updated 9/12/2005 11:22:15 AM ET 2005-09-12T15:22:15

Guests: Eddie Jordan, Jr., Jana Zehner, James Hall

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Live from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where officials today are saying the death toll in New Orleans may not be as catastrophic as many feared.

ABRAMS (voice-over):  After initial sweep of the city, authorities find fewer bodies than they expected, but the door-to-door searches continue.

And FEMA Director Mike Brown is sent back to Washington.  The official position, he‘s needed there to supervise other possible disasters, but is the reality that maybe that he was just a disaster himself in this catastrophe.

And the first plane load of Louisiana National Guardsmen return home from Iraq.

The program about justice starts now.


ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  Live from Baton Rouge, Louisiana where there has been a major shakeup at FEMA, at least with regard to who is running the show here in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  Mike Brown, the FEMA director, sent back to Washington and now his deputy is running the show here.  The official position is that he was needed in Washington to supervise other possible disasters.  The question we‘ll talk to Chris Matthews about is, is that just a lot of spin. 

But first, the headline story, Katrina and the floods that followed may not have been as catastrophic in terms of loss of life as many feared.  They have been searching these streets of New Orleans where NBC‘s Lisa Daniels joins us now—Lisa. 

LISA DANIELS, GUEST HOST:   Good evening, Dan.  Some encouraging news from the downtown New Orleans area.  Today was the first day that troops conducted systematic searches for the dead in this downtown area.  And what they‘re finding seems to be good.  Officials are saying that the reports of 10,000 dead greatly exaggerated.  One official putting it this way.  The body count so for is relatively minor compared to the dire projections of 10,000. 

Now, that 10,000 figure that we keep on hearing comes from something that Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans said last weekend.  He said—quote—

“It wouldn‘t be unreasonable to have 10,000 dead in the city of New Orleans alone.”  Well, officials are saying that‘s not what they‘re seeing here on the ground, although they‘re still cautioning it‘s still very early.  In fact, here is how one official put it. 


TERRY EBBERT, NEW ORLEANS HOMELAND SECURITY POLICE CHIEF:  I think that there‘s some encouragement in what we‘ve found in the initial sweeps that some of the catastrophic death that some people predicted may not in fact have occurred. 


DANIELS:  As to the number of bodies actually found, officials will not comment nor can we tell you because the news media is not allowed to go on these searches out of respect for the families of the dead.  What we can tell you from here on the ground, Dan, is that residents are still on these streets, they‘re still in their homes, and officials say that so far 80 percent of those willing to leave New Orleans have gone.  They have evacuated.  As soon as they take care of the 20 percent remaining, that‘s when those forcible evacuations that residents are dreading may begin—


ABRAMS:  All right, Lisa Daniels in New Orleans.  Thanks a lot. 

Appreciate it. 

FEMA Director Michael Brown is heading back to Washington after being slammed about the glacial response on the part of FEMA to the catastrophe in New Orleans.  And then his resume was questioned.  Others then questioned whether his resume was padded.  But this is the official explanation from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. 


MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY:  I have directed Mike Brown to return to administering FEMA nationally, and I have appointed Vice Admiral Thad Allen of the Coast Guard as the principal federal official overseeing the Hurricane Katrina response and recovery effort in the field. 


ABRAMS:  Well, bottom line is they‘re also saying that effectively he is needed in Washington, that this isn‘t any punishment, et cetera.

Chris Matthews, host of “HARDBALL”, joins us.  Chris, that can‘t be true, right? 

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST, “HARDBALL”:  It‘s not true.  The White House aides are basically telling reporters that if they say there‘s a connection between this change in status for Michael Brown, in other words, he‘s been relieved of active command in the relief effort and the arrival of the vice president on a troubleshooting mission yesterday, there‘s nothing wrong with making a connection between those two events.  I will predict by tomorrow morning‘s newspapers it will look like he was canned.  It will be clearly a connection between the vice president‘s discovering what happened down here—other words, what‘s happening down in New Orleans where you are...

ABRAMS:  Wait.

MATTHEWS:  ... and this man‘s failure.

ABRAMS:  But, wait, Chris.  Why did the vice president have to come down and see that would lead him to act now as opposed to what everyone saw last week? 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I think you‘re touching on what people might call the theater of war.  The cause and effect sends a message throughout the government bureaucracy if you fail, the vice president will get rid of you, and you will be relieved of command.  So it has a double effect.  It shows the power of one person as well as the price to be paid if you don‘t do your job. 

