updated 9/9/2005 10:19:37 AM ET 2005-09-09T14:19:37

Guest:  Eddie Compass, Brent Warr

DAN ABRAMS, HOST: I'm live in New Orleans where some residents who thought they could stick it out are realizing that the conditions are just too difficult. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  While the water is subsiding, the stench is becoming unbearable in parts of the city.  Most areas still have no power, no water, leaving even some diehards to say it's time to go. 

Plus, my ride along with a group of law enforcement officials from different jurisdictions trying to keep law and order in the city. 

And the scenes the New Orleans convention center, the site of one of the worst humanitarian crisis here, even now you get a sense of just how awful it was. 

The program about justice starts now. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  And welcome to New Orleans where I have been spending the day walking around, driving around this city.  And I can tell you that while they are certainly making progress, that portions of this city are still underwater.  The stench at times, the stew of gasoline, sewage and at times death is almost unbearable. 

In the drier parts of the city, the law enforcement presence is enormous.  Just about everywhere you turn at this point in this city where the ground is dry, you see like what you see behind me.  This is not—we didn't pick this position because they happen to be here.  They just happen to be here.  And that is what you are seeing in this city, an enormous outpouring of support from various law enforcement authorities, various military helping out in different ways. 

First, though, live pictures right now from the 17th Street Canal where Vice President Cheney is visiting the area.  This, of course, was the levee, the most significant levee that was breeched.  We are told that that has been repaired.  And we can see from the pictures they are literally pumping water out of the city.  And I can tell you that streets we were on two days ago are drier than they were two days ago.  There is progress being made in the effort to dry out this city. 

And if Vice President Cheney speaks out there, if we get any tape in, we'll show that to you.  Also I had a chance to have a ride along with some people who are doing everything they can, law enforcement officials.  You've got people from New Orleans Police Department who for 12 days have been working their tails off with no showers, sleeping on the floor of a police station.  I went out with one sergeant who is leading this team.  Every day he's taken people out from different jurisdictions. 

These guys from other jurisdictions are volunteering.  They're here because they want to help.  And I'm going to show you what happened as we went along trying to keep law and order in this city.  But first, let's bring in the police superintendent here in New Orleans, Edwin Compass.  The superintendent, of course, in New Orleans is the top job. 

Thank you very much for taking the time.  We really appreciate it. 

EDDIE COMPASS, POLICE SUPERINTENDENT, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPT.:  I'm glad to be here.  Glad to be here.

ABRAMS:  Let's talk fist about this issue of forced evacuations.  It seems like it is an issue that's being discussed probably more than you would like at this point. 

COMPASS:  Right.

ABRAMS:  Is it still something that you think is going to have to happen?  Are you going to give special training to your team on how to do it? 

COMPASS:  Well first of all, we're still doing voluntary evacuations.  We still have thousands of people who want to leave that can't.  So we're utilizing all our efforts in that direction.  Once we are comfortable that the last person that wants to leave is gone, then we're going to go into our forced evacuation mode, but we're going to do it in a way where (UNINTELLIGIBLE) will be sensitive.  We're going to understand that people have gone through a tragedy.  We're going to use the minimal amount of force necessary. 

ABRAMS:  It's got to be the hardest thing—I mean I talk to these New Orleans guys and they're like this is the last thing that I want to do. 

COMPASS:  Right, but you know something?  It has to be done...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Why?  Explain to people why it has to be done. 

COMPASS:  Because of the chemicals that's in the water.  The chemicals that will have to be used to clean up this mess, it's toxic.  It has the potential to kill people.  So if someone would stay here, they'll be putting themselves in a position where they will probably die and we can't allow that to happen. 

ABRAMS:  And they probably also will be getting in the way of the people who are trying to do things.  They're probably going to put things in the air, et cetera...

COMPASS:  Exactly, but the preservation of human life is tantamount to this effort.  It's paramount as my responsibility as superintendent of police to save people's lives.  And this is what we're trying to do.  I make an analogist to when you bring your child to get a shot.  Even though you know it's going to hurt your child and it may cause a momentary discomfort...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

COMPASS:  ... if they don't get that shot, they could die from disease. 

ABRAMS:  I was just saying how impressed I was with the team that I went out with, the hard work that they're doing.  But the one problem that they had was communications. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  There still seems to be—because you are running the show here and you've got 82nd Airborne...

