updated 8/30/2005 4:15:37 PM ET 2005-08-30T20:15:37

Guest: Steven Blum, Kathleen Blanco, Michael Brown, Aaron Neville, Laura Howe, Ron Blome, Danny Morgan, Monique Louque, Frank Melton, Tom Kloza

RITA COSBY, MSNBC HOST:  And good evening, everybody. 

Hurricane Katrina pounded part of the Gulf Coast today with a vengeance.  Thank you, everybody, for joining us for this LIVE & DIRECT hurricane special. 
As you know, I‘ve just arrived here in Aruba, which was not hit by the storm, but is dealing with the fury of the Natalee Holloway investigation.  And we will have extensive coverage from here all this week. 
But right now, we have a lot happening.  Katrina has just been downgraded to a tropical storm, but it is still wreaking havoc as it moves its way through the north. 
Tens of thousands of residents near New Orleans are homeless tonight and about 175,000 are without power.  But the city was spared the doomsday scenario that so many people had feared. 
Just about 140 miles east, in Mobile, Alabama, Katrina being blamed for near record flooding.  And more than 265,000 people in that state are also without power at this hour.  And Mississippi officials still don‘t know just how bad the destruction there is.  Conditions in some parts of the state are still too dangerous to even conduct search-and-rescue operations.
And, everybody, we have live team coverage of this incredible storm that is wreaking lots of havoc and also devastation.  From New Orleans, we also have also Biloxi, Mississippi, and also Mobile, Alabama.
Plus, we‘ll check in with chief meteorologist Sean McLaughlin to find out where the storm is heading next. 
But we first start with Martin Savidge, who is right in the thick of it.  He‘s in the French quarter in New Orleans—Martin? 
MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, good evening to you, Rita.  This may give you an indication of just how difficult it is here in New Orleans.  Cell phones are almost unresponsive, as are the electricity and the lights.  There‘s none of that. 
This is a city that‘s very much in the dark tonight, in the dark in many ways, not just because there is no electricity for, not just New Orleans but the surrounding parishes, but also because there isn‘t a clear understanding of exactly how bad the devastation is. 
It wasn‘t until late this afternoon that Katrina finally cleared away from here that allowed city officials, government experts, to get out there and try to assess the damage. 
Here‘s what we know.  Power‘s out.  We know that much.  We know that communications is very difficult.  We know that there has been structural damage to a lot of buildings.
In fact, in nearby Kenner, 40,000 homes were inundated by water when there was a failure of the dikes there.  A lot of wind damage downtown.  High-rise buildings, many of them have their windows punched out from the 10th floor to the 15th floor, right where that wind was coming in at about 145 miles an hour. 
As you can hear, alarms continue to go off in this city.  We don‘t have a death toll.  They fear that there are casualties.  They just cannot ascertain how many. 
So, so many questions tonight, so few answers.  A curfew is in effect.  But the people right now have no place to go other than on the street, and that‘s where they‘ve been congregating.  There has been some looting. 
Rita, back to you. 
COSBY:  All right, Martin, thank you very much.  I know we‘re going to probably talk with you hopefully later on in the show.  And thank you very much. 
And now moving along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, which was also hit very hard by Katrina.  Right now, search-and-rescue teams are rushing out to help those who may have been trapped or also may have been stranded by the storm. 
Joining us now is MSNBC‘s David Shuster, who is right in the thick of it all in Biloxi tonight—David? 
And let‘s first actually go to a comment, if we could, from those—do we have David?  I think we just have David now. 
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Rita? 
COSBY:  Actually, let‘s go if we could to a comment. 
David, I think you hear me.  Do you hear me?
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
SHUSTER:  ... Biloxi, Mississippi, and the entire Gulf area have long feared.  This is the hour that the eye of the hurricane is passing through, about 15 miles away from where we‘re standing. 
In its wake, there have been winds registering over 100 miles per hour.  And that‘s here about four miles inland.  Along the sea, it‘s been much worse than that.  We‘ve already gotten reports of boats tossed along Interstate 90, which is about 75 feet away from the beach. 
The casinos are reporting that they‘ve damage—of water damage, sitting water up to the second floor of most of these casinos.  The casinos expected to have widespread damage because they‘re all sitting on barges. 
But then even further inland where we are, where most people were told to at least evacuate to here, four miles away from the coast, you can see widespread damage.  There are stop signs down. 
The new theaters, the new restaurants, the new hotels that have been built in the last couple of years all have roof damage.  Siding has been ripped off.  And it‘s still fairly dangerous to be walking out here.  We‘re actually protected by the wall of the hotel. 
And you can see how windy it is right now.  But, again, winds in excess of 100 miles per hour.  This is the worst that they expecting, widespread damage.  There is no power in the area.  Trees are down.  Power lines are down.  Debris is everywhere. 
And this has been what a lot of people had feared it would be, and that is a devastating hurricane leaving excessive damage in its wake.
(END VIDEOTAPE)
SHUSTER:  As terrifying as that was for us, Rita—and that was a report that we taped for Chris Matthews earlier today—it, in fact, it got eclipsed by some of the damage that we actually saw as we tried to get to Biloxi. 