ABRAMS:  Now, Chris, you know, we‘ve heard some talking about, you know, another hurricane that is coming on the East Coast and that Brown could be needed to help supervise there and that it‘s now been almost two weeks, et cetera, but it just can‘t be, right... 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s not true. 


MATTHEWS:  You know I think you‘re hearing a smokescreen...


MATTHEWS:  You‘re hearing a smokescreen.  The fact that Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, would call a press conference and announce that the man in charge of Federal Emergency Management has been relieved of action on the front is about as theatrical as you can make it.  They‘re making it clear that this guy is being taken out of action.  In fact...


MATTHEWS:  In fact, it‘s interesting, Dan, the—Michael Brown sort of read his own epitaph by saying I‘m going home to walk the dog, hug the wife, have some Mexican food, drink a margarita and get a good night‘s sleep.  I mean I think he made it pretty clear.  He has been relieved of any stressful occupation.

ABRAMS:  And does this mean is he going to get fired in the near future? 

MATTHEWS:  I think that would be a formality at this point.  I think what the president is doing and the vice president is doing is making it clear they‘ve got a good person at the top now.  They‘re putting in Admiral Allen from the Coast Guard, the chief of staff of the Coast Guard.  They‘re putting him in this position as basically the man on the front, the man in action down there in the disaster zone where you are. 

ABRAMS:  Chris, bottom line, how political is this going to get?  I mean is this catastrophe in, let‘s say, two months from now going to turn into a partisan split? 

MATTHEWS:  Well let‘s talk politics in terms of getting the job done, before we get between the two parties.  It is already political in the sense of is the government doing a good job?  And everybody has their own reaction to that, and it‘s not generally that good.  I think most objective observers, and I mean most objective observers would say this government was about 48 hours late last week in jumping into action, whereas during 9/11 the president was there on the rubble and looked like Henry V, a man of action, who had motive, he had passion.  He had spontaneity. 

This time around the president was very slow to engage in this affair and didn‘t look like the man in charge yet.  I think that‘s going to change in the next couple of weeks.  I think today was the first real evidence that this administration is going to crack heads.  It‘s going to get this operation in shipshape.  And the only big question mark in terms of the theater of how they do it will they name a big name? 

Will they go to a Colin Powell or a Rudy Giuliani or a John Breaux, the former senator from Louisiana, and say we need a big man or big woman in charge on site? 


MATTHEWS:  I think that‘s the open question or let the bureaucracy handle it.

ABRAMS:  Chris, give us a little history here.  There are positions in government, which are generally positions that are given to people who have supported...


ABRAMS:  ... the person as a candidate, et cetera, and there are other positions that you try not to make that the case. 


ABRAMS:  Ambassadors, for example, are generally viewed as positions that look, if you help the guy out in the campaign, you get yourself a nice little ambassadorship...


ABRAMS:  ... in a quiet little country.  FEMA is not supposed to be that kind of job, right?

MATTHEWS:  You‘re right.  You‘re right.  You‘re so right.  I mean you wouldn‘t send some knucklehead buddy that gave you 50K to deal in a situation like North Korea, on that front, on the Far East or Northern Europe or Northern Asia.  You wouldn‘t give a buddy of yours, a friend of yours anything but maybe Bermuda or something like that, and you might give them the—I should say an island in the Caribbean, but you wouldn‘t give them England, for example, or you might if they gave a lot of money.

But in terms of ambassador of Russia, ambassador of Russia, anyone dealing in the Middle East where we have so much excitement going on, usually negative, you want a first rate diplomat who may be a political appointment.  Now, what‘s happened...


MATTHEWS:  ... apparently with FEMA—and this is all in the papers today—you can read—everybody is saying this—it‘s become something of a turkey farm.  Meaning, you put the turkeys there.  People that may not be—maybe a friend of somebody.  Now, this fellow, Michael Brown, was the roommate of Joseph Allbaugh.  Joseph Allbaugh was the...

ABRAMS:  Right.

MATTHEWS:  ... president‘s FEMA director and a smart guy.  What often happens, as you might—well, you know Dan.  Second terms often bring in the second rate.  The first rate friends you had you give the jobs in the first term.  When they give it up because they want to go back to the private sector and make some money, then you go to the second team or the third team or the fourth team, and sometimes I think the president gets the word—you‘re supposed to approve this new hire at FEMA.  It‘s a guy named Michael Brown who was roommates with Joe.  He says he‘s a good guy.  And so the president...


