updated 9/2/2005 10:16:08 AM ET 2005-09-02T14:16:08

Guest: Patrick McCrummen, Crisi Havard, Kathy Tabor, Rod Blagojevich,

Timothy Cox

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  After a one-two punch of hurricane and flooding, the country rises to the occasion after the hurricane.  Tonight, we will see what it means to be an American.  Let's play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I'm Chris Matthews. 

Last night, we showed you the full force of a superpower government going to the rescue.  Tonight, we're going to show you what it means to be an American.  Ordinary people all over this country are coming to the aid of their fellow Americans, offering money, food, shelter, hospitality, volunteering for rescue efforts and opening their own homes to strangers. 

But let's start with a Thursday night update from NBC News' Michelle Hofland, who is in New Orleans. 

Michelle, how goes it in New Orleans? 

MICHELLE HOFLAND, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, we have seen some big changes, Chris, just over the past couple hours.  We have more police officers and troops who have just arrived on the streets of New Orleans and also, finally, some much-needed water and transportation for the people here. 

For the past—or, four days ago, thousands of people started wandering out of the contaminated floodwaters and into the New Orleans Convention Center.  Now, after four days, people here are realizing that the food, water and transportation promised them may not be coming after all. 

Elderly and the children are dying of dehydration.  Pregnant women, mothers and fathers, you see them here, begging, pleading for help.  But about one hour ago, the first signs of relief.  A relief helicopter loaded with bottled water landed in the Convention Center parking lot.  The water was ripped out of the helicopter in hopes that the pilot would quickly return with another load of supplies. 

But, at the same time, just down the street from here, more signs of desperation.  A father spots a car with keys in it, borrows it, picks up his neighbors and the children.  Then police spot the car, order everyone out with guns drawn.  The crying children and the mothers tell police, they just want to get out of town.  They just borrowed the car to get out of town.  They just need to get out of town.  But they were ordered out. 

And now they're wandering the streets.  Just down the street from there at the Convention Center, 20,000 people are being pushed outside and into the floodwaters.  But just now, buses are arriving to pick them up and take them west, we believe, to the Houston Astrodome. 

As—as of a couple hours ago, bottled water and food began to arrive for them as well.  So now, tonight, we have more police.  We have more food and some transportation.  But the question is, Chris, will all this help the desperation, prevent the desperation from turning into chaos? -- Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  So, it's a question of timing.  We have a huge supply of aid coming to New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast, but the question is, in the next 24 hours, I suppose, of whether it can all get there in time to keep people alive. 

HOFLAND:  That is the question. 

You can see it on the faces of the mothers with their children in their hands.  The babies are dying of dehydration or parents with the elderly people sitting there trying to get water to them, trying to desperately help them.  They just look at us and say, can't you get some help?  Can't you get some help?  Now, we can't wait any longer. 

And it is just really, really difficult.  These people are so frustrated and so desperate.  And you understand.  But there's nothing that we can do down here to help them, other than to ask and hope that other people will be able to get the help down here as quickly as possible.  And these people also just want to get someplace, get out of here and get to someplace where they can get some food, some transportation and some help and some medicine for the people here. 

MATTHEWS:  Michelle, do you feel safe down there?  Has law and order been restored? 

HOFLAND:  Well, right now, we do.  We have been told, don't drink outside.  Don't eat outside, because they don't want other people here to realize that we do have a little bit of food and a little bit of supplies in our trucks. 

We have some police officers who are over here.  But, as soon as it gets dark, we were told that it probably would be a good idea to pack up, because they're not sure what is going to happen on the streets as soon as the people realize that it could be even longer before they get the relief supplies and the transportation to get out of here. 

Just a short time ago, somebody was wandering around in a building over here with a gun.  Police shot him with a Taser to quell him.  But they're very concerned about our safety.  And we're concerned about the safety, frankly, of all the families who are walking through the streets with children.  And they have nowhere to go.  That's what the concern is, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, time is critical.  Thank you very much, Michelle Hofland, who was in New Orleans. 

Let's go now to HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster, who is in Biloxi, Mississippi. 

Well, that was a horrendous sight, people hoping for the aid, to get -

·         the aid is coming.  But it is a question of whether it gets there in time to feed people and give them hydration and also to keep the crime level down, because people are quite desperate.  What's going on in Biloxi, David? 

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Chris, tonight, a police officer says that the death toll here in Biloxi is going to be in the hundreds and that the reason the official tally is well behind that is because the coroner here is so overloaded. 

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

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SHUSTER (voice-over):  Today in Biloxi, the aid trucks started arriving and the distribution began. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You got a car?  Go get in line. 

SHUSTER:  For many of these residents, the delivery could not come soon enough. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Everyone who is helping us, period, whether it's in this country or outside of this country, you're all the bomb. 

SHUSTER:  Bomb means cool.  This woman put it more simply. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  God bless everybody that is helping. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  Here on Division Street, we're at one of the main distribution centers in Biloxi, and all these folks tell us, this is the first aid that they've been getting since the storm.  They're getting water. They're getting ice.  Eventually, they're going to get some food.  And they all tell us, the aid couldn't come soon enough. 