Biloxi is along the water where I did that report.  It‘s about four miles inland.  In between, there is a town that we went to that had a population of about 6,000 people.  It was one of those towns where they thought it would be relatively safe, because there‘s a little bit up-ground. 
Instead, what we found was, we found that homes were under water, the gas stations were under water, stop signs had water up to the bottom of them.  It was a total, complete devastation. 
And for those people who tried to ride it out, we can‘t even imagine how they might have.  But it‘s so difficult finding information, as far as what happened to people, because cell phones are out.  There‘s no power.  There‘s no water, no or electricity.  
And it‘s very difficult getting to various roads, because power lines are blocking the roads, trees are down.  So we couldn‘t even get to Biloxi, which has a population of 50,000.  And the mayor last night told us he thought perhaps 40 percent, or 20,000 to 25,000 people, were going to try to ride it out. 
But for those people who tried to stay, they had one hell of a ride, because the storm winds at the coast in excess of 130, 140 miles per hour.  We were at the 100 miles per hour out here, which we were protected by things, like our hotel and the four-mile distance between the water and where we were. 
But everybody in between, total devastation everywhere you look.  Every building that you look at has roof damage, has siding that‘s peeled back.  Total devastation here—Rita? 
COSBY:  Incredible.  David, if there‘s any other updates, please get back to us later on in the show.  Thank you very much. 
And one of the most outrageous developments of this entire storm is that the victims could get hit twice, first by Hurricane Katrina and next then by looters.  The damage was so severe in New Orleans that many people will not be able to get back into their homes and also their businesses for days. 
Looters are already taking advantage of that situation, unfortunately.  And with us right now is Lieutenant General H. Steven Blum.  He‘s the chief of the Army National Guard Bureau. 
General, first of all, how many people can‘t get back into their homes, as far as you understand right now?
LT. GEN. H. STEVEN BLUM, ARMY NATIONAL GUARD BUREAU:  Well, I really can‘t comment on that, because the situation varies depending on which area has been affected by the hurricane.  I‘d best leave that answer up to the local authorities.  But it‘s in significant numbers. 
COSBY:  Yes, I‘m sure it is.  And, you know, one of the sad facts that we always hear about this, unfortunately, general, is the fact that there are these looters.  How often and what kind of steps are you doing to prepare for those? 
BLUM:  Well, the hurricane and disasters like this always bring out the best in people and, in some people, it brings out the worst.  And we have some people taking advantage of it and looting stores that are unattended. 
We have the National Guard called out in significant numbers, with more on the way to augment, not displace, the local civilian law enforcement.  They will have law enforcement powers.  They will work to augment the local police departments and the state police departments to ensure that this looting gets under control as quickly as possible. 
COSBY:  And, General, how many states has the National Guard in right now?  I understand you‘ve got a pretty big task ahead of you. 
BLUM:  Well, in addition to the 75,000 soldiers that I have overseas in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Kosovo, and Bosnia, and the Horn of Africa, we have five states that are fighting forest fires in the Northwest, and now we have four states that are dramatically affected by this local hurricane or this latest hurricane. 
COSBY:  All right.  Well, general, we thank you very much.  And good luck.  I know you‘ve got a tough job ahead of you.  And we appreciate you being here with us tonight on a busy night for all of you.  Thank you, sir. 
BLUM:  Well, thank you, Rita. 
COSBY:  Well, as you just saw, Katrina left behind a path of destruction in the state of Louisiana, which was battered by pounding rain and also ferocious wind. 
Joining me now on the phone is the state‘s governor, Kathleen Blanco. 
Governor, what‘s the situation where you are?  I can hear a lot of noise in the background.  What‘s the latest, as you know it, in your state? 
GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO, LOUISIANA:  Rita, we are in full search-and-rescue mission right now.  We have pulled hundreds of people from their rooftops, from buildings where they were stranded. 
We know we have casualties, but we have no sense of how many yet.  We have miles and miles of flooded terrain where houses are inundated.  And we have found buildings where we find 200, or 300, or 100 people.  They‘re safe, but they‘re not provisioned.  But they‘re safe, and we‘re trying to get provisions in there.
We‘ll have 4,000 National Guard members activated.  Many are already working, and more of them will be coming on-line.  We‘re working very hard to stabilize the situation, but it‘s dire.  We have many people who have evacuated.  Fortunately, we did successfully evacuate over 1 million people. 
COSBY:  Wow, 1 million people.  That‘s really incredible. 
Congratulations. 
Do you think this time just the word got out that they had enough time to prepare? 
BLANCO:  Well, we didn‘t have a lot of time.  We had a very short time line.  But I think we have storm-smart people.  And we were urging them, all of us who had knowledge and insight, we urged them to get out.  You know, this storm took a bead on Louisiana and into our most heavily populated region.  And we have...
COSBY:  Governor Blanco, what about power tonight?  Because I would just imagine a lot of your folks not being able to get back into the homes.  But how many are without power right now?  And how bad is that situation? 
BLANCO:  We have hundreds of thousands of homes without power.  We have homes under water.  We‘re asking people not to try to get back into the region tonight.  It‘s very dangerous.  We‘ve got sections of I-10, spans of I-10, between Slidell and New Orleans that are gone, both east and west lanes of interstate.  Spans are simply gone off of the interstate. 
