served in Vietnam, have been washed away. 

Rockwell said they were left in a briefcase.  He was hopeful any wet documents could be dried Video: Rebuilding out for safe-keeping.

So we invited Rockwell to ride with us to his home for a look.  At his house, a simple trailer, he pointed to his Katrina escape route.  

As his home flooded, he kicked out a window to swim through, scrapping himself on broken glass on the way to safety.  Rockwell grabbed onto a plastic swing set sticking out of the water.  He clung onto this perch for three hours.  He couldn‘t see much out of his glasses because they were covered in mud.  When the water finally receded, a neighbor invited Rockwell over to stay.  He took shelter for there two nights with six other people and a dog. 

Inside his trailer we saw the floating couch that kept Rockwell above the storm surge.  The crew and I helped him look for the missing briefcase storing the precious papers.

We finally found the briefcase among the wreckage, covered in mud and water.  The documents will make rebuilding George Rockwell‘s life a little easier.  Now with his briefcase, this survivor is moving on and looking ahead.

E-mail: DShuster@msnbc.com

September 3, 2005 | 6:35 p.m. ET

Never forgetting Biloxi (Steve Shapiro, NBC News producer)

The shower felt good.  It also made me feel guilty.  After spending five days in the hurricane ravaged city of Biloxi Mississippi, I drove to Pensacola Florida last night where I would ultimately catch a flight back to New York.
 
A few days ago I wrote here that as bad as the conditions are in Biloxi, they were, for me at least, temporary. And as I travel home, that reality is not lost on me.

The truth is that the people of Biloxi and most of the gulf coast region are not as fortunate as I am.  They don’t have the ability or the means to leave town, check in to a nice hotel and have a good meal.  They can’t get on a plane and fly to New York or Chicago or any other functioning city.  No, they are stuck there, still largely without electricity or running water -- still dealing with stifling heat and minimal provisions.

My departure from Biloxi fills me with mixed emotions.  Of course, I am eager to see friends and family and catch up on my sleep.  But at the same time, I feel I am leaving something behind, something unfinished, something that will take months, if not years to make right.
    
I had never been to Biloxi before last Sunday, but my week there connected me to the city and its people in a way I couldn’t have imagined.  I will never be able to forget the sounds of children crying.  I don't know how one ever would.  But I will remember the one positive thing I found in Biloxi.  The human spirit.  I saw it first hand and it will endure.  It is what will bring Biloxi back, just as it brought my city back after 9/11.
    
Of course we are a long way from Biloxi being back, a very long way. And tonight, as I sleep in my own bed, I will be thinking about the people who don’t even have one.

Comments: Newsforce@msnbc.com

September 2, 2005 | 2:14 p.m. ET

Wanting more than a visit from the president (David Shuster)

BILOXI, Miss. -- The president's motorcade came by here just a few minutes ago. He spoke to reporters in Biloxi's Point neighborhood, which was the most impoverished and hardest hit of the entire area by Hurricane Katrina. All of the homes there were completely leveled, so if he was looking to get an eyeful, he certainly did by touring that neighborhood.

A few miles away from where the president spoke today, one of Biloxi's largest shelters is actually at a junior high school. We went over there this morning and we were told by a police officer providing security at the shelter that in the fifth day that people have been living at the shelter, nobody has seen a single government official or representative of any disaster relief agency.

They do have supplies now, food, water and even laundry detergent. But all of this was brought in by private organizations -- the Red Cross, churches, groups in Florida who saw the devastation and decided to come here on their own. So today, when we informed many people in the shelter who don't have electricity that the president was in town, they were not exactly thrilled to hear that that the Commander and Chief was here, when they had not actually seen any government officials to this point at their shelter. It is safe to suggest that the anger runs deep at the shelter.

In addition to all the debate over relief efforts and the debate over whether relief has been fast enough, we are now getting some grim news about casualty figures here. According to law enforcement and medical technicians who have been involved, they now expect that the casualty number here in Biloxi will reach over 1,000.  The reason they say the current number -- which right now is about 150 -- is much lower than that is that the coroner's office is completely overwhelmed.