(voice-over):  This man drove his truck through the night from:

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Miami. 

SHUSTER:  Miami.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Miami, Florida. 

SHUSTER:  This man, 10 hours straight, from Orlando. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, it feels good, you know?  Feel humanitarian to help people out in need.  I have been through in '89 Hurricane Hugo in St. Croix.  So, I know what they're going through. 

SHUSTER:  The relief effort already involves volunteers from more than a dozen states, outsiders who are helping to clear away debris, unload ice, or provide security. 

LT. JAMES BURNS, CORYNTH, MASSACHUSETTS, POLICE DEPARTMENT:  Like I say, it's been so massive.  It is just hard to get it coordinated, get to every individual.  But it's like I told some of these folks in line.  We know that you're hurting.  We're trying.  And we want them to know we're trying.  And we want them to know that the country is pulling behind them, that the American people will stand and show their true colors again. 

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

Meanwhile, these new videos have emerged of Katrina, taken by storm chasers who wanted to be in the middle of things.  These winds are in excess of 130 miles per hour.  And the pictures underscore just how frightening the storm was for thousands of people, like James Kornan, whose home is now unlivable. 

JAMES KORNAN, BILOXI RESIDENT:  We are sleeping in our yard.  We are sleeping on our front porches.  Our houses, we can't go back to, because they're unlivable.  They're stinking.  They're mildewed.  The water and mud is still so high in them. 

SHUSTER:  What does he think of the aid coming in from around the country? 

KORNAN:  It makes you feel good.  It makes you proud that you live in America, you know, and that you've got so many people out there that care. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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

And that, of course, Chris, assumes that residents have actually soap and aware—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  You know, David, we just showed pictures from New Orleans preceding the pictures we showed of yours, in your package.  I can't tell you how different they are.  New Orleans looks like it is a hell on Earth, still.  Biloxi, where you're at, seems to be getting its act together and appreciating and receiving aid, whereas, in New Orleans, the aid that's coming through seems pastry compared to the immediate need. 

SHUSTER:  Yes, I think that's right, Chris. 

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

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

But there's not the sort of anger, the sort of fury that we have seen in some of those pictures from New Orleans. 

MATTHEWS:  You've got to wonder about the difference in the cities themselves, whether it is just a lot of pent-up anger and poverty in New Orleans that people don't notice when they go in there as tourists.  And we're all seeing it now right on national television.  We don't usually put people who are poor and angry on national television.  We're showing it now. 

SHUSTER:  Well, Chris, I think what is so crucial about Biloxi and the Gulfport area is that they've been able to clear the roads.  I mean, remember, the water receded a couple of days ago. 

So, since then, the challenge has been, well, let's just get the debris off the road, so we can get to these people. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

SHUSTER:  And that, of course, was a huge task, but they did it, whereas, in New Orleans, they still can't get to a lot of those people.  And I think that's the crucial difference... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I think they would like some of those big trucks to be able to get through to downtown New Orleans right now at the Convention Center.  But maybe we will see those pictures tomorrow night, if we're lucky. 

Obviously, aid is on the way. 

Thank you very much, David Shuster.

Coming up, more stories from across the country of Americans helping Americans.  Veterans from the Armed Forces Retirement Home down in Gulfport, Mississippi, were welcomed in the last couple of days to their sister facility here in Washington, D.C.  I visited them this afternoon. 

That story when we come back.  You're watching HARDBALL, only on

MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, armed forces veterans evacuated from Mississippi arrive here in Washington, as Americans show their generosity in a time of need. 

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back.

Americans from all across the country have offered their help and support to the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  Many have given food, medicine and money to those who need it most.  Still others have opened their homes to give victims a place to stay.  We will highlight some of these examples of regular Americans doing good things throughout the show, starting here in Washington, where 400 veterans were evacuated from a sister home in Gulfport, Mississippi. 

Late today, I visited the Armed Forces Retirement Home here and spoke with Timothy Cox, who is in charge of both the Washington and the Mississippi veterans homes.  I asked him how receptive were the veterans to get out of Gulfport. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TIMOTHY COX, COO, ARMED FORCES RETIREMENT HOME:  They were very receptive.  They had 10 feet of water on the first floor.  So, that's where the kitchen.  Is.  It's where the dining facility is.  It's where the ballroom is. 

MATTHEWS:  They were up on the upper floors hanging in.  

COX:  They were. 

At first, because of hurricane preparedness, you want to get them away from windows.  We want them on the ground floor in case elevators go out.  Our generator only runs one elevator.  So, we had them on the ground floor.  As we saw the water rising outside, my team was quick to react, because we had people in long-term care, which is skilled nursing.  They were on the ground floor.  So, they had to move 57 people up to the second floor.  And they thought better, between, when the water was rising so fast, they moved them all the way up to the third floor.  No elevator.  They did it all by steps.

MATTHEWS:  So these retired military fellows, average age late 70s...

COX:  Yes.   

MATTHEWS:  ... were prepared to hunker down and go through it. 

COX:  They were. 

We were through Dennis a couple of months ago.  Certainly, no—I'm not making a comparison, but we have been through in my three years so far here, we have been through a dozen storms.  And the building is far off the beach, but we're still beachfront, because there's nothing in front of us. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Who made the call to stay?  You made it? 