It‘s very dangerous.  We have flooding on many of our highway systems right now.  So people who have evacuated have to stay where they are.  I‘m begging them not to try to come in.  We‘re moving rescue operations in, MedEvacs. 
We‘ve got lots and lots of people who have been injured by debris and being thrown about in the waters, much like the tsunami victims.  So, you know, we‘ve got a big crisis going.  And we‘ve got hundreds of people—
I‘m sure, thousands of people involved that we have to focus on. 
COSBY:  Well, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, we thank you very much for being with us.  And our prayers, of course, are with you and everybody there in your fine state.  Thank you for being with us tonight.  We really appreciate it. 
And, now, of course, the hurricane is not finished yet, incredibly.  Where could this monster of Mother Nature be headed next?  Let‘s bring in, if we could, Sean McLaughlin who is, of course, our weathercaster. 
Sean, what‘s coming up next? 
SEAN MCLAUGHLIN, MSNBC WEATHER ANCHOR:  Well, good evening, Rita. 
This thing, like you just said, is still packing a very powerful punch.  Just over an hour ago, Hurricane Katrina has now been downgraded to a tropical storm.  But we‘re still seeing wind gusts right in hurricane category, if not a little bit higher, winds in excess of 70 miles per hour. 
You can see it‘s putting down a lot of rain throughout portions of Mississippi, northern Alabama, and northern Georgia, along with severe weather with the threat of tornadoes. 
We‘ve got a different way to look at this.  Let‘s go to our another source, and it‘s called ESP Live.  We‘re going to fly right into the center of what‘s left of Hurricane Katrina, now Tropical Storm Katrina. 
We wanted to fly over to Meridian, Mississippi, because that‘s where it‘s basically just north of.  It‘s scooting to the north-northeast at around 22 miles an hour.  That is good news for those folks in north-central Mississippi, because the faster it moves, the less rain it will put down in one specific area. 
But I want to take you where the story will be probably in through tomorrow, as we head closer to the Labor Day weekend.  Look at these outer rain bands causing severe weather in the Atlanta area.  Atlanta Hartsfield was delayed all day today, airport delays.  It‘s going to be the same way tomorrow. 
OK, let‘s go back to our source and talk about where Katrina is right now.  And again, moving to the north-northeast at around 21 miles an hour.  It‘s still pretty strong, though, for a tropical storm, winds 66 miles an hour, gusts at 81. 
The pressure is rising throughout the day.  That just means it‘s getting weaker and weaker.  Where is it going to go? 
Well, later on tonight and tomorrow, through western Kentucky and Tennessee, and then up in through the Great Lakes.  Rita, we‘re talking four to eight inches, possibly 10 inches, in the upper elevations.  This is going to turn into a major flooding event. 
We‘re going to toss it back to you down in Aruba. 
COSBY:  Boy, it is a wet one.  We‘ll be following it closely.  Sean, thank you very much. 
MCLAUGHLIN:  You bet.
COSBY:  And still ahead, everybody, the storm rages on and so does our coverage.  We‘ll go back to a battered New Orleans.  Superstar singer Aaron Neville is one of that city‘s most famous residents.  His entire family was evacuated in a massive caravan.  He‘ll join me LIVE & DIRECT. 
Plus, one of the worst places to be in this storm was Mobile, Alabama, right in the path of some of the storm‘s strongest winds.  You can see it there.  We will take you there live.  Look at that incredible picture, as we continue LIVE & DIRECT, with our wall-to-wall hurricane coverage. 
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Have you ridden out of a hurricane? 
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, but it wasn‘t nothing like this one.  We heard all the noises and the wind.  It was kind of like all some trees broke off in the backyard and stuff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARCUS MOORE, TV REPORTER:  ... trees were blowing down earlier.  And here‘s another small tree, a young tree, that has been knocked over.  Hurricane Katrina definitely here in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. 
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY:  Some incredible scenes from Hurricane Katrina, as you just heard from Sean McLaughlin.  Right now, gusts up to 81 miles an hour still.  Also, sustained winds at 66 miles an hour.  Still a fast-moving storm. 
And joining me now is a man who will see the devastation firsthand in the coming days.  He‘s FEMA Director Mike Brown.  He is LIVE & DIRECT tonight from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. 
Director Brown, let me first start with you.  How many areas are declared disaster areas, in other words eligible for this federal funding? 
MICHAEL BROWN, FEMA DIRECTOR:  Basically, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama.  And we‘re looking at Florida from before.  And we‘re now looking at other parts of Florida also. 
And I‘m certain that, as Katrina continues to make her path upwards to the Ohio and Tennessee Valley, that we may have other states added, as well. 
COSBY:  And what does that mean, in terms of when funding will actually reach them?  And what does that mean, just to the person at home, what they can see in their pocket as a result? 
BROWN:  Well, you know, first of all, it means—the first thing that President Bush did was an emergency declaration before the storms made landfall.  That enabled me to get to the states and say, “OK, I‘m going to pre-deploy medical teams and rescue teams, and make certain that we have the management teams in place to help you.” 
So we did that first.  And then the major declarations came today when the president orally told me, “Yes, we‘re going to go ahead and do the rest of these states now.”  And what that means is, we can now not only continue our rescue and response efforts, but we can now also start helping these states rebuild and start helping families rebuild, also. 