E-mail me at DShuster@msnbc.com

September 2, 2005 | 1:59 p.m. ET

Progress and calm amid the suffering (Steven Shapiro, NBC News producer)

BILOXI, Miss. -- While the scene in New Orleans has turned into utter chaos, the atmosphere here in Biloxi is more about rescue, recovery and trying to cope with the devastation, which no one here seems to be able to escape.

In some parts of the city it actually seems like progress is starting to be made.  Roads have been cleared and some stores have opened allowing people to get supplies.

But when you visit Michel Middle School, like we did today, you realize just how much suffering is still going on.

The school is being used as a shelter for Biloxi residents who simply have no place else to go.  Many of the people there are elderly and the conditions for them are unbearable.  We saw young children sleeping on floors and looking at us with desperate eyes.  It's an emotionally exhausting sight.

But still there is a sense of calm here.  Perhaps it's because many are still in a state of shock over what they've lost.  The priority for residents seems to be contacting loved ones, getting enough water to drink and holding on until more help arrives.

The president visited Biloxi today.  It's likely his tour will leave him with the same sense of disbelief that everyone here has had for days. But maybe it will be the catalyst to kick-start the recovery that will be going on for a very long time.

Comments: Newsforce@msnbc.com

September 1, 2005 | 7:33 p.m. ET

Relief efforts get started - finally! (David Shuster)

BILOXI, Miss. - Well, tonight, a police officer says that the death toll here in Biloxi is going to be in the hundreds and that the reason the official tally is well behind that is because the coroner here is so overloaded.

Bodies, as they’re being found, are simply being left there, with the idea that medical technicians will get the bodies in a couple of days. In the meantime, as far as the survivors are concerned, this day was something of a milestone, something of a breakthrough, because people here are now starting to taste and see the concern of their fellow Americans.

Today in Biloxi, the aid trucks started arriving and the distribution began. For many of these residents, the delivery could not come soon enough.

Here on Division Street in Biloxi, we visited at one of the main distribution centers in Biloxi, and all these folks tell us, this is the first aid that they’ve been getting since the storm. They’re getting water. They’re getting ice. Eventually, they’re going to get some food.

The relief effort already involves volunteers from more than a dozen states, outsiders who are helping to clear away debris, unload ice, or provide security. One man drove his truck through the night from Orlando.

The country is also behind the grim effort to recover the dead. One task force came from Indiana, more than 30 Hoosier volunteers searching the massive debris fields.

As survivors start to see their basic needs being met, there is a new concern tonight. Medical experts warn that debris fields such as the one being searched by the group from Indiana, which stretch for miles and miles, that these may be a biohazard. Medical experts are warning anybody who works down here, whether it’s a rescue worker, a member of the media, or even residents, to be awfully careful with what you pick up from the ground and that you absolutely wash your hands with soap and water before you eat anything. And that, of course, assumes that residents have actually soap and aware.

The story is not evolving here, the way it is evolving in New Orleans. I mean, clearly, it is a problem when people go a couple of days without food and water, but at least it is starting to come in. There’s still an effort, of course, to try to find people who may not have the needs or are so injured that they can’t get to the distribution centers.

But it is not the sort of mass chaos or fluid situation that you have in New Orleans. Here, they’re starting to try to clear up the debris. At least they’re trying to make a dent in it. They’re able to get food to the shelters. People that we talked to today, when we went to a shelter and when we walked around some of the streets, they said at least we’re starting to get things and we know that more is on the way. And we can build on that.

But there’s not the sort of anger, the sort of fury that we have seen in some of those pictures from New Orleans. I think what is so crucial about Biloxi and the Gulfport area is that they’ve been able to clear the roads. I mean, remember, the water receded a couple of days ago. So, since then, the challenge has been, well, let’s just get the debris off the road, so we can get to these people. And that, of course, was a huge task, but they did it, whereas, in New Orleans, they still can’t get to a lot of those people. And I think thats the crucial difference.

E-mail me at DShuster@msnbc.com

September 1, 2005 | 2:52 p.m. ET

A glimmer of hope in Biloxi (Steven Shapiro, NBC News producer)

BILOXI, Miss. -- Another day in Biloxi and slowly things may be taking a turn for the better. Relief arrived today in the form of ice and water carried in on trucks from Miami and northern Mississippi. Food is still scarce and many of the residents we've spoken to are very much in need of a solid meal.