COX:  Really, we make it based on what the governor asks.  So, it was voluntarily—voluntarily to withdraw. 

We felt, at that point, that residents—we encouraged them to go.  But, again, like I said, some of them don't have any place to go.  So, we said, OK, anybody who wants to stay.  Now the point comes Saturday night, you have to stay. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  And then you...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  ... when did the buses pull out? 

COX:  The buses finally got there.  We contracted buses out of Atlanta.  And they finally got there.  They were supposed to be there between 2:00 and 5:00.  They didn't get there until about 9:30, 10:00, because of the trouble getting into Gulfport. 

MATTHEWS:  That's what, Monday? 

COX:  Monday night. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the fellows that you had to rescue,

get them back up there.  We are going to be talking to them.  But are they

·         were they worried?  Was there a lot of fear on that bus, those buses getting out of Gulfport? 

COX:  I'm sure there was. 

There was so much relief, though, that the buses arrived that, really, all they wanted to do was know that they were going to be able to get out there.  And once the buses came...

MATTHEWS:  Because the water was around them. 

COX:  Water was around, no heat—I mean, no air condition.  So, it's a building that doesn't have windows that open, because they're sealed.  So, you know, you're in a building without air conditioning.  It is 95 outside and 80 percent humidity.  Can't survive too long...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Well, these old guys, these guys all have one thing in common.  They all served their country. 

COX:  They did.  We also have some women.

MATTHEWS:  And are they World War II, Korean guys?  What era?

COX:  World War II, Korea, some Vietnam.  We actually have a few that are three tours, World War II, Korea and Vietnam. 

MATTHEWS:  We got to talk to them.

(CROSSTALK)

COX:  Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

COX:  ... are going to try to go see them.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about their disabilities.  How bad were the disabilities that brought them to stay in the home in the first place? 

COX:  Many people come because we're a retirement home.  So, we have independent living, assisted living and long-term care. 

So, the 57 that were most frail—we actually have 10 people in a nursing home still in Linwood, Alabama, because we felt they were too frail to move.  So, we vacated them out Monday afternoon.  And then we had 57 that we felt couldn't take a long bus ride, so we transported them to Maxwell Air Force Base Monday evening. 

And then Maxwell airlifted them to Andrews, where we picked them up and brought them here. 

MATTHEWS:  Were you worried about it?  They all made it alive, right? 

COX:  They all, 414.  We have had no fatalities. 

MATTHEWS:  So, over 400 guys, mostly late 70s? 

COX:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  And they got—you got them here. 

COX:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Are they going to go home later, after this is all over, or stay here? 

COX:  You know, we are just going to see what we do.  We don't know really what the damage is there.  It is catastrophic. 

Most of our smaller buildings, except the tower that is 11 stories, have been wiped away.  We—sure we have structural damage.  So, we are just going to wait and assess.  The first thing we want to do is really get them safely here.  And we will worry about what we have to do to rebuild later. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, this seems like a very nice place, Tim. 

COX:  It is. 

MATTHEWS:  If I were one of them, I would probably want to stay.  But tell me, is Gulfport pretty nice, too? 

COX:  Gulfport is.  It was, you know, Gulf of Mexico front.  So, from the second story up...

MATTHEWS:  You want to be there in January.  Do you want to be there in August?

COX:  No.  That's right.  no, you don't really want to be there in August.  And I have been there.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

COX:  I go down about two times a month to check on that home and the well-being of the residents.  And I tell you, the summer months are the worst time to be there. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Call me a softy, but this is a great story, the way those guys are welcomed there. 

Tomorrow night on HARDBALL, we are going to have a town meeting with some of those guys you just saw, and women, who were evacuated from Gulfport.  They're going to tell us about their old war stories.  Apparently, they like to tell stories of World War II and their stories of survival from the water level, as it reached the second floor of their home.  Imagine that.  The water was on the second floor before these guys got out. 

Here's one of the veterans.  It's a woman.  She served here in Washington during World War II.  I asked her when she thought it was a good idea to get out of Gulfport. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HELEN AUSTIN, EVACUATED FROM GULFPORT, MISSISSIPPI:  Mr. McManus (ph) told us.  Oh, no, we stayed there when it came through. 

MATTHEWS:  Really? 

AUSTIN:  Yes.  We were on the first floor. 

COX:  That's right. 

AUSTIN:  And, all of a sudden, the water started coming in.  And he says, well, move up to the next floor. 

COX:  On Monday, right?

AUSTIN:  So we did.  We moved to the second floor.  And a window broke.  Move to the third floor. 

(CROSSTALK)

COX:  Right, because some of the pressure.  It wasn't the water.  It was the pressure that was breaking the windows, yes. 

AUSTIN:  And that water tower. 

COX:  Oh, that's right.  I forgot.  We have secondary water on our site, a water tower.  And our water tower crashed. 

AUSTIN:  And a car is floating around. 

COX:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  So, what was the ride like coming up here? 

(CROSSTALK)

AUSTIN:  Very good.  Very...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Air-conditioned?