So it‘s going to be a long-term process.  It‘s going to take a long time to rebuild some of these communities. 
COSBY:  Yes.  And, boy, we remember after Hurricane Andrew how long the rebuilding took place. 
You know, Director Brown, in terms of some of the power—we just heard from the governor of Louisiana—so many people are without power at this hour.  I understand that FEMA is actually supplying generators to, what, homes and stores?
BROWN:  Well, right now, we‘re supplying generators primarily to critical infrastructure, hospitals, emergency services, base stations, where we have rescue workers, things like the superdome, shelters, that sort of thing. 
We haven‘t gotten to the stage yet of providing assistance to individuals.  But I‘ll tell you why.  Primarily because most individuals affected, particularly in southern Louisiana, can‘t even get back to their homes yet.  I‘m just now beginning to receive reports from my folks in the field of literally just tens of square miles of homes inundated with water up to the roofs. 
I mean, I‘ve already told the president tonight that we can anticipate a housing need here of at least in the tens of thousands. 
COSBY:  You know, and we‘re looking at these incredible pictures, Mr.  Director.  I‘m astounded that the water is almost reaching the roofs in some of the places there. 
I‘ve covered a lot of floods.  It is incredible.  And as you pointed out, how long is going to take for some of these people to actually get back into their homes, if their homes even exist? 
BROWN:  Well, in some places, it‘ll be less than others.  But let me just tell you about New Orleans right now, what my concern about New Orleans is. 
The I-10 bridges into Slidell, I think, have been compromised.  Many of these places that are flooded now, it‘s going to take a long time for that water to get out. 
And in fact, I‘ll tell you tonight the reports are water continues to feed into those areas.  So, without sounding alarmist, I really think it could be weeks and months before people are able to get back into some of these neighborhoods. 
COSBY:  Well, Director Brown, thank you very much.  Keep up the great work.  And it sounds like it‘s going to be sometime until people can get back on with their lives. 
Thank you. 
BROWN:  Thank you. 
COSBY:  And with us right now on the phone is a man who also knows that city of New Orleans very well.  LIVE & DIRECT tonight right now is four-time Grammy-award winning singer Aaron Neville.
And also, Aaron, we understand that family members of yours were quickly evacuated.  I was hearing something before the show about a caravan, because you‘ve got a big family down there.  Tell us what happened? 
AARON NEVILLE, GRAMMY-AWARD WINNING SINGER:  Well, yes, we‘ve been doing that for the last six or seven years, you know, every time a storm comes.  Because I‘ve been through Betsy and Camille.  And I have plenty of respect for them, and I know they‘re always talking about the big one that‘s coming. 
And I haven‘t—last year, if it would have hit New Orleans, we would have been like a toxic soup bowl of chemicals and whatever else that came up out of the ground.  And, you know, we‘ve got alligators and all of that, too.  But anyway, I don‘t wait until the last minute. 
COSBY:  So, Aaron, what happened?  I‘m sure as you were—you know, I‘m sure as you were hearing the news, tell us how you—is it 15 households, relatives that you had to sort of corral and get out of there?  How did they make it out? 
NEVILLE:  Well, everyone does separate things.  I usually get my immediate family out, but everybody goes, you know?  Like I have my daughter, and my sons, and their kids, and my sister, and my brother, Cyril, and his family. 
And we were on the road.  We were just—we just left New York.  And we came into Memphis to meet them.  And...
COSBY:  And, Aaron, how worried were you?  I bet you were just so nervous, because you were, what, performing in New York, as you said?  You must have just been just so scared and worried for your family, especially with...
(CROSSTALK)  
NEVILLE:  Well, I knew they were getting out of there. 
COSBY:  ... was right near a levy.
NEVILLE:  Yes, but, you know, I don‘t know what to except when we go back, you know?  So that‘s the scary thing. 
COSBY:  Have you gotten any word of how the homes look, especially—
I‘m praying for you, buddy, with your sister‘s home. 
NEVILLE:  Yes, I think she has something like nine feet of water in her house.  And one friend of ours, he was trying to get out of the roof of his house, and I hope he got out. 
And it‘s bad.  You know, I‘ve never seen it like that.  But like I said, every year, I‘m always talking to my family and my kids.  I say, “Be ready to go.  And don‘t wait until the last minute.  Don‘t get caught up in the traffic.  And, you know, Get out of town.” 
And if it don‘t come, well, you just had a vacation, you know? 
COSBY:  Yes, absolutely.  And you‘re right.  Better play it safe, Aaron. 
NEVILLE:  Yes. 
COSBY:  You know, one of things, I understand, you want to do something great now, too, also to help others.  You were talking a little bit before the show with us about a benefit.  Tell us about what you plan to do with your beautiful talents. 
NEVILLE:  We‘ve been doing this since the World‘s Fair in 1984.  We have an organization called New Orleans Artists Against Hunger and Homelessness that was founded by Allen Tothin (ph) and myself.  We‘ve been doing concerts and giving money to the hungry and homeless in New Orleans.
And now looking at the news, I think we should try to do something for the Red Cross because, I mean, you know, they got a big job. 
