updated 8/31/2005 5:01:10 PM ET 2005-08-31T21:01:10

Guest: Marty Evans, Doug Whitlow

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  New Orleans, Louisiana.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I got you.  I got you.  I got you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Gulfport, Mississippi.

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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We‘re just lost for words.  It is just the whole coast.

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OLBERMANN:  Biloxi, Mississippi.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Don‘t expect to be too optimistic when you come back to your homes in Gulfport and Biloxi and along the beach and in Bay St. Louis.  There‘s a lot of devastation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Mobile, Alabama.

Carroll County, Georgia.

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Beyond description.

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OLBERMANN:  Hurricane Katrina.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They‘ve been washed all through the downtown area.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Everything is gone.

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OLBERMANN:  This is COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

It is like the Indian Ocean tsunami of last Christmas.  The initial reports of damage and death had been harrowing enough.  But as the sun rose over Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama today, it became all too evident that they had also been, in fact, heartbreakingly optimistic.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, Hurricane Katrina killed at least 100 in Mississippi alone.  Elsewhere, there are as yet no official counts, nor reliable estimates.

It will force the mandatory evacuation of the nation‘s 35th largest city.  It butchered New Orleans‘ causeway to the northeast, I-10.  It rendered vast areas of the region uninhabitable for weeks or months.  And it wreaked devastation that was, as one area governor put it, “greater than our worst fears.”

The song was from 1912, “Waiting for the Robert E. Lee.”  The lyric was once happy, “Waitin‘ on the Levee.”  No one in New Orleans will ever hear that phrase again without fear and pain.  At least one levee, holding back Lake Pontchartrain, one of the levees that had held fast through the storm itself, breached overnight.

Slowly, the lake water rose over the 17th Street canal wall, finally cutting a hole in it.  A second wall capitulated on the Industrial Canal connecting the Mississippi River to the Intercoastal Waterway.  By midday, 80 percent of New Orleans was under water of varying heights.

Rescue crews, working around the clock on the outskirts of city, lowering gurneys to pull stranded residents off rooftops before the water levels threatened to completely engulf their houses.  Governor Kathleen Blanco confirming there are fatalities in New Orleans and elsewhere in Louisiana.  But as yet, there is no idea how many.

And that those still in the city, even those in the comparative shelter of the Super Dome, need to be evacuated over the next several days, federal officials saying they may even introduce floating dormitories as temporary shelters.

And yet the waking nightmare in New Orleans, what may be the first true full evacuation of a major American city since Atlanta and Richmond during the Civil War.  Seems almost nothing by contrast to what has happened in Harrison County, Mississippi.  That includes Biloxi, where the hurricane made land yesterday morning, and Gulfport, which was hit by the storm‘s surge, estimated by some at 22 feet.

Tonight, the civil defense director there confirmed there are more than 100 dead in his county.  The mayor of Biloxi put it best.  “This is our tsunami.”  The state‘s governor has just compared it to Hiroshima.

We‘re going to take 10 minutes now and not interrupt the matchless personal narrative from correspondent Coyt Bailey of our affiliated station in Jackson, Mississippi, WLBT.  We warn you, many of the images you will see are disturbing, and the rest are merely unbelievable, especially when you realize that simply as the crow flies, this video journey by helicopter covers 17 miles.

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COYT BAILEY, REPORTER, WLBT:  We left the office this morning early, about daylight.  And I tell you, we weren‘t prepared for all the damage just en route down to Gulfport.  It was just incredible.

But once we got down there, this village that you‘re seeing is in the Long Beach area, which is just to the west of Gulfport, about three to five miles west of the Gulfport airport.  This was along the beach.

The devastation was just amazing.  It looks like about a half-mile in from the beach, everything has been leveled flat, destroyed.  The buildings, there just aren‘t really any structures standing anymore.  It‘s just incredible.

You can see where the storm surge came up and deposited all this debris.  We‘re looking at an area now that‘s probably a quarter-mile inland from the beach.

That is right in front of—I think it‘s formerly a K-mart right there.  And that was a marina right in the Long Beach area, which was just flattened.  Just nothing left there standing at all.  There was restaurants and marina offices there that are just gone.

