updated 8/31/2005 5:00:27 PM ET 2005-08-31T21:00:27

Guest: Paula Eisner, Karen Troyer Caraway, Troy King, James Walker, Jeff Piotrowski, Mary Landrieu, Peter Teahen, George Hood

RITA COSBY, HOST:  An unbelievable day throughout the hurricane-ravaged South.  Katrina‘s destruction is now starting to unfold before our very eyes.  Good evening, everybody.  I‘m Rita Cosby coming to you LIVE AND DIRECT from Aruba, as you just heard from Keith, where we are tracking down some big leads in the Natalee Holloway investigation.

But once again, clearly, all eyes are on the catastrophe on America‘s Gulf Coast.  The devastation from Hurricane Katrina is far worse than originally thought.  Hundreds are now feared dead.  And tonight, people who rode out the hurricane in New Orleans are now being told to get out because conditions there are getting worse by the minute.  Eighty percent of New Orleans is under water at this hour.  We‘ve seen some amazing rescues of people from their rooftops, their homes surrounded by black water.

Perhaps the hardest hit state is Mississippi, as many as 100 people killed so far, and that will likely rise as rescuers dig through the rubble in Biloxi, Mississippi.  Hundreds could be trapped under water.  Where it is dry, rescuers are blocked by debris in the road.  At least 800,000 people are without power tonight.  Almost as many are in the dark in Alabama.  As many as 40 counties there have damage, and so far, two people are reported dead.

We have got you covered from the air and also from the ground.  We begin with all the overwhelming devastation and especially the looting in New Orleans.  Here‘s NBC‘s Don Teague.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DON TEAGUE, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  I haven‘t seen any instances where there was looting going on and there were authorities of any kind standing by, watching it.  I can tell you that while it‘s their intention to crack down and not allow any looting—in fact, I know the governor said that they would be ruthless in going after it—you have to pick and choose when you have lives on the line to be saved and where you put your efforts.

I‘ll give an example.  We were driving through an area earlier today in Kenner, and we rolled up on a pawn shop that was on fire.  It had just started and it was really starting to go.  An interesting side note, pawn shops are full of guns, so bullets were flying everywhere from the ammunition inside being popped off by this fire.

Well, the—we called the police, called the fire department to come out here and put out the fire.  It took them a while to respond, not because they‘re not interested in putting out a fire but because they‘ve got so many problems out here, so many people in need.  They did, in fact, come and start to work on that fire, but it took a while.

In the meantime, one of the people who was around that area told me that that fire was started by looters who had been in that building just before we arrived and may have set the fire to sort of cover their tracks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY:  And that was Don Teague reporting.

And some of the most incredible pictures have come, actually, from the air.  And one of the only ways to get around right now is by helicopter.  NBC correspondent Kerry Sanders took to the skies, and here‘s his amazing account of what he saw in and around New Orleans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KERRY SANDERS, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  There you can see what 145-mile-per-hour sustained winds does.  There‘s so little left.  Completely destroyed.  In some cases, the houses are not just under water, they‘ve actually floated off their foundations, and you can see they‘ve moved across the street and yet banged into other houses.  This is horrible.

We were told that the NBC station had some employees who rode the hurricane out at this location, and they‘ve had no contact with them at all.

Not exactly sure what‘s setting off these fires.  It could be so many different things.  But this is just nothing anybody‘s ever going to return to salvage anything.  But these fires are just going to make this place dangerous for a very long time to come.

It‘s gone.  Everything‘s gone.  Inside that rubble, you see not only the dreams but lifetimes that people had, family photographs, children‘s rooms, Little League awards, the types of things that people keep in their homes, wedding albums.  It‘s all gone.

Eighty percent of the city was evacuated, but that means 20 percent of the city still has residents.  And those who weathered the storm in their houses and survived are inside these homes, and it will take some time for them to get out of there.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY:  And that was Kerry Sanders earlier today, and Kerry joins us now on the phone.  Kerry, I understand you‘re up in the helicopter.  What are you seeing now?

SANDERS:  Well, I‘m in a helicopter.  It‘s getting dark.  There‘s very few lights, as you can imagine, with no electricity.  The problem is that there are still so many people who are trapped (INAUDIBLE) who cannot get out.  Basically, their homes are (INAUDIBLE)  So they‘re not going to be (INAUDIBLE) The mayor of New Orleans says the primary responsibility right now is to rescue (INAUDIBLE) It‘s rather hard to (INAUDIBLE)

COSBY:  And everybody, that is Kerry Sanders.  As you can tell from the audio, it‘s a little bad because he is up in the chopper, we understand, over New Orleans, which, of course, is just completely devastated, so much water there.  And understandably, given the conditions, his audio is going in and out.  We‘re going to probably try get Kerry back on the phone a little bit later on in the show.