COSBY:  Well, I think that sounds terrific.  And, Aaron, I hope that your sister and all of those homes are safe and sound when you get back there.  And thank you for being with us.  Keep us posted, of course, on the fundraiser.  We‘d love to cover that, as well. 
NEVILLE:  Thank you, now. 
COSBY:  Thank you.  And still ahead, everybody, a scary night, not just for Aaron, but for thousands of people.  Where are they going to go with their homes under water?  Well, the Red Cross has a massive challenge.  Does the Red Cross think that they can help all of these people? 
And even if you didn‘t get hit by the hurricane, you‘re about to feel the storm surge at the gas pump.  Our LIVE & DIRECT special coverage of Hurricane Katrina continues wall-to-wall right after the break. 
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COSBY:  And that was WTVJ (ph) reporter Tom Yahmas (ph) this morning in the middle of the storm in Biloxi today. 
Well, there are massive relief efforts all over the Gulf Coast taking place right now.  On phone with us at this moment is Laura Howe.  She is with the American Red Cross. 
And, Laura, I understand that you‘re actually in Birmingham, Alabama? 
What‘s the weather like right now there?
LAURA HOWE, AMERICAN RED CROSS:  Well, we‘re actually experiencing what‘s now Tropical Storm Katrina moving through here.  We have some very hefty wind gusts right now, torrential rain. 
The power flickered off and on a little bit earlier.  So to a much lesser degree, we‘re experiencing this storm.  But it‘s still wreaking some havoc here.  And I expect that we‘re going to have some flooding as this thing moves through the state tonight. 
COSBY:  Well, you talk about the flooding.  And as we‘re looking at some pictures here, just ferocious winds, as well. 
The big task for you at the American Red Cross is getting those folks who don‘t have a home a place to stay.  How many people are homeless tonight, as far as you know? 
HOWE:  Well, we don‘t have a count on the exact homeless, but we do know that, over the past couple of days, we have sheltered approximately 40,000 people in about 230 Red Cross shelters.  So, you know, these folks have no place to stay.  We‘re trying to make them as comfortable as we possibly can.
We know it‘s a difficult situation for everybody.  And we know that we‘re going to be in this for the long haul.  This is a massive mobilization of Red Cross resources.  In fact, it is the single largest mobilization of Red Cross resources that we‘ve had for a natural disaster. 
So it‘s going to be a long task.  And we may have people in these shelters for days and weeks to come. 
COSBY:  And, Laura, I want to just tell our viewers what we‘re looking at, because we just got these pictures in a few moments ago.  Hold on one second, Laura, because this is New Orleans, some incredible pictures that we just got in.
New Orleans, everybody, if anyone‘s been there, these are paved streets, especially the French quarter.  But these are—you can just tell.  You cannot even physically see the pavement. 
And I bet you that place where we were just looking at right there, the water‘s up at least several feet.  Luckily, residents still seem to be in good spirits, which is incredible, through all of this.
Laura, is that sort of the mood at the shelters, too?  How are the spirits of the people that you‘re taking care of at the Red Cross? 
HOWE:  Well, one thing that we‘re focused on is really trying to provide some emotional support for these folks who have evacuated, because the evacuation itself is stressful, being in the traffic, having to leave your home. 
But they‘re anxious.  They‘re concerned.  They don‘t know what they‘re going to be going back to, or if they‘re even going to get back into their hometowns, much less their homes, for a number of days and weeks. 
So we actually have trained disaster mental health workers who are in many of our shelters.  And these are folks who are there to provide emotional support, to be there as a person that people can talk to, and just sort of lean on and rely on for some comfort and some care. 
And that‘s really what we‘re trying to do tonight, is just provide people a safe haven from the storm, from the flooding.  And we have people still coming into those shelters tonight, as this storm moves northward through Mississippi, through Alabama. 
We‘ve got people who are still leaving low-lying areas in the northern parts of those states coming into shelters, people from mobile homes who don‘t want to be in these windy conditions.  And we‘re really trying to provide a lot of good care and comfort tonight. 
COSBY:  And, Laura, did you tell me right before I went to these pictures of New Orleans that this is the biggest effort that American Red Cross has done for a natural disaster?  That‘s enormous. 
HOWE:  It is.  It really is an enormous task.  You know, we have mobilized thousands of volunteers who will be moving into the area shortly.  We have really—are ramping up to have the capacity to feed about a half million hot meals.  We‘re trying to get to that point. 
We‘ve got relief supplies that have been pre-positioned outside of the immediate areas of damage.  And as soon as it is safe to do so, as soon as roads are open and the areas are accessible, we‘re going to be moving in heater meals.  We‘re going to be moving in things like clean-up kits, comfort kits, trying to make people‘s lives just as comfortable as we possibly can. 
And we know that not only are we going to have to shelter people, but our focus is also going to be shifting, as well, to providing food, water, some of those basic, life-sustaining emergency necessities that people are going to have, because we have so many people without power. 
And this is going to be, I think, Rita, a tremendous coming-together of this country and of neighbors helping neighbors.  And we really—we‘re going to need the help of the American people to do this.  This is going to be bigger than the Red Cross.  It‘s going to be bigger than the federal government. 
It‘s going to take a lot of partners coming together to help the people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, who are really going to struggle over the next several days and weeks. 
