updated 9/9/2005 10:23:42 AM ET 2005-09-09T14:23:42

Guest: Cotton Howell, Janet Shamlian

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST:  New Orleans, Louisiana, day 10.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I can tell you there have been hundreds of bodies.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  They are now being found in groups—a dozen at a hospital, several dozen at a nursing home, a hundred at a warehouse.  What will the final awful count be?  Why numbers are being thrown around like 25,000 or 40,000.

And still the search for the living goes on with almost continual results.  Not just people but still, 10 days later, pets.

Continual snafus, too.  Those $2,000 debit cards for evacuees, there's a catch.

And catch the politics of the whole thing.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA:  Everybody anticipated the breach of the levees, Mr. President.

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER:  People have been critical of the president...

LANDRIEU:  Even the clay figurine Mr. Bill from “SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE” anticipated the breach.

FRIST:  I think that does go over the line.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Then, a top conservative columnist erased the line, hounding Mr. Bush today, as the latest poll pounded him.

But it was the vice president who had the bad day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  In those areas—one of the things you got to...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Go (expletive deleted) yourself, Mr. Cheney.

CHENEY:  ... you've got to figure out what to do...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  This is COUNTDOWN.

Good evening.

The bodies of 14 victims found inside Memorial Hospital in New Orleans, the bodies of 30 victims found inside a retirement home just outside the city, the bodies of 100 victims found in a warehouse that was supposed to have been a staging area for rescue operations.

Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, for more than a week, we have been waiting grimly for the day we would get a true sense of the body count, whether Mayor Ray Nagin's estimate of up to 10,000 dead in New Orleans was panicky or conservative.

The day may be here.  We know this for certain.  FEMA has ordered 25,000 body bags for Louisiana and a Tennessee mortician claims that officials of DMORT, the Disease Mortuary Operational Response Team, has warned the region's funeral homes to expect 40,000 dead.

One of those officials from DMORT will join us shortly.

First, the headlines.

And first, the living.  Police and soldiers still finding people trapped in their homes, desperate to leave.  Officials warning others still resisting departure that this might be their last chance to go willingly.

And as we mentioned, in a growing number of cases, rescue workers becoming recovery workers instead, finding mostly bodies where they had hoped, expected, perhaps, to find survivors.

For now, at least, they leave the dead where they find them.  We do not know how many are waiting.  We will not know until the water has receded.

The Army Corps of Engineers saying those floodwaters are receding at a rate of four to six inches per day, estimating that 60 percent of the city is still submerged, down from 80 percent at the height of the flooding, but basically unchanged for the last couple of days.

There's also the question of what will remain of the local economy, itself submerged.  The number of people who will lose their jobs because of Katrina, simply staggering, the Labor Department estimating that 10,000 people on the Gulf Coast have already filed for unemployment benefits, that number likely to keep rising, the government predicting that another 400,000 jobs -- 400,000 jobs—will be lost in the months ahead.

This leads to us our nightly You Are There feature, none other than the ubiquitous J.T. Alpaugh marking a critical and grim milestone this afternoon.  You will hear him say it, the point at which the number of recovery missions apparently began to exceed the number of rescue missions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

J.T. ALPAUGH, HELINET AVIATION:  Army Rangers patrolling the streets here.  These waters are just black.

This is an injured person.  You can see that this—I believe—i looks like to be a man—pulling his hand out, wants to be pulled out.  Port Isabel paramedics off scene, treating this gentleman for what appears to be maybe a possible leg injury or something.  He's giving the peace sign, and he appears to be in good spirits and OK.  Looks like he's happy to be able to get out of there.

We're hearing some very disturbing news on the radios right now.  The recovery operations now starting to outweigh the rescue operations.

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

(INAUDIBLE).

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) to get a blanket or anything? 

(INAUDIBLE) she's been in the water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) right now, OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That's why I'm here, is that lady right there.  That's why I'm here, to make her life better, to give her a life and get her out of this stuff.  That's why I came all this way.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Please, sir, rescue yourself.  Put out the cigar.  Just don't drop it in that ever-thickening liquid around you, the stuff that used to be water.

Soon, inevitably, those happy missions will end with the reminder that four years ago next week, reasonable people in New York thought there could have been 25,000 dead at the World Trade Center.  The ghastly question now becomes again, how many have been killed by Katrina?

We have the two more or less official mileposts, the reasonable estimate by Mayor Nagin of New Orleans that there might be 10,000 bodies to be found in the city, and FEMA's decision to ready 25,000 body bags.

And then there is the story of Dan Hicks and Dan Buchner (ph), co-owners of a mortuary in Shelbyville, Tennessee.  Buchner tells that city's newspaper, “The Times Gazette,” that his partner, Hicks, attended a briefing by a branch of Homeland Security, the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team.  I referred to it incorrectly earlier as the Disease Mortuary Operational Response Team.  It's Disaster.  It's DMORT.

At that briefing, Hicks and other funeral home operators were told, allegedly, quote, “to expect up to 40,000 bodies,” and added that the number does not include disinterred remain, namely, bodies that were washed from the crypts during the hurricane.