And of course, for the families that never left New Orleans, another frightening night is ahead for them.  Joining me now are Paula Eisner, who‘s in Houston.  And also on the phone, her brother, John, who‘s at a hospital.  He‘s a hospital worker at Charity Medical Center in downtown New Orleans.  John has been trapped at the hospital for three days.

John, can we hear you?  I know you‘re on the phone there, the only hard line in the hospital.

JOHN, TRAPPED IN NEW ORLEANS HOSPITAL:  Yes, we‘re—I‘m here.

COSBY:  John—first of all, Paula, now that you‘re getting a chance to hear your brother, how does it feel to hear him in the thick of all this?

PAULA EISNER, BROTHER TRAPPED IN NEW ORLEANS HOSPITAL:  Well, it‘s great to hear that he‘s all right, I‘m assuming that better than most people who are stuck in their homes.

COSBY:  You bet.  And John, tell us about the conditions at the hospital.  I understand just extensive flooding there.

JOHN:  Well, you know, we‘re surrounded by water here, and we have no power.  We‘re in the dark.  You know, we have patients in this hospital.  Everybody is doing everything they can.  And it‘s a very bad situation. 

You know, we have absolutely no power, no generator, no nothing, so...

COSBY:  Where are the patients, John?  Did they have to be moved upstairs because of the flooding?  And how many patients or employees are in the hospital?

JOHN:  There‘s some patients on several different levels in this hospital.  You know, you have patients on the 12th floor, you have patients on the 7th floor, 6th floor, 4th floor, and they all have to be evacuated.  And that‘s something that we were going to start doing today, but you know, so far, nothing‘s happened.

COSBY:  What are you doing in terms of the evacuation, John?  What‘s happening there?

JOHN:  Well, you know, we‘re hoping that we can evacuate people to—possibly to be helevaced from the platform that they have over by the Superdome.  And I imagine that they‘re going to bring the Army trucks in here to do that, to move us, you know, the amphibious trucks because, I mean, we have about five, six feet of water out there.  It‘s not receding.

COSBY:  John, how stunning is it to you, you know, to see outside what you‘re looking at?

JOHN:  I wasn‘t expecting this.  This hit us all of a sudden.  You know, I came in here 7:00 o‘clock in the morning Sunday.  You know, by 2:00 o‘clock in the morning Monday morning, you know, it started—the wind started, and it kept up for 12 hours.  And you know—and now New Orleans is just destroyed.  I mean, you know, we lost power, like, at 5:00...

COSBY:  Hey, Paula...

JOHN:  I‘m sorry.  We lost power, like...

COSBY:  Go ahead, John.

JOHN:  We lost power about 5:00 in the morning on Monday.  You know, the wind started, what, about 2:00, so we‘ve been out of power since 5:00 o‘clock Monday morning.  It‘s terrible.

COSBY:  Well, that is a long time.  Paula, I bet you were so worried about your brother and relieved to hear his voice and hear at least that he‘s safe and sound.

EISNER:  Yes, I am.  And I also heard that they‘ve had to manually ventilate their patients.  They have patients that are kept alive with ventilators, and I know that‘s a problem.

COSBY:  Yes, that is incredible.  And Paula, you also have another relative, an 85-year-old relative.  Tell me about that person.

EISNER:  Yes.  His name is Edward Early (ph).  He is the father of my sister-in-law.  My other brother, Eric (ph), evacuated on Sunday with his wife.  She tried to convince her father to come.  He‘s 85 years old.  But he‘s typical of most New Orleaneans.  He‘s been through Betsy.  He said he was going to ride it out, and he did, but he‘s stranded.  He‘s 85 years old.  He‘s—now we heard he‘s broken his collarbone through the storm.  He tripped and fell.

And he has no electricity.  He‘s on limited food and water.  Although I know that they‘re trying to get to these people, we‘re just one of the many stories.  We‘re just sick we that couldn‘t get him out of there.  And it‘s just such a dangerous situation.

COSBY:  You bet.  And Paula, just so you know, we have been trying to locate him on the phone.  We‘ve been unable to, at this point.  We will keep doing that, and we‘ll, of course, keep you and your family in our prayers.  And John, stay safe there in the hospital, as well.  Thank you both very much.

EISNER:  Thank you.

COSBY:  And the news is unfortunately even more grim at another New Orleans hospital tonight.  Flood waters are rising so fast that they have lost all life support capabilities.  Joining us now on the phone is Karen Troyer Caraway.  She‘s the vice president of Tulane University Hospital.

Life support capabilities?  That is dire straits, Karen.

KAREN TROYER CARAWAY, TULANE UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL:  Yes, it is.  The water continues to rise here.  We lost our second back-up generator power about 45 minutes ago.  The entire hospital is in the dark.  We are on flashlight patrol.

We do have a number of portable generators stationed in various nursing units throughout the hospital, and actually, our staff have been so creative in order to meet our patients‘ needs that we‘re siphoning gasoline out of our cars in the parking garage in order to gas up the portable generators.