This is proceeding eastbound along the beach.  The Gulfport airport‘s just to the north of this area.  And as you can see, it‘s—everything was destroyed.  There‘s the homes, businesses.

We‘re looking at a lot of freight vehicles from the port of Gulfport there that were stacked in the port area.  And they‘ve been washed all through the downtown area of Gulfport.  At first we thought they were rail cars.  But it appears that these were the 18-wheeler containers, washed out of the port of Gulfport.

We‘ve been flying these hurricane stories for 10 years now.  We‘ve covered them in Florida and Alabama and Mississippi.  And they do not compare to what we‘ve seen today.  It‘s just absolutely beyond description.

This is close to the downtown area of Gulfport.  And as you can see, some of the barges from the port area were just washed inland a, you know, a quarter-mile.  Another barge there.  And this is pulling out, looking at the beach.

Now, this is the—one of the casinos there right in the Gulfport area.  I believe it‘s one of the—I think it‘s Casino Magic.  I can‘t be sure.  The—all of the casinos that we saw along the coast that, as you know, were floating on the water were basically just picked up and deposited inland, many of them over Highway 90, where the casinos were actually picked up and deposited on top of homes and businesses.

That‘s another casino in the Gulfport area that was moved.

I believe that‘s the Mississippi Power Company building in downtown Gulfport.  You can see all the debris washed up around it.  A lot of the structures in the downtown area are standing, but you can tell that the storm surge, probably 20 feet in that area, 25 feet in that area, just...

This is flying over the port of Gulfport, which is just right south of the downtown area.  We‘re proceeding to the east along the beach here.  And the camera‘s looking back to the north towards the coastline.  If you remember the aquarium, that‘s the aquarium right there that was in the port of Gulfport right there.  It‘s been completely destroyed.

This is looking north, back towards downtown Gulfport here.

And now this is just looking in from the beach.  We‘re passing along Gulfport, coming up to the Gulfport-Biloxi line here.  These are all the old homes that were along the beach, many of them just gone, just—you can see foundations, and just complete devastation through this area.

This is coming up on the Veterans Building, I believe.  It was coming up towards Keesler Air Force Base, which is right south of there.  These are some of the National Guard troops that are now, we saw, moving along what remain of Highway 90, trying to keep looters down, looking for people who need help.

Gulfport, the water tower, remains intact, but not much else along here.  I‘ve never seen anything that has compared with this.  Just the complete devastation.  And for the length that it went along the coast.

That‘s it.  That‘s the former Holiday Inn at the Coliseum.  And that‘s basically on top of the reception area, the front desk, and the restaurant area.  It just picked up that—I believe that‘s the President Casino.

This is the old Broadwater Marina.  As you can see, there‘s no structure left standing here.  This is where the President Casino was moored right here, I think.  This was Treasure Bay Casino, the—it looked like a Spanish galleon.  As you can see, the structure has been completely undermined as the storm surge just went all the way through it.  It‘s still not up on the beach, but it has been essentially destroyed.

This was the area just to the east of the Broadwater Marina, where there used to be an old putt-putt golf course and several restaurants and buildings, and those areas are just—they‘re gone.

This is the back end of the Hard Rock Casino, which was still under construction.  But you can see, it has just fallen off into the water now.  It‘s going to be a big job.  We saw so much damage leaving Jackson, all the way to Gulfport, power lines down everywhere, rail lines blocked with trees and debris.  Hattiesburg had extensive damage, and then we flew over the downtown area, southern—University of Southern Mississippi.

That‘s a casino—that, I believe, is the Grand Casino in Biloxi that

was picked up, removed from its moorings, and deposited to the west of its

·         where it was moored, and it was brought back over Highway 90 there and just dropped down, looked like what appeared to be on homes.

But this was one of the premier casinos along the coast.  And it‘s just been completely destroyed.

This is the downtown Biloxi area going out towards Point Cadet.  It looked like the storm surge came all the way through this area.

That‘s looking back towards Point Cadet and Biloxi, and then back behind us here is Ocean Springs, (INAUDIBLE).  That was Highway 90.  And the railroad bridge, which is just to the north of this, is also destroyed.