Mr. Buchner also says that based on 45 years in his business, he expects bodies will continue to be recovered for the next 30 to 120 days.

Joined now by Cotton Howell.  Mr. Howell is the emergency management director of York County, South Carolina.  More to our point here, he's the commander of DMORT's Region Four, which covers eight of the Southeastern states, not Louisiana, but he is in charge of the DMORT morgue at Gulfport, Mississippi.

Thank you for some of your time tonight, sir.

COTTON HOWELL, GULFPORT MORGUE DIRECTOR:  Oh, thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Those two mortuary owners from Tennessee that were quoted in the paper there, did they hear right?  Or was there a mistake somewhere?  Did your organization or somebody in it tell them to expect up to 40,000 bodies?

HOWELL:  I'm not aware of any body count that has been given.  Of course, there are planning estimates going on throughout the system, so that DMORT and the National Disaster Medical System and FEMA are all in place to deal with whatever the amount is.

But I have not heard of any count being given that should be expected.

OLBERMANN:  Certainly we have, though, as you mention, the FEMA number regarding body bags of 25,000.  Does that—can you give us some insight as to where an estimate like that for equipment, essentially, rather than a true death toll, where and how that number is reached?

HOWELL:  Well, as you get into planning, you have to develop plans, and that means you do overplanning and over-resource deployment.  So if you're in a situation, if you were just looking at 150 bodies, you may put 250 body bags in that area, or 300, just to ensure that bags are there, so you can preserve the dignity of the victims.

So it takes a lot, even though the number may not be anywhere close to the amount of resources that you deploy.

OLBERMANN:  Obviously, we would all hope that the number of bags far exceeds the people who are going to be needing them.  But do you have any idea at this point?  Is that going to be the case?  Do you have any worst-case scenario in your own mind?

HOWELL:  No, sir.  We have not developed a worst-case scenario.  We do have planning numbers.  And again, those numbers are strictly so that we can have the resources and manpower and expertise in place to deal with any figure.

OLBERMANN:  The president said again today that all those who have been lost, however many that is, would be treated the utmost dignity.  And obviously, you know far better than I do, from your line of work, how imperative that concept of dignity will be to their loved ones, and, clearly, the—from what we've heard and seen of the DMORT facilities in Gulfport, and the one in St. Gabriel near Baton Rouge, have been designed with that in mind foremost, perhaps, of all the things that could go into play there.

But we have these images today from poorer parts of New Orleans, places like Araby (ph), where there are still bodies floating in the water and no effort being made yet to get them.  Does not the dignity part of the effort really have to start, if not right now, then in the next couple of days, even as the evacuation continues?  Do not those two things have to happen concurrently?

HOWELL:  Well, yes, sir.  I'm not familiar with what's going on across the Mississippi over in Louisiana.  We've been busy with our own issues here.

But I do know the DMORT people in the area.  DMORT is made up of the most renowned forensic scientists in the world.  Everybody is treated as if it's their own family member.  They work hard to preserve that dignity, to maintain the dignity as they go through our process, so they can ultimately be returned to their families for proper disposal, and so the families can accept the death and get on with their lives.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, sir, speaking of acceptance, do you think that the country is ready for that final number, whatever it is?  Have we become inured to it, or is it going to be a shock when the magnitude of this is really given a hard and fast number?

HOWELL:  Well, I think we have to be prepared to accept a number, whatever that number is.  And with that, we have to be able to embrace the people that are living, and the survivors of those who have died, to make sure that we don't allow their loss to go unnoticed, and that we continue to support them long after this has not the hot news item.  And that's months and years down the road.

OLBERMANN:  Indeed, and well said.  Cotton Howell, commander of Region Four of DMORT, great thanks for helping us try to clarify the grim and essential information.

HOWELL:  Thank you.

OLBERMANN:  Back to New Orleans and the various issues of the day there.

Our correspondent there is David Shuster.  Good evening, David.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  We've spent a lot of time talking about the dead in the past few minutes.  Let's return to the living.  Is there an indication whether today is going to wind up having been the last peaceful pass through the city?  Will it be tomorrow when police and soldiers start evacuating by means of force, if needed?

SHUSTER:  Well, Keith, the police chief seems to believe that there still are at least 1,000 people around the city of New Orleans who want to be evacuated.  They want to be rescued.  But the rescue crews simply have not been able to reach them.  So there's a primary focus on those people.  You could hear the Coast Guard helicopters today.  There are a number of military convoys that were trying to get at some of these people.

But it's a very slow, tedious job.  And it's filled with bureaucratic hurdles.  For example, one of the crews that we went out with today, they wanted to bring along some flatbed trucks from another military unit, but the commander we were with couldn't find the other commander.  And after waiting around for an hour, he finally said, The hell with it, let's just go.

