Guest: Myra Waddell, Sandra Milstead, Matthew Porche, Costanza Porche, Jon Donley, Matt Odell, Harry Shearer, Keith Darbonne
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”: It‘s a Merle Haggard album, “The Fighting Side of Me.” Well, it‘s time for Mississippi and New Orleans to fight back.
Now to Chris Jansing, who‘s sitting in for Tucker tonight. What‘s the situation?
CHRIS JANSING, HOST: Thanks a lot, Joe. How apropos that title is.
Well, it is another gut-wrenching day in New Orleans, where Mayor Ray Nagin said hundreds, maybe thousands of his city‘s residents are believed to be dead.
Now if those figures are accurate, they would make Hurricane Katrina the nation‘s deadliest natural disaster since at least the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.
Survivors, trying to evacuate New Orleans amid fears of diseases like cholera and typhoid fever, with tens of thousands making their way to the Houston Astrodome, seeking shelter, knowing they might not return home for months.
Meanwhile, Mississippi‘s Gulf Coast is still trying to get out from under a 90-mile stretch of debris and rubble. President Bush viewed some of the damage earlier today from Air Force One.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The vast majority of New Orleans, Louisiana, is under water. Tens of thousands of homes and businesses are beyond repair. We are dealing with one of the worst natural disasters in our nation‘s history. This recovery will take a long time. This recovery will take years.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: For the latest now from New Orleans, we turn to NBC News reporter Michelle Hofland.
Michelle, good evening to you. We‘re hearing that Mayor Nagin has ordered 1,500 police officers off the rescue missions to try to stop the looting in the city. What are you hearing?
MICHELLE HOFLAND, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: That‘s exactly what we have heard, but frankly down here on Canal Street, downtown New Orleans, just down the street from the famous French Quarter.
We‘ve seen very little movement, very—we haven‘t seen any more officers, frankly, than we saw earlier today. But it could be because of this.
Chris, we heard that there are—there‘s massive looting going on in other parts of town. Where they are bringing food in on trucks, apparently people are trying to get into those trucks, so desperate for food, they‘re breaking in and trying to stop those trucks and get the food out of those trucks.
They‘re also breaking into pharmacies and liquor stores and grocery stores in different parts of town. So maybe they‘re concentrating down there and not down here, but all I know is looking throughout the streets here in downtown New Orleans, we have not seen very many police officers at all.
JANSING: Michelle, one of the things that we‘ve been hearing from some of the people who were caught looting is, look, we need this stuff. People taking food, taking water, taking diapers. What are people saying about all of this?
HOFLAND: Yes, that‘s what we heard, too. We heard it from some guy who was carrying six pairs of size 13 shoes, and things like that. And let me tell you something else.
No, you can‘t—behind me just a little there is a palm tree. There‘s a plasma TV. What is someone going to do with a plasma TV? You know, they‘re just going to the stores, stealing.
Also looking for guns, very, very frightening out here, hearing that. Pharmacies, getting—stealing drugs. Also stealing things like liquor from liquor stores. And just going at the river walk, where if you‘ve been a tourist and come down here to the river walk, we have heard that people looted all those stores along the river walk, and taken that stuff to the convention center, while they‘re waiting to be shipped out of town on some bus. So they‘re taking the stuff that they‘ve looted right into the convention center waiting to head out of town.
JANSING: Michelle Hofland, thank you.
Joining me now on the phone is Jon Donley, a SITUATION guest on Monday night, who survived an emergency evacuation of his New Orleans “Times Picayune” headquarters but is now searching for his missing daughter, Sarah.
Jon, good evening. Thank you very much for being with us.
JON DONLEY, LOOKING FOR DAUGHTER: Good evening. And I‘ve got wonderful news. They found my daughter.
JANSING: Jon, where was she?
DONLEY: She was huddled—she was huddled in our house. Trees all around it. They found her, and they brought her to me this evening.
JANSING: So she‘s with you now, and she‘s OK?
DONLEY: She‘s back in the shelter where we‘re sleeping right now.
She is OK.
JANSING: That is tremendous news. It gives so many people out there hope.