COMPASS:  Well...

ABRAMS:  ... you've got National Guard.  You've got—and you have the real potential that people are going to end up...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... coming at each other. 

COMPASS:  That's in the process of getting fixed as we speak.  We are getting a unified joint command.  You saw the progress we made that relates to equipment coming in.  We're getting a facility located where we can put Army, put police, federal and state and we're all going to be on the same page very soon.

ABRAMS:  When is that going to be ready? 

COMPASS:  In the next couple of days it should be ready.  But we also

·         you said something very important.  One of my police officers was with you.  One of my police officers (UNINTELLIGIBLE) with just about every organized team that we had, so they do have radio communications with the New Orleans Police Department.  Our system is up and gone. 

ABRAMS:  But as I mentioned yesterday, though, our team had some problem.  They caught a couple of looters in the act.  They were told to release them because they were told there was no place to send them.  There just seem—some level of confusion. 

COMPASS:  Well that has been fixed also.  We now have a jail.  We have 172 arrests that we've made. 

ABRAMS:  And they all know about the jail...

(CROSSTALK)

COMPASS:  You see what happened was the entire radio system went down.  Now we had to build a radio system.  We had to do find out where our officers were while we were fighting to evacuate the Superdome...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

COMPASS:  ... and the Convention Center.  You have to understand it's been less than two weeks. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

COMPASS:  And we've made some monumental strides.  So maybe the problem that you mentioned...

ABRAMS:  All right...

COMPASS:  ... no longer...

ABRAMS:  Because the guys out there were frustrated. 

COMPASS:  Exactly...

ABRAMS:  I mean it wasn't just like me—they were frustrated...

COMPASS:  But you have to understand what is tantamount and what is our number one objective is the preservation of human life...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

COMPASS:  ... and that has never stopped. 

ABRAMS:  I want you to listen to a story that Lester Holt did...

COMPASS:  OK.

ABRAMS:  ... earlier today.  It was on the “Today” show and this is about the vacation time that some of the police officers...

(CROSSTALK)

COMPASS:  There was a break in some of our officers on vacation...

ABRAMS:  Were given.  Let's listen—oh, OK, hang on one sec.  We're just getting this ready.  But basically you guys had announced that a good portion of the police department was going to get some vacation time. 

COMPASS:  Right.

ABRAMS:  They were going to get to go to Las Vegas or possibly to see family and other—here's Lester Holt. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) 

LESTER HOLT, MSNBC ANCHOR (voice-over):  New Orleans first responders and their first break from the front lines.  Front lines because they say it's been like a war. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If you talk to the guys in Baghdad, the same thing.  Only difference is there's no roadside bombs going off (UNINTELLIGIBLE) fire trucks as you drive down the street.  We've been shot at. 

HOLT:  They have been given time off and are being sent 60 miles away to this Baton Rouge motel to get shots, medical checkups and to talk it out.  Officer Tedra Chaney like all her colleagues has a lot to process. 

TEDRA CHANEY, NEW ORLEANS POLICE OFFICER:  I just can't even explain how I feel at this point.  It's surreal right now just to be away from there.  Felt like a war zone. 

HOLT:  Their health obviously a major concern after prolonged exposure to the disease breeding ground that is New Orleans. 

DR. LAURA TANYI-ASHER, FAMILY PHYSICIAN:  A lot of these officers are going back to New Orleans.  They're going back into basically waters that have become a toxic soup with dead bodies that have been (UNINTELLIGIBLE) under this hot, humid sun. 

HOLT:  But what was also supposed to have been a shot at morale has instead produced bitterness. 

JOHN MANNING, NEW ORLEANS FIRE FIGHTER:  We've come to Baton Rouge and promises were made that we would get $200 and either flights to Las Vegas or Atlanta to recoup with your families. 

HOLT:  Who made that promise? 

MANNING:  The city of New Orleans. 

HOLT:  There were buses, one-way only trips to Atlanta, Dallas and Houston, but no flights and no money.  There was, however, plenty of disappointment. 

We've been ready to get out just to get a break, a small break.  And you know, people have taken turns to do it and everybody knows that the first group is usually going to be the guinea pigs.  But we get here and they're basically just saying...