We‘ve got two patients that are on heart pumps, and we got them very quickly hooked up to a portable generator, and their hearts are continuing to pump at this time.

Now, we are medevacing our patients.  HCA, which is our corporate office in Nashville, has been able to get us 20 helicopters.  We‘ve got a helicopter landing on the roof of our garage every 20 minutes.  They‘re bringing us food, water, supplies and medicine on the inbound trips, and they‘re taking patients, one, two at a time, along with some of our staff.

So far, it‘s—we‘ve been able to evacuate about 60 patients.  Again, our staff rise to the occasion, and we got some portable lights on the roof of the garage with a portable generator, so we‘re going to medevac out all night long.

COSBY:  All right.  Well, Karen, we‘re going to be keeping an eye closely.  Stay in touch with us if we can help you with anything.  And I understand, just for everybody watching at home, Karen‘s hospital is so bad that they physically had to move people by hand, patients by hand, up several flights of stairs.  So hats off to you and all the good work that all of you folks are doing.

Unfortunately, the scene is just as bad, if not worse, in Mississippi.  Our affiliate, WLVT, sent its chopper over the devastation zone, and what they captured is what only could be described as heart-breaking.

Here are some of the stunning images from pilot reporter Coyt Bailey.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COYT BAILEY, WLVT-TV (voice-over):  Gulfport, the water tower remains intact, but not much else did.

About a half mile in from the beach, everything has been leveled, flat, destroyed.  There just aren‘t really any structures standing anymore.

You can see where the storm surge came up and deposited all this debris.

We‘re looking at a lot of freights, vehicles.  They‘ve been washed all through the downtown area.

These are some of the National Guard troops that are trying to keep looters down, looking for people who need help.

The bridge at highway 90 was completely destroyed, 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‘s going to be a long, long process.  And as you can see, some of the barges from the port area were just washed inland.

The casinos, as you know, were floating on the water and were actually picked up and deposited on top of homes and businesses.

This is the back end of the Hard Rock Casino.  As you can see, it has just fallen off into the water now.  One of the casinos was dropped literally on top of the Holiday Inn, just absolutely crushing it.

We‘re proceeding to the east along the beach here.  These are all the old homes that were along the beach, many of them just gone, just—you can see foundations, and complete devastation through this area.  If you remember the aquarium, that‘s the aquarium right there that was in the port of Gulfport.  It‘s been completely destroyed.

This is downtown Biloxi here.  As you can see, this area has just suffered a catastrophic amount of damage.  It‘s just hard to imagine anything being much worse than this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY:  And many of the dead in Biloxi either didn‘t want to leave or couldn‘t afford to leave at all.

MSNBC‘s David Shuster rode out the storm.  He‘s there in Biloxi. 

David, it is incredible when we look at these images.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, Rita.  It‘s just—I mean, you can‘t even fathom—I mean, just the widespread damage, the extent of this catastrophe.  I mean, you walk up to a house and see a house completely destroyed.  You hear this incredible story about the person who survived by crawling onto the roof.  You hear the story about the neighbor who didn‘t survive because she was elderly and couldn‘t get up to the roof.

And it‘s like that everywhere.  Everywhere you point the camera, every street you walk down, there are a million stories, and it‘s just so widespread.  And then when you talk about, OK, issues with the logistics.  I mean, what about all the people who want to come in and help?  Well, where do they stay?  Because so many people are essentially refugees and took up all the hotels outside of town anyway, and none of those hotels have power or electricity or working toilets or water.

And then on top of that, you have just a huge issue as far as trying to bring in supplies.  You‘ve got clear so many roads and get debris off the roads.  I mean, it‘s just one nightmare after the other.  And here we are now, a day-and-a-half after the hurricane, and the people who are here, of course, they have no water, no electricity.  So they‘re having to essentially use their own devices, as far as their food and their waste and whatnot.  And then you start running into all those problems in a couple of days.  And it‘s just—it‘s just unbelievable how widespread the problem is.

COSBY:  And David, get back to us in the show if there‘s any more updates from there.  Incredible scenes.  Thank you very much.

And still ahead tonight, everybody...

SHUSTER:  We will.

COSBY:  ... still our wall-to-wall coverage from the calm after the storm to the chaos on the streets, shocking video as looters run wild.  Will disaster areas become war zones?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Look at the wave coming!  I‘m at the Post Office, downtown Gulfport.  Here comes (INAUDIBLE) surge!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  And the storm surge comes ashore, and we‘ve got the incredible pictures that you‘ll only see here LIVE AND DIRECT.  I‘ll ask this storm chaser why he ran to the storm while everyone else ran away from it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (INAUDIBLE) My husband‘s going back there to see what he can find.  Everything‘s destroyed.  We just don‘t know what we‘re going to do!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  I‘ve put not only myself at jeopardy, but my grandchildren and my daughter because they wouldn‘t leave, because I wouldn‘t leave.  And I‘ll never do that again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  Where there is devastation, there is also desperation tonight.  In cities like New Orleans and Biloxi, the looting is being described as out of control, even being compared to Baghdad after the fall of Saddam.  Alabama is warning looters and price-gougers that they will end up in the slammer.