MATTHEWS:  ... has to sign off on some second derivative of a friend he has.


MATTHEWS:  I think Vice President Cheney yesterday was pretty clear.  He said presidents should appoint these people.  In other words, it better be a direct hire, and this wasn‘t apparently. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right.  Chris Matthews, coming down to the region on Sunday. 

MATTHEWS:  That‘s right.

ABRAMS:  Thanks a lot.  Appreciate it. 

MATTHEWS:  Thanks Dan. 

ABRAMS:  We‘re going to take a break.  When we come back, remember I was at the makeshift jail, the bus station that they‘ve turned into the only jail in New Orleans.  Well, even though that may be up and running, the New Orleans legal community is a mess.  There is evidence under water, and when they‘re talking about all the people who were found who are dead, are they going to be able to figure out if some of these people were murdered?  It‘s coming up. 


ABRAMS:  We are back in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I thought we were going to be playing a little piece of me at the jail in New Orleans, which I will show you now. 


ABRAMS:  So this is the entrance to a cell, and this little lock...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s the little lock, but the tact team—look over there.  See that man with that shotgun.  You don‘t need a big lock. 

ABRAMS:  How are you dealing with the fact that a lot of the records have been lost because of the flooding? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well when we took them out, one of them said I‘m just in here for speeding.  I‘m a speeder.  We‘re sorry.  We don‘t know that.  We wish we could get to his record and let him go...

ABRAMS:  So that guy has—so he has been sent to a maximum-security prison...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s been sent to one of our prisons in Louisiana because we don‘t know he‘s a speeder and his records are wet.  They‘re under water.  Three-fourths of them are under water.  We‘re trying to retrieve them.  Even today I have three boats in there to try to get out any more we can get out.  Those kind of people don‘t need to be taking up our space. 

ABRAMS:  But all the people who were in prisons in New Orleans are now being sent to maximum-security state...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They‘re sent to prison throughout Louisiana.  Some of them are medium.  Some of them are maximum and some of them are other jails...

ABRAMS:  And you‘ve got people who were just there probably...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘ve got people we don‘t need...

ABRAMS:  ... for a day or two who are now sitting in maximum-security prisons. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s right and we need to get those records and get them out of there. 

ABRAMS:  How are you going—what if you can‘t get them? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ve got to get them.  I ain‘t got any choice. 

Even if they‘re wet, we‘ve got to get them. 

We decided—we all decided this would make an excellent jail.  It just worked beautifully.  Quick and fast.  So when people talking about all the failures, they got to look at one little positive.  That this one worked and we got a jail quick.  But we partnered with Amtrak and that‘s why we named it Greyhound South, Camp Greyhound.  That‘s the name of our jail. 


ABRAMS:  But let‘s be clear, there are a lot of problems, major problems, for the legal system, among other things, in New Orleans.  You‘ve got evidence, paperwork that is simply gone.  So does this mean that criminals are going to get released?  And are they going to be able to sort all this out? 

Well let‘s ask the man who would know.  Eddie Jordan is the New Orleans D.A. and joins us now.  Thanks a lot for taking the time.  We really appreciate it. 


ABRAMS:  All right.  So do you have any sense of—I mean the law is about paperwork and about evidence. 


ABRAMS:  Do you have any sense of whether you‘re going to be able to deal with all this? 

JORDAN:  Well, the fact of the matter is that our local criminal justice system has a daunting challenge, and that is evidence that is under water, witnesses that are scattered throughout the United States. 

ABRAMS:  Evidence under water.  I mean, when you talk about evidence, you know, we go around—we have crime scene technicians who wear gloves so that the evidence doesn‘t get tainted at all.  Once it‘s under water, a lot of it‘s going to be useless, right? 

JORDAN:  That‘s right.  Certainly the drug evidence is going to be contaminated and perhaps useless, and much of the other evidence that we have, which is in the courthouse on Tulane and Broad and is under water. 

ABRAMS:  So does this mean that people who are appealing their convictions, for example, will get released because they‘ll say, look, we just don‘t know? 

JORDAN:  Well, certainly not automatically, and we‘re going to do everything in our power to see that these individuals will get the justice that they deserve, but that‘s going to require my prosecutors looking at each case individually and determining whether we have the evidence to carry our burden of proof. 

ABRAMS:  Let‘s talk about some of the bodies that are going to be found in New Orleans.  We talk about the fact that police are searching the streets.  It seems that there‘s been some good news today, and that is that it appears that the body count may be far lower than had been feared.  But there‘s no question that some of the people in New Orleans who are found will have been killed, either by criminals or possibly who were looters who were shot by homeowners. 