Tell us a little bit about that story, Jon. I cannot imagine what the last 48 hours or so have been like for you and for your family. When did you last talk to Sarah?
I last talked to her about 6:30 on Monday morning, as the storm was starting to move in. She had not evacuated with my wife. She‘d stayed in our home in Mandeville (ph) with her boyfriend.
And I was talking to her, and then when I saw the storm that was coming up around us, which we were about 30 miles south of where she was, and I saw what was happening, I just died inside because I knew what was going to happen to those big pine trees in Mandevile (ph), and I lost contact, and much of Mandeville (ph) has been destroyed by those trees splintering and crashing, smashing houses, but they all missed our house; they were all around them.
JANSING: What was she able to tell you, Jon, about what it‘s been like for her?
DONLEY: Not much yet. She just got in a few minutes ago. And so I haven‘t had time to really talk to her about it, but I do intend to play journalist as soon as I finish playing dad and pump her dry, get all her story.
JANSING: I have to wonder, I mean, you were going through so much yourself while you were worried about your daughter. I mean, you had to evacuate and find safety yourself. Tell us about that.
DONLEY: Well, as you know, the storm went through and caused a lot of damage in New Orleans, but we really thought it was over on Monday night, and then the levee started breaking, and we thought we‘d be safe still, but then on—at breakfast Tuesday morning, the water had risen dramatically and when we found out later, five levees were broken, and the publisher called us together and told us, just drop everything. Get to the loading docks. We got to get out of here now.
And they pulled up eight of these large diesel delivery trucks that they deliver newspapers in. And they just jammed all 200 or so people who were in the “Times Picayune building” into the back of these trucks. And we went out in headlight-deep water, just passed these hundreds and hundreds of people stranded up on the elevated interstates without food or water, and we got through a long flooded stretch, and then we managed to get across the big bridge between the east bank and the west bank, and we ended up on a long drive through bayou country and back up to baton rouge.
It was a horrible sight leaving. There were fires all over the place; smoke was filling the air. It was choking us. We looked back from about 20 miles down the road, and you could see New Orleans under what looked like a mushroom cloud. There were just pillars of smoke rising from the city, and a big cloud over the overhead.
It was pretty brutal, and it was sad to leave our city behind, but we got out at the last possible minute. We heard later that a mob of people had gotten into the building that we had been in, one of the reasons that we need to get out quickly was that the anarchy was spreading, and there was a real fear for our safety, both from nature and both from humans.
JANSING: I can only say that it is so good to hear that you are safe and sound and especially to hear that Sarah is with you. What a reunion that must have been.
Thank you so much, Jon Donley, and I‘m sure we‘ll be checking back in with, and our best to you, to your family, and everyone there who is dealing with this horrific situation. Jon, thank you so much.
DONLEY: Thank you very much.
Some of the most amazing pictures of the last couple of days have certainly come from those daring roof top helicopter rescues. We‘re joined now on the phone by U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer Matt O‘Dell, who took part in many of those rescues in the New Orleans area.
Thanks very much for being have been with tonight.
MATT O‘DELL, U.S. COAST GUARD? Hello.
JANSING: Give us a little bit sense, now, of what these last 48 hours would have been in all of this.
O‘DELL: I am a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. I deploy from the helicopter down to rooftops and into buildings. I mean, first‘s my job to make sure that they get in our welcome basket lately, and back up to the helicopter.
What are nice. We‘ve been pretty here putting up close to 15 to 20 helicopters every day, you know, and we keep them running around the clock, keep pulling people off buildings, out of houses, off the streets, trying to get them someplace safe so they can get food and water.
JANSING: Tell us a little bit, matt, about what your job has been in this.
O‘DELL: I am a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. I deploy from the helicopter down to the roof tops, and into buildings. It‘s my job to make sure that they get in our rescue basket safely, and back up to the helicopter.
JANSING: What are some of the particular difficulties? I mean, first of all, I am sure a lot of you folks are dealing with unfamiliar terrain. It‘s always a dangerous situation, but you have a downed power line, you have potentially unsafe situations on the roofs themselves. What are your biggest concerns when you‘re trying to pull these rescues off?