We‘re joined now by Alabama‘s attorney general, Troy King, and the also the state‘s homeland security director, James Walker.

Attorney General, you must just be livid.  I think it‘s so horrible.  These people are first abused and just horrified by what they experienced from Mother Nature, and then to have people come in and loot—aren‘t you just disgusted when you hear about this?

TROY KING, ALABAMA ATTORNEY GENERAL:  I‘m disgusted.  I was down on the coast today, and what I witnessed was indescribable destruction.  And anybody who would come in following that kind of destruction and prey upon our people and attempt to take that which they left behind as they have—as they have been good, law-abiding citizens and followed evacuation orders, it is—it‘s despicable that they would do it.  But we are prepared—local law enforcement is engaged, and we are prepared to hold them to full account if they should do it in Alabama.

JAMES WALKER, ALABAMA HOMELAND SECURITY DIR.:  The governor of Alabama, Bob Riley...

COSBY:  And in fact...

WALKER:  The governor of Alabama...

(CROSSTALK)

COSBY:  Let me interrupt you because—I got to interrupt you because we‘re looking at some pictures.  I just want to describe it for our viewers.  We‘re told that we got some pictures.  And on the other side of the screen, everybody, these pictures are actually from a Wal-Mart in Alabama.  And you can see people just carting stuff off.  You‘re also seeing people running to the back of stores.

Mr. Walker, you just must be astounded when you see people caught on tape without any regard.  They‘re just going for it and taking whatever‘s there.

WALKER:  Well, I can promise you we‘re not going to tolerate looters in the state of Alabama.  We‘ve only received some sporadic instances where people are taking advantage of those that are disenfranchised and down on their luck, and it‘s just not going to be tolerated here in Alabama.  And I can promise you that the gentleman to the right of me will prosecute each and every one that is apprehended to the full extent of the law.

COSBY:  And Mr. King, you know, as we‘re looking—we‘re looking at pictures of people literally carting stuff off in a Wal-Mart.  I mean, this is incredible.  It looks like they‘re shopping, but they‘re not shopping.  They‘re not paying for anything.  What‘s going to happen to these people, Mr. King?

KING:  Well, Rita, you have to keep in mind, the resources of law enforcement are stretched incredibly thin.  We have a storm that has disrupted the entire Gulf Coast of the state of Alabama.  We have deployed the National Guard.  We have law enforcement that are working 12-hour shifts.  We have people who are not sleeping in order to respond to so many needs all across the Gulf Coast.  As we apprehend them—we put in place dusk-until-dawn curfews to allow us to apprehend those who are out, up to no good.  And as they are apprehended, they will be punished to the fullest extent of the law, as will price-gougers in this state.

WALKER:  Rita, we have as many officers as we can from the Department of Public Safety Department deployed to Mobile, along with their local contingent of law enforcement.  Plus, we‘ve put over 450 National Guardsmen, an infantry battalion, on the ground in Mobile in Humvees, traveling around the coastal region to prevent any looting from happening.

COSBY:  But you say that—and let‘s go—we‘re looking at the pictures again.  Mr. Walker, I don‘t even know if you can see this, but it looks like they‘re shopping.  There‘s one law enforcement official here, and she‘s literally getting in a fight with a looter.  Isn‘t law enforcement just overwhelmed, as you‘re pointing out?  She‘s grabbing the shirt of a guy...

(CROSSTALK)

COSBY:  ... and they‘re literally fighting.

WALKER:  I‘m a little surprised by this because we‘ve not experienced a lot of looting in the past in Alabama.  We take care of one another when we‘re down.  And so this is rather alarming for us, and I can promise you that it will not be tolerated in the state of Alabama.

COSBY:  How disappointing is it to you, Mr. Walker, that so quickly,

Mr. Walker, that they‘re doing this?  I mean, they‘re not waiting.  This is

·         you know, the worst has just hit a few hours ago, and people are already taking advantage of others.  This is horrible.

WALKER:  It‘s—you know, it‘s very disturbing.  But you know, there are always going to be a handful of people that will be looking for a reason to do bad things, to take advantage of people that are down on their luck, and that‘s just not something that the governor of Alabama, Bob Rile, is going to tolerate, nor will the attorney general sitting next to me.

COSBY:  And Mr. Attorney General, as we‘re looking again, I just want to let people know this video just came in.  This is a Wal-Mart.  These are not shoppers, everybody.  you may think that they‘re shopping and in a rush to get out of the store.  They‘re actually—we‘re told they are stealing, that these are people actually looting in stores.  Also, we showed you earlier at the back of the store, going in.  This is in New Orleans, we‘re told, literally people going in the store, taking items in the store, of course, that are not theirs.