Whatever the case may be, there will be people who will be found who will have been killed.  Is that going to be a priority for you?  Are you going to have to simply say, you know what, it is going to be nearly impossible for us to figure out what happened here. 

JORDAN:  Well we certainly want all cold-blooded killers to be behind bars, to get the justice that they deserve.  But the fact of the matter is that the D.A.‘s Office does not get involved until the police department have identified—the office has identified a perpetrator and, of course, prepared some kind of report indicating that this person has committed a crime. 

ABRAMS:  But, look, the police often will follow the lead of the D.A., who will say as a general matter, you know, we have to be concerned about this with regard to contamination of evidence.  We have to be concerned about that.  Are you expecting to make some sort of statement, some sort of effort to the police department to get them to look at X, Y, or Z? 

JORDAN:  If we‘re presented with instances where persons have been killed and we believe that there is some basis to go after some individuals in those cases, we will certainly encourage the police department to take all the necessary investigative steps to determine who those perpetrators are and to prepare the proper evidence and reports so that we can take action. 

ABRAMS:  Are you concerned about the future of the criminal justice system in New Orleans? 

JORDAN:  Well, the criminal justice system in New Orleans is really in a crisis situation.  We have witnesses, as I said, across the country without witnesses.  Without evidence you certainly cannot prosecute a case effectively. 

ABRAMS:  So with a good amount of the cases, through no fault of your own, you‘re going to really have to throw up your arms and just say there‘s nothing we can do. 

JORDAN:  Well I certainly hope that that‘s not the case, but I strongly suspect that there is a large percentage of cases that will fall in that category where we may end up having to dismiss the case. 

ABRAMS:  Any sense of the morale among your office, among the people in your office? 

JORDAN:  Well, it‘s hard to say.  We have employees scattered throughout the United States as well, but we‘re all eager to go back to our jobs and to do our job to protect the citizens of New Orleans. 

ABRAMS:  Eddie Jordan, you have a daunting task in front of you, and I wish you the best of luck. 

JORDAN:  Thank you...

ABRAMS:  Thank you very much for coming on the program.


ABRAMS:  Appreciate it.  All right.  We‘re going to take a break.  When we come back, you may have heard about these debit cards that are being given to some of the survivors, for example, at the Astrodome literally just cash.  They can put it into a bank machine.  They can get cash out. 

The question some are asking is why just at the Astrodome?  Are they going to be able to prevent fraud?  Is it going to the right people?  Is it the right amount?  We‘re going to talk about that when we come back. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My name is Zachary Morris (ph).  I‘m from Angie, Louisiana.  I‘m looking for my mom, my brother, my kids.  I‘m in Little Rock, Arkansas, and I‘m OK.  You don‘t have to worry. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  OK.  My name is Mabel Boiso (ph).  I‘m 67 years old, and I‘m from New Orleans.  I‘m looking for my two girls, Cynthia and Cathy Boiso (ph), and I have seven grandbabies. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  My name is Dana Peters (ph), and we are here in Memphis, and I‘m looking for my uncle, Pete Peters (ph), Kevin Sylvan (ph) to let him know that his mom is looking for him, and Gary Norah (ph), which is my brother-in-law.




ABRAMS:  We‘re back live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where I am at the center where helicopters continue to come back from various missions in the region.  Another story, though, we‘ve been talking about is money going to some of the survivors, the Red Cross, FEMA.  We heard about debit cards where literally the Red Cross was handing out cards that people at the Astrodome could take to a bank machine and it would just simply give out cash.  Well, FEMA had been planning on doing the same thing, but we got some breaking news to report to you about that.

Janet Shamlian joins us now from Houston with the latest.  Janet, what‘s going on?

JANET SHAMLIAN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Well, the cash card distribution both FEMA and Red Cross went smoothly today, but the development you are talking about is that FEMA is now saying it is no longer going to hand out these debit cards, that it was just in Houston.  It was just a trial project, and they‘re not going to extend it to other parts of the country, other cities affected. 

Now, they still will disburse funds, but that disbursement will be done by electronic transfer or by check, which is a slower means of getting the funds into the evacuees‘ hands.  A lot of people are unhappy about that decision, but they say they‘re going to end it here.  Now, this comes on the heels of FEMA‘s cruise ship program, Dan, which, as you‘ll remember, they had two cruise ships down in Galveston that could accommodate as many as 4,000 people.  That program too was canceled after a lack of interest—


ABRAMS:  All right.  Janet Shamlian, thanks very much for that. 