O‘DELL: Our No. 1 concern is obviously, you know, for the safety of the people we‘re trying to get out of there. We got in got to walk carefully on the roofs, and I go down to a balcony, I really got to make sure I got a guy up running my winch, that he is concerned about my safety, and safety is definitely our No. 1 concern.
JANSING: I‘ve got to tell you, what we‘ve been watching, the views from some of the helicopters, it just seems like on roof after roof after roof at some places, there have just been so many people. I mean, does it just seem overwhelming at times?
O‘DELL: It does, it does, and it‘s hard to make that decision of who‘re are taking right now and who can wait. We‘re just—you know, like I had, we have so many helicopters running around the clock right now, and we just get as many as we can in the alotted time that we have for fuel, and we just come back and keep getting more.
JANSING: What an amazingly satisfying feeling that must be. I can‘t imagine how grateful these folks are to you.
O‘DELL: Yes, it‘s a great feeling to, you know, have someone in the helicopter that you just—you just pulled out of a building, and now they‘re going to be all right because you were there for them.
JANSING: Well, in a story of great tragedy, this is a tale of true heroism, and I know how hard you and all of your co-workers have been at this. Take good care of yourselves, and thanks so much. We do appreciate it.
O‘DELL: I will. Thank you.
JANSING: Well, make sure to watch MSNBC on Friday night, 8 p.m. Eastern, for a concert for hurricane relief. This benefit telethon will help raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina through the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund and will feature performances by Harry Connick Jr. and Tim McGraw, as well as appearance by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Still ahead on THE SITUATION, New Orleans is a hub for some of our country‘s most talented musicians and artists. One of America‘s favorite funny men joins us, but this time, shedding a tear for his adopted hometown, next.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The magnitude of the situation is untenable.
It‘s just heart-breaking.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are places that are no longer there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It took us so fast, about a half an hour, the water come up. That fast.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The water picked the houses up off the foundation. The wind blew them over.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are lucky we are alive, but we have no food and water. We are lucky we are alive.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are valiant people in this part of the world.
We will endure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: Stories from inside a tragedy but of course, Katrina‘s wake is being felt far beyond the south, touching people all across the country. One of them, Harry Shearer, is a writer, actor, director, known for his work on, among other things, “The Simpson‘s” and “Spinal Tap.”
He calls himself an adopted New Orleanian, and he has been blogging about Katrina on the “Huffington Post.” He joins me now from Los Angeles.
Harry, good evening. Thanks for joining me.
HARRY SHEARER, WRITER/ACTOR/DIRECTOR: Good evening. Thanks.
JANSING: I mean, first things first, you‘ve got a lot of friends down in New Orleans. Do you know how they‘re all doing?
SHEARER: I know how most of them are doing. The evacuees I have talked to by either or phone. And they‘re OK. They‘re safe. They‘re crazed and stunned. There are a couple of folks who stayed, and I haven‘t heard about them yet, and I‘m hoping that I hear good things about Mary and Martha Ann.
JANSING: Did you talk to them leading up to it, about their decision to stay?
SHEARER: No. It came as a surprise to me that they stayed. You know, I understand it, though. I evacuated during Georges in 1999, I think it was. And hurricanes have a history of being predicted to hit New Orleans directly, and in the event, actually veering east to Mississippi.
And so I can understand people thinking, “Nah, it‘s going to go east to Mississippi.” But as another friend of mine said today, who is in exile in Austin, Texas, well, you see an hurricane that fills the entire Gulf of Mexico, maybe that‘s a message that you should go.
JANSING: Let‘s talk a little bit about New Orleans, because you lived there part of the year. You decided to get a place there. And I think for a lot of people in America, this is like an ultimate tourist destination, but not a place where real people live. What is it about this city that draws people?
SHEARER: Well, it is a real love affair, and like most love affairs, it‘s hard to explain if you don‘t partake of the emotion.
But it‘s the closest you can get to someplace that‘s not in the United States without a visa or a passport. The culture, it has a totally indigenous culture that‘s unique and original, and it‘s been steeping there for 300 years. It‘s a mix of the Caribbean and the French and the African. Every day means something in New Orleans. There‘s a ritual or a meaning or a ceremony or something that marks each day as different from every other day, and it‘s a city that, you know, the joys are great and the sorrows are great, and we celebrate both.