You know, it‘s—there‘s nothing left of this.  And it‘s going to be a major job to remove all of that concrete and debris for navigation for ships in the area, and rebuilding it for Highway 90.  It‘s going to be a long, long process.

It‘s so extensive.  And it—we were asking ourselves that question earlier.  And I think, as Governor Barbour said earlier, I think we first focus on the search and rescue efforts, and that‘s certainly going on now.  And once we—you know, you focus on getting the utilities back up.  You focus on getting power and water, and you just start taking those steps towards rebuilding.  And you don‘t try to think about the whole picture.

You just do the first steps that are right in front of us now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Coyt Bailey of WLBT in Jackson, Mississippi.

I‘d like to call in our correspondent in Biloxi, MSNBC‘s and NBC News;

David Shuster.  David, good evening.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening.

OLBERMANN:  The video we just saw, that‘s about 17 miles going between Long Beach west to Biloxi, where you are.  It‘s hard to tell from what we showed there, but he‘s looking a quarter of a mile to about a mile inland.  And obviously that‘s all ground zero.  There‘s pervasive damage, almost everything flattened.  Does it go much further inland, or in that tape, did we see the worst of it?

SHUSTER:  Keith, it does go pretty far inland, because not only do you have sort of the Gulf side over here, 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, like, totally overflowed and caused damage that way.

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

What we‘re going to do is show you a little bit of where we‘re sort of standing, just so you can see, I mean—for example, we‘re about a quarter-mile from the beach.  This is one of the only homes in this entire area that we think is going to be able to be fixed.  This was a home that it‘s got official seal on it that shows that it was built in 1890.

When you move farther down, the building with the green roof, that was the top of a gas station.  The roof is the only thing that survived, because the water came up just about to the roof.  That‘s about 22, 23 feet, the water level.  Everything below got washed away.

Beyond the gas station, they had spent literally a couple of million dollars working on a boardwalk.  All that‘s left of the boardwalk is the sort of wood planks that stick out into the water.  And by the way, Keith, that‘s where we were doing some reporting the very first night before.  And then that was all going to be underwater.

And then when you take this farther over, there was a pawnshop here.  One of the problems that they had with the looting, there was a pawnshop that had $250,000 worth of weapons.  Apparently some of them were looted.  So they had problems with that.  And then they had one of the oldest homes in Biloxi, (INAUDIBLE), what, 200-year-old Victorian home sat up sort of on that hill.  All you see now, of course, is the debris.  Nothing left of the Victorian home.

And by the way, what was so spooky, Keith, about this debris, and you see that everywhere there was water damage, anywhere in this sort of Gulf region of Mississippi, the debris is from clothes and garbage and what-not.  As the waters receded, a lot of the debris, of course, got stuck in the trees.  And Keith, 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, you know, pretty far, maybe a half a mile to a mile from the Gulf.

OLBERMANN:  As you well know, Governor Haley Barbour came back from an assessment tour of that county and two of the adjoining ones and used this comparison today to at least what his mental picture was of, if not the actual recorded films, of Hiroshima.  It‘s an extraordinary comparison.  He might get criticized for it.

Do you think he‘s been accurate in using that, at least in terms of imagery, if not a precise match?

SHUSTER:  Yes.  It‘s 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, Keith, 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.

And there are still concerns that because of the gas line 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.

And then the other part about it, Keith, is 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‘ advice to leave.

So there‘s not—it‘s just a huge logistical nightmare.  And I think to that extent, yes, I mean, it is, this is a—it is a catastrophe of almost biblical proportions, according to the people who live here.

OLBERMANN:  Last question, David, you mentioned evacuations before all this took place.  Has there been any figure, any estimate, as to what sort of percentage of the population left before all this happened?

SHUSTER:  Keith, based on talking to the mayor of Biloxi, he estimates that out of a sort of a population of 25,000 -- and then another 25,000 who used the casinos, the tourists, most of the tourists got out—he says of the 25,000, he estimates that probably about 30 percent, 7,000 or 8,000, left.  The rest all stayed.

And that‘s one of the reasons why they still have deep concerns that, when they start going through some of the debris, that they‘re going to find hundreds of people underneath it.  And they have a very difficult time accounting for a lot of people, again, because there‘s no cell phone service, no electricity, no sort of modern form of communication.