Appreciate it. 

All right.  So the question is—there are two questions that I have

really.  Number one is why are people at the Astrodome getting this sort of

quote—“special treatment” where they‘re getting the debit cards. 

Everyone else has to figure out a way to go online or to make phone calls or whatever else.  And number two, I want to know how they‘re going to prevent some random person from coming in and saying, oh, yes, yes, I need the money too. 

All right.  Let‘s check in with Jana Zehner from the American Red Cross.  They are one of the organizations who have been doing a lot of hard and good work, and they have been giving out some of the money we‘ve been talking about.  Thanks a lot for taking the time. 

All right.  So let‘s talk about question one.  There are a lot of people here in Baton Rouge, I can tell you, who left New Orleans, are sitting in shelters, and they‘re saying, wait a second, why is the American Red Cross and FEMA now giving out these debit cards where people can just walk to a bank machine and take out money just to people at the Houston Astrodome? 

JANA ZEHNER, AMERICAN RED CROSS:  It isn‘t that we were just—the people in the Houston Astrodome.  This is where we‘re starting.  This is a huge, huge project.  We have evacuees in 32 states around the country that need this assistance, and so we had to start the project somewhere.  We started it here.  We‘re taking steps every day to get it rolled out to the rest of the country. 

ABRAMS:  So unlike FEMA, FEMA is now saying we‘ve decided to just make the debit card something for Houston.  You‘re saying that the Red Cross is going to continue to give out debit cards around the country to all survivors of Katrina?

ZEHNER:  We‘re going to make sure our financial assistance is

available to all survivors of Katrina in the form of debit cards, in the

form of—different types of assistance, whatever works in whatever

community, that makes it easy for people to get what they need and get on -

to recovering quickly. 

ABRAMS:  But, as you know, I mean there‘s a difference in how people can go about getting money.  I mean to say that they can, for example, get it transferred into their account requires them to go online or make a phone call.  Handing out a debit card, the people here, I can just tell you from being in Baton Rouge, they‘re saying that that‘s not the same. 

ZEHNER:  Right.  And that‘s why we like the client assistant card is what we refer to it as, and it‘s really an easy way for people to handle their finances during a time when their checking accounts aren‘t easily accessible, when it‘s just difficult to do your basic normal life transactions, so we want to make sure these are available to everyone. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well, you know, look, I understand there hasn‘t been a formal system sort of figured out yet, and we‘re still at the infancy of this project.  Let me ask you about the issue of fraud.  This is a lot of money we‘re talking about here.  We‘re talking about thousands of dollars per person or per family.  How are you making sure that the people who will be receiving this are the people who need it? 

ZEHNER:  We‘re asking for people to provide something that identifies their location from the affected areas—a copy of a bill, a driver‘s license, something that verifies that they are from that region.  But in this situation it is so large scale and there are so many people affected, and we‘ve got to get assistance to them quickly, we really have to take their word a lot of times, and believe in what they‘re telling us regarding their family situation and their needs. 

ABRAMS:  Yes, well, I got to tell you, I‘m going to follow cases of people who are prosecuted for fraud in this context because like 9/11 this to me is the worst kind of fraud where people try and take advantage of a crisis.  We saw it happen after 9/11.  I‘m certain we‘re going to see it happen here as well. 

And I just think that these people need to be dealt with and look—and I understand that the Red Cross is in a tough position here that, you know, your priority is helping people, and I think that the authorities are going to have to try and take up the issue of figuring out how to deal with these people. 

All right.  Good luck to you.  You guys are doing a lot of great work. 

Jana Zehner, thank you very much for taking the time.  We appreciate it. 

ZEHNER:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Kerry Sanders has been going back and forth from the Gulf Coast to New Orleans to Baton Rouge.  He has been just about everywhere in the region in these two weeks since the hurricane hit, and once again, Kerry has found an amazing story of survival here on the Gulf Coast.  Here‘s NBC‘s Kerry Sanders. 


KERRY SANDERS, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Just getting to Grand Isle, Louisiana, takes some guts.  The only bridge to the tiny barrier island is barely hanging together. 


SANDERS:  From the air it looks like Hurricane Katrina delivered a knockout punch to the 1,600 people who live here, but she didn‘t figure on the bayou spirit. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They‘re getting help, you know, to clean up and all that.  I‘d say six months we‘ll be in good shape.