JANSING: There is a real sensibility, I think, there of joyousness. These are folks who will use any excuse for a parade. It‘s so hard to see this completely different side.
What‘s it like for you as someone who has a place there, who has friends there, to have to watch it from the outside? I was remembering back to 9-11, my friends who happened to be out of town when New York was hit. There was this sort of sense of displacement.
SHEARER: Well, you know, I know that there are an awful lot of people in the lower ninth ward and people in St. Bernard and Plaquemin (ph) Parish who are in dire need tonight of the basic necessities of life. But I have faith and hope that the Red Cross and other agencies will be attending to that and also the feds pretty soon.
My further concern is for the livelihoods of people of New Orleanians in the weeks and months to come before the city is safe to, first of all, just be in, and then to transact business in again. I don‘t know how these people are going to make a living, and the culture of New Orleans, the continuity of culture is threaded through all of the folks who live there, and if that thread is broken, I fear not just for them but for the future of the city.
JANSING: And I know from reading your blogs on HuffingtonPost.com, you‘re not entirely happy with the way all this has been handled, prepared for, are you?
SHEARER: Well, you know, I listen to what Mayor Ray Nagin and Governor Kathleen Blanco have said. It seems to me they‘ve been trying very hard to hide their anger, because they have to deal with the federal government.
But Mayor Nagin and, I guess I share this with him, seems to not be able to comprehend why the breach in the 17th street canal flood wall didn‘t start to be fixed yesterday morning, as he was assured it was going to be. And WWL-TV‘s reporter, Lucy Bustamante (ph), was up in a chopper this afternoon, reported that from noon to 4 when she was circling around the area, she saw no efforts to repair the breach even late this afternoon.
You know, this is—two words come to mind: contingency plans. You don‘t have to be a wizard or a psychic to think that maybe the Army Corps of Engineers, looking ahead, would think, sandbags would be nice to have. I saw an Army Corps of Engineer official this morning on a news channel, saying they were filling sandbags today. That‘s something maybe one would have done over the weekend, one would think.
JANSING: A lot of questions that I‘m sure people will be looking at as the days and weeks go by, and of course, they have the immediate problem of trying to deal with the situation. Let me ask you, as we‘re closing it out, Harry, what do you know about your house?
SHEARER: I‘m very lucky and very fortunate so far. I think, although it‘s impossible to have firsthand knowledge, but I‘ve seen satellite footage—I mean, chopper footage, and so far, we look high and dry. But I mean, I‘m concerned for the city.
JANSING: You know, we‘ve heard just about every official say that this is not going to be a matter of weeks or months but years. But any doubt in your mind you‘ll live there again?
SHEARER: No. I mean, I‘m in love with the place. I‘ll do anything I can to help. People should give to whoever they want to give to to help in the short term, and then to help folks survive in the long term until the city makes it back on its feet, so you can go there and have a good time again.
JANSING: Yes, and hopefully we will all have a chance to laugh and celebrate again as New Orleans does so wonderfully. Harry, I really hope you hear from your friends who you haven‘t heard from.
SHEARER: I do too. Thanks.
JANSING: Prayers are with everybody there.
SHEARER: Thank you.
JANSING: Thanks a lot.
SHEARER: And as Megan said, you all prayer for us.
JANSING: Thanks, Harry.
Now, if you‘d like to make a donation to the Red Cross relief fund, you can call this too free number, 1-800-HELP-NOW, where you‘ll be able to speak to a representative. Or just log on to www.RedCross.org.
Coming up next, a beloved piano bar performer more than 60 years is missing in New Orleans. We‘ll speak with the grandson of 94-year-old Eddie Gabriel when THE SITUATION returns.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The conditions are very bad, because we don‘t have no air, water. The food is limited. I mean, sanitation is poor. We don‘t have nothing, no cleaning supplies to clean up or nothing. We are just living in poverty.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: Katrina‘s trail of destruction has left thousands of people missing across the southeast. And their loved ones are flooding websites with pleas for help like a posting we saw today on Nola.com‘s weblog. It‘s about a missing 94-year-old man, who‘s quite an institution in New Orleans.