AUSTIN:  Yes.  Very good.

MATTHEWS:  Eight hours to Atlanta and then another 12 to here, right?

AUSTIN:  Right, I guess.  No, was it that long?

COX:  About that.  It took you a long time to get out of Gulfport because of the checkpoints. 

AUSTIN:  Oh, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you want to stay here or do you want to go back down to Gulfport when this is over? 

AUSTIN:  I would like to go back.  I'm a Yankee, but I would like to go back. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  What is—what makes—what's the appeal of going down there to be at a home down there?  Why is Gulfport great? 

AUSTIN:  I guess because of the climate.  You know, it's warm. 

(CROSSTALK)

COX:  Twelve months out of the year.

(CROSSTALK)

AUSTIN:  Yes.  And it's...

MATTHEWS:  Do you like August or do you just like January?

AUSTIN:  No, I like...

(LAUGHTER)

AUSTIN:  It's not bad in January.  It's pretty nice. 

MATTHEWS:  I bet it is.

AUSTIN:  So, yes.

COX:  But August with the humidity.  But we don't mind it hanging out together. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, what did you do in the service? 

AUSTIN:  I worked for the Bureau of Personnel up on—at that time, it was the (INAUDIBLE) in Arlington.

MATTHEWS:  Oh, really?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What years were your service? 

AUSTIN:  1943, '45. 

MATTHEWS:  Wow.  You're greatest generation. 

COX:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

AUSTIN:  The oldest generation. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  No, you're greatest generation  You have got a...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  That woman was serving here in this city in World War II. 

And again, tomorrow on HARDBALL, we will hear the harrowing stories of survivor and courage from the veterans who were evacuated from Gulfport here in D.C. in a HARDBALL town meeting.  I am going to be surrounded by these folks. 

Up next, more stories of Americans helping Americans.  We will talk to the governor of one state that has opened its schools to children in need, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL's special coverage of the growing damage of Hurricane Katrina. 

Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich announced today that he's opening his state's public school system to refugee children of Hurricane Katrina.  He joins us now from Chicago. 

Governor, what gave you this big idea? 

GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH (D), ILLINOIS:  Well, kids are going back to school in Illinois.  And, unfortunately, because of the apocalyptic hurricane in the Gulf states, kids in Louisiana, Mississippi and maybe places in Alabama can't go to school.  No one really knows when they'll be able to go to school. 

And we thought it was the right thing to do, to lend a helping hand and invite the kids from those affected areas to come to Illinois.  And we're going to open our public schools here.  We have got the room to be able to accommodate them.  We will make room in cases where there are challenges.  And we're changing—we happen to have a law in Illinois that gives the governor the ability to interpret what the definition of a homeless child is. 

And our schools can take any child who is homeless.  And obviously the kids from Louisiana and Mississippi and other places affected are without homes now. 

MATTHEWS:  Have you gotten any takers yet? 

BLAGOJEVICH:  We announced this earlier today.  And the word sort of seeped out a little bit last night.  And today we, have got about 25 kids that came up from Mississippi—most of them are from Mississippi—attending schools in southern Illinois, some here in the south suburbs outside of Chicago, and some kids actually going to school in Peoria. 

You know, in Illinois, there are a lot of families who have roots to Mississippi.  The great migration of African-Americans after the two world wars meant that a lot of families from the Southern states, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, came up the Chicagoland area.  So, I suspect we will get a lot of takers.  And I think the kids will find that they have family here that will take them in.  And then we will find them places in our schools. 

MATTHEWS:  Is everybody happy with this decision? 

BLAGOJEVICH:  So far.  And this is unusual in the business I'm in. 

I haven't heard anybody criticize it or complain.  It doesn't matter how good an idea you might have.  Someone finds a reason to disagree.  But, so far, I think everyone in Illinois is like everyone else everywhere.  We're all moved by the terrible tragedy that has afflicted Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama.  And all of us want to do what we can to help.  So, I think this is something everybody agrees with because they recognize this is a way to try to help some kids. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, New Orleans is going to be underwater practically through Halloween, it looks like right now, Governor.  Will you be able to take that city's school population, if they do decide to come north to Illinois? 

BLAGOJEVICH:  Well, we will find room.  We will do everything we possibly can to accommodate as many kids as are willing to come up to Illinois.  And we will find places for them in our schools. 

And I'm confident that, whatever the demand might be, we will be able to provide the classrooms and the instruction and give them a chance to go to schools.  And, again, we're fortunate that we live in a state where our tragedy here was a drought, which is bad for our farmers.  But it is hard to fathom what happened to the states down in the Gulf area.  And Illinois is not at all different from other states.  I know people across America are trying to help.  And I suspect other states will probably open up their schools to kids, too. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, as an American, you know, you've got quite a personal story yourself.  And I was just wondering what you think about when you turn on the TV—and you're lucky to see it only on television from up Illinois in Springfield—that you see basically a city, a First World city, like New Orleans, be converted in a matter of two days into a Fourth World city, like Bangladesh. 

What does that say about our country and how fragile some things are we thought was pretty solid? 