OLBERMANN:  Extraordinary.  Dave Shuster at Biloxi, Mississippi, doing extraordinary work for us on this remarkable story.  Great thanks, David.  Stay safe.

SHUSTER:  Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  As the enormity of the devastation sinks in with each new picture from the Gulf Coast, perhaps you are considering ways that you would like to help.  The president of the Red Cross will join us.

And from bad to worse, in New Orleans, the city dodged the direct hit from Katrina.  It woke up today to broken levees and more flooding, and tonight, emergency situations in some parishes.  Soon, mandatory evacuations.  The Crescent City to become officially a ghost city.

You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  As with all of us not actually on the scene, it appears the president of the United States also underestimated just how bad it was after Katrina eviscerated parts of the Gulf Coast.

Yesterday, he had asked Americans to pray.  Today, the message was a little more hands-on.  He will cut short his vacation and return to Washington to preside over the recovery effort by 4:00 p.m. tomorrow.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the premise that every American should perhaps feel obligated to do something, however small, in the wake of Katrina.

First the president.  He‘s back for one final night in Crawford this evening, following two days out West.  Today, spent commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of V-J Day, the World War II victory over Japan, that at the Naval Air Station in San Diego.

Mr. Bush will depart Waco tomorrow morning and arrive back at the White House in time to chair the late afternoon meeting of all agencies involved in the response.

One of them, the Navy, announcing tonight that four relief ships will be deployed tomorrow from Norfolk to go to the Gulf Coast to aid in humanitarian efforts there.

If you are wondering what you can do to help, time for us to call in a heavy hitter for some guidance on this.  Marty Evans is the president and CEO of the American Red Cross.  She join us now from Washington.

Ms. Evans, thanks for your time tonight.

MARTY EVANS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, AMERICAN RED CROSS:  Well, thank you.

OLBERMANN:  I presume your needs are unchanged from last night, when we discussed this with your spokesman, Patrick McCrummen, the sentiment to send goods or food is nice, but it‘s money that‘s needed, right?

EVANS:  That‘s exactly right.  Actually, we need three different things.  We need financial contributions.  They will be essential, and with the new level of damage that we‘ve appreciated today, particularly in the New Orleans area, money, financial donations, will be key to our ability to respond.

But we also need people to donate blood.  As you can imagine, with the widespread damage, donations, regular donors have been unable to make their appointments.  We‘re asking people in other parts of the country to make a lifesaving donation of blood.

And the third thing that we need, we need people to volunteer.  Our Red Cross chapters across the country have been mobilized.  They‘re all engaged in activities directly supporting this effort or contributing to it.  And so whether you live in Maine or California, your Red Cross chapter can put you to work and help make a difference.

OLBERMANN:  And that is not necessarily going to the Gulf Coast.  That is in Maine or California, correct?

EVANS:  Exactly right.  You know, through technology, we‘re able to have some of our phone banks that are handling some of the overload of phone calls answered in places like Denver.  We‘re also receiving financial contributions through white mail.  So we, you know, we still have the old-fashioned way.  We prefer people to go online and donate through RedCross.oras well.

OLBERMANN:  Let me ask something of your logistical expertise and experience here.  The news this afternoon about evacuating New Orleans, Grand Forks, North Dakota, was evacuated eight years ago.  There were bloods and fires there.  That was only 50,000 people, and it was a logistical dream to get it done.  And they got it done.  How would you go about evacuating conceivably hundred of thousands of people who are still in the New Orleans area, as appears to be imminently necessary?

EVANS:  Well, as you can see, the emergency responders, the military, the various state and local agencies have a full-court press on to evacuate.  Once people are evacuated, Red Cross shelters in the adjoining safe areas are being opened to receive those evacuees.

The most important thing is, we want people to get to shelters out of harm‘s way, and we‘re ready to take them in.  We also are opening shelters, you know, pretty far west.  People are evacuating, have evacuated to Texas.  We‘re opening more shelters there, for example.

OLBERMANN:  Unprecedented circumstances requiring unprecedented options.  Let me give you the last word on this.  Somebody is saying, no doubt, watching this, What I can afford to give here will not make any real difference.  How do you answer that understandable kind of reluctance?