Eddie Gabriel has entertained thousands of New Orleans visitors for more than 60 years, at the famed Pat O‘Brien‘s Bar. His grandson, Keith Darbonne, has not heard from him since Katrina struck, and Keith joins us now by phone.
Keith, good evening. Thanks for joining us.
KEITH DARBONNE, LOOKING FOR GRANDFATHER: Thanks for having me.
JANSING: Where‘s the last place and when you know your grandfather was seen?
DARBONNE: Well, the last time I talked to him, I believe it was Sunday. All those days are running together right now.
But I talked to him, and my mom talked to him and we tried to get him to leave and he‘s an old timer. He‘s been around for a long time. And he said he wasn‘t going to go anywhere. He felt that all we young folks were making more than what it was. And he decided to stay; he and his wife were going to stay.
JANSING: Yes, I mean, he survived it before, 94 years old.
DARBONNE: Yes, he said the last time he was in something like this was 1915. He was five years old, and he remembered he was able to survive that, so he figured this wouldn‘t be any worse than that was, but, you know.
JANSING: Where in New Orleans are they, Keith, and what do you know about the situation in that part of the city?
DARBONNE: Well, from what I have read and even seen on the Internet and television, where he was located, on Ninth Gordon street, New Orleans, in the ninth ward, and it was right around where the big biggest flood hit. It was—I was reading every single minute, and it showed that most of the flooding was going on around there.
PHILLIPS: And he is in New Orleans, certainly highly recognizable. I have seen he is called Mr. Eddie.
PHILLIPS: Is he still playing six nights a week?
DARBONNE: Yes. Well, he‘s playing—I think he stops around 9 at night and starts around 3 in the morning because there‘s no more money to be made.
PHILLIPS: Well, I mean, it‘s a unique act that he plays an aluminum tray with thimbles. And he‘s quite a character. You know, everybody, everybody who has ever seen him or knows him, I‘m sure there are good thoughts and prayers are with your family, Keith. Will you keep us posted and let us know?
DARBONNE: Yes. Yes, I will for sure. I really appreciate you bringing me on, because any help that I can get will be greatly appreciated. I‘m hoping with as many of the people that have been really supporting us, and I know there are a lot of people out there that are missing.
There‘s another good friend of mine. His name is Sidney Scott, and he‘s out there, and his relatives, Teleta Scott Smith (ph) is looking for him as well. And he‘s also in the ninth ward.
We‘re kind of all praying and hoping. My mom is really, you know, looking forward to seeing her father again, and we‘re hoping and praying. We‘re confident that something will come up.
PHILLIPS: I know there‘s so many people hoping and praying along with you. Thanks for joining us.
DARBY: Thanks, thanks for your help.
JANSING: Well, as the people of Louisiana and Mississippi fight for their lives, Americans rush to their aid. In the darkest of times, the brightest of humanity, when we return.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You need to leave now.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are dealing with one of the worst natural disasters in our nation‘s history.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean there‘s nothing, as far as you see in any direction there‘s just absolutely nothing.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God, look at that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ain‘t got nothing but these clothes I got on my back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just thank God we have each other.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I‘ve got my father and my husband and so really in a big way I‘m blessed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHRIS JANSING, MSNBC HOST: Katrina‘s trail of misery hit Mississippi hard. An estimated 100 people have been killed in Biloxi alone. NBC News David Shuster has the latest for us. Good evening David.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Chris, good evening.
JANSING: You know I don‘t want to...
SHUSTER: Chris, I‘ll just go ahead and—go ahead.
JANSING: I‘m sorry. I was just going to say, you know, I don‘t want to belabor the point but you and I have both been through this situation where you see something on TV and it just looks horrifying but even television can‘t really do justice to the devastation that you‘re seeing in person I‘m sure.
SHUSTER: Yes, that‘s absolutely right and I mean, as you know, I mean when you‘re out at a location and you‘ve got an interesting background, yes, it‘s sort of interesting from that sort of one block where you are.