The people we've been speaking to are clearly in need but also thankful that they are alive. So many people lost so much, but yet there is a theme developing here that somehow, some way this city and this community will get through this.

Of course there is so much to be done. So many people here still don't have a place to sleep. We spoke to law enforcement officials who came in from the north to help out with the relief efforts -- they're sleeping in their squad cars.

Many people still have not been able to contact loved ones. One thing we have done here is to give people the opportunity to speak directly to their family members via our TV cameras. We tape their messages and broadcast them on MSNBC. Hopefully somebody will see their son or daughter, husband or wife, mother or father, and know they're ok.

One little girl we spoke to last saw her father on Sunday. She hasn't seen or heard from him since. It's heartbreaking.

But for all despair, there is a glimmer of hope here and it might be the one thing that gets Biloxi back on its feet.

Comments: Newsforce@msnbc.com

August 31, 2005 | 2:25 p.m. ET

Behind the scenes: Covering Katrina (Steven Shapiro, NBC News Producer)

BILOXI, Miss. -- The NBC team here in Biloxi has been bringing you the heartbreaking stories of Hurricane Katrina ever since she made landfall two days ago.

Nobody here expected the utter devastation that was left in Katrina’s wake.

Video: Thousands stranded in Mississippi To give you an idea of what conditions are like here I will explain to you our own living conditions. Our hotel has no power, which means no air conditioning in the searing Biloxi heat. There is no running water, which means no showers or working toilets. Cell phone service is extremely limited as is food. We have been sustaining on a steady diet of trailmix, crackers and popcorn.

Of course all of this is beside the point. The people who live here have lost everything. At some point, we will go home. The residents here will not.

Each day it becomes clearer just how bad things are. Today correspondent David Shuster and I went to Wal-Mart where hundreds of people waited on an endless line to get supplies. One woman was left in tears when we asked her what she needed. "Everything" she said.

Many people here haven't been able to contact relatives to let them know they are alive. Whenever I get a cell signal I offer my phone to someone who needs to call a loved one.

The worst part of all of this is that there are still people who are not accounted for, and probably won't be for some time. For now, we continue to bring you one heartbreaking story after another and hope at some point there is some good news to pass on. I will try and continue to update you from the ground as time permits.

Comments: Newsforce@msnbc.com

August 30, 2005 | 9:31 p.m. ET

Damage destruction and a logistical nightmare (David Shuster)

BILOXI, Miss. -- The damage goes pretty far inland, because not only do you have the Gulf side but up in the other direction, you've got the bay side.  We're sort of on a peninsula.  And so virtually all of Biloxi, at one point, had water damage.

But even when you go, say, four miles away, inland, either from both the bay and from the Gulf, then you still have extensive water damage, because you have so many creeks and rivers, where they just totally overflowed and caused damage that way.

And then on top of that, you just have wind damage, literally within the bottom 70 miles of the state, there's just incredible wind damage.

What was so spooky about this debris that you see that everywhere there was water damage -- from clothes and garbage and what-not is that as the waters receded, a lot of the debris got stuck in the trees.  We have seen this sort of debris five miles away from here inland, simply from the creeks and the rivers that overflowed.  And never mind the storm surge that reached pretty far, maybe a half a mile to a mile from the Gulf.

Governor Haley Barbour compared the damage to Hiroshima. That is not precise, certainly, as far as casualties, because they're still expecting maybe a couple of hundred when they can get under the debris.

But I think what he's getting at is the idea as far as the logistical headache that they have right now.  No power, no running water, no electricity, spotty cell phone service.  We have seen people almost battling with one another over bottles of water.  The Red Cross can't get in because some of the major roads are still blocked because of debris over them.
There are still concerns that because of the gas lines that have been ruptured in so many places that there could be explosions, or they're worried about that.  So it's just a logistical nightmare.

Because so many people evacuated from this Gulf Coast region north, all of the hotels that any rescue workers might want to stay in -- they're already filled with people.  They don't have any power, they don't have any running water, in many cases, but they already have people in the rooms, because those are people whose homes have all been destroyed and took the Governor's advice to leave.