Furthermore, while we were en route to one of these areas where they thought they might find people, the Pentagon was sending Blackberry messages to this lieutenant colonel, asking him, Why didn't you fill out the report that we asked all the commanders to start filling out last night?  And he was turning to us and saying, Look, this is kind of strange.  We're trying to focus on the people who may still be alive, trying to find some of these people, and now because of all the bureaucracy, the miscommunication, the fact that it's not clear lines of communication, that there are problems with it.

OLBERMANN:  Do you have any idea if the suggestion is that there's still 1,000 people who want to get out voluntarily, at what rate on a daily basis they're being found?  How many are we getting out a day?

SHUSTER:  Keith, at this point it's now less than 100.  A couple of days ago, they had found approximately 130.  Yesterday was 60.  Today, I think it was around 60 or 70.

One of the problems they're having is that a lot of the people they're finding now, the elderly, the disabled, the handicapped, sometimes people who don't have all their faculties.  The one forced evacuation that we know about involved a woman who was deranged.  She greeted the rescue team by dangling a revolver and holding a steak knife.  They had to tackle her.  They handcuffed her and dragged her away as she was screaming something about wanting a last look at her porch.

Those are the types of people that they're worried are the ones who have not been able to communicate, that when they break through windows or through the roofs, those are the types of people they fear may be the ones who are left.  They're not easy to communicate with, and it's very difficult for them, the people inside, to communicate with the teams outside trying to find them.

OLBERMANN:  Lastly, we're going to look at the vice president's tour of the area later on in the news hour, his greeting from somebody in Gulfport in particular.  But was there any reaction to his visit to the New Orleans part of the trip today?

SHUSTER:  Well, Keith,  I spoke with a New Orleans police officer who was infuriated.  He said last week was what he called the unbelievably slow response from the federal government.  So his words, when I asked him about the vice president, was something along the lines of, What's he going to do now?  Try to get a cut of the $50 billion the president has authorized?

I mean, clearly, there's a lot of anger, not just among the people here, but among the police department, the people who are now trying to clean up.  And there's so much cynicism, Keith, here in New Orleans that a lot of people just see this, the vice president as staging a photo op, and nothing beyond that.

Of course, there's a lot of hope that perhaps the vice president, now that he's in charge, that maybe there'll be some real changes, that people will get the aid that they're looking for.  But the track record, as this police officer pointed out to me, has been awful.

OLBERMANN:  David Shuster in New Orleans for us tonight.  As always, great thanks, sir.

Once you're out of the disaster area, that does not mean you are safe from more miscommunication problems.  We'll go live to the Astrodome in Houston, where long lines sprang up, people waiting for promised relief money in the form of debit cards.  What a mess that turned out to be.

And no relief of the criticism of the president, either.  The surprise, though, where some of it is coming from—to his right.

For the vice president today, the criticism was coming right over his shoulder.

You're watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  For the hundreds of thousands forced to flee the Gulf Coast, escaping the devastation, right now may have seemed to have been the easy part.  Today, getting financial aid seemed like the bigger uphill battle.  Live to Houston next on COUNTDOWN.  Stand by.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  One of the oldest, darkest jokes basically explains that when the world ends, the last two living creatures will be cockroaches and bureaucrats.

That joke must have crossed the mind of at least one person in line at the Reliant Center in Houston today, waiting outdoors in the sun for hours for a FEMA debit card worth $2,000, and winding up either with a Red Cross debit card worth, at most, about half that, or winding up with nothing.

Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, somebody may have remembered the joke, but it is unlikely that he or she laughed about it.

The good news, the number of evacuees in the complex around the Astrodome has dropped from about 25,000 on Tuesday to around 8,600 today.

The bad news, this bureaucratic tangle of long lines, wrong lines, rumors, lockdowns, and a cherished debit card, which, if finally obtained, bears the helpful warning, “This cannot be used for alcohol, tobacco, or weapons.”

Covering the story at the Astrodome, our correspondent Janet Shamlian.

Janet, good evening.  Straighten this out for me.  What happened to the FEMA cards we heard about yesterday?  What are these Red Cross cards?

JANET SHAMLIAN, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Keith.

Well, simply put, the FEMA cards didn't happen today.  And the Red Cross cards are a different card, they're for less money.  And there were a lot more people for them here than they expected.

A line of a couple hundred this morning topped more than 5,000 by late morning, in the 90-degree Texas heat.  Authorities clearly not ready for that.  When word spread throughout the community, more people started coming to this Astrodome Reliant Center complex.

At one point, Houston police closed all entrances to the facility. 

Even people with wristbands could not get in.

As it turns out, FEMA was not issuing the cards till tomorrow.  The Red Cross was issuing the cards, but only for people being sheltered here, meaning anyone in nearby hotels, staying with friends, was not eligible.

Now, at the end of the day, the Red Cross said it went well.  They processed several thousand people.  But the FEMA distribution starts tomorrow.  And they could have the same long lines and problems all over again.

OLBERMANN:  So they straightened it out today to everybody's credit, but now tomorrow, as you mention, the FEMA cards.  I'm understanding they're only going to be available, or distributed, at least, in Houston?  What happens to all the evacuees are who are no longer in Houston, or were never in Houston in the first place?