Mr. Attorney General, where are some of the worst form, not in—not just the looting, but price-gouging tonight?  And what‘s your message to price-gougers?

KING:  The message to price-gougers in Alabama is clear: Do so at your peril.  Alabama has a law that prevents you from profiteering off this storm.  Rita, we can‘t—we can‘t undo the damage that was inflicted by the storm, but we will not tolerate our people inflicting further damage upon each other.  We will not tolerate them inflicting it upon the guests in our state who have fled the ravages of this storm to Alabama.  We are serious about price-gouging.

I have spent my day in meetings with local law enforcement, and I can tell you that they are responding to the challenge very, very well.  You asked about the timing.  They have to be looting now because as we become more and more organized, as more assets are deployed, there simply will—they simply will have a handle on these situations, and it will not occur in Alabama.

If you‘ve got pictures that show it now, I‘m surprised and I‘m disappointed, but I can tell you that law enforcement is ready and they are equipped and they are responding to those who would loot, to those who would price-gouge.  And we will bring to bear the fullest punishments that the law allows on them.

WALKER:  Let me just say, Rita, that...

COSBY:  All right...

WALKER:  ... if you hear my voice...

COSBY:  Yes, real quickly, if you could.  Real quick.

WALKER:  ... and you are attempting to take advantage of the citizens of Alabama either by profit or by stealing, this is not the state where you want to come because we will—we will catch you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.

COSBY:  All right, both of you, gentlemen, thank you very much.  And we can show those pictures again.  I just think these are incredible pictures.  These are pictures from a Wal-Mart in Alabama tonight.  Again, people, these are not shoppers.  We‘re told these are people who are looting.  And we‘ll have more of that later on in the show.

Actually, we‘re told—forgive me—this is in New Orleans, people loading up, not shopping, people actually looting in the stores, getting in within hours of this disaster.

And still ahead, everybody, a lot more ahead tonight.  Another major concern this evening, disease.  From the water to what to eat, Katrina‘s impact is far from over.  And a storm chaser tells me his amazing story of how he got these unbelievable pictures that you‘re looking at here as Katrina roared ashore.  That‘s ahead on LIVE AND DIRECT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  And that was Mississippi Governor Haley Barber.  That state‘s gulf coast is in shambles.  As we‘ve told you, there are already more than 100 people dead in the Biloxi-Gulfport area.  And that number is going up.  But how high?

NBC‘s Ron Mott is live tonight in Gulfport.  Ron, what are you seeing from there?  It‘s incredible.  I‘m looking behind you.  This is amazing, the damage. 

RON MOTT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, I mean, and, you know, Rita, I left here about 10 hours ago to go over to Biloxi.  I thought this was some of the worst damage left behind by Hurricane Katrina, but the damage over in Biloxi is just—really, it‘s incredible.  It‘s hard to put into words just the kind of damage that we saw over there today. 

Behind me, this is the business district here in Gulfport.  You can see that there‘s a lot of debris on the streets here.  Officials have a lot of work to do here. 

We just met a couple of folks here from Florida, some search-and-rescue folks from Florida here.  They‘re going building-to-building looking for victims, unfortunately. 

Now, fortunately, we think that, because these were business, that a lot of folks were not occupying them during this storm.  A lot of folks did come back to check on their—what‘s left of their businesses earlier today. 

We did see some encouraging signs earlier in the evening.  There are some earth movers now in place trying to move some of this debris out so that the organization can begin to clean this all up.

And just to put it all in perspective, you know, there‘s a sense—there‘s an urgency you want things to get back to normal very quickly.  I spent most of the day in Biloxi, came back here, and you‘re starting to look for little signs of progress. 

Well, there were two streets where they‘ve opened it up so that the traffic could flow back-and-forth.  And so I consider that a pretty monumental thing.  It may be small to a lot of people around here, but the process to get this area back to normal will be a very intense one. 

You can probably hear there‘s some officials walking off to the side.  They‘re, again, checking for victims here.  When we left here earlier today, there were five confirmed dead.  That number certainly has probably increased. 

Governor Barbour mobilized the National Guard, some 1,600 National Guard soldiers, to the hard-hit areas here along the Gulf.  We certainly have seen their presence here.  But in days going forward, it‘s just a matter of getting one foot ahead of the other, in terms of trying to put this all back together.

But folks have a lot of work ahead of them.  But their spirit, so far, seems to be high—Rita? 

COSBY:  That‘s good to hear.  It does sound like a lot of work, unfortunately. 

Scenes of devastation along the Gulf Coast are simply gut-wrenching.  Tonight, a look at the strength of Hurricane Katrina from Gulfport, Mississippi. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF PIOTROWSKI, HURRICANE CHASER:  ... waves coming.  I‘m at the post office in downtown Gulfport.  Here comes the power surge.  Everything is starting to float, three feet deep over there. 