BLAGOJEVICH:  Well, I think it really says how fragile we all are as people.  Ultimately, there's a higher power.  And every so often, God intervenes and reminds us, humbles us, that, as advanced as we are as a civilization, as amazing as our technology is, that there are powers a lot stronger than us.  And this hurricane is biblical in many ways. 

And I think the response by the people, though, is also—shows the goodness of people.  And that's why, ultimately, good triumphs over evil.  And the willingness of people around America to help other Americans who are afflicted is obviously something we can take a great deal of pride in. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I take a lot of pride in the fact that you, Governor Blagojevich of Illinois, and Governor Perry of Texas, who is taking in all those people to the Astrodome and he's going to spread them around the community out there in with Houston.

You know, this country isn't always divided, like it looks like right now.  Maybe it takes a crash like this to—to integrate us in a way that we're not always so integrated. 

Thank you very much, Governor Rod Blagojevich of Illinois.

Up next, people who don't even know each other are helping each other out right now.  Some are even welcoming strangers, as I said, into their homes.  Plus, the latest on the Red Cross relief efforts down there, that's coming up. 

You're watching HARDBALL's special coverage of Hurricane Katrina, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL's coverage of Hurricane Katrina and our special.

Now a look at how Americans are stepping up to help those in need.  Thousands of people who have been staying at the Superdome in New Orleans and are headed to Texas.  Today, the first of nearly 25,000 refugees who have found shelter at the Superdome have arrived at the Astrodome in Houston, where Texas officials will put them up until the flooding recedes, obviously.

And other evacuees are getting help from strangers.  The group Star of Hope has helped the homeless get back into mainstream life for more than 100 years.  And this week, this nonprofit organization has taken on a new role.  It's become a destination point for Katrina refugees.  Not only are they providing housing and counselling services.  They're also getting the refugees into hundreds of private homes in the Houston area. 

Joining us from Houston is Kathy Tabor, vice president of Star of Hope, along with Crisi Havard, who was evacuated from Kenner, Louisiana, and who is now staying at Star of Hope with her two daughters. 

So, tell us how this works, Kathy. 

KATHY TABOR, STAR OF HOPE:  Well, Chris, our doors are always open to homeless people.  And this is certainly an opportunity for to us open our doors to our neighbors from Louisiana. 

And so, they're—they're coming in, in droves.  We're trying to help them as much as we can.  In the meantime, our phones are overloaded with Houstonians who are calling in to say, we can take them in our homes.  And so, we're doing what we can to marry the two together. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go to—let me go right now to Crisi. 

Crisi, thank you for coming on the program tonight at this moment.  It must be helter-skelter for you these days.  What made you decide to leave Louisiana and come to Texas? 

CRISI HAVARD, EVACUATED FROM KENNER, LOUISIANA:  Well, I have two small children. 

And so, the day before, I really was not going to leave.  I was going to actually stay by my mother's house.  But when I saw the news about 1:00 in the morning Saturday morning—well, actually Sunday morning—I said, there's no way that I can stay, because where I live, I believe there would be a lot of flooding. 

So, with me having two very small children, it was very smart of me to get out as soon as I could get out, because, if not, possibly my house could be underwater.  So...

MATTHEWS:  Where is Kenner compared to New Orleans?  Is it on the coast? 

(CROSSTALK)

HAVARD:  Yes, it is about 15 to 20 minutes, I guess you would say, on the interstate going to New Orleans.  It is not that far at all. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, have you called home to see how it is going for the people who didn't make to it Texas? 

HAVARD:  Well, my family actually did stay home for the hurricane, my mother and sister and my stepfather.  And they said, where she lives, on Williams Boulevard in Kenner, it is not really that bad, not that much water, but a lot of trees, a lot of debris.  A lot of people don't have any roofs.  But where I live...

MATTHEWS:  You're looking at those—I'm sorry, Crisi—you're looking at those pictures, like we are.  And they stun us.  I don't know anything about what it is like to be there.  I can only look on television, like you. 

But what is your reaction, as—as somebody from Louisiana, to what we're watching now? 

HAVARD:  It actually feels kind of strange, like I'm looking at a different country, like it's not even where I live, because when I look and I see the water on the interstate, I remember me driving down the interstate and going to New Orleans and going to, you know, the French market and stuff like that.

and to see all these people just sitting out there and people's houses underwater and sitting on their roofs is really—it's like not even real.  It seems like it's—I have to—until I see it for my own eyes, I really don't—can't comprehend how it feels, you know, until I actually go home. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I have got to agree.  As an outsider, I think New Orleans is one of the most fascinating, beautiful cities in the country.  And to see these pictures, they do look like somewhere in South Asia.  They don't look like America to me.

HAVARD:  No, not at all.

MATTHEWS:  They look really poverty-stricken. 

Let me go back to Kathy. 

How many people can you handle? 

TABOR:  Well, normally, we handle about 1,000 people a day, Chris. 

And we're squeezing our local homeless people together to make more room. 

And so we're trying to, right now, probably between 250 to 400 more people.  But, as we're moving them into other people's homes, then we can take on more people. 

MATTHEWS:  How do people call up and say they're welcoming someone?

TABOR:  They call our main number.  And they just give their information to us.  And then, as our case managers deal with the evacuees as they come in, they give this information to them, so that they can contact these people. 