SANDERS:  Joseph Joe Bear (ph) came back to look at what‘s left standing, but ready to rebuild. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  And the mayor is behind us 100 percent, and we‘re getting a little bit of federal help, I think.  We‘re going to rebuild this island. 

SANDERS:  That enthusiasm is contagious on Grand Isle with debris already in piles along the road.  Stanley Deal (ph) only has the needs of other islanders in mind. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You need any bottled water? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, we brought some with us. 

SANDERS:  He‘d never met Dennis and Robin Martin (ph) until today.  The Martins (ph) were cleaning up their son‘s house.  He was volunteering at a hurricane field hospital. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You‘ll never finish if you don‘t start, so you got to start a little bit at a time, you know.

SANDERS (on camera):  Another hopeful sign—for the first time here on Grand Isle today communication systems returned.  I‘m making a call right now down to South Florida where Hurricane Katrina first made landfall as a category one. 

(voice-over):  Like water off a duck‘s back, these islanders, like Gail Lebier (ph) and Tim Lubbock (ph), take each hurricane in stride. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We‘re already making plans to rebuild. 

SANDERS:  You‘re already making...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Oh yes.  Oh yes.  This is a wonderful place out here. 

SANDERS:  Gail (ph) salvaged the pot she uses to make her famous Louisiana gumbo. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Couldn‘t replace it. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It won‘t be long, we‘ll be back. 

SANDERS:  Rebuilding on the bayou.  They‘re ready to dig in. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  See you later. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh definitely. 

SANDERS:  Kerry Sanders, NBC News, Grand Isle. 


ABRAMS:  Coming up, a lot of people have been talking about the Louisiana National Guard who have been stationed in Iraq.  Well today the first planeload of those Louisiana National Guard members are back on American soil.  They are going to come back to help and to assess the damage to their own lives.  Coming up.


ABRAMS:  We are back live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana at the headquarters where much of the rescue effort, much of the rebuilding effort is based.  There‘s a special relationship between New Orleans and New York.  After 9/11 the New Orleans officials were very helpful in terms of sending support and assistance to New York.  I actually saw a New Orleans fire department vehicle with a New York fire department sticker on it as I was driving around in New Orleans, and so I guess it shouldn‘t have been a surprise to me when as I was about to do a drive around with some of the officials here I saw a caravan of vans coming in from the New York Police Department. 

When I say caravan, there must have been 30, 40 vehicles coming into New Orleans from New York to help out.  And so we grabbed the chief, Chief Hall, who is running the operation from New York, and asked him about their effort. 


CHIEF JAMES HALL, NEW YORK POLICE DEPARTMENT:  Within a day of realizing the magnitude of the incident, we had 2,000 officers come forward automatically looking to get down here and help.  If you really look at the New York City Police Department, there‘s a long tradition, when people need help, and in this case granted it‘s out of state, but there‘s no hesitation.  We brought 300 really terrific officers that have great backgrounds. 

ABRAMS:  Do you know exactly what you‘re going to be doing? 

HALL:  Yes, pretty much.  What we‘ve done we‘ve deployed in downtown New Orleans in District One and District Eight.  Up in New York City we would call those precincts.  Down here they call them districts.  That encompasses part of the French Quarter.  We have mobile patrols.  We have officers on foot posts. 

ABRAMS:  Are you with New Orleans Police Department...


HALL:  We contact them each day.  They know where we are.  We know where they are.  Today both our cops and their cops teamed up to arrest five people with a shotgun and a loaded handgun with a bunch of stolen property and a car, so there‘s been some good teamwork out here.  Our cops are willing to do anything to help. 

ABRAMS:  It seems that streets are pretty empty, that there is law enforcement everywhere...

HALL:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... that‘s dry in this city. 

HALL:  This part of the city obviously, as you said, Dan, is dry. 

There is no shortage of law enforcement.  There‘s no shortage of military.  We‘re starting to see a little bit of sprinkling of people come back checking on their homes on the far side of town, looking at their business establishments.  Our guys about an hour ago were involved in a rescue of people that had literally nailed themselves shut in their own home out of fear of looters and then weren‘t able to get out, and they‘ve been in there for several days. 

Our officers heard them calling for help.  We forced entry into that house and rescued them.  They‘re now being evaluated medically.  So it‘s stuff like that that we‘re going to be doing and maintaining order.  This is not going to turn back into what it was. 

ABRAMS:  It‘s pretty striking, isn‘t it, going around this city, driving around... 