It's just a huge logistical nightmare.  I think to that extent it is a catastrophe of almost biblical proportions, according to the people who live here.

E-mail me at DShuster@msnbc.com

August 30, 2005 | 5:22 p.m. ET

Many feared dead in Biloxi (David Shuster) Video: Deadly storm

BILOXI, Miss. — Now I'm about a quarter-mile from the beach.  Everything from here back down to shore is utter destruction.  All the beachside houses are destroyed. There’s nothing left. The people in this neighborhood who did survive did so because they were on the second story or on rooftops of buildings that were farther inland.

But we did have an opportunity this morning to drive around.  You could just see the total destruction of cars and parking lots smashed into one another, houses destroyed, trees uprooted, power-lines down — just a scene of utter devastation.

Because of the storm surge, it went not only here, close to the beach, but as far as a half mile in.  You had a storm surge of 25 feet, with waves on top of that of 15 to 20 feet.  So even houses that we saw a half-mile inland were destroyed.

One of the most horrifying stories in Biloxi is with an apartment building along the beach.  This morning, I talked to a homeowner whose house was right next door to the complex.  The homeowner came back and saw that his house was totally destroyed.  He says the people in the complex tried to ride out the storm and haven’t been heard from again.

E-mail me at DShuster@msnbc.com

August 29, 2005 | 8:59 p.m. ET

Tracking Katrina: Mississippi coast submerged (David Shuster)

BILOXI, Miss. — Today was insane. The power went out, all the power-lines snapped.  You started seeing signs in mall areas coming apart.  The wind was kicking up and you couldn't go outside. 

We are four miles away from the Gulf, the beach essentially.  But so much water was pushed up from the streams, the rivers and the creeks that it flooded parking lots.  Cars are buried and it will be a while before anybody Video: Storm pounds Mississippi can get them out.

That was the case along the entire Gulf Coast.  Earlier today, we had the opportunity to drive.  A couple of hours after the eye of the hurricane went through, we drove through a town called D'Ivervillee.  It has about 6,000 people and it's about two miles away from the beach. 

D'Ivervillee was under water today: six feet of water in the main intersections; most homes are flooded; the gas stations are flooded; there was even a motor boat that was pushed up two miles along the beach all the way to a gas station.  For D'Ivervillee High School, which has been in school for the last two weeks, it will be a while before students can return. 

Even as we were touring around, you couldn't even get to Biloxi where there are approximately 25,000 to 30,000 people who were riding out the storm.  No cell communication.  No communications with Biloxi except for second, or third hand accounts.  The problem is that in Biloxi there's no real information as to how bad the damage is because you can't get there; the roads to Biloxi are either underwater or the main highway is blocked with power-lines and debris.  So, you only get a sketch of the full damage.

The damage that we could see in D'Ivervillee was just horrendous.  City officials say they think most people got out.  But Diberville is one of those cities that everyone thought would be okay.  And look what happened — it's totally underwater.

Questions/comments:  DShuster@msnbc.com

August 29, 2005 | 1:34 p.m. ET

Tracking Katrina:  The coastline has moved (David Shuster)

BILOXI, Miss. -- The winds are still kicking up close to 100 mph but my producer Steve Shapiro and I have gone about two miles from the hotel. We’re still two miles away from what used to be the coastline, but apparently, the coastline has now moved. A main intersection in Biloxi that was safely above ground and above water yesterday, but is now five or six feet below water. There are car lots where all the cars have been smashed, roofs are ripped off every building you look at. There is debris everywhere and there are now power lines that have fallen down over highway 110 and Interstate 10.

What’s so remarkable is that the water apparently now has nowhere to go and you’re seeing the waves lap up against some of these buildings. We’re two miles from where the coast was yesterday, so apparently here, the storm surge has been enormous and the water just continues to flood the creeks, the rivers and you have much less ground now between what used to be the coastline and the rivers.

It was probably a stupid mistake on our part to leave the hotel. We’re parked on Interstate 10 and you can feel all kinds of garbage blowing past us. Lots of paper, clothes. When you look down from Interstate 10, you see what looked like the Gulf yesterday, except there used to be buildings and roadways. It looks as if you took the Gulf, moved it in two miles and dropped in some signs and some stores into the middle of it.