MATTHEWS:  You know, we have a homeless shelter here in Washington about two blocks from the studio.  And I was driving by there today and I realized that these people live like those people down in New Orleans and places along the coast like that all the time. 

TABOR:  That's right.  That's right.  And it is a big problem across our country.  It's going on all time. 

But this, you know, it is like a small city has moved into Houston.  And we have lots of agencies in Houston that are really working hard to meet all the needs. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you think everybody is going to get along over a couple months?  A lot of poor folk coming in there.  It is a mixed bag.  Obviously, like any community, there will be some troublemakers, though some people who will just be grateful to get a helping hand. 

How do you think everything is going to work out?  I mean, you know

what it is like to deal with poor folk and how, while they're sometimes

received by the larger community and sometimes rejected by them and feared

by them. 

TABOR:  Well, we were—had a meeting yesterday and we were talking about that, that this is going to be a long haul and not a quick fix, and that we are going to have people, we understand, they're going to be frustrated.  They're going to be angry.  They've lost everything.  And we just need to show our—Houston has a big heart.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

TABOR:  And we need to show that and be patient with them. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, that's a great goal. 

Thank you very much.  Kathy, I salute you.  You're a great person to be doing this.  And you have been doing it for a long time.

And, Crisi, good luck in your stay in Texas. 

Are you going to go back after this is all over, back to Louisiana? 

HAVARD:  I hope to go back as soon as I can. 

MATTHEWS:  OK. 

(CROSSTALK)

HAVARD:  I really would like to check out my property and actually see how much damage I do have.  So...

MATTHEWS:  Well, good luck reuniting with your family that stayed behind. 

And you can help out, by the way, people watching right now, Star of Hope in Houston, Texas.  Just log on to www.soh—that's Star of Hope, obviously—sohmission.org, sohmission.org.

When we return, it's the largest and costliest relief effort in the history of this country, the history of American Red Cross.  When we come back, we will tell you how you can help, how to get involved. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, what can you do to help?  Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Bush will tell you when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back. 

When Americans see fellow citizens in need, they rise to the occasion.  We have seen that.  Donations are pouring into relief agencies and people are opening their own homes to those devastated by Hurricane Katrina, showing just what it means to be an American, we would all like to think so.  And they're showing it.  The Red Cross estimates it has received $72 million in gifts and pledges as of yesterday, $72 million, and calls this the largest mobilization for a single natural disaster in U.S. history. 

Patrick McCrummen is the director of response for the Red Cross. 

How are you going about doing this? 

PATRICK MCCRUMMEN, DIRECTOR OF RESPONSE, AMERICAN RED CROSS:  Well, the biggest thing is that we coordinate with a lot of the federal assets and agencies that are there.  This is bigger than one single agency can handle.  And it is going to take the whole community of federal, state, and local resources to get help...

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  How do we—how do alleviate the bottleneck between all this goodwill, $72 million, and all this goodwill we're seeing from Blagojevich and Perry in Texas and Illinois.  All these people want to do well.  And yet you see the anger and growing anger of people in New Orleans.  How do you put that together, the supply of generosity with the absolute need for help?  It's not getting done in New Orleans yet. 

MCCRUMMEN:  Right.  It is the coordination that has to take place.  Some of these areas have just been devastated.  There's no infrastructure left.  And so...

MATTHEWS:  You mean there's no bridges to bring the water in. 

MCCRUMMEN:  There's no bridges.  There's no roads.  There's no communication, power, gas, those kinds of things that we take for granted every day. 

MATTHEWS:  I think they got to—they have got to start medevacing this water in.  They have got to start—well, I'm an logistics expert, but you are.  Don't you eventually have to just say, we're bringing it in by copter? 

MCCRUMMEN:  Well, that's what—I think a lot of what's happening now is.  It is taking a little time to assess the situation and get things in there.  I think that's starting to happen. 

MATTHEWS:  And you also need coordination with the local authorities, because you can't assume the goodwill of desperate people to share and share alike. 

MCCRUMMEN:  Absolutely.  Think of the number of cities and counties that are affected in this thing.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MCCRUMMEN:  And they all have different rules.  So, you have got to work through that to get people the help they need. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about the Red Cross raising the money. 

We are going to be involved, of course, tomorrow night with the big telethon with Harry Connick Jr. and everybody and Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Lauer.  That's going to raise some money tomorrow night.  What do you need?  What do you need? 

MCCRUMMEN:  That's the biggest... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  What do you need for this job?  Do you need a quarter-billion?  What do you need?

MCCRUMMEN:  We don't know yet.  We know that it is well beyond what we spent last year during the hurricane season, with all four of those devastating storms that came through Florida.  It is going to take a lot of money and a lot of time and a lot of resources from every American. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  A person puts, say, $20 in the collection plate.  And I mean that. 

MCCRUMMEN:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  That's a lot for—that's enough for—that's a $20 chunk, all right?  Where is it going? 

MCCRUMMEN:  It is going to help the victims of the disaster and it helps to get stuff there. 

MATTHEWS:  Give me an example. 

MCCRUMMEN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, break up the $20. 