HOLT:  We tried to find out what they were saying. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But right now you have to be outside.

HOLT (on camera):  OK, we can't stay in here? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, they're asking us to keep you outside.

HOLT:  OK, can someone just tell us what is going on here? 

(voice-over):  Turns out there were no representatives from the city of New Orleans, the city that sent them here.  Meantime, Officer Chaney decided to take the bus to Dallas.  She's got family there. 

(on camera):  How are you going to get home?

CHANEY:  I have no idea.

HOLT (voice-over):  But she promises she'll be back if not for her city, for her comrades still risking it all. 

CHANEY:  I have fellow officers that I left behind and I have to go back for them. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Superintendent, I was one of the people who thought that this was a good idea considering how much help you have here that these people have lost their own homes, they've lost family members, et cetera, to give them this extra time.  It sounds like a lot of them are pretty angry. 

COMPASS:  Well you know I'm very sorry that happened.  You know I didn't organize that.  You know (UNINTELLIGIBLE) people at all, but I can assure you today that that's not the case.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) assisting the other problems that we fixed that you brought up and that's one thing that has been fixed also.

ABRAMS:  Yes and so those officers who were complaining about...

(CROSSTALK)

COMPASS:  Right, that's all been rectified. 

ABRAMS:  You're going to rectify it?

COMPASS:  It's already been rectified.

ABRAMS:  It has?

COMPASS:  It has been rectified.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Good.  Because you know...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... I know these are the people you care about...

COMPASS:  Oh you know how much I love my people.  I was out there with them.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

COMPASS:  The command post to me was on the floor on the front line. 

ABRAMS:  You've got a tough job in front of you.  I don't...

COMPASS:  And I want to tell everybody this.  I will be the last one to take a break. 

ABRAMS:  All right.

COMPASS:  I will not take a break until my last police officer has taken a break. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Superintendent, thank you very much.  Appreciate it.

The man has a very difficult job.  Take a break.  When we come back, my ride along with some of the authorities, some of the officials went into some dangerous neighborhoods, encountered a bunch of different people, a bunch of different experiences.  Be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We're back live from New Orleans.  Today for about two and a half hours—yesterday for about two and a half hours I had the opportunity to ride along with a team of law enforcement officials from different jurisdictions who are simply trying to keep law and order here.  A bunch of guys from Georgia here voluntarily spending their time here, not getting paid coming to help the cause.  You've got New Orleans police officers who have been working for 12 days, 13 days straight without showers, without a place to sleep, doing everything that they can. 

These guys are really doing heroic work out there and I was able to travel with them as they try and keep the peace, try and make sure there are not looters out there and try and help people out who need it.  Sergeant Danny Scanlin (ph) was leading the team.  He's from the New Orleans Police Department and Colonel J.D. Anderson (ph) is here from the Ben Hill County, Georgia Sheriff's Department.  The two of them were leading the show and here's what happened yesterday. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We ready? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK, let's go. 

ABRAMS (on camera):  Have you been finding people committing other kinds of crimes as well?  Are you guys primarily looking for looters right now? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We're looking for looters right now.  That's pretty much the only other crime—only crime we have right now.  This is the first day that we've actually started to run into them on the street.  Like I say, the water in this district, this has been pretty much you know beach property here.  This is waterfront property here until maybe today, so now it's starting to go down.  They're starting to move around on us.  So...

ABRAMS:  And are they looting homes?  They're looting businesses? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They're going into the homes, getting into people's actual homes.  The businesses have all pretty been much been looted.  So, we try to stop them. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey man, didn't we tell you to go the other way?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We just released these two guys. 

ABRAMS:  You just released...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We just released these two guys.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, you've got to go to hall eight (ph) in the Convention Center.  There, go ahead.  Go ahead.

ABRAMS:  So these are the guys you just released? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes sir.

ABRAMS:  And you told them to go one way and they went the other? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

ABRAMS:  So now really it's just kind of serving as a deterrent. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well, us being—just being here is a deterrent. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, that's what I mean, yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You'll see some of the people down here, they're very happy for you to come by.  They wave.  They're not going to—they don't want to leave, but they're glad to see you here.

ABRAMS:  Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They're glad to see the presence. 