Questions/comments:  DShuster@msnbc.com

August 28, 2005 |

Tracking Katrina:  10:00 p.m. Preparing in Biloxi (David Shuster)

BILOXI, Miss. -- The NBC Crew has moved from the Porter Ave Pier and arrived at the hotel where we will ride out Hurricane Katrina.  Our hotel is about 4 miles from the beach and is sandwiched between a restaurant and a major department store.

Today, along the beach it felt like the opening of a scary movie.  Seas which had been calm started to churn, clouds darkened, the wind picked up, lightning started, and thunder could be heard every few minutes.  If you didn't know better you would think Freddy Kruger would

Shuster
Porter Ave Pier, Biloxi, MS.
come crawling out of the water with a chain saw.  By the way, my apologies to you Freddy fanatics.

In all seriousness, nobody is really certain what will happen to this region in the next 24 hours.  We talked to 2 people that will be riding out this storm in their home about 9 miles inland. They say anybody a few miles in should be okay. I hope that is true but with this storm all bets are off.  The major concern inland remains the threat of tornadoes and heavy wind and rain.  What you can bet on is that power lines will snap, transformers will blow and roofs will be taken off.

Both while driving from New Orleans to Biloxi and again in making our way to this hotel we saw businesses and homes that were boarded up but that in all likelihood will look quite different a day from now. 

Video: Mississippi churning Just a few minutes ago on the radio, I heard someone who works with the Mississippi Gaming Commission say it was not likely that there will be a casino industry by this time tomorrow.  As you can see by driving down Interstate 90, many of the casinos are built on barges but with storm surges reported to reach 25 feet they'll have to be really lucky to survive this hurricane.  Hotels are a little further back from the beach and are built to sustain winds of 150 mph.  But the big question is which buildings will be standing if winds do exceed that 150 mph mark.

Our NBC team is at the hotel trying to figure out where to park the satellite truck.  The satellite truck has a dish that transmits our video so you can see it at home.  The truck operators say this dish will not be able to transmit if it faces winds in excess of 60 mph.  Obviously, we will shield the truck but it you see me reporting from a phone you'll know we had a few "technical difficulties".

I'll keep blogging as dawn, and Katrina, get closer.

Watch MSNBC TV for our continuing on-air coverage.

Questions/comments:  DShuster@msnbc.com

Tracking Katrina:  4:00 p.m. Getting out-of-town (David Shuster)

EN ROUTE TO BILOXI, Miss. -- Hello from the Louisiana and Mississippi border along Interstate 10.  I've been in a rental car for the last 3 1/2 hours joining hundreds of thousands of people evacuating New Orleans.  A short time ago I heard Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi pleading with all residents along the coast do get out because the storm surge could be 30 feet high.  I just hope the NBC camera post is at least 40 feet high!

Let me back up for just a minute.  I got a call on Friday night asking me to help cover Hurricane Katrina.  I am excited to be able to bring you the story but, like others who have to deal with a situation they have never dealt with before, it makes me a little anxious too. 

On my flight into New Orleans this morning I talked to some guys from the Army National Reserves who were dispatched by the Pentagon.  They were told to be prepared to help with everything from evacuations by boat, to help distribute aid, or even to help direct traffic after Katrina has passed.

Conditions at the New Orleans airport were chaotic.  All the employees had been told to evacuate as well so no one was working at the car rental counters, taxi stands, or the bus terminal.  So, you may be wondering how it is that I could get a rental car?  Well, luckily I hitched a ride to the off-site rental office where there was still one person working.  I managed to get one of the last cars before the office closed completely.

I then made my way out of the airport, which is west of the city, and became traveling east.   I noticed most of the gas stations and convenience stores were closed.  I stopped at one that was still open and found a line out the door as people tried to buy water for their long trip out of the city by car.

For the last 2 1/2 hours I have been on Interstate 10 in, literally, bumper-to-bumper traffic.  Because of where New Orleans is situated, you have go first travel east or west before being able to finally move north.  At this point, the temperature is about 85 degrees with overcast skies, big clouds rolling in and about winds of about 15 mph.