MCCRUMMEN:  Sure.

MATTHEWS:  Where would it go?

MCCRUMMEN:  Well, think about it.  People need food.  Think—people need water.  People need shelter.  It takes money to acquire that stuff.  Some of it is donated, but a lot of it isn't. 

MATTHEWS:  So, it's water.

MCCRUMMEN:  It's water.  It's food.  It's shelter.  It's transportation. 

MATTHEWS:  Tents. 

MCCRUMMEN:  It's tents. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you guys have a lot of tents? 

MCCRUMMEN:  We don't have a lot... 

MATTHEWS:  It seems like, you know, it's pretty nice weather, ultimately.  There's going to be a nice fall.  It's not going to that bad, the weather, the next three months.  But you're going to need a lot of tents down there, right? 

MCCRUMMEN:  Well, right now, people are in shelters.  And we prefer hard structures like that that we can—that are easier to maintain than a tent city. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCRUMMEN:  But I think the federal government and the Red Cross are working through some of those issues right now to ensure that people have safe places to stay. 

MATTHEWS:  Look at these people right now.  We're just seeing this footage.  It's depressing.  Look at the age of some of these folk here.  They're fragile to begin with. 

What would—what would you like to be able to do in the next week, with the help that the money people give, to change that situation to a more hopeful situation? 

MCCRUMMEN:  We have got to ensure that those people that are vulnerable right now have safe places to stay, food to eat and life-sustaining things that the whole coordinated effort is trying to bring to them.  That's what's most important right now. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you have helicopters? 

MCCRUMMEN:  Red Cross does not.  But we rely on our partners to bring those to us when we need to get supplied in and out. 

MATTHEWS:  What's going on right now?  If you want to give me—give me a visual picture right now of what the Red Cross is doing, now that you've got this $72 million pledged. 

MCCRUMMEN:  Right now—before the storms hit, we had things prepositioned all throughout this area, because we knew it was going to be bad.  So, right now, we're moving that stuff and volunteer—disaster-trained volunteers into those affected areas to make sure that those people get what they need. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Tell me what you had ready to go. 

MCCRUMMEN:  We had millions of heater meals and cleanup kits and hygiene kits and the kinds of things that people are going to need just to survive for the next two, three days, until federal assistance can get there and until people can get through the bad infrastructure and get the things they need. 

MATTHEWS:  Now for my least favorite subject, blood.  Are you guys collecting blood? 

MCCRUMMEN:  We are collecting blood.  There's blood shortages down there throughout those areas.  You've seen the hospitals on TV that have been devastated.  They don't have power.  They can't keep blood.  So, we are asking people to call Give Life, 800-GIVE-LIFE, to do that. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Let's run through some easy ways.  We have a modern communication system that's not affected at all by this, right?  Do it right now, the phone numbers. 

MCCRUMMEN:  The phone numbers.  It's 1-800-HELP-NOW to donate. 

MATTHEWS:  1-800-HELP-NOW.  OK.

MCCRUMMEN:  1-800-GIVE-LIFE.

MATTHEWS:  It's up on the screen right now.  We are looking at it,

HELP-NOW.

MCCRUMMEN:  1-800-GIVE-LIFE for blood donations, to make—to make an appointment to give blood, and www.Red Cross.org to pledge a financial donation. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Hold that up there, please.  I hope we can hold that up long enough so people can actually—sometimes, I think we put these things up so fast, nobody can scribble that fast.  But that's fairly easy to remember, 1-800-HELP-NOW.

Red Cross, it's got a great reputation, because I think people know that, when there's big trouble, you guys bring big aid.  It is all volunteer money, isn't it? 

MCCRUMMEN:  It is all volunteer money.  And it is all volunteers that

·         almost volunteers that help us do this.  That's the great thing about the Red Cross.  It really—it comes from the heart of America.  And that's—that's what this is going to take.  It is not just Red Cross.  It's all of the other nonprofits.  It's the government and it's the communities that are going to have to come together to make this happen. 

MATTHEWS:  So, the government does the infrastructure, the heavy lifting, the building of bridges, the rebuilding of bridges, the rebuilding of highways, the rebuilding of homes.  You folks at Red Cross basically do the relief. 

MCCRUMMEN:  We do...

MATTHEWS:  You get food and water.  And you give the basics.  You don't try to rebuild a community. 

(CROSSTALK)

MCCRUMMEN:  That's right.  Food, water, shelter, mental health care, first-aid, and longer-term stuff to help the communities recover. 

MATTHEWS:  Can you handle New Orleans?  I'm looking at it.  Somebody better handle it. 

MCCRUMMEN:  Like I said, this is bigger than one agency.  We all to have handle and it and we're all collaborating to make that work. 

MATTHEWS:  In the history of the United States, we were—a bunch of producers and I were talking the other night, the other morning, trying to remember anybody, any city in history, that had to evacuate. 

And we can't come up with one.  I don't think they evacuated San Francisco after the 1906 hurricane—or earthquake.  I don't think they evacuated Chicago after the fire.  This is a city that is in so bad a shape in terms of health hazards that the people are being told to leave the whole city.  There's never been anything like that. 