ABRAMS:  Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  But then there are some, you know, if you just pay attention to the writing on the front of their houses, they let you know how they feel right up front and you don't bother those people. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I'm sure they've told y'all, but make sure you bathe real good.  The mist from the water that the helicopter just sprayed up...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... water is badly contaminated and at the very least you're looking to getting pink eye.  They've identified E. coli and a lot of other things going on. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hold. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You in the water, come here.  Turn around and come here.  All right.  I recognize you.  You're all right.  Hurry up and get out man. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I talked to him a couple of times already. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He's one of the residents down here. 

ABRAMS:  So you're seeing the same people? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It's bad when you have been here only three days and you start recognizing who lives where. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) go ahead.  Well we could have handled another one.  We already left.  We've got the two you sent me. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ABRAMS:  The stench in the water here is pretty bad (UNINTELLIGIBLE)? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It gets worse the further down we go.  We've got a little old lady up here we're getting ready to pass.  She's on her front porch.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She don't want to leave yet...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That guy there he's trying to talk her into leaving now.  She's been through the Great Depression.  She's been through a lot worse than this and she's not going to leave.  There's nothing for her to stay here for. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We'll turn here because we're going to keep going.

ABRAMS:  That body has been here since you guys have been...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, we just found it today.  We didn't notice it yesterday, but the water level is going down.  So...

ABRAMS:  Some more bodies are showing up now? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  Someone draped—literally draped a blanket over her with a flag. 

It must have been someone who knew the person and loved the person.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I would imagine.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Gunshots have just been heard in the distance and so we're going to see what—where they came from. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Might be firing off shots.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Miss, are you OK?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh OK. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I guess we'll mount up.  I can't get to them. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

ABRAMS:  So what do you do now?  I mean you've heard gunshots.  You go out and you don't see anything? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well normally we go in there but that water is too—way too deep for us to walk in it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... hopefully we'll be (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  That's what - - it could be—they say they think that some police went back there.  They might be shooting wild dogs. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I tried to call and nobody answered and I haven't heard of anybody doing that.  So we try to come back.  Y'all ready Rusty?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  See—we get to critique this later on in our lives a year or two from now.  One of the big, big problems is communications.  It's going to be very hard to communicate civilian with military and the communications really, really need to get better. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  And the fact that you guys can't even...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.

ABRAMS:  ... can't even bring the looters to take their place is really...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And we lost our jail.  So like I said it's a big, big operation and we're going to work it out.  We're going to take the city back. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  We were in a caravan of three vehicles that one of the officers said looked like we were in Somalia because of the way we were riding around in these pickup trucks, semiautomatic weapons in the back.  We went out with Sergeant Scanlin (ph) and Colonel Anderson (ph) again today. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  So you can see today we're wearing bulletproof vests lent to us by a couple of the counties in Georgia.  It's after we saw gunshots yesterday they all suggested that might be a good idea and they're probably right. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You at the garbage can.  Where are you going?  You going home?  What's in the garbage can? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Y'all check this dude? 

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  OK.  All right Mister, all right, be careful. 

ABRAMS:  Where we are right now the stench in the water is so significant.  It is really impossible to go through here without feeling it in your lungs. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I live on(UNINTELLIGIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I live on (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  I'm OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You're—stay right there.  Don't move.  You want to check him out or what? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I'm all right, man.  I've got...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Empty your pockets for us. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ain't nothing in my pockets...

(SOUNDS)

ABRAMS:  You seen him before?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, he's been over here the last two days, three days.  We talk to him every day a couple of times. 

ABRAMS:  So why do you keep checking him? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He doesn't live on this street.  He doesn't live in this neighborhood.  He lives close enough to walk, but this isn't his neighborhood so every day we just check him to make sure that you know he hasn't been tempted to go into any of these people's houses. 

ABRAMS:  So we've been patrolling around now for about an hour, maybe an hour and a half and so far haven't seen much.  Seen a few people who say they're going stay, but New Orleans is effectively a ghost town and it seems that the law enforcement efforts have worked to a large degree.  There aren't people running around the streets.  We've been passing a lot of very expensive homes.  We're not having to run people out.  The bottom line is that for the most part this city has been evacuated and for the most part the criminal element has been evacuated as well. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  But there are still rescue efforts going on.  This is not just about law enforcement in terms of keeping the peace.  They are also trying to help people. 