EVANS:  I will tell you, we‘re receiving million-dollar donations.  We‘re receiving $5 donations.  It doesn‘t make a difference.  Any amount somebody can give can make a difference in the lives of these people, who are incredibly suffering.

OLBERMANN:  The president of the American Red Cross, Marty Evans.  Great thanks for your time, and good luck with all this.  I know it‘s going to be busy months ahead.

EVANS:  Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN:  If you‘d like to learn more about how to donate to the Red Cross, and to other organizations that need your support right now, log onto our Web site, countdown.msnbc.com, and look for the link that says simply “How to Help.”

Also tonight, the worst fears exceeded.  The bowl that is the city of New Orleans is slowly filling.  Water, 20 feet high in some places, leading to the next nightmare there, the first full mandatory evacuation of a major American city in living memory.

COUNTDOWN‘s coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  This time last night, everyone from the meteorologists to the mayor were saying the New Orleans area had dodged a bullet.  Now we know the awful truth, centuries-old fears that the city below sea level would fill with water coming true.  There are holes in at least two levees.

And with 989,000 customers in the dark in Louisiana and Mississippi alone, the area‘s main electrical grid will have to be rebuilt.  The race to save people from the rising waters continues, rescues workers refusing to rest when told to do so.  And now word that, in a nearly unprecedented move, New Orleans will be evacuated.  

COUNTDOWN‘s coverage of Hurricane Katrina continues.

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OLBERMANN:  And continuing our coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina along our Gulf Coast.

Earlier in this news hour, we metaphorically flew alongside a news reporter from Jackson, Mississippi, as his helicopter showed the indescribable, inconceivable damage to Gulfport and Biloxi and points east. 

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the devastation in New Orleans was delayed.  The storm seemed to have pulled its punch there.  And then, overnight, long after people had begun to return to the streets, the levees that separate the below-sea-level city from a canal connecting to Lake Pontchartrain to the north broke. 

By morning, 80 percent of New Orleans was underwater.  By sunrise, at least 300 people were atop their own homes awaiting aerial rescue. 

Our second aerial tour of the night, some of those rescues in real-time from the helicopter of WAPT of Jackson. 

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UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Dangerously close to these power lines as it lowers down on top of these rooftops, the victims covering their heads because the downwash is so intense from the Sikorsky and the power, dangling power lines.  You can just see the force of this aircraft‘s downwash.

And debris, you‘re going to see debris flying through the screen like missiles.  I‘m going to push in tight here.  You can see that grip that she‘s got on that basket, just holding on for life.  And, again, this family extremely calm, took very well through this rescue and maintaining calm.  It becomes very difficult for these rescuers to do their operations and get these people to safety when they‘re flailing about or panicking. 

I‘m going to shoot back in the cabin here, as you can see, some of the other family members standing by and waiting for their family member to come on board, which she‘s doing right now.  And she‘s got a look of relief like, whew, I‘m glad that‘s over with.  And she‘s inside the aircraft now and breathes a big sigh of relief. 

We‘re going to come around here to the north side of this rescue and show you in relationship again to where we are to downtown New Orleans.  Everything you see in the background behind this S-60 helicopter, completely flooded.  The widespread damage is absolutely amazing in this area.  It is just devastation everywhere you look.  You can see downtown New Orleans here.  You can see the Mississippi River.  You can see the delta that is keeping the river out has absolutely overflowed back and forth through this area. 

There is no delineation between the river and this neighborhood.  It looks like the neighborhood was built in the Mississippi River.  You can see just the flood damage behind him and some of the devastation that they‘re going to have to be dealing with.  This is one of many rescues that this crew is going to be doing today and probably throughout this week. 

Rescue basket going back down, just landing on the rooftop again for the rescue swimmer, and loading up the last of the victims.  As we slow down here, as we come around the east side, the oldest gentleman and the family has now been loaded into the basket, a big smile on his face, a nod and a thank you to the rescue swimmer on the rooftop.  And away he goes. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  That is New Orleans from above ground. 

Now, on the ground, our correspondent Steve Handelsman. 

Good evening, Steve. 

STEVE HANDELSMAN, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Keith, good evening. 

OLBERMANN:  Let‘s start with the breaks in the levees, the efforts to repair them, whether or not the threat that they pose is escalating.  Update us, please. 