HALL:  It is.  It is.  I think it is striking, but it also is tragic as this incident has been, I think it shows that there‘s a lot of goodness out here because—not only the police officers, but the medical people, the military people they all came here without question, and many of them left their own families and so out of a tragedy, you do see goodness, I think. 


ABRAMS:  I told the chief as a lifelong New Yorker it made me feel proud to see the New York Police Department coming into town. 

All right.  We take a break.  When we come back, the first planeload of Louisiana National Guardsmen who were in Iraq have come back.  These are people who have been personally affected by Katrina and people who want to get back to work.  Talk about it in a minute. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  This is Barbara Deplant (ph).  I‘m looking for my brother, Willie McDougal (ph).  He‘s an amputee, and if anyone knows where he is, please let us know. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  This is to all my family.  (INAUDIBLE) I just want to let all y‘all know I‘m in Beaumont, Texas.  I‘m all right.  You need to (INAUDIBLE).  Just call the Salvation Army in Beaumont, Texas to let us know how you are doing and try to get in touch with us. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  My name is (INAUDIBLE).  I‘m in (INAUDIBLE) at the Salvation Army.  I want to all my family members and friends, I want to let you know that I‘m all right.  Everything is OK.  We‘re doing fine. 



ABRAMS:  Back live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  You know, it is hard to believe that we are now almost two weeks since Katrina hit, and, yet, we are still talking about search and rescue efforts that are ongoing.  Some people who simply had not been found.  Others who didn‘t want to be found initially. 

Well, NBC‘s Carl Quintanilla went along with an Air Force team doing just that. 

CARL QUINTANILLA, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Hello from downtown New Orleans.  As officials here go knocking on doors trying to get people to leave town, rescue helicopter crews face the same issue from the air, and we went along on one chopper ride to watch them at work. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Six, six, zero.

QUINTANILLA (voice-over):  Searching for survivors from 500 feet. 


QUINTANILLA:  These Air Force chopper pilots spot a man on the porch of his flooded house. 


QUINTANILLA:  They lower on to the balcony. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The guy is not responding. 

QUINTANILLA:  And moments later another New Orleans resident refuses to leave home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  They‘re going to have to take him out by force because people think they can just stay through this. 

QUINTANILLA:  Such are the hazards for the 347th Expeditionary Rescue group.  Normally during briefings, their mission is to save downed pilots, but here...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Do not touch dead bodies or the deceased...

QUINTANILLA:  Things are different.  They comb the streets for victims. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We‘ve got a person over here on the porch. 

QUINTANILLA:  All while dodging fires, refueling in midair, and avoiding the swarm of helicopters in the New Orleans skies. 

MAJ. SEAN CHOQUETTE, U.S. AIR FORCE:  It‘s busy.  Our crew is looking out while we‘re doing our work to make sure that we‘re not in the flight path of other aircraft. 

QUINTANILLA:  The group has saved more than 3,500 lives, making it the biggest Air Force rescue mission ever.  Chris Young is a former Marine whose job it is to hoist people to safety. 

CHRIS YOUNG, U.S. AIR FORCE:  All of us spent time in you know Afghanistan, Iraq, things like that, but to come over here and help our own people you know it really feels good. 

QUINTANILLA:  Not everyone who is rescued is happy.  Rosezanna Gould says officials tricked her into thinking she could stay in town. 

ROSEZANNA GOULD, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT:  If I got to sit in the airport all—until the water goes down, I will do it because I‘m not leaving my hometown. 

QUINTANILLA:  But others like this woman, whose name we could not hear over the engines, is thankful and in shock as she sees the devastation from the air for the first time.  Delivered to the airport, she and her dog are rushed to a baggage cart, and she‘s wheeled away. 


QUINTANILLA:  But our crew is off to another potential evacuee trying to make sure no one in New Orleans is left behind. 


QUINTANILLA:  And as the number of rescues falls day to day, some of those crews will eventually be deployed back to their bases.  The pilot that we rode with will soon go to Iraq and Afghanistan for the third time. 

Back to you. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Thanks Carl.  And speaking about Iraq, there were thousands of Louisiana National Guardsmen fighting, working hard in Iraq, and some of them wanted to come home for a variety of reasons.  Some of them wanted to help.  Some of them wanted to assess the damage.  Many of them probably wanted to do both.  The first planeload of Louisiana National Guardsmen returned to American soil today and Jennifer London is in Alexandria, Louisiana. 