NBC's Steve Handelsman joined a team today where they did just that. 

Hey Steve.

STEVE HANDELSMAN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Hi Dan.  Before we get into this very, very moving story, let me just set the scene.  As you no doubt have been reporting, local officials here in New Orleans now say they are prepared to force the unknown number, maybe 10,000 or so of voluntary holdouts from their homes in this flooded city. 

At the same time there are a number of people, again, that number unknown, who would like to leave and maybe have been wanting to leave since just after Katrina flooded New Orleans but can't leave because they're trapped by water or worse.  We know that can be the case not only because rescuers tell us they've encountered people like that because we saw it with our own eyes today, a woman locked in, in water chest deep, but saved today by the stubborn stick-to-itiveness of volunteers from out of state. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Search and rescue.  We are here to help. 

HANDELSMAN (voice-over):  These Osceola County sheriff's deputies from central rural Michigan weren't called to New Orleans.  They just came and again today went out on the flooded northeast side where a Black Hawk chopper reported people in an apartment complex.  New Orleans police and others had checked this area and moved on, but the sheriffs from Michigan worried that trapped residents had been missed. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  At this point the victims haven't had much water probably and they're not able to shout. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

HANDELSMAN:  They broke into unit after unit hour after hour.  Then suddenly a call for help and a hand.  Sixty-two-year-old Martina Dealulu (ph) had been trapped 10 days locked in a stairwell standing in chest deep water, drinking the infected swill but still dehydrated. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  She'd had been dead I think within a day or so. 

HANDELSMAN:  One fewer victim for Hurricane Katrina thanks to the sheriffs from Michigan. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Give her a life and get her out of this stuff. 

That's why I came all this way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  God's with us and with her.  It doesn't get any better than that. 

HANDELSMAN:  One fewer fatality in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina thank to the sheriffs from Michigan.  Martina Dealulu (ph) had the best day of all, off to a hospital, saved by the compassion and stubborn professional stick-to-itiveness of strangers. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HANDELSMAN:  But still Dan, as Ms. Dealulu (ph) got her life back today, local officials upped their calls for body bags to 25,000.  Back to you. 

ABRAMS:  Wow, 25,000.  Steve Handelsman, thanks very much.  Appreciate it. 

When we come back, we are—no, actually we're not going to take a break because we're going to take—Vice President Dick Cheney is speaking or has just spoken.  Let's listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE)

most serious or most deadly natural disaster certainly in modern times from the standpoint of the United States.  The positive news I think is that we appear to be making progress.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) I flew over the city (UNINTELLIGIBLE) helicopter.  They were able to identify for me parts of the city that were underwater a couple of days ago where they've now made progress.  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) over here they're able to show about a two-foot reduction of the water level. 

They were supposed to get the levees repaired.  I was very impressed with the quality of the operation with the Corps of Engineers; all of their supporters have mounted in terms of figuring out a way to close the levees.  One of the major problems that was described for me in the briefing on the IWO JIMA is the need to repair (UNINTELLIGIBLE) damage in the process some of them very old.  Said they're even manufacturing parts in order to repair some of the pumps because they are no longer able to purchase those kinds of specialty parts. 

But I think obviously New Orleans has been through a great trauma, if you will, but it looks to me like the work of the military, both the National Guard and the active duty forces, law enforcement personnel—spent some time with the police chief—the governor, the city officials that we're making significant progress and still got an enormous amount to do.  The scale of the project that's going to be required to recover, if you will, from all of this here in New Orleans and southern Louisiana is major. 

The president sent me down to assess the situation, to talk to as many people as possible to get a sense of how we're doing in terms of the overall effort as well as to begin to focus upon the longer range problems that are going to have to be resolved.  That's been the purpose of my trip here today.  We'll go on up to Baton Rouge from here spend some time with the folks up there in the emergency operation center and I plan to return to the region on Saturday probably—this is still tentative—and have a chance to visit neighboring states, Texas, for example, where they've been on the receiving end of the evacuees, are having to deal with all those problems that go with taking in literally hundreds of thousands of people, residents of Louisiana and New Orleans.  Help them get squared away.  And I'd be happy to respond to a question or two. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  All right.  Vice President Dick Cheney about a mile away from where I am right now at the 17th Street Canal, which was breeched and which seems to have been repaired there, now pumping water out of the city. 