HANDELSMAN:  It doesn‘t seem, Keith, that the water is rising, but communications are terrible now in the city of New Orleans. 

I spoke to a senior police official a short time ago.  He said most of the police radios don‘t function.  Fire, rescue radios have stopped functioning.  They can‘t charge their individual radios.  Cell towers that had backup batteries have gone dead.  And so, the best we can determine at this time, Keith.  is that the efforts to try to drop a lot of sand and even debris—they were thinking about using scrap cars to try to put them in these couple of big breaks in these couple of important levees—haven‘t borne fruit yet tonight.

I mean, it doesn‘t take a hydrologist to see, Keith, how hard it is to basically rebuild the dam while the water is rushing.  The levees are wide and they‘re heavy and they‘re made not to be breached.  Once they are breached, it‘s a worst-case scenario here in New Orleans.  And the water is not dropping yet. 

OLBERMANN:  Speaking of worst-case scenarios, we have not seen probably 140 years the actual evacuation of an American city.  And that was hinted at this afternoon broadly by the governor of Louisiana.  Are—is there any indication of preparation for that yet, time frame, any of the logistics being prepared for?  Or is this still just something that the governor said today? 

HANDELSMAN:  Well, let‘s just start with the smallest big piece of business, as—if you will.  They‘ve decided now, after resorting to the Superdome as their number one relief center, 10,000 New Orleaneans who did evacuate their homes, according to the requests of local officials, went to the Superdome and rode out the storm. 

Then the Superdome, Keith, became the destination of choice for the many, many New Orleaneans who hadn‘t evacuated, and then, this morning, woke up hoping that the worst had passed, yesterday being hurricane day here in New Orleans, about midday.  And they found that, at dawn this morning, they were being flooded big time and fast, inches, more water coming up, first floor, second floor.  The people that could get out on foot did.  Others were rescued by boat. 

And everybody you talked to was saying, we‘re going to the Superdome.  Now, over there tonight, the place is jammed up.  It is surrounded by water.  And officials say now, after relying on that building for the rescue and relief effort, that there‘s not enough food.  There‘s not enough water.  And there‘s not enough either medical personnel or medical supplies there to take care of the people who are there now and who are trying to get to the Superdome. 

So, they‘ve declared that they‘re trying to evacuate the evacuation center, if you will, Keith.  That will upset, irritate and worry an awful lot of New Orleaneans when they find out about it.  Remember, mass media is a flop here.  There‘s no electricity.  None of the TV stations can get out to people who can‘t plug in a TV.  Their batteries have long ago been exhausted.  So, most people have no idea what‘s going on here, many no doubt tonight, Keith, still headed to the Superdome. 

OLBERMANN:  And the premise that people were supposed to evacuate voluntarily, in anticipation of some sort of mandatory evacuation later in the week, that falls down on the simple premise, does it not, Steve, that most of the people who didn‘t evacuate, or at least many of them, did not have means to evacuate and still don‘t have means to evacuate.  They don‘t have private vehicles.

HANDELSMAN:  Right. 

OLBERMANN:  And there are no longer—there is no longer a northeast route out with, I-10 mostly in the water now, correct?

HANDELSMAN:  Right, right on both counts. 

If your goal is simply to get out and your house is not underwater,

and your vehicle has not been ruined, and you‘ve got the money to go to

public accommodation or you‘ve got relatives or you just want to get the

heck out—and you can certainly understand why people would feel that way

·         you can do it.  But many, many people in this town are low-income.  They don‘t have cars.  Or they‘ve got rattletraps that have been buried by floodwaters. 

They can‘t leave.  And that‘s a big problem in New Orleans tonight. 

OLBERMANN:  Those four Navy cruisers coming in from Norfolk tomorrow may be more valuable than anybody suspects right now.

Steve Handelsman, live for us in New Orleans, a great thanks.

And, good luck, Steve.  Thank you. 

HANDELSMAN:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  There continue to be stories of escape.  One man who has survived California‘s earthquakes was somewhat surprised that he survived this.  Escape from New Orleans.  We will talk to him next on COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Katrina‘s fury seen through the eyes of someone who has lived through its wrath and has gotten 260 miles away from it now, and Katrina also through the eyes of the camera, this dramatic day in pictures putting the scope of the disaster into perspective. 