JENNIFER LONDON, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (on camera):  Good evening, Dan.  For nearly a year soldiers with the Louisiana National Guard have been deployed in Iraq.  They have been fighting a war where they have been faced with roadside explosions.  They have been faced with suicide bombers, and today some troops returned home to face the aftermath of Katrina. 

(voice-over):  One hundred soldiers with the 141st Field Artillery Unit returned here today to Alexandria, Louisiana.  They were greeted to a hero‘s welcome when they landed at the airport.  High-ranking military officials were on hand.  So was the governor of this state, Kathleen Blanco, and she tells the troops that she is so happy to have them home. 

KATHLEEN BLANCO, GOVERNOR OF LOUISIANA:  I cannot even imagine a bigger nightmare.  You know, being in a war zone and knowing that your own home is going and that you are not there to help to try to make it come back together.  But they‘re here.  We asked for their early return.  They‘re here.  They‘ll be coming in.  You know, we have about 3,000 that will be coming in, in the next few weeks and we‘ll be glad to have them home. 

LONDON (on camera):  The unit‘s headquarters was in New Orleans and suffered a lot of damage in the flooding.  Many of the soldiers, we‘re told are returning to damaged homes.  Many don‘t have jobs anymore, and their businesses have also been destroyed.  Today, yet, was filled with many emotions for the families and the soldiers as they came here together to meet each other for the first time in nearly eight months.  And here is some of that reunion from earlier today. 


LONDON (voice-over):  These soldiers were sent home about a week before their rotation was scheduled to end, and the governor says that they were not sent home to specifically go in and help with the relief effort in New Orleans.  She says they are here because they need to spend time with their families and their families need to spend time with them. 

(on camera):  That‘s the latest from Alexandria, Louisiana.  Dan, now back to you. 


ABRAMS:  Thanks Jennifer.  We‘re back in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in a moment.


ABRAMS:  Back live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  You know photographs often tell a more emotional, instantaneous story than does videotape. 

Well NBC‘s Jamie Gangel took a look at how history may remember this event in photos. 



JAMIE GANGEL, NBC NEWS NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  The images are haunting.  Unimaginable devastation.  Tragic loss.  Heroism and humanity.  Veteran AP photographer Eric Gay was still in New Orleans when we caught up with him.  Exhausted, he still can‘t believe what he saw. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ve seen tornadoes and hurricanes and flooding do this to people but not on this magnitude.  This has just been amazing. 

GANGEL:  Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Vincent Laforet of “The New York Times” is home now.  He is only 30 years old but says the story changed his life. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Everywhere I looked, the picture was literally popping right out at me.  As a photographer, this was one of the easiest assignments I‘ve ever had to photograph.  As a human being, it was the toughest. 

GANGEL:  Each photographer captured so many heart-breaking moments. 

Vincent was overwhelmed by this little girl just rescued by a volunteer. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ve never seen a little girl basically say my life is in your hands.  You‘re my savior.  And please get me out of here.  I‘m scared. 

GANGEL:  But there were countless other visions of frustration, of fear, of the harsh reality. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Death is hard.  There‘s just nothing easy about it.  It was difficult.  It was very difficult. 

GANGEL:  There were also surreal scenes they still can‘t believe. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What are you thinking when you‘re spiraling underneath this helicopter?  You‘re not exactly trained for this.  In a t-shirt, leaving everything you own beneath you. 

GANGEL:  What kept them going?  Witnessing perseverance and optimism. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  What was uplifting was the heroes and the people I was photographing and their care for the other people. 

GANGEL:  Their most important photos, for Vincent, it was the horrific scene at the airport. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I have to say the most important one was the conveyor belt image. 

GANGEL (on camera):  Because? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I never would have imagined in my worst nightmare that this would happen in this country.  I have to hope that somehow my making that image and it ending up on the front page of “The New York Times” woke a few people up back at home. 

GANGEL (voice-over):  For Eric, it was this rescue. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Just knowing that they had beat this thing and they were going to survive and live on.  It was just a happy time. 

GANGEL:  Through it all, they hope their work will resonate and send a message. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It was all the humans to pull together and just overcome just so many different obstacles.  It just always amazes me. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The only thing that‘s important to me is for people not to forget.  That‘s all I can say.  Don‘t forget.  These people, they really, really need all the help they can get because they have nothing.


ABRAMS:  “HARDBALL” is up next.  Thanks for watching.



The Abrams Report each weeknight at 6 p.m. ET


Discussion comments