Take a break.  When we come back, you heard a lot about the Convention Center here in New Orleans where one of the worst humanitarian crises may have occurred.  Well this is what it looks like a week later.  It gives you a sense of exactly how bad it was inside.  Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

ABRAMS:  This is the New Orleans Convention Center.  A week ago it was the scene of one of the worst humanitarian crises in the city.  For days people here were without food and water.  It was scorching hot inside.  And you can see that everyone was sitting on the outside.  There were reports of violent crimes inside at night, that it was a scary place to be.  And so as you can see, for the most part, people stayed on the outside. 

But you get a feel for how awful it was in there by just looking at this even a week later.  Not much has changed.  Not much has been cleaned up here.  You also get the sense of how enormous this center is.  The chairs and the garbage just go on and on and on.  You hear about the Convention Center and that's one thing.  But getting to see how expansive this is, how many chairs, how much garbage there is here tells a very different, sad, scary but important story. 

And we only showed you there a portion of it.  It literally went on for at least as long as we just showed you.  It just kept going and going and going.  And I remember when we drove by it I said we just have to film this.  To just remind people about how serious the situation was there at the Convention Center.  Well a lot of the people who were at the Convention Center have been sent to Houston to be sheltered there.  And now they're actually getting cash.

Janet Shamlian from NBC is there.  Janet, what is going on? 

JANET SHAMLIAN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Dan, they have actually had some problems today following the announcement that the Red Cross would give out cash cards as you mentioned.  A line of about a few hundred people this morning by late morning was several thousand strong including people who just heard the news, were not being sheltered here and arrived here to get some cash.  That resulted in Houston police at one point closing all entrances to this facility so that even the people staying here could not get in. 

Now by the end of the day, the Red Cross says they were able to fix the problems.  It went very smoothly or somewhat smoothly.  They were able to process and give cash cards to almost everyone being sheltered here.  However, there is the potential for this situation to develop once again tomorrow, because tomorrow morning starts the FEMA cash card distribution, $2,000 to each adult evacuee here in the Astrodome and surrounding complexes on the property.

But it is just for on-site evacuees only.  FEMA says that it will handle the offsite people on Saturday.  But as news travels around here in the evacuee groups, not all of that information spreads.  So they are preparing for another onslaught tomorrow morning as more cash is handed out...

ABRAMS:  All right.

SHAMLIAN:  ... Dan.   

ABRAMS:  Janet, how will they—I mean this is a lot of money.  We are talking about $2,000 per—is it per person or per family?  And how are they deciding exactly who gets it?

SHAMLIAN:  The Red Cross cards were 360 to $1,600 per family, depending on need, how many people in the family and so on.  It went to the head of the family.  The FEMA thing is different.  It is $2,000 per adult evacuee.  Few questions asked.  You have to have identification, which if you checked in here and have been sheltered here, you're going to have. 

You have to have your wristband.  So it—they're not going to take anybody off site and that's not good news for people staying in hotels and motels.  If they left Louisiana, certainly need the cash as well.  But they are starting with the people on site and they have several questions they ask including for some identification. 

ABRAMS:  But wait.  But Janet, aren't the people who are in other places, not in Houston, you know if they're in Baton Rouge or if they have gone to Mobile or wherever it is and let's say, for example, they're even paying the last bits of money they have for hotels, are they going to be entitled to this money as well?

SHAMLIAN:  They are and that's why people are showing up here.  Like you said, they need the cash.  But FEMA and the Red Cross says it's starting kind of testing Houston as its testing ground and then they will be in Baton Rouge and New Orleans and Mississippi and Alabama, but they're starting here now.  Of course, other people are in desperate need of that cash as well, but they're rolling it out slowly. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.

SHAMLIAN:  And as you saw today, they have problems already. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Well, it's not surprising.  I mean you're talking about a lot of money and a lot of people.  And you look at the communication problems they're having here.  I'm not surprised that there is a bit more confusion there.  Janet Shamlian, thanks very much.  Appreciate it. 