COUNTDOWN continues after this. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Greater New Orleans, population 1.3 million, by various counts, the 30th, 31st or 35th biggest metropolis in the nation, and soon, in a matter of days, to be forcibly evacuated. 

Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, they will not have to tell Doug Whitlow twice.  He is a young New Orleans chef who made the decision to ride out the storm in his apartment with family in town for the weekend.  It was a decision he would regret almost immediately. 

Doug Whitlow joining us now by phone from the road heading west.  He has made it about 260 miles out, past the Texas border, near Beaumont. 

Thank you for your time, sir. 

DOUG WHITLOW, HURRICANE KATRINA SURVIVOR:  No problem, man. 

OLBERMANN:  How bad was the flooding as you left and how in fact did you get out of there? 

WHITLOW:  The flooding was—it was pretty bad. 

From my roof, I could see the water surrounding the Superdome.  And I saw it slowly leaking up toward Saint Charles, where I live.  And that was when I decided, OK, got to get out of here now.  And we didn‘t have a car.  So, I had to find out where I could get a car from.  And, luckily, I was able to get a hold of one and get out. 

OLBERMANN:  As to having decided to ride the thing out Sunday night and Monday morning, I understand you have a pretty good frame of reference for these things as a Californian.  You have been through earthquakes.  And anybody who has lived there, like you and me, has imagined the so-called big one of earthquakes. 

Compare your experience in a hurricane—a hurricane to an experience of being in an earthquake.

WHITLOW:  Well, in an earthquake, you don‘t know it is coming.  It just comes and shakes you up and destroys—you know, destroys stuff. 

And with the hurricane, I mean, it‘s coming.  You know it‘s coming, but when it comes, it‘s just like, it just lasts forever.  And it was just like, when you thought it was over, it just kept going.  It was just—it was the worst night of my entire life, hearing it like devil—hearing the devil bang on my window and try to get me.  But it didn‘t.  So, you know...

(CROSSTALK)

OLBERMANN:  How far did you have to travel?  When you decided to leave, when you finally got going in that car, how far was it until you were out of the city before it stopped looking like it was a disaster area? 

WHITLOW:  I would say about an hour and-a-half of driving at normal freeway speed until it looked somewhat normal. 

I think around—when we got to around Lafayette, that‘s when we could kind of tell that—Lafayette, Louisiana—that we could tell that it‘s not a disaster zone anymore. 

OLBERMANN:  What was the situation like before you left, particularly in regard to commodities, drinkable water, food?  What—Was there anything left? 

WHITLOW:  Nothing. 

Like, when we left my apartment, there was no water dripping out of the faucet.  We couldn‘t flush the toilet.  Luckily, we had filled the bathtub up with water before it all happened, so that we would have backup water. 

But, I mean, there was—there was nothing.  I mean, I was like talking.  I was like, you know, I have no job now.  I have no home.  I have nothing.  I just moved there a year-and-a-half ago and my life is nothing there now.  Luckily, I have a family that is supporting me in California.  So, I mean, I‘m lucky, you know?

OLBERMANN:  It may only seem relatively lucky, but, looking at these pictures and seeing what‘s ahead for New Orleans, with an evacuation in the next couple of days, I think you‘re right when you say you‘re lucky. 

Doug Whitlow, near Beaumont, Texas, on his way out of New Orleans, great thanks for your time.  And good luck. 

WHITLOW:  Thank you. 

OLBERMANN:  That the story in words.  Next, to wrap it up, the story in pictures. 

COUNTDOWN‘s coverage of Hurricane Katrina resumes after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  There are breaking developments reported in New Orleans at this hour, as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is continuing to be felt in new and frightening ways, reports of an inmate uprising at Orleans Parish Prison, unconfirmed at this hour, where prisoners have allegedly taken a deputy, his wife and his four children hostage, the deputy‘s mother telling the story on local television in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with unconfirmed reports of a news conference by officials of the prison to come later this evening. 

That leads nicely into our number one story on the COUNTDOWN.  When the facts overwhelm a story like this, the images sometimes explain more viscerally and more intelligibly.