SHAMLIAN:  FEMA cards are $2,000 per adult evacuee, just here tomorrow.  They're going to eventually expand this to Baton Rouge, to New Orleans, to other cities where people are living and affected by this.  But tomorrow is just a Houston trial, and just for people here at this facility, not even the ones across town at the George R. Brown Convention Center are going to be eligible for this.

It seems like they're trying to roll it out slowly.  But again, as word spreads through the community of people staying around here, they just kind of pour in, because everybody needs cash right now.

OLBERMANN:  Boy.  Rumor on top of confusion, on top of lines for people who have been completely dispossessed.  It boggles the mind.

Before I go off on a rant about that, Janet, this idea of having the shelters around the Reliant park area, like the Astrodome, closed by next week.  We know that they're way down in terms of the number of people living there.  But is next week realistic to close the facility?

SHAMLIAN:  Hard to say if it is or not.  Still 8,000 people here.  And that is a good number between these three facilities on the Reliant Center complex.

The date that they are giving, which is September 18, is also the same weekend of the Texans' NFL football game on this facility, in Reliant Stadium, which is just behind the Astrodome.  And there is talk here that there is some pressure to move people out by that date, because of that upcoming football game.

How they're going to get rid of another 8,000 people in that short amount of time is hard to say, because these are the people of last resort, if you will.  Those who have friends or other means have already left.  These people do not have those means, Keith.

OLBERMANN:  Well, at least we keep the priorities in order, football ahead of the last 8,000 people.

Janet Shamlian in Houston, great work.  Thank you kindly.

The vice president gets his first eyeful of the hurricane devastation firsthand today, and also his first earful from a Mississippi man who put the traditional Southern hospitality on the back burner.

And there was no welcome mat for pets at many of the evacuation shelters.  Now there is a desperate push to save maybe 50,000 stranded animals before it's too late.

That's next.  This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  Ten days after Hurricane Katrina hit, the nation's still knee-deep in the unfolding crises and residual trauma that was contained within its winds and torrents, and now the seventh hurricane of the season has been born, Ophelia.

Upgraded to a category 1 today.  Top winds, 75 miles per hour.  Sounds like nothing big.  It is stalled off the Florida coast about 70 miles east-northeast of Cape Canaveral, Florida.  Though it is expected to drift away from the coast on Friday, it's also expected to then circle back westward next week.

The potential strike zone, anywhere from Florida to North Carolina.

President Bush, speaking of strike zones, is still feeling the political storm surge from Katrina, taking big hits now from both sides of the aisle.  And that is also reflected by a sudden change in the poll numbers.

The lessons from New Orleans, how other cities are trying to make sure they are prepared to handle their worst-case disaster scenarios.

And the other victims of Katrina, the animals.  An update on a story we brought you first last week, the race to save perhaps as many as 50,000 stranded, abandoned, lost pets.

COUNTDOWN continues after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  The language is, to say the least, uncategorical. 

“Democrats have seized on the administration's performance in handling Katrina to bash George W. Bush,” the nationally syndicated columnist writes today.  “But,” he adds, “Republicans are not much happy we are him.  When Republican House members paid in a telephone conference call September 1, the air was blue with complaints about the handling of Katrina.  The GOP lawmakers were unhappy with their administration's performance.”  That's today's column from Robert Novak, not exactly known as a traditional thorn in the administration's side. 

It actually gets worse.  Many editorials in major newspapers have been almost venomous towards Mr. Bush and the federal response.  An excerpt from one this morning: “Mayor Nagin's responses to this crisis, while flawed, have shown better leadership than both Governor Blanco and President Bush's.”  That is from today's official editorial in “The Union Leader” of Manchester, New Hampshire.  That is the newspaper that has previously identified itself as the most conservative in the country.  It has six national columnists, Novak, Jonah Goldberg, Charles Krauthammer, Michelle Malkin, Deroy Murdock and George Will.

And what it wrote about Mr. Bush today is nothing compared to what it wrote about him last Wednesday, decrying his decision to continue with his ordinary schedule that day—quote—“as if nothing important had happened the day before.  A better leader would have flown straight to the disaster zone and announced the immediate and announced the immediate mobilization of every available resource to rescue the stranded, find and bury the dead, and keep the survivors fed, clothed, sheltered and free of disease.  The cool, confident, intuitive leadership Bush exhibited in his first term, particularly in the months immediately following September 11, 2001, has vanished.  In its place is a diffident detachment, unsuitable for the leader of a nation facing war, natural disaster and economic uncertainty.”

Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, with friends like that, who needs enemies?  The delusion that criticism is coming only from the left or is being fueled only by political opportunists is not just ludicrous.  Those excerpts suggest it's also factually incorrect, as do the second set of public opinion poll numbers suggest.  They do not augur as well for—as an earlier Gallup poll for Mr. Bush, and suggesting that the longer the Katrina crisis goes on, the worst the Bush crisis may get. 