COSBY:  You bet.  It‘s going to be a massive project.  Thank you very much, Laura Howe, with the American Red Cross.  We appreciate it. 
And let‘s move, if we could, from Birmingham to Mobile, Alabama.  Our Ron Blome is there for the very latest from Mobile—Ron?
RON BLOME, NBC NEWS, MOBILE, ALABAMA:  Hi, Rita.  Well, of all of the big cities that were in the path of this hurricane, major urban areas, Mobile is going to go down as the luckiest one.  They really dodged the bullet here. 
Let me start on the coast, where we were fearing the worst.  Over at Gulf Shores, the resort area that was so hard hit by Hurricane Ivan, they came out of this fairly unscathed.  And I say it was because of what they did after Ivan.
They had a very aggressive beach-nourishment program, where they came back in, did a lot of pumping of sand off and drudging, and built up the beach area.  And they said it did its work last night and today.  It was a shock absorber and protected a lot of the structures.
Over on Dauphin Island, which is just south of Mobile Bay, it‘s another story.  We‘re hearing reports from the emergency services people of widespread destruction on that island.  The storm surge was 15 feet and huge waves on top of that. 
We don‘t know if anybody who decided to ride out the storm is missing or not.  We‘re still trying to get a handle on that.
In Mobile itself, they were expecting some extensive flooding in the commercial district.  And we did have flooding greater than they‘ve ever had before, but it was not as bad as it could have been.  Perhaps 12 feet of storm surge came up throughout downtown, surrounded the federal courthouse, entered into the train station area, the post office, some of the government complexes around the convention center.
But it did not crest over this one street, Royal Street, and spread down into the residential area that was feared.  So that was good news, as well. 
There were a couple of tornadoes that touched down around the outskirts of Mobile.  Again, some small damage, nothing significant.  And, of course, the electricity is off.  So you‘ve got the nuisance of that. 
But when they look just down the coast to Biloxi, and Gulfport, and Pascagoula, and on into the New Orleans area, they know that they were very lucky here in Mobile—Rita? 
COSBY:  Yes, they certainly were.  Thank you very much, Ron.  We appreciate it very much. 
And New Orleans is filled with emergency medical workers right now. 
Ironically, they were there for an EMS convention.  Lucky for New Orleans. 
Joining me now by phone is EMS Captain Danny Morgan, stuck in the Big Easy.  Danny and his crew are from Benson, North Carolina. 
Captain Morgan, let me start with you.  First of all, the hotel you were in, I understand you heard and you felt the storm pretty tremendously.  Tell us about that. 
DANNY MORGAN, EMS WORKER STUCK IN NEW ORLEANS:  Yes, ma‘am.  Starting around 2:00 a.m. this morning, there was gusts.  And we‘re on the 19th floor.  And we were actually able to feel the hotel swaying, from about 2:00 this morning to around 8:00 a.m. when it finally calmed down. 
COSBY:  That must have been pretty incredible for you.  Now, you came in for an EMS conference ironically.  Did you know that you were heading into hurricane territory? 
MORGAN:  We did know it was forecast to come.  Friday afternoon, we started learning that the storm had turned this way.  And we actually tried to change our airline tickets.  But our flights all were cancelled Saturday afternoon.  And we weren‘t able to leave town. 
COSBY:  And now I understand that you had to sleep, or some other people slept, in a conference room.  Tell us about how the hotel sort of transformed itself. 
MORGAN:  We were actually able to keep our rooms that we had been in for the whole time.  The hotel actually opened up to local citizens and allowed them to come to stay in the conference rooms, just if they couldn‘t get to a shelter or any other type of shelter.  They were allowed to come here with their pets and stay. 
COSBY:  And what‘s the scene like, Captain, in the hotel and also outside?  Have you popped outside lately? 
MORGAN:  We were allowed outside just a few minutes this afternoon.  There‘s not many people around.  There‘s a lot of scattered debris, a lot of rooftops, a lot of debris from that.  We haven‘t really been able to see any damage away from the hotel now. 
The hotel did sustain some damage.  The bottom floors have a lot of water damage.  Staying in the hotels is—just a lot of people.  There‘s a very large number of people here.  The power‘s been out since about 5:00 a.m. this morning and no air-conditioning, no running water, so they‘re trying the best they can to feed everybody and keeping everybody going. 
Everybody‘s having to use the stairs.  There‘s no elevators working. 
So just people are starting to get agitated and just kind of panicky. 
COSBY:  Well, I‘m glad that you‘re safe and sound.  And I know that you offered to help, which I think is a very admirable—putting you back to work again.
Thank you very much, Captain Morgan, we appreciate it. 
And, everybody, still ahead, hotels are flooded with people running from this monster storm.  Up next, can hotels take in all the storm refugees?  You just heard from Captain Morgan, the scene there. 
And is this major storm going to cause a major crisis at the gas pump?  We‘ll find out just how high fuel prices are going to go.  That‘s next on LIVE & DIRECT.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARL QUINTANILLA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  We‘re literally watching New Orleans being taken apart bit-by-bit.  I want to show you the outside of the Hyatt Regency where we were staying last tonight and where hundreds more are still staying.