When we come back, the mayor of Gulfport hit hard by Katrina, spent part of the day with Vice President Cheney.  Not everyone they encountered was particularly happy with the vice president.  What did the mayor think of the visit?  We'll talk to him in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  I think we've got a tremendous challenge down here to get this done but I am tremendously heartened and encouraged by the commitment and the enthusiasm and the spirit, if you will, of the people that are most directly affected by it, the ones who are out here doing it day in and day out and we'll get it done. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Vice President Cheney in Gulfport, Mississippi today right before he came here to New Orleans.  He was taken around town by the mayor of Gulfport, Brent Warr, who joins us now.  Mayor, thanks a lot for taking the time.  We appreciate it. 

Let me ask you, I was in Biloxi...

MAYOR BRENT WARR, GULFPORT, MS:  Thank you Dan.

ABRAMS:  ... for a couple of days.  A lot of people in Biloxi—and I know Gulfport—very frustrated with the federal government, very frustrated with the way that the government dealt with this at the outset, dealt with the warnings, et cetera.  Did you get a chance to express that frustration to the vice president?  Did you feel the need to express that frustration? 

WARR:  Well, Dan, we talked about that frustration and hurricanes and damage like this are frustrating events.  And we spoke the other day, you and I did, and you know there's no playbook for anything like this.  Everything changes all day long.  Yes, it's frustrating.  Could things have been done better?  Certainly. 

Could the city have prepared better?  Absolutely.  But you know we are frustrated.  I didn't go into it.  I told him that you know we were doing everything that we could for ourselves and we appreciated the help that they could give us.  And they assured us that we would have that help. 

ABRAMS:  But do you think that the citizens of—and I've said before that I think sitting around deciding who to blame right now is not particularly useful.  We'll get to that down the road. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  But I know...

WARR:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... from being there that there are people in your community who are angry, who are blaming.  And I think that they probably expect you to be the one to say hey, you know we needed help, we still need help and expect you to be that voice. 

WARR:  Right.  Well, Dan, and I am that voice and I've been working that effort very, very aggressively since prior to the storm.  And we're getting help.  I mean the biggest challenge right now is managing all the help that's coming to us.  We are absolutely covered up in ice and water, MREs and volunteers.  Faith-based groups are just pouring on incredible amounts of help. 

It's truly a management drill now.  And you know, yes, it's frustrating.  Is it perfect?  Not by a long shot.  But we're managing it and we're doing well.  A lot of people are frustrated and angry and I certainly understand that.  I'm appreciative and that's most important right now.

ABRAMS:  Did the vice president seem to recognize at all that there were—I mean of course, he recognizes it.  Did he express it to you that recognition that they know that there were some mistakes made? 

WARR:  Well, he did.  I mean he knows—he has heard everyone loud and clear and he's not denying that things could have been done better.  No one in the government is that I've heard thus far.  And he is concerned about it and he's wanting to do a better job every day.  I know that he is concerned about New Orleans.  He expressed that to me today. 

And he's concerned about Gulfport and Biloxi as well.  All of our communities here.  Certainly no one came in town planning on doing a poor job.  And you know, we're all just—we're doing the best we can and it's certainly not a perfect system.  I'm not trying to say that.  And he is concerned, yes.

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right, Mayor, I know you like others have a lot of tough work ahead of you.  That building behind you is far from the only one that looks just like that.  There are many, many of them in your city as in other Mississippi cities.  Thanks very much for taking the time.  We appreciate it. 

WARR:  Dan, I thank you for what you are doing as well and your personnel here on the ground.  Thank you so much.

ABRAMS:  Thank you.  We have just gotten --  Ron Blome down in Biloxi has just gotten some amazing video of Katrina hitting and he joins us now from Biloxi.  Ron, how did you get it?  What did you find? 

RON BLOME, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, you know, we have kept asking people what was it like, where was the water, how big were the waves, did anybody get any pictures?  And we've gotten answers to all but the last until yesterday.  Vince Creel (ph) who works for the city or used to work for a newspaperman had a very small digital camera.  He was shooting just to a memory stick, not to tape. 

And during the storm he was on the second floor of City Hall and he said hey, I've got some pictures; they're in these files.  They're a little hard to read, but (UNINTELLIGIBLE) well let us see them.  So we were able to extract them yesterday from a laptop.  And it's just amazing as you look at these pictures.  It is taken over a progression of hours and it really kind of puts to reality what people have been telling us, the description.