But what‘s so remarkable, Chris, about this particular devastation is that everywhere you point the camera, every street you walk down, every person you talk to they all just have some incredible stories and the debris is just everywhere.
I mean when you see and when you hear the people coming and saying, look, we‘d like to start cleaning up but it‘s going to take six months, all you have to do is look at any one neighborhood street and you‘ll understand why because there‘s just so much debris. There are just so many cinder blocks.
I mean we were just talking a few minutes ago. What do they do with all the debris? I mean if they have bulldozers come through what do they do with all that? And just the logistical hurdles that they‘re going through it‘s just, it‘s just unbelievable.
JANSING: Immediately what needs to be done right in Biloxi?
SHUSTER: I‘ll tell you the most immediate concern is, I mean the one good thing is that supplies are at least now coming through. They got the roads cleared. They‘re able to start bringing in water. They‘re starting to distribute the water.
There‘s a great effort underway to try to get some power in some parts of the city restored. They were actually pretty smart about it. Before the storm, they shut down the power and then with the idea that they would then simply replace the transformers or whatever the technology is simply replace the equipment.
The devastation was so great that they have to do a lot more but there is some theory that at least in parts of the city they may be able to get power maybe within a couple of weeks instead of a couple of months.
The other thing, Chris, that‘s I guess important to point out is even though the situation does get worse when you go four, five, six days, then maybe say a week, two weeks, whatever it is without power, without water, without electricity it‘s not getting worse in the same way that say it‘s getting worse in New Orleans.
All of the water has receded back to the gulf and back to the bay and while there are hundreds of people that are missing here in Biloxi and obviously people, you know, are struggling to try to find bottles of water and to try to rebuild their lives, at least the effort to try to help people can begin.
Whereas it sounds like in other parts of the gulf, say in New Orleans where the water is still rising that hasn‘t even begun yet.
JANSING: You know just let me ask you very briefly, David, from the people you‘ve been able to talk to over the last, you know, half day or so how are they holding up?
SHUSTER: Well, it‘s interesting. Some of them are not holding up well at all. When we were talking to some people today and mentioning, you know, President Bush‘s on the air, some people had some pretty choice words because they had no gasoline and no water and they didn‘t care what the politicians in Washington were doing.
And yet on the other hand, we were at one of the local stores, Wal-Mart that was opening in Biloxi, people were wrapped around the block, around the front, the side, the back and it was, you know, 95 degrees this morning and people are out there without water. They haven‘t eaten in many cases for a couple of days.
And you talk to people, “How you doing?” And they say, “You know what, we‘re just happy to be alive. We‘re alive. We know people who re not. At least there‘s something we can build on with the fact that we‘re going to be able to get into this store and rebuild our lives.”
But the other thing that they do point out, Chris, is a lot of people are looking for businesses or corporations to step up, a sort of corporate responsibility. Some people have raised the idea of well how come there‘s not a cruise ship that‘s sitting out in the gulf that would provide 3,000 rooms for people to take a shower?
How come the cell phones aren‘t working? We know that the technology exists for them to bring in the portable towers. People are starting to raise those questions and while perhaps it‘s too early because they just got the roads open, I think you get the sense from people here on the ground they‘re really now looking, not just to the American people about what kind of supplies can come in but they‘re looking to see if the restaurant chains that they go to, the stores that they know, the hotels will those sort of parent companies step up now and do their part to try to restore whatever sort of semblance of normalcy was here before?
JANSING: You know historically the everyday American person has done remarkable things in the face of disaster but good question about some of these corporate partners as well. David Shuster, thanks for your reporting. Try to get some sleep. We‘ll see you tomorrow.
SHUSTER: Thanks, Chris, we appreciate it.
JANSING: You know listening to that report it‘s pretty much hard to imagine any good news coming out of Mississippi‘s Gulf Coast right now. But, as NBC‘s Ron Mott discovered, the extreme suffering left in Katrina‘s wake has been matched by the exceptional generosity of the American people.
RON MOTT, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a hot Mississippi summer day, a hot meal, chili and green beans, a refreshing fruit cocktail. Sandra Douglass (ph) and her two boys, along with scores more at this Baptist church in Biloxi are the recipients of generosity now stretching across America.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Without them we don‘t know where we would get our next meal from. There are not many stores open.