In polling conducted yesterday and Tuesday, Zogby International found 60 percent of respondents gave the president a rating of poor or fair in his handling of Katrina; 43 percent was poor, by the way; 24 percent called it good; 12 percent called it excellent.  Was the government response in the disaster adequate, they were asked; 32 percent said yes; 66 percent said no.  Among the nays, who most deserves the blame for the response?  Mr. Bush, 27 percent.  FEMA Director Brown, 22 percent.  Louisiana Governor Blanco, 15 percent.  Mayor Nagin of New Orleans, 8 percent.  Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff, 8 percent. 

Two other numbers from a CBS News poll also taken Tuesday and Wednesday; 58 percent disapprove of Mr. Bush's handling of the response.  And, as to the entire federal government's response, 77 percent thought it was inadequate; 70 percent thought FEMA's response was inadequate.  And 80 percent said, no, the federal government did not respond as fast as it could. 

Back to the White House.  Mr. Bush's overall approval numbers down to 42 percent in the CBS poll and a record low, 41 percent, in Zogby's. 

Still, he probably had a better day than did his vice president today, touring New Orleans, as we mentioned, and more eventfully for him earlier, Gulfport.  The usual degree of filtering for Dick Cheney's audiences was evidently not achievable. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHENEY:  You've got, as I was talking to the mayor, in those areas, one of things...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Go (EXPLETIVE DELETED) yourself, Mr. Cheney. 

CHENEY:  We have got to figure out what to do with all of the...

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Go (EXPLETIVE DELETED) yourself.

CHENEY:  ... debris.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Are you getting a lot of that, Mr. Vice President? 

CHENEY:  And—it's first time I have heard it.  It must be a friend of John—or of—or not.  

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP) 

OLBERMANN:  A friend of Pat Leahy. 

Who could he have meant?  John Roberts?  John Bolton?  John Travolta? 

The other John Roberts from CBS? 

No, but the other temperature-taking in politics starts with three of his White House press corps colleague, Bob Franken of CNN, Terry Moran of ABC, and our own David Gregory.  It was Shirley Ellis who recorded “The Name Game” in 1964.  It has been Press Secretary Scott McClellan who recorded the blame game this week. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BOB FRANKEN, CNN REPORTER:  The person who says that he found out about the Convention Center, seeing it on the media, that is to say, the FEMA director, is still in place.  Is that satisfactory, that somebody would have responded like that? 

SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY:  Again, this is getting into where someone engaged in a blame game.  We have got a...

(CROSSTALK)

TERRY MORAN, ABC REPORTER:          It's not a blame game...

MCCLELLAN:  We've got to continue...

(CROSSTALK)

MORAN:  ... accountability. 

Is Brownie still doing a heck of a job?

MCCLELLAN:  Yes.  We've got to continue to do everything we can in support of those who are involved in the operational aspects of this response effort, and that's what we're going to do.

And I'm just not going to engage in the blame game or finger-pointing that you're trying to get me to engage in.

DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT:  But that's not at all what I was asking.

MCCLELLAN:  Sure it is.  It's exactly what you're trying to play. 

GREGORY:  Well, but you have the same point you want to make about the blame game, which you've said enough now.  I'm asking you a direct question, which you're dodging.  Does the president retain complete confidence in his director of FEMA and secretary of homeland security...

MCCLELLAN:  I just answered the question.

GREGORY:  Is the answer yes on both?

MCCLELLAN:  And what you're doing is trying to engage in a game of finger-pointing...

GREGORY:  I'm just trying to say there's a lot of criticism.  I'm just wondering if he still has confidence.

MCCLELLAN:  What we're trying to do is solve problems, and that's where we're going to keep our focus.

GREGORY:  So you won't answer that questioned directly?

MCCLELLAN:  I did.  I just did.

GREGORY:  No, you didn't.  Yes or no?  Does he have complete confidence or doesn't he?

MCCLELLAN:  If you want to continue to engage in finger-pointing and blame-gaming, that's fine.  We're going to...

GREGORY:  That's ridiculous.

MCCLELLAN:  No, it's not ridiculous.

GREGORY:  I'm not engaging in any of that.  Don't try to accuse me of that.  I'm asking you a direct question, and you should answer it.  Does he retain complete confidence in his FEMA director and secretary of homeland security?  Yes or no?

MCCLELLAN:  Like I said, exactly is what you're engaging in.  And absolutely...

GREGORY:  I'm not engaging in anything.

MCCLELLAN:  Absolutely.

GREGORY:  I'm asking you a question about what the president's views are...

MCCLELLAN:  Absolutely we appreciate...

(CROSSTALK)

GREGORY:  ... substantial criticism of members of his administration, OK?  And you know that.  Everybody watching knows that as well.

MCCLELLAN:  No, no, everybody that watches this knows that you're trying to engage in the blame game.

GREGORY:  I am trying to engage?

MCCLELLAN:  Yes. 

GREGORY:  I am trying to engage?

MCCLELLAN:  That's correct.

GREGORY:  That's a dodge.  I have a follow-up question, since you've dodged that one.