I‘m about to move.  I‘m about to leave.  Oh my gosh, look at the storm surge. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  This incredible video was shot by Jeff Piotrowski.  He‘s one of eight people in the field shooting images of Katrina‘s wrath for Baron Services.  He is LIVE & DIRECT tonight from Birmingham, Alabama. 

Jeff, that is just chilling, when we hear what you just went through. 

What was it like to experience it firsthand? 

PIOTROWSKI:  Well, Rita, it was absolutely incredible to see the impact of a Cat-5, Cat-4 hitting the coastline with a tremendous storm surge coming along the coast.  It was just incredible. 

And one thing right at the top here I want to talk about is our

heartfelt condolences go out to all the people along the coastline and

inland, as well, that were affected by Hurricane Katrina.  It‘s absolutely

·         tremendous damage along the Gulf Coast. 

COSBY:  Yes, it certainly did.  You know, and, Jeff, as we look at these pictures, and we still hear you in background, it is amazing what you experienced.  Tell me about it.  At one point, I understand, the water was coming up along both sides of you? 

PIOTROWSKI:  Yes, the winds were so high here in Gulfport, I actually took shelter in the post office.  The doors were blowing open.  I took shelter in a post office for about a minute and a half. 

In that one minute, the storm surge went from no water outside the doors to literally coming up on the steps.  So I took refuge in the post office for a few minutes, left the post office, continued north out of Gulfport, and took shelter on the north side of town, as this tremendous hurricane ravaged the area. 

COSBY:  And, Jeff, if you can hang on, because I want to play it again.  It is just amazing when you‘re in the thick of it.  Let‘s listen, if we could, everybody.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PIOTROWSKI:  ... downtown Gulfport.  It is coming inland.  This is the steps of the post office.  Oh, lord.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  Jeff, this is amazing.  How fast were the winds whipping at that point? 

PIOTROWSKI:  I would estimate the winds were at about 100 to 120 miles an hour at that location.  And one of the things, you know, that made me—

I was able to get in there safely and get out—is I had a product called Mobile Threat Net, which is a product that our company manufactures in Huntsville, Alabama, at Baron Services.

And one of the things is, I used that technology and was actually getting radar data right in my vehicle live as Hurricane Katrina was making landfall.  And one of the things that needs to be recognized is that, during a hurricane, five of the (INAUDIBLE) along the Gulf Coast failed and went down because of communications fell along the coast. 

And when that happened, we stepped in there and had three stations, KSLA in Shreveport, KATC in Lafayette, and WAFF in Huntsville, turn on their private radar so that stations along the coastline could see live radar as Hurricane Katrina made landfall. 

One of the things I can tell from you being down there along the coastline from New Orleans and to Biloxi on into Gulfport, it‘s tremendous damage.  They need help.  We‘ve got fire and rescue. 

There‘s massive aid pouring in there.  The police are doing a great job coordinating.  I think the National Guard are there.  The fire and rescue are already on the scene helping people, the Coast Guard. 

I drove back from Mobile today up to Birmingham this evening.  And I can tell you, there is massive aid.  I saw hundreds of vehicles heading south, utility trucks.

The American Red Cross has many units on the way down there.  So there was aid coming down there.  One of other problems is that most people cannot get a hold of loved ones down there, either by phone or by cell phone. 

There‘s no communications along the Gulf Coast.  So just hang on a few more days, and you should hear from your loved ones soon.  But there‘s no phone communication infrastructure down there. 

COSBY:  No, good advice.  And thank you for sharing these images.  And thanks for bringing some comfort to some folks down there, too.  We appreciate it. 

And we turn now—as you point out, you were in Alabama, Jeff.  We‘re going to go now to Alabama where floodwaters are now receding, but more than 600,000 homes and businesses are in the dark at this hour. 

NBC‘s Ron Blome is in Mobile right now.  You obviously have some power, but a lot of people there do not, Ron.

RON BLOME, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, that‘s true.  But I‘ve seen just a huge number of power trucks flowing in.  In fact, they‘re using the stadium here as a staging ground. 

And they‘re really flowing in and starting—in fact, power at our hotel just came back on just a few minutes ago.  So they‘re starting to get some of the circuits—this is underground power, some of the easiest stuff. 

But what mobile got was a mud bath downtown over about a 20-square block area, as the storm surge came up 12 feet.  The difference between here and Biloxi, though, is that we sit on higher ground, so it wasn‘t as devastating. 

But in communities like Bartahatchie and over across the bay at Fairhope, the venerable old Grand Hotel, there was four to six feet of water in homes at places like that.  So there is a lot of destruction and a lot of clean-up.

One of the serious things that happened here was a drilling rig that was under construction at one of the shipyards, blew out of the shipyard, blew up the river, and slammed into the U.S. Highway 98 bridge. 

It was held there by some tug boats and secured.  And they don‘t think it did a lot of damage.  Tomorrow, two of the four lanes will open, and they‘ll get traffic flowing there again tomorrow.