Just look at how the wind is blowing.  This was the second floor of City Hall, about a half a block behind me and they start out with a sequence earlier in the morning and the water is coming up only a couple of feet deep.  Of course, at that point it's probably eight or nine feet into the storm surge.  It was described to us as rising rapidly.  And then the pictures continue. 

He shifts.  He looks out the north window and you see some cars bobbing along there.  As he turns back, you see more and more roof debris flowing out.  And finally towards the end of the sequence, you see that the water is maybe five feet deep up against the side of the library.  And you see—I'm not sure exactly where you are at now on the tape but you see house roofs and houses floating down the street.  Huge amounts of debris. 

And as you see that and then you walk around and if you look at the picture now, you see the fact that the Luna Sea, the boat is behind us and the debris is all pushed up against it.  You can understand now what the water was doing.  In fact, one of the city maps that they pulled out showed us the path of the destroyed houses.  And if you look at it, you can see very clearly that the water came in from the southeast.  It was that counterclockwise turn of the hurricane and as one person said there was—this one 10 or 12-foot wave on top of the six and eight-foot waves that seem to come in and just reach up and slap at all the structures and really pulled the front down on some of these apartment buildings, which explains why we're seeing destruction 35 or so feet up in the air when we know the storm surge was only up at 15.  Amazing stuff I think Dan.

ABRAMS:  Yes, that's for sure.  And I can tell you I was in that library you are talking about and it looks like it was hit by a storm like the one we just saw.  Ron Blome, thanks very much.  Appreciate it. 

When we come back, most of New Orleans is evacuated.  Bourbon Street, the most famous street in this city, empty, except for one place, one bar that has stayed open throughout. I was there.  We'll show you.  Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Known for its bars, its partying, its balconies during Mardi Gras, people yelling and screaming, but now like the rest of New Orleans, it is effectively a ghost town.  That is with the exception of one establishment that has remained open since Katrina hit, Johnny White's Sports Bar and Grill.  They always were known as the bar that quote—

“never closed” and now they sure are sure living up to the name. 

Take a walk inside.  You can see there are some locals who simply don't want to leave.  There are some members of the media.  Coming to the only place that is actually serving drinks here.  This is Larry, the bartender, who is on the telephone over there, serving drinks.  They got some music playing. 

They've got water here flowing.  Still don't have power in here.  There's no air conditioning.  And there you go.  The only thing you pay for is the booze and the smokes...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Larry. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes. 

ABRAMS:  So let me ask you a couple of questions. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All right. 

ABRAMS:  So you're serving drinks how many hours a day is the place open? 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Never closed.  It's open all the time. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That sign is 14 years old. 

ABRAMS:  You're just getting some more ice now (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as we speak? 

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you guys. 

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  This is not just a bar. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.  No, we're a community service.  And we had to

go get the MRE's, the water, the ice, and all of that because they didn't -

·         they never even...

ABRAMS:  Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... set up a place for the (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ABRAMS:  But you're also serving drinks. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, I am also.

ABRAMS:  Yes. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ABRAMS:  Has there been one drink that's been the most popular? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Warm beer.  We want to make New Orleans, particularly Bourbon Street, an even better place than it was.  This is where people come to have fun, you know.  If it keeps up like this, I don't know.  That might all die out. 

ABRAMS:  Apparently, the authorities are deciding whether to close the bar down.  Remember, there is a mandatory evacuation.  I'm certain that they will eventually close it down.  The question is when?  You saw that bag of ice that was brought in.  There were some fire department officials who actually brought them the ice.  So certainly, there are people who want them to stay open, but as a practical matter, it seems pretty clear that they're going to have to close pretty soon. 

That wraps it up for the show tonight.  Live from New Orleans.  I'm not actually wrapping it—this is the problem.  When you're in New Orleans, you get a little confused.  I'm not—I've got plenty more coming up.  Take a break.  Be back in a moment. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  As we conclude tonight's show, I'll just tell you again having driven, walking around—walked around the streets of New Orleans today, it remains a striking sight and smell, to be honest with you.  This is a city that is empty.  This is a city that has been overtaken by law enforcement and by a few people who are still trying to stay in their homes.  The problems are not over here.  In many ways they are just beginning. 

We will continue to follow and continue to help in the ways that we can.  “HARDBALL” with Chris Matthews up next. 

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

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