Hopefully, I will get to my location by late afternoon.  I'll be blogging on Katrina throughout today and for the next few days.  Check in here and I'll let you know what it is like covering this incredible storm of truly biblical proportions.

You may be wondering how I can blog and drive at the same time.  Well, that's a trade secret I'll have to fill you on on later.  But for now I am practicing my multi-tasking skills I expect will come in handy as I report to you while trying to stay grounded in hurricane force winds.

Watch MSNBC TV for our continuing on-air coverage.

Questions/comments:  DShuster@msnbc.com

Watch David Shuster on Hardball with Chris Matthews each weeknight at 7:00 p.m. ET

August 9, 2005 |

Gralnick’s Shuttle Diary: Return to earth

2:12 p.m. Landing + 6  Hours

Aloft and above the clouds well west of the continental divide and looking down from a bare fraction of the height Discovery’s crew experienced and enjoyed.

If this is some sensation and it always is that must be SOME sensation.

For Discovery safe landing.  For the shuttle program a bumpy ride to that landing. 

So let the argument begin. Did NASA revalidate itself and its program with this mission or did it just avoid a fatal bullet with much proving left to do?

For this old space program watcher/reporter/fanatic, I have to come down on the side of both. Had this mission ended, as they say, badly, it is more than just safe to conclude the shuttle program would have disappeared into contentious oblivion. That it ended well just means that for every mission still to come before the program sunsets in 2010, the Space Agency will have to collectively hold its breath as we have with it for the past 14 days.

And while this goes on so does planning for what comes next—a return to the moon and a push to go farther and that’s a good thing.  Exploration has always been in the gene pool of this nation and that gene should be allowed to take us where it will.

It is L + 6 Hours and this blog has come to “full stop” along with Discovery and her crew of seven.

Time to kiss the horses.

Touchdown. Wheels stop. So damned sweet

Discovery's delayed landing is complete. My delayed plane is boarding.

Final thoughts to close this blog out, if you care, when I touch down 300 or so miles from where Discovery has just rolled to a stop.

They can kiss the horses now and the ground if they choose in not too many minutes more. 

August 9, 2005 |

L - 5 minutes

There she is. A single white dot in the shaky distance. Not the rain of fiery parts we saw two-and-half years ago.

It is Touchdown - 6 minutes and breathing can resume.

August 9, 2005 |

L - 13 minutes.

Past peak heating. Past when crisis and disaster happen for Columbia. All is well we think but still no word from Mission Control that we hear at this viewing point.

Wait. There it is.  Loud and clear -- "Discovery copies..." Commander Eileen Collins. Cool and calm. Sounding like she is coming back from a drive in the country.

Now all they need to get to is "wheels stop" and they get to kiss the horse.

It is L - 9 minutes now and most of the hard part is over. 

August 9, 2005 |

L - 18 minutes

If it is going to go bad for Discovery it is going to happen now. Peak heating is starting and so far Mission Control is silent. 

It is L - 17 minutes and this is as tough to take as every re-entry I can remember going back to John Glenn's first in 1962.

August 9, 2005 |

L - 29 minutes

She's beginning to settle into the upper wisps of atmosphere now. This is the point when Columbia began to get into trouble.

What IS going on up there?

It is L - 29 minutes and painfully only time WILL tell.

August 9, 2005 |

L - 45 minutes

On the way in and so far so good. I guess.

I guess because a competing network -- the one that will remain nameless but has TV in all the airports -- is doing business as usual.

No tracking map. No ears-to-the-speakers attempt to hear air-to-ground transmission to get the sense that all really is well.

Not to pick on the other guys, but is this the way to cover what might be life-and-death derring-do?

It is L- 43 minutes and I wonder.

L - 71 Minutes (If all Goes Well)
How perverse.  Sitting in the Admiral’s Club at JFK waiting for a delayed flight cross country and keeping track of the delayed landing of Discovery. Also across country.

It’s fitting. There has been a Peril’s of Pauline aura to this mission from what NASA calls the get go.  Just like the movie theater serials we watched every Saturday afternoon. 