But no casualties, no deaths, no injuries in Mobile, the greater mobile area.  Inconvenienced, sure, for another week or two while they get the power on, but everyone is looking to the west down along the Gulf Coast and thinking it happened again, another Camille-type storm.  And thank goodness that Mobile was spared. 

That‘s their thoughts here tonight.  And, of course, their prayers are down the coast—Rita? 

COSBY:  No doubt, Ron.  Thank you very much.

And Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, who‘s seen the sad sight that is Louisiana right now, from New Orleans to Metairie and also to Baton Rouge, most of the state is a complete mess and much worse.  She joins me now LIVE & DIRECT from Baton Rouge.

Senator, first of all, what did you see today? 

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA:  Rita, this is a storm of unprecedented disaster and a situation that really, frankly, is very hard to describe.  But one of the things I really want to get across is this whole region has been impacted. 

Orleans parish, Jefferson parish, St. Tammany, Plaquemines parish, St.  Bernard, and St. Charles are the parishes hardest hit, along with lower Lafourche and Terrebonne. 

The reason I say that is the national news keeps focusing on Orleans.  So many people in the region want to know that we know that they‘re hurt, as well.  And I want to communicate that, yes, we do.

There are parishes of 70,000 people, St. Bernard, for instance, that are totally under water.  That means the entire parish, most of the houses, are under water.  St. Charles parish is 50,000.  They‘ve got a lot of flooding there.  St. Tammany is almost 200,000. 

So one thing I want to communicate is the magnitude of the problem.  Today alone, we‘re estimating roughly that 3,000 people were rescued, either out of their attics, off their roofs.  And it‘s just a rescue operation that‘s still under way, even as it is dark now in south Louisiana and Mississippi. 

COSBY:  And, you know, Senator, that is incredible.  And good work on that part.

On flip side, we just saw a lot of cars sort of along the highway.  The big story, of course, in New Orleans tonight, the levee breaking.  Two levies actually broke.  People have to get out. 

How is that evacuation working?  And I would imagine that‘s a massive task. 

LANDRIEU:  Well, as you know, there were mandatory evacuations in place for many of the parishes and counties.  And luckily, and on the good work of the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, and Governor Kathleen Blanco, the city was under mandatory evacuation. 

Thousands and thousands, perhaps close to a million people, evacuated the area.  Thank goodness, because now we‘re basically dealing with, you know, tens of thousands that were either too sick to leave, too old to leave, too feeble to leave, or just didn‘t leave.

And it is exacerbated by the fact that, after the storm passed, the levee system was compromised in several, you know, significant places, and so water began pouring into the city.  So even after the storm was over, the water wasn‘t that high, the levees have broken. 

Now the corps of engineers...

(CROSSTALK)

COSBY:  Now, Senator, I understand also—I understand you‘re also asking people—are some people having to leave for several weeks, like almost up to a month? 

LANDRIEU:  Rita, it is impossible to describe to you the damage and the fact that people may be out of their homes for months, school systems, I don‘t know how the St. Bernard parish school system will operate for months. 

I mean, it is—I can‘t explain the devastation.  And so we just ask everyone for their prayers, their support.  We understand the president, President Bush, will be here on Friday.  We‘re extremely grateful to the whole nation for their prayers and their support, their help and their aid. 

And right now, you can understand, if you‘ve been through these things, that our focus is on saving lives, rescuing people.  That is under way as we speak continuously.  And then we‘ll be able to basically shelter people, et cetera. 

So our local elected officials, some of them haven‘t slept for two days.  I‘ve visited with some of them.  The communication systems are difficult.  It truly is—we have FEMA on the ground and Red Cross.  We thank them so much for their efforts. 

COSBY:  You bet.  And you just mentioned—I know President Bush is rushing back from his vacation in Washington.  You did say he‘s going to be there on Friday.  So hopefully that‘ll bring some comfort to some of the residents there, Senator. 

LANDRIEU:  Well, it‘s going to take President Bush‘s visit and, of course, so much more to bring comfort to people.  People are shaken.  They are extremely upset.  There are places that have never had water.  These levees breaking is shattering to people. 

We‘ve tried to explain how low-lying this area is and how important our levee system is, and now I think people can see what we‘re saying.  But right now, our governor (INAUDIBLE) and the governor of Mississippi are concentrating on saving lives of people at risk. 

There are places the water is still rising.  The levee have not been fixed, to my knowledge.  The plan is under way, but I don‘t think the water has been stopped. 

So that‘s the situation.  And we‘ll call in, hopefully, you know, later on and let you know more. 

COSBY:  And, Senator, if you could stick with us, we‘re going to go to a quick break.  But I want to have your reaction, if I could, to some of the looting pictures that we just got in from New Orleans, which are just so upsetting, so shocking and astounding.  I would love for you to get a chance to see them and get some reaction.  Stick with us, if you could.

And everybody, stick with us, also, at home.