MCCLELLAN:  The president made it clear that he's going to lead an effort to investigate the response, as well.  And we'll be talking more about that as we move forward.  Now is the time to remain focused where we are.

GREGORY:  But since the president first brought this up...

MCCLELLAN:  Right. 

GREGORY:  It's not something that he's kicking down the road—or maybe he will, that's unclear—but the White House...

MCCLELLAN:  No, I don't think that's it.  I mean, I think that you have to keep in mind...

GREGORY:  Well, you keep saying this isn't the time for accountability now; you should do that later.

MCCLELLAN:  No, this is a time to help people, and that's what we're doing.  So that's where we are right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  Provided his head is not spinning after that, I would like to call in Howard Fineman, chief political correspondent of “Newsweek” magazine and MSNBC political analyst. 

It's good to talk to you, Howard.

HOWARD FINEMAN, NBC CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT:  Likewise, Keith.   

OLBERMANN:  The polls first.

Yesterday, the Gallup seemed to suggest that the criticism of the president was split entirely along party lines.  but these most recent ones from CBS and Zogby, which closed yesterday, are suggesting the opposite.  What did we miss that may have changed things and when did we miss it? 

FINEMAN:  I think what's going on here is not the job approval number that is sinking, because that is divided along partisan lines, but another number that pollsters are always asking about, which is, do you think the country is going in the right direction or the wrong track? 

And those numbers are cratering big time, as Dick Cheney might say.  I talked to a Republican pollster today who said that his numbers on that show that the American people think that the country is on the right track 32 percent, on the wrong track, 62 percent.  He said that number is worse than any that he has seen for any president since the dark days of Bush I's presidency. 

And that's what dragging these other numbers down.  People are looking at television, both out of New Orleans and out of the White House press room.  They're seeing arguing.  They're seeing bickering.  They're seeing a lack of leadership.  They're seeing a lack of progress.  And that is emblematic of their fears about the economy, about oil prices, about the war in Iraq.  You name it.  The American people are in a very dark mood and, eventually, that takes down the standing of the president. 

OLBERMANN:  The media criticism from the right, some of which I read at the beginning of this segment, Novak as an example, the stuff in “The Union Leader,” it sounds like it would be a huge surprise, especially in the White House.  Is it? 

FINEMAN:  Well, I think they were surprised, obviously, initially by the intensity of the politics of this, because they were late getting going on it to begin with. 

The Republicans I have been talking to—and I have been focusing on Republicans—have said that it wasn't only the late start of the president.  It wasn't only those critical 24 to 36 hours of his showing concern.  It was that one photo.  And it's not the guitar photo.  It is the photo of him looking out the window of Air Force One from 30,000 feet above as he is heading back east, a day late, arguably, to take control of the situation. 

That, according to the Republican strategist I talked to, was emblematic of a certain aloofness and distance from the situation that, if pictures are 1,000 words, that spoke millions.  And the irony is, it is the complete opposite of the reaction to the photo of after 9/11, where he's on the phone commanding the situation from Air Force One. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes.  That is “I can see my house from here” photo. 

FINEMAN:  Exactly.  Exactly. 

OLBERMANN:  Submarines and planes when being tracked relief chaff to interfere with radar.  Obviously, so does Scott McClellan.  He did not use the phrase blame game today, but, in spite of that fact, has the White House got some sort of response plan to this sort of broad-based or expanding political nightmare?  What are they doing about it, because, just today, the Dick Cheney incident in Gulfport?

These are the—this is a political machine that kept Dick Cheney and George Bush hermetically sealed for four-and-a-half years in public.  How could they have messed that up today and let that piece of tape go out to a tense world? 

FINEMAN:  Well, I think it is somewhat emblematic of their loss of control of this story.  And they're desperately trying to get ahead of it. 

I was up on Hill tonight.  I just came from there, where the Republican leadership in the Congress passed the biggest single spending bill in history, $50 billion enacted in a day.  They're not even sure exactly what all the money is for.  So, ironically, a Republican president that supposedly comes from a party of fiscal responsibility, they're throwing money at the problem, justifiably, I think, but with very few controls, to try to get ahead of the story. 

It may help the Republicans in Congress, although I'm not sure.  I don't think it necessarily helps the president.  Everybody thinks that the next couple of weeks and whatever signs of progress can be shown in the Gulf are going to be critical to the president's ability to have any kind of agenda and any kind of leadership role politically over the next year or two. 

OLBERMANN:  Sensenbrenner voted against that bill today on just that issue about accountability and just throwing money out the window. 

(CROSSTALK)

FINEMAN:  Well, but it didn't happen on the Senate side.  They all approved it unanimously. 

OLBERMANN:  Yes. 

FINEMAN:  And that's the way it is going to be for a long time.  This is bigger than the Tennessee Valley Authority, bigger than Manhattan Project, really big. 

OLBERMANN:  Chief political correspondent for “Newsweek” magazine, MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman, a pleasure to take your temperature and the temperature of Washington tonight. 

(LAUGHTER)

OLBERMANN:  Thank you, sir.