There was the hero at the end of the half hour.  Tied to the tracks. The smoke belching locomotive bearing down.  Surely he would die.  And lo the following Saturday, miracles happened and he lived for another 30 minutes until the next cliff hanger.  It went on week after week until the end when the hero lived, won the girl and kissed the horse.  Or in some cases the other way around.

And that has been Discovery from delayed launch to delayed landing. Was this tile the fatal flaw?  Was that handing filler the fatal flaw?  What WOULD happen next?  And it all turned out just fine, so far.

In 70 minutes or so we learn whether these heroes get to kiss the horse and come back to fight another day.  Fingers crossed.

It is L -65 minutes now.  And counting.  And worrying.

August 8, 2005 |

L- 1 Earthbound thoughts.

Through all of this there was this to deal with.  The word that a friend and colleague of more that three decades is dead.  The cancer he was diagnosed with four months ago had taken his life just before midnight last night. Peter Jennings.  Gone. It does not compute.

We covered the Challenger disaster together when America learned for the first time that space flight and "risky business' were one in the same.  He sat in the chair for six long hours that awful January day being what an anchorman had to be.  Steady.  Calming. The presence a nation needed at a time of great national pain.  He was that day what I remember Walter Cronkite being through that awful day so many years before when Jack Kennedy was shot.  He was a voice of calm and reason when all around was unreasonable and unthinkable.

He was, quite simply, one of those consummate broadcasters whose ear you could whisper while he was on the air and have a conversation about the story he was broadcasting; to whom you could give directions the same way; and with whom you could reach broadcaster-producer consensus on where to go and what to do next and all the time the viewer never knew.   Steady?  He epitomized it as do and did all the great ones.

Peter would have hated this overnight coverage of Discovery, a story turning into non-story for yet another day.  "Come on chap," he would have said, "can't we get this over?"

For Peter, it is now over.  And we are the poorer for it.

It is L-1 and it is not a very good day.  At all.

L-One hour 43 Minutes.
  
Not so fast. Again.  That "unstable situation" at the Kennedy Space Center landing strip just won't go away and so the Discovery Seven have just been given not one more hour but one more whole day up there.  Back to L-1 and we and they get to do it all over again.  What will they do up there for the unscheduled 24 hours? Take pictures.  Look down a lot and with Mission Control pretend that they are busy and the delay is a "useful one." 

Useful?

The mother of one of the astronauts was just on the radio.  What does she want?  She wants them home and she wants this over?  You think it's been nervous in Mission Control?  Ask a mother and you will find out about nervous.

It is--once again--L for Landing - 1.  Re-set your alarm clocks again.  For tomorrow.

L-One Hour
  
Not so fast.  Bad weather delayed the launch and now delays the landing.  What the folks at Mission Control are calling "an unstable situation" and so Discovery will go around one more time.  That quote form Deputy Mission Director Wayne Hale about rocket science at its finest just won't go away.

All that build up. All those pre-landing nerves they won't tell us about. All that and now they get to add 90 minutes for one more orbit.  Ever set in a plane coming in for landing and the pilot comes on to tell you "Sorry folks, we're going to have to go around one more time?" 

It has to be like that. And then some. Re-set your alarm clocks now for 6:41 a.m. Eastern

It was L-one hour and now it isn't any more.

L-1 Again But Different

More than a dozen days ago it was L-1 for launch and now it is L-1 for landing and it is a day every bit as tense as that day at the launch site press site so many days ago.

Somewhere up there the Discovery Seven are cleaning up the last minute details for re-entry.  Stow what might fly around.  Make sure the computers are fed with the final ones and zeroes for the time and length of the rocket burn that will slow them down from orbit. Take last, long looks at the blue of earth below them.

They've had their final say for the public.  Confident? Yes. Concerned? No.  Sure it will be all right?  Absolutely, at least in public.  But what must they be thinking?  At this writing they are under 12 hours away from heading down the same fiery path Columbia took to disaster two-and-a-half years ago.   The quiet thoughts--the private ones--have to be the tough ones.

Same has to be the case in Mission Control.  Same public confidence voiced. But what about the private doubts?  Have they really found ALL the problems?  Is it as fixed as they are convinced it is?

Think anybody is going to sleep this night?  I don't.

It is L-1 and what everybody involved in this mission want to know and know now is what will the morning bring?  What exactly?

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