Still ahead, no water, no power, and criminals wild in the streets.  Is it too big of a task for agencies like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army?  We‘re going to show you those looting pictures, unfortunately.  Those are coming up next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And some stunning pictures that we‘ve just got in from a New Orleans Wal-Mart.  These are the pictures here.  Again, everybody, these are not shoppers.  We are told that these are looters who are actually taking whatever they can from the store before a reputable business owner comes back in. 

They‘re just clearing things out.  And we showed some shots earlier where people were running out of the back of the store, also getting in arguments with security guards. 

But as you can see, those shelves are combed, some of them pretty clear, with people just loading up shopping carts.  Joining us again is Senator Mary Landrieu, of course, of Louisiana. 

Senator, we‘re going to look at a little sequence here.  This is a security guard actually fighting with someone, one of the looters.  How tough is this to control, in the heat of all this? 

LANDRIEU:  Well, Rita, I‘m sorry.  I‘m in a place where I‘m not able to see the visual.  But I‘ll tell you, we have got to be very careful about this situation and use our common sense and judgment. 

We‘ve got a city of 480,000 people, in Orleans, and Jefferson, 450,000.  Thousands of people are stuck and stranded without food and water.  Now, I‘m not excusing looting.  I‘m not the attorney general.  I‘m not a law enforcement official, but the situation is, is that people have been without food and water now for maybe over 24 hours. 

I don‘t see the pictures.  I‘m not sure what they‘re taking.  But I saw with my own eyes some people today, when we landed our helicopter on the interstate, at the road right next to us, people were taking water out of a convenience store.  I don‘t know if that‘s so wrong. 

I‘m not sure people should be taking, you know, things away, but you have to understand that people are without food and water. 

Now, I‘m not going to go any further other than to say people need to use their own judgment, but we‘re doing everything we can to deliver those services.  The Red Cross is on the ground. 

Now, people that are taking clothes, and games, and that sort of thing is just obnoxious and needs to be stopped.  But people that are taking food and water, you can understand.  But this kind of taking games and other things is just got to be prosecuted. 

COSBY:  I agree.  Senator, thank you very much for being with us tonight.  As again, we‘re looking at those incredible pictures.  And, Senator, be safe.  And our best, of course, to everybody there in the state. 

The destruction is so big, it is hard to believe.  Are groups like the Red Cross and the Salvation Army up to the daunting task?  The details are coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And the storm has left tens of thousands of people homeless throughout the region.  Joining us to talk about relief efforts is Major George Hood with the Salvation Army, who is LIVE & DIRECT tonight in Washington. 

Also, Peter Teahen is with the American Red Cross.  He also joins us on the phone. 

Major Hood, let me start with you.  How daunting of a task is this for the Salvation Army? 

MAJOR GEORGE HOOD, SALVATION ARMY:  This is an enormous task.  It‘s probably the largest natural disaster response we will have ever made.  It is expansive and spanning three states.  We‘re prepared to respond with equipment and personnel with capabilities of serving up to 500,000 meals a day. 

COSBY:  Well, that‘s massive.  I also understand you‘re having trouble actually getting to some of the people because the streets are flooded, correct?  Getting to them is much of the problem. 

HOOD:  Very difficult to get into the cities right now, but we know that we have been serving people all day in Biloxi, and Mobile, Baton Rouge.  Probably up to 100,000 meals are being served right now. 

We‘re waiting to get into the heart of the devastation area and to begin responding to the needs of families and victims in those communities. 

COSBY:  Peter, as I have you here on the phone, we‘re looking at some incredible pictures of rescues.  How are you also preparing people emotionally for what‘s ahead for them? 

PETER TEAHEN, AMERICAN RED CROSS:  The Red Cross knows that it‘s a comprehensive response.  We need to make sure we have food and water there.  We also need to make sure we address the emotional issues, and that‘s why we bring in mental health counselors to help deal with the issues of stress, anxiety, and grief, and loss. 

This response can‘t be done by any one group.  And that‘s why Red Cross believes in working with other nonprofit groups, like the Salvation Army, Southern Baptists, volunteer agencies that help in disasters, so that, together, when responding to a major disaster like this, the people who are affected by this disaster are taken care of.

And that‘s the—partnership is what works.  And the partnership of the American public helping us is what it‘s going to take to make this happen. 

COSBY:  You bet.  Peter, thank you very much. 

Also, Major Hood, we appreciate all the hard work and good job on the part of all those rescuers out there. 

And, everybody, that‘s the number there for the Red Cross if you do want to help.  Make sure you call the number.  Also go to those two web sites that you‘re looking at on the screen.  They can certainly use whatever help they can get so desperately at this point.  

And we‘ll be right back after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And that does it for LIVE & DIRECT tonight, everybody.  I‘m Rita Cosby.  Of course, our coverage of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath continues right now with Joe Scarborough, who is in Biloxi in the thick of it all.

Joe, take it away, and give us your vantage point from there.

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”:  All right.  Thanks so much, Rita.  Greatly appreciate it.

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

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