What you‘re looking at is the outside of the building.  And obviously, all of those windows have been blown out.
(END VIDEO CLIP) 
COSBY:  That was NBC‘s Carl Quintanilla in New Orleans earlier.  Many people have turned to hotels, knowing that their homes would not survive the storm.  Tonight, from New Orleans, is Monique Louque.  Monique is the manager of the Hotel Monteleone in the French quarter. 
Monique, what‘s the scene in the French quarter?  We‘re looking at some incredible pictures.
MONIQUE LOUQUE, HOTEL MONTELEONE:  Well, the French quarter, at least earlier this afternoon, was still somewhat deserted.  But here in the quarter, we seem to have fared much better than other parts of the city that seemed to have been just absolutely decimated. 
COSBY:  And why is that, Monique?  Why is that the case? 
LOUQUE:  Well, a lot of these areas were low-lying areas.  And it‘s the flooding that seems to be the biggest problem. 
We didn‘t have any standing water.  Our hotel is right here in the French quarter.  We did have a lot of trouble last night with high wind, very strong winds.  We had about ten guest rooms here in the hotel of which the windows blew out. 
But I honestly have no explanation why there wasn‘t any standing water.  We had always heard worst-case scenario that there could be as much as 20 feet of water here in the quarter.  That part didn‘t happen, but the wind damage did happen. 
COSBY:  Yes, we‘re looking at some incredible pictures of things blowing.  We just saw a huge sheet of metal blowing a little bit ago. 
LOUQUE:  Right. 
COSBY:  What does this mean for tourism? 
LOUQUE:  Well, here in the hotel right now, we are at fairly high occupancy, simply because a lot of our guest, obviously, weren‘t able to leave.  A lot of the airport had shut down on Sunday, so people scheduled to check out, unfortunately, were pretty much stuck here.  And we also accommodated quite a few of our associates and their families, also, here at the hotel. 
As far as tourism is concerned, it‘s hard to say, because a lot of people are just kind of numb at the moment.  The aftermath, especially for a lot of the associates here who live in some of these outlying areas, they‘ve got quite the challenge ahead of them to deal with literally eight feet of water in their homes. 
COSBY:  Yes, I can‘t imagine.  I understand you had some camaraderie, some of the good stories that come out of the storms, that a lot of people were there together, celebrating, at least enjoying each other‘s company, in the thick of it all? 
LOUQUE:  Well, you know, a lot of times we say that it takes a crisis to kind of bring people together.  And even though, you know, as director of H.R. here at the Hotel Monteleone, I think we have a wonderful staff.  At times like this, they even go above and beyond. 
We had to set up, for example—for our guests here on this hotel, we set up on the second floor a buffet dining service.  And several guests had come up to me saying how impressed they were with the associates, because they‘re servicing the guests, going above and beyond, knowing full well that, for many of them, myself included, are literally going to be home to nothing. 
COSBY:  Incredible.  Monique, thank you very much. 
LOUQUE:  Sure. 
COSBY:  And Katrina is affecting all parts of life, including the price of oil.  Crude already has reached record highs. 
Today, the markets closed with oil—now, get this -- $67.02 a barrel.  Is that number going to rise?  Tom Kloza is the chief oil analyst for the Oil Price Information Service.  He‘s LIVE & DIRECT tonight at MSNBC world headquarters. 
Tom, what does this mean for us at the pump? 
TOM KLOZA, OIL PRICE INFORMATION SERVICE:  We‘re going to pay a lot more at the pump.  And we‘re going to pay it very, very quickly.  We actually saw some of the markets today rise by 40 or 50 cents a gallon at the Gulf Coast. 
The futures market didn‘t go up as much, but you can expect almost a super-spike between now and perhaps a week after Labor Day. 
COSBY:  Now, that‘s what I wanted to ask you.  You know, with Labor Day coming up, it‘s the end of the summer.  Is this the max we‘re going to see leading up to it or could it get worse? 
KLOZA:  It could get a little bit worse.  This is the absolute worst possible time that a hurricane could move through that area and impact the U.S., because we‘re at the lowest stocks that we generally would have, since we‘re at the end of the driving season.
And we‘re not sure if the hurricane actually took out some of the refineries or not, but we are pretty sure that it‘s going to limit some of the production.  And that‘s going to be a problem. 
We might see prices go up by anywhere from 20 to 30 cents overall, but we‘re going to see 15 or 20 cents very quickly. 
COSBY:  Wow, that‘s a lot.  That‘s a whopping—when was the last time we hit that amount? 
KLOZA:  Well, we‘ve never been at these amounts.  We‘ve never been up this much in a day.
COSBY:  That‘s what I thought.  I mean, this is startling.
KLOZA:  Right.  It‘s a little bit of touch of Europe across the U.S.  right now. 
COSBY:  Yes, that‘s incredible.  How long do you think we‘re going to feel it?  You just talked about 15 to 20 cents.  I mean, the average person, when they go up to fill up their tank, that‘s a big difference, you know, especially if it‘s per-tank basis, you‘ve got a big family.  This is really going to hit the average American family. 
KLOZA:  Well, this is going to be the shock that everyone‘s been waiting for.  It‘s been mostly slow torture up until now.  But we are going to be dealing with prices between $2.75 and $3, or even a little bit higher, in the next month. 