MOTT: This feeding station is one of a half dozen sent by the Southern Baptist Convention from several states.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you see a brother in need, you‘re supposed to minister to them and that‘s what we‘re doing.
MOTT: Empathy is coming from everywhere. In Minnesota, volunteers who normally fight forest fires pack for a 1,200 mile drive south for the most basic reason.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we can do some good.
MOTT: In Long Island, New York, Jennifer Voombas (ph) reaches out to Katrina‘s victims over the Internet opening her heart and more.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have a dry home. We have electricity. We have food and water. We‘d be willing to share it.
MOTT: In Georgia, a FEMA warehouse dispatching a million meals and 300 trucks of water.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just feel so small when the people there thank you for bringing them water.
MOTT: There is one big problem. With so much aid arriving to be distributed over weeks even months, nearly ever warehouse along the Gulf Coast has been damaged or destroyed.
COL. JOE SPRAGGINS: I need a 50,000 square foot building right now. If you got one, call me.
MOTT: For today, Sandra Douglass and her boys, like so many of her neighbors, grateful to see the best of humanity revealed in the worst of times.
Ron Mott NBC News, Biloxi, Mississippi.
JANSING: And still to come on THE SITUATION, we‘ve seen plenty of dramatic rescues these past few days but none may compare to that of two nurses who saved premature babies from a dire situation in New Orleans. We‘ll speak to them next.
JANSING: And now to a mission of mercy, saving four premature babies from Katrina‘s wrath. Sandra Milstead and Myra Waddell are nurses with the transport team at the University of Alabama Hospital in Birmingham. They rescued the babies and brought them back to safety. Thank you both for being with us, good evening.
SANDRA MILSTEAD: Thanks for having us.
JANSING: Sandra, let me start with you. You went on a rescue mission today. Tell us a little bit about going in there.
MILSTEAD: Well, we actually flew into Houma, Louisiana and then we had a helicopter that had met us down there that actually flew our team over to the hospital to pick the babies up and then flew them back to the airport and then we drove, I mean or flew back to Birmingham.
JANSING: Have you ever seen anything like what you saw from the air today?
MILSTEAD: No, we have not. It was incredible.
JANSING: So you have this amazing obviously disturbing scene of devastation but you have a job that you have to do. What did you find when you got there? Was everything ready to go?
MILSTEAD: Actually, I was not the one that actually picked the babies up from the hospital. The helicopter crew did that. I was at the airport and transported the babies back and once we got them they were, you know, very well taken care of and I think the nurses at the hospital had done the best that they possibly could do with what they had available to them.
They were very appreciative very, very thankful when we arrived. We took a large amount of water and ice with us. When we were in contact with them this morning we asked what they needed and that‘s what they wanted was some ice and some drinks, so we loaded down our jet and took as much as we could in with them. They were very appreciative of that.
We also took them some fresh clothes, some tee shirts. They haven‘t changed clothes, had showers and bathed and we even had one of the doctors when we gave him the tee shirt he cried when he received that. It was very touching.
JANSING: A mission of mercy not just for these babies but also for the doctors and nurses. Myra, you went on a separate mission. What struck you about all this?
MYRA WADDELL: What is the most thing that I can remember is the look of relief on the staff‘s face when we came in to lend them a helping hand. They wasn‘t sure, excuse me, they weren‘t sure that anybody was going to be able to get in as soon as we did.
And we were able to come in last night and helicopter in from the international airport there in New Orleans. And to take four of the babies that they had out of 26 off their hands so that was, you know, less that they had to worry with in that great time of need.
JANSING: You know the first thing I thought, Myra, when I first heard about this I thought what about the parents? Are the parents—do we even know where the parents are?
WADDELL: The babies that we brought up last night were most from Mississippi and to my knowledge we had got in touch with three out of the four families before they were transported out of Louisiana, out of (INAUDIBLE) and they had gotten in touch with at least one of the families today.
JANSING: And, before we go what kind of a shape are these babies in right now?
WADDELL: The babies are doing very well.
MILSTEAD: Very well.