MCCRUMMEN:  It is an unprecedented event.  It one that they call catastrophic. 

MATTHEWS:  Well...

MCCRUMMEN:  You've seen the pictures.  It is.

MATTHEWS:  Well, MSNBC is going to be helping you tomorrow night. 

MCCRUMMEN:  We really appreciate it. 

MATTHEWS:  Anyway, again, if you would like to get help—get—help out, contact the American Red Cross at 1-800-HELP-NOW.  Or you can log on to your Web site at redcross.org.

I want to thank you, Patrick.  You're in the right business.

MCCRUMMEN:  Thank you. 

MATTHEWS:  Tomorrow, the NBC networks will broadcast a live concert to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina.  That's how we do it in this country, concerts, telethons, Harry Connick Jr., Aaron Neville, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill—I love those two—and Leonardo DiCaprio will be part of NBC Universal's “A Concert For Hurricane Relief,” hosted by Matt Lauer. 

When we return, we will hear how former Presidents Clinton and Bush—they are back at it again, the duo.  The Blues Brothers are back again.  This time, they're helping out Americans, not just people in Asia, raise money for the victims. 

You're watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  All this hour, we have shown you how ordinary Americans are rising to the occasion to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.  And wherever you are, you can help, too, obviously.  President Bush has once again called upon his father and former President Clinton—I call them the Blues Brothers—to lead the fund-raising campaign for those affected by the storm.  It is a similar one to the role they played—and everybody knew about it—after the tsunami in Asia. 

Let's watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We hope to achieve the same thing:  encourage the outpouring of money and good wishes from the American people.  And that is exactly what is happening and will happen.  We are not in the operational business.  We're not trying to tell somebody how to drain the streets of New Orleans.

But what we are going to try to do is encourage the innate compassion of the American people by asking them to contribute to several things, but mainly we're thinking of the funds being set up by the governors of each state.

Red Cross money will keep coming in, as it should, but there are three organizations that—in these three hard-hit states—that we will be encouraging people to give to.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We also are going to try to work with some big companies to get them to do some things.  And we hope to be able to stagger these gifts over time.

Unlike the tsunami countries, our country is able to pay for most of what needs to be done that will cost huge amounts of money.

But, still, the millions of people that have been displaced here—and in New Orleans, the poverty rate's about 30 percent.  There are people that have no place to live.  Right now, they're a long way from home.  If they get a chance to go back to work, there's not even any place where they can live close enough and get to work.

So, there will be a need for private donations here. 

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

MATTHEWS:  That's former Presidents Bush and Clinton leading the fund-raiser effort for victims of Hurricane Katrina. 

Finally tonight, veteran NBC News photojournalist Tony Zumbado is the cameraman who shot a lot of the heart-wrenching footage we have been showing you this week. 

Earlier this week, he spoke about the experience.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TONY ZUMBADO, NBC PHOTOJOURNALIST:  I got to tell you, I thought I had seen it all.  I have never seen anything in my life like this. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No food.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No food, no water, I mean, the bare necessities.

ZUMBADO:  And you would never, never imagine what you saw in The Convention Center in New Orleans. 

I just don't know how to tell you how bad it is and how they need help yesterday. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You've got a 3-week-old infant out here.  How is a 3-week-old infant going to be able to survive out here with no milk, no water? 

ZUMBADO:  These are the families who listened to the authorities, who followed direction, who believed in the government.  They were told to go to the Convention Center.  They did.  These are law-abiding citizens who have been left behind.  They did everything they were told.  They are just left behind.  There's nothing offered to them, no water, no ice, no C-rations, nothing for the last four days.  It is getting very, very crazy in there and very dangerous. 

I don't want to sound negative against anybody or any official, but, according to them, and they're there on their own, there's no police; there's no authority.  They've been behaving.  They have not started any melees, any riots, nothing.  They just want food and support.  There's no hostility there.  So, they don't need to be bringing any guns or anything like that.  They need support. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Tell them that we need to get out of here. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  People are dying.  They're dying.  Babies are dying. 

ZUMBADO:  There's no support here.  There's no foundation.  There's no plan B, plan A.  These people are very desperate.  I saw two gentlemen die in front of me because of dehydration. 

The sanitation was unbelievable.  The stench in there, it was unbelievable, dead people around the walls of the Convention Center laying in the middle of the street in their dying chairs, where they died right there in their lawn chair.  They were just covered up in their wheelchair, covered up, laying there for dead.  Babies, two babies dehydrated and died.  I just tell you, I couldn't take it. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Well, we have got to get all that generosity to work.  That was NBC News cameraman Tony Zumbado.

Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 for more HARDBALL.  Hopefully, by then, we will see a lot more helicopters getting into New Orleans.

And right after our show tomorrow, the networks of NBC invite you to watch “The Concert For Hurricane Relief,” starring Harry Connick Jr., Aaron Neville, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and Leonardo DiCaprio, hosted by Matt Lauer.  Tune in tomorrow night at 8:00 Eastern on NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, and streaming live on MSNBC.com.

Right now, our coverage of hurricane continues—Katrina—continues with the “COUNTDOWN” and Keith. 

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

END   

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