Katrina, visually, day two. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All the entire north side of these buildings, the windows are completely blown out.  It looks like a bomb completely blew up this side of the building. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Businesses.  We‘re looking at a lot of freight vehicles from the port of Gulfport there that were stacked in the port area.  And they‘ve been washed all through the downtown area of Gulfport. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This area completely engulfed in fire right now.  There‘s absolutely no way for a fire department to get to this area.  So, more than likely, this will be completely destroyed.  We can show you the shots of some of these boats just piled up like toys.  Unbelievable carnage here. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Towards the coastline, if you remember the aquarium, that‘s the aquarium right there that was in the port of Gulfport. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Now we‘re coming in from the north towards downtown, the Superdome in sight.  And the roof is completely torn up. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You can see the water that has enveloped this area is now rushing out of an area here where one of the levees has broken and given way. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK.  Here it is.  That‘s—that was Highway 90.  And the railroad bridge, which is just to the north of this, is also destroyed. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘re scanning an area for any possible victims that may be on rooftops or stranded in their homes.  Right now, it looks to be a ghost town. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  You‘re looking at live pictures of a rescue operation going on right now in downtown New Orleans.  This family has been sitting on top of this house.  And the Coast Guard has been very carefully, very gingerly rescuing them from the roof of their building. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You know, some people, no matter what their situation, some people are really skittish about getting into a sling or a basket like that dangled from the bottom of a helicopter.  It‘s a pretty scary thing to do. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Can you believe this is happening in our city? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It is.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That this is something we see on TV that we just... 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We still have to remind ourselves, this is our town live right now. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This has been a terrifying day for a lot of people in New Orleans who decided to try to stick out the storm and clearly are regretting their decision and have been for sometime. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  As the water rose today in New Orleans, the looters struck.  Police moved quickly and, by afternoon, secured downtown.  But they could not stop the water from rising.  Officials said four levees had failed. 

Thousands of people fled on foot, pushing or carrying what little they could save.  For Danielle Price (ph) and her son, Reggie (ph), that was one drink. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That‘s all I got for him, just for him to drink.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Wildlife agents Billy Gomiliond (ph) and Ezekiel Talbot (ph) heading into the neighborhood by boat. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And we will try to go kind of fast. 

That is it? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Anyone else in there with you? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There you go.   

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There you go. 

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re all right.  You‘re all right.  Relax. 

Relax.  Ain‘t nothing going to happen to you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘re going to be all right. 

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I got my truck right here.  That‘s my truck right under the water right here.  That‘s mind right here. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What is it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s my truck, the Chevy truck under the water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Joey (ph) walked down there.  And there was no houses left.  He said, nothing.  He said their cars were there, but there‘s no houses. 

ERIC KORDECK,  RESIDENT OF BILOXI:  There‘s a couple of people that were trying to help other people and actually probably got knocked out and drowned.  And I know Mr. Garcia (ph) was one of the people that died.  He was a really nice old man.  And I hate to hear that. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It is really sad, as people are starting to make their way back into the community here and take a look at what‘s left of their homes and businesses. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What‘s behind here?  I mean, what we see right behind you is not even your house.  It‘s somebody else‘s, correct? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.  That‘s all of these houses over here. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s all out of tune, man.  It won‘t play right. 

Right there, this is my walkway and my front stairs.  And that‘s all, all that is left. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What‘s going through your mind? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Good thing I wasn‘t in the house.  That‘s about it. 

It‘s out of tune.  Sorry. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  When you see it on TV with everybody else, you feel bad for them, you know?  But then, when it hits your own home, too, it‘s like you don‘t know what to say then.  You‘re just lost for words. 

GOV. HALEY BARBOUR ®, MISSISSIPPI:  The destruction, just more than you can imagine. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  More than 100 dead in Mississippi, two each in Alabama and Louisiana.  The numbers, tragically, will continue to rise. 

That‘s COUNTDOWN.  I‘m Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck. 

Our coverage of Hurricane Katrina continues with “RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT” from Aruba. 

Good evening, Rita.

RITA COSBY, HOST, “RITA COSBY: LIVE & DIRECT”:  Good evening, Keith. 

Thanks so much.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

END   

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS  RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

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