It will calm down.  And this may actually be something that causes behavior to change.  So far, we‘ve hit thresholds which have enabled people to sort of complain about high prices, but we really haven‘t hit numbers that have made people react by buying smaller cars or driving a little bit less. 
COSBY:  Last question.  How long do you think we could feel this at the pump when we go gas up, and is there anything we can do to change?  Is there anything, like something happening in world events, that could possibly improve the situation for us? 
KLOZA:  Well, the only thing that you can do is not panic.  I mean, right now, we‘re looking at tighter gasoline stocks and we‘re looking at higher prices, but we‘re not necessarily looking at anything like during the Iranian Revolution or the Arab Oil Embargo. 
So watch your discretionary driving.  And recognize that, you know, you‘re paying a small price for the calamity, as opposed to the people that are living near the Crescent City or in Mississippi. 
COSBY:  You bet.  Tom, thank you very much. 
And, everybody, still ahead, just because you don‘t live on the coast doesn‘t mean that you missed the storm.  By tomorrow morning, Kentucky and Tennessee will be soaked.  And getting hit hard tonight is Jackson, Mississippi.  The mayor of that town is going to join me LIVE & DIRECT next.  And more amazing pictures of Hurricane Katrina. 
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... just blends in with the gray of the road.  And I just drove right into it.  So, you know, but it was my fault.  It was a stupid thing to do, and I did it. 
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY:  Some incredible pictures.  A crowded town and a bust also to the city‘s economy.  That‘s what Jackson, Mississippi, needs to deal with. 
Now that their population has doubled and its casinos have temporarily shut down, Jackson‘s mayor, Frank Melton, is on the phone. 
Mr. Mayor, what‘s the weather like there now? 
MAYOR FRANK MELTON, JACKSON, MISSISSIPPI:  We‘re having a little light rain right now.  It was pretty rough a couple of hours ago.  It slacked off considerably, but it‘s a consistent rain. 
COSBY:  Now, do you think - where do you stand, in terms of the worst is yet to come? 
MELTON:  No, ma‘am.  I think we‘ve been through the worst.  What I‘m concerned about now more than anything else would be some flooding issues. 
COSBY:  How bad is the flooding?  And we‘re looking at some incredible pictures, Mr. Mayor.  I mean, this is amazing.  It looks like it‘s an ocean, but it‘s actually, it looks like, your downtown street. 
MELTON:  Yes, ma‘am.  That‘s one of the problems we face. 
Of course, we have tremendous power outages right now.  Our colleges and universities are out of power.  And we have—our kids here from Jackson State and the kids from Tulane are also here. 
And in the coliseum, which is one of our main shelters, we‘re having power problems over there, also.  We have a number of downed trees in the city.  And many of those trees did fall across the power lines. 
COSBY:  How long do you think, Mr. Mayor, until things are going to be back on track in...
(CROSSTALK) 
MELTON:  Well, we‘re already out there right now.  The public works department is out there. 
The first priority is to remove the debris from our public streets so that we will be able to get our emergency vehicles through those areas if we need to.  It‘s going to take us a little while. 
COSBY:  And, Mr. Mayor...
MELTON:  We have a considerable amount of damage here.  Unfortunately, we have had one fatality today.  A tree fell on a home near the downtown area.  And as a result, the lady did lose her life. 
COSBY:  And I know that there are several lives that have been lost in a variety of states. 
Mr. Mayor, how is your own home doing? 
MELTON:  My own home, I beg your pardon? 
COSBY:  Yep.  How is your own house? 
MELTON:  Oh, I have six trees down, big trees. 
COSBY:  Oh, you do?
MELTON:  Yes, ma‘am. 
COSBY:  You‘re going to have some work on your part there.  All right, Mr. Mayor, thank you...
MELTON:  Yes, ma‘am, we have quite a bit of work to do...
COSBY:  ... very much.  And we appreciate you being with us.
MELTON:  ... but my main concern is the safety and security of our citizens and our visitors, who are here in the capital city. 
COSBY:  Well, thank you very much.  And, of course, that‘s everybody‘s concern.  And I know you got a lot of work ahead.  We appreciate you being here on a busy night.  Thank you, sir.
And still ahead, everybody, the damage and also the destruction.  Is it over?  People ahead of the storm are bracing for heavy rains, as people in its wake get ready to go home, if their home even exists.  We‘re going to be coming right back with some more amazing pictures, sights and sounds of Hurricane Katrina.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COSBY:  And tomorrow night, we will be sure to follow up on where Hurricane Katrina is hitting next and what damage she left behind. 
Tonight, as you know, we are coming to you live from Aruba, where we are digging deep in the Natalee Holloway investigation.  We also got a look from the air of the alleged crime scene.  What we‘re learning is astounding.  And we‘re going to begin our coverage of the Natalee Holloway case from this island of Aruba.  That is all tomorrow night.  Be sure to stayed tuned for that.  We‘re going to have a lot of new information.
And that does it for me tonight here on LIVE & DIRECT, live from Aruba.  I‘m Rita Cosby.  But MSNBC‘s coverage of Hurricane Katrina starts right now with Joe.
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”:  Thanks so much, Rita. 
Greatly appreciate it.
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