FINEMAN:  OK, Keith. 

OLBERMANN:  A different kind of insight as well this evening.  There is a Web site, Condobuzz.com, that has taken the approximate measure of the storm-ravaged area and superimposed it over other major American population centers.

As an example, if Katrina had hit Washington, the devastation would stretch from Takoma Park, Maryland, at the north, at the top of this picture, to Congress Heights in the south.  Los Angeles, everything from Hollywood and Vine through downtown through the Slauson Cutoff (ph) would have been indicated, cut off. 

Boston, further inland west than Brookline, left of your screen, southerly as Dorchester, and farther north than Revere. 

Has Katrina taught emergency planners in those and other cities anything? 

Our correspondent is Andrea Mitchell. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 

The lessons of New Orleans are resonating across America.  Until last week, the largest evacuation in American history was six years ago, more than three million people from Florida to South Carolina ordered to flee in advance of Hurricane Floyd.  The result?  Gridlock.  Traffic didn't move for hours. 

County officials in Charleston, South Carolina, now revise their emergency plans every June.  In advance of a storm, buses take people to shelters backed up by fire and police, knocking on doors with a blunt message for those reluctant to leave. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We have them fill out a form and ask them for the next of kin.  And, typically, they always say, well, why do you want that information?  And we say because we need someone to come identify your body when this is over. 

MITCHELL:  In Seattle, the big worry is earthquakes, which could collapse critical highways.  What if communications failed, as they did in New Orleans, and people were trapped? 

BARB GRAFF, SEATTLE DIRECTOR OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT:  We're taking a look at all the communications systems and plans and redundancies that we have in place in Seattle. 

MITCHELL:  In fact, after a government drill two years ago to test Seattle's response to a radiation bomb, this internal Homeland Security report cited critical coordination challenges and inconsistent or nonexistent means of alerting people to threats. 

(on camera):  And terror attacks, unlike Katrina, come without warning, making evacuation all the more difficult. 

SUSAN CUTTER, DISASTER MANAGEMENT EXPERT:  What concerns me is the sudden-onset event, such as earthquakes, tornadoes, chemical spills, nuclear power plant accidents and potential terrorist threats. 

MITCHELL (voice-over):  Whatever the threat, Katrina has prompted officials across America to take another look at disaster plans that may not be as sound as they thought. 

Andrea Mitchell, NBC News, Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  Back to New Orleans.  Many stayed there because they could not or would not leave their pets.  But as many as 50,000 pets were left to fend for themselves, the efforts now to save them and the effort to reconnect the displaced with their loved ones, our nightly bulletin board of the air.  It turns out it has paid at least one dividend. 

These stories ahead, but, first, time for COUNTDOWN's list of today's three nominees for another Katrina-related selection of worst person in the world. 

At the bronze level, somebody at CBS Television.  The network just reran an old episode of the game show “The Price is Right.”  They did not look at it first.  One of the prizes in the showcase, a trip to New Orleans and a speedboat.  Oh.

Also nominated, Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo.  He has written to the speaker of the House urging that Congress not send any funds directly to the state of Louisiana or the city of New Orleans—quote—“given the long history of public corruption in Louisiana.”  Mr. Tancredo is a Republican, as were the governors of Louisiana for 16 of the last 25 years, as was the mayor of New Orleans, until he changed his party three years ago.  Oops.

But the winner, also nominated—or the winner, actually, tonight, Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.  “There may be a need to look at tougher penalties,” he said, “on those who decide to ride a hurricane out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving.”  That's right, Senator.  Don't forget to prosecute all those dead people in New Orleans.

Senator Rick Santorum, today's worst person in the world.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  In the rush to escape the hurricane, thousands of pets were left behind.  And animal rescue groups now say they can survive on their own for only a few days more.  A desperate effort and a desperate time frame, that's next.

This is COUNTDOWN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  We told you last week of the nonhumanitarian crisis within the humanitarian crisis caused by Katrina, pets. 

We will only ever be able to guess how many people stayed and died because they wouldn't leave their animal companions.  But, in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, we do finally have an estimate as to how many pets were deserted or abandoned or just lost or left in the panic throughout the region, 50,000. 

Animals are trapped by the thousands in their homes.  And the clock is ticking, says the Humane Society's Wayne Pacelle.  He says the next few days are critical.  “We need the government to help us, not with money, but with rescuers.  We need the Coast Guard, firemen, and the National Guard.  We will take care of the animals after they are pulled out.”

Hundreds of volunteers are already in Louisiana and Mississippi with mobile veterinary units. 

As our correspondent Martin Savidge reports, their primary mission, door-to-door evacuations of pets. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  On a deserted street, Robert Elmwood (ph) and Ebony (ph) are looking for a way out.  Down the way, Peter Block (ph) with Venus, Serena and Jasmine (ph).

Like so many still in New Orleans, they stayed because they just couldn't abandon their pets.  Initially, rescuers wouldn't take animals.  Those rules are changing.  But many evacuation shelters still don't allow them. 