WADDELL: One actually was discharged home today and the other three are still in the neonatal intensive care unit.
JANSING: Remarkable story, Myra Waddell, Sandra Milstead thank you so much for being with us. We do appreciate it.
WADDELL: Thank you.
MILSTEAD: Thank you.
JANSING: And still to come on THE SITUATION people who chose to wait out Katrina in New Orleans are certainly regretting that decision now but what about those who had no choice but to wait out the storm, their story when we return.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don‘t have no idea. We heard that there was a lot of water. He wouldn‘t leave which is so incredibly stupid so we‘re trying to find him.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: Many of the people who chose to ride out Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans now say they regret their decision but for those who simply couldn‘t afford to leave there was no decision to be made.
I‘m joined now by Matthew and Costanza Porche, who are brother and sister. They fled New Orleans before Katrina hit but left behind 22 family members with whom they‘ve had no contact. Good evening to both of you and I do appreciate your being with us.
Matthew, let me start with you. I mean from the outside looking in, a lot of people don‘t understand why anyone would stay behind. Give us a sense of the decision members of your family made.
MATTHEW PORCHE: I think some of it is mainly that they figured so many hurricanes have passed, excuse me, that has not affected them or they left at one point and had to come back and it didn‘t hit or they just simply couldn‘t afford to leave at that time, no transportation or the means to leave.
JANSING: Did you try to talk them out of it? Did you try to get them to leave?
M. PORCHE: Yes, my sister, myself and some of the other family members that‘s here we tried to convince them to leave; however, they chose not to.
JANSING: Costanza, when is the last time you saw members of your family?
COSTANZA PORCHE: About two weeks ago some of them. Some of them it was as late as Saturday.
JANSING: And since Saturday and certainly since the hurricane hit what‘s it been like trying to track them down, trying to reach them?
C. PORCHE: Well, we have made all kind of pleas trying to contact either the Red Cross, the Coast Guard. We‘ve contacted the Miami Herald trying to get help for some of them because we had one family member that was still in a house and the water was rising and we were contacted on the phone just making calls trying to get help.
And eventually they did get out and now they‘re safe in Baton Rouge but we still have quite a few of them that we still do not know and they communicated to us through our two-way radio phone and we just could not—we couldn‘t help them. Some of them the last time we talked to them the water was rising was the last thing they said and they were in the attic.
JANSING: Matthew, how are you guys doing? I mean through all of this, I mean having to flee your hometown and having to leave your relatives behind how are you holding up?
M. PORCHE: I will tell you that I actually had flown in on Saturday to see my family and friends and ended up having to leave Saturday evening with my brother and my sister and some friends and relatives. It was difficult for me because actually I had taken time off to come visit them and was not aware that the hurricane had taken a different path.
I had flown in from Florida where I had already survived that hurricane, which wasn‘t as bad as the one in New Orleans, however, we were without electricity for a day and a half.
JANSING: Oh, boy.
M. PORCHE: And, again, I...
JANSING: Well, Matthew...
M. PORCHE: I‘m sorry.
JANSING: I‘m sorry, Matthew and Costanza Porche please keep us updated. Let us know if you hear from your family. Our thoughts are with you. Good luck to you.
M. PORCHE: Hey, thank you.
C. PORCHE: OK, thank you.
JANSING: And still ahead on THE SITUATION desperate pleas for help from the rooftops of homes swamped by Katrina, the most gut-wrenching images of another day in hell when we return.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ARCHIE HEIDELBERG: I was at my house and I was (INAUDIBLE). I was in there and I was praying. I was scared because I stay by myself. I live by myself and the water started getting high, so I got up on top of the chest of drawers.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You OK? But you‘re alive, you‘re alive. Did you have to swim through the water?
HEIDELBERG: Yes, I did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JANSING: So many people like that man have been reduced to tears as the mind bending enormity of Hurricane Katrina‘s impact continues to set in. It has been a week full of heartbreaking images, images that seem to get more profoundly moving every day.
We leave you now with Wednesday‘s most enduring pictures.
Tucker Carlson will be hosting tomorrow night from the Gulf Coast. I‘m Chris Jansing. Thanks for watching.
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