(on camera):  If you were forcefully told you had to leave, what would your reaction be? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Shoot me.  I'm not leaving without my dogs. 

SAVIDGE:  This is the NBC workspace in New Orleans.  Because we stayed, people left their pets with us.  We got Storm and Freeway and right here Katrina. 

(voice-over):  They are the lucky ones.  Many others still wait on houses, cars and porches, along flooded streets, stranded and struggling to survive, some with their owners, some without. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Come on, baby.  Don't worry. 

SAVIDGE:  City officials fear they could spread disease.  Rescuers say there's so many, it's hampering their work. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  All these animals deserve somebody coming to help. 

SAVIDGE:  And those forced to abandon their pets are desperate to get them back, to the point of handing over their house keys to strangers, who go in, rescue and reunite. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh.

SAVIDGE:  But the endings aren't always so happy. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The last helicopter leaves in 30 minutes.

SAVIDGE:  Juan Cabrera (ph) is off to a shelter and has to say goodbye to his dogs.  The animals will go to a livestock facility 50 miles away; 10 days after and Katrina still has the power to separate families, creating a landscape full of pets and broken hearts. 

Martin Savidge, NBC News, New Orleans. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  More on this coming up at the top of the hour with Rita Cosby.

In the best-case scenario, of course, it's rescue, then reunite.  We have been trying to help that each night with a few messages from the evacuated.  Tonight, pay dirt, reunited by videotape, next here on COUNTDOWN. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

OLBERMANN:  It is just one story.  But if you've felt as hamstrung sitting at home as we have felt sitting here, we think you'll share our excitement. 

Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, we got one.  Every night since last week, we have been running a few clips from people separated by the crisis from their loved ones, people who want to say, I'm OK, or ask if somebody they care about is.  We got one. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My name is Felicia Washington (ph).

And I want to let Shakuda (ph) and Jeanne Washington (ph) in Omaha, Nebraska, know that I miss them.  And I'm trying to get home as soon as we can, me and my mom, and that I love you all, and that we all right and we alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OLBERMANN:  That was Felicia Washington.  Her husband—cousin, Jeanne Washington Harbor (ph), in Omaha, Nebraska, saw that.  It was the first news Jeanne had gotten that Felicia was OK. 

And, again, it is our privilege to let some folks have the brief use of the network. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I need to find out where is my two kids.  They are little girls.  And nobody is not here to help me. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What are their names? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Jasmine Peters (ph) and Shandon Burg (ph).  And my aunt's name is Janis Morgan (ph).  We don't know where they are at all. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  How old are they? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Ten years old and 15. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  (INAUDIBLE) tell my father and my mother, whoever watching, that I'm all right.  I have no idea where they're at. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I have not heard from my husband since Monday night, when I talked to him from the roof of our house.  It was under water.  So, I'm anxious to get out of here to start looking for him. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kamil (ph), Michael (ph) and Gary (ph), I'm all right, baby.  Momma will be home.  Love you all. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We made it. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What's his name?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Ralph Posey (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What do you want to tell him if he sees this? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  That I'm looking for him.  And just, if you

could give me a call, give my sister a call—her number is 281-578-3354 -

·         and let her know where he is or if anybody has seen him, just—and knows where he is.  Please, I need to know where he is. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Henry Larry Johnson (ph) and Alita (ph), I want to let you know that I'm at 5800 West Old Highway 90 in San Antonio. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Aunt Rose (ph) and Aunt Losa (ph) and the rest of the family down in New Orleans and stuff like that, I'm in San Antonio.  I don't know where you guys are at.  We missed—Sonia, all (INAUDIBLE) I'm looking for you.  Miss and you everything. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hi.  My name is Gwen Toliver (ph).  I'm 33.  I'm from the Carriere (ph), Mississippi, area.  I'm looking for my brother.  His name is Frederick Thornton (ph).  He's in Slidell, Louisiana.  He can contact me at 662-349-9342. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hi.  This is Stephanie Sessions.  I'm trying to find my uncle, Oscar Lee (ph).  We're all in Memphis, your mom and your dad and your uncles and brothers.  We're all in Memphis.  You can call me at 504-920-0104. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is Brenda McGrew (ph).  I'm from New Orleans.  I'm here in Memphis.  I'm looking for my brother Ronald Burg (ph) and Lewis Burg (ph).  Phone number is 504-710-4032. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hi.  My name is Loretta Jones (ph).  I'm from New Orleans, Louisiana.  I'm looking for my brother named Renard (ph).  They call him big Renard.  And we're located right now in Memphis, Tennessee.  He can reach us at 662-349-8855, room 126. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OLBERMANN:  More throughout the day here on MSNBC or from our online database, to be found at COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com. 

That is COUNTDOWN.  I'm Keith Olbermann.  Good night and good luck.

We will be preempted by the all-networks' “Shelter From the Storm” fund-raiser.  I get to join you again here on Sunday night for three hours of coverage, beginning at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Our coverage tonight continues now with “RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT,” again from New Orleans. 

Good evening, Rita. 

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

END   

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

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