updated 9/13/2005 1:09:23 PM ET 2005-09-13T17:09:23

Guests: Steven Seagal, Harry Lee, James Lee Witt, Matthew Bettenhasen,

Brent Warr, Ivor Van Heerden, Leslie Marshall, Martha Zoller, Haitnam

Bundakji, Walid Phares, Mark McBride>

RITA COSBY, HOST:  As you know, I‘m Rita Cosby, joining you again LIVE AND DIRECT from New Orleans.  You can see behind me still lots of damage in this area, and it‘s going to take some time for New Orleans to rebuild.  But some good news tonight.  They believe that the death count is lower.  But some also some bad news about some more flooding.  Now some word that one of the levees, that apparently some of the water overflowed over one of the levees, causing major concerns, residents told to be on guard.  In fact, I was near the area, and everybody was very worried.

And the biggest political casualty of the Katrina disaster so far, Mike Brown, is out as head of FEMA.  There he is.  He quit after the government‘s bungled response to the hurricane.  Plus, President Bush not too far from where I‘m standing right now, getting a firsthand look of the ruins of New Orleans.  You can see him there.  He‘s perched atop an open-air military truck.

MSNBC‘s David Shuster joins me now talk about the top gun of FEMA getting out.  No surprise today, David.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Yes, no surprise, but the timing caught the president by surprise.  The president was first asked about it, said he didn‘t know anything about the resignation, and then it turns out, well, he did, according to the White House.  He just didn‘t know that it was being made public at that time.

But in any case, it was just 90 minutes later when the president then named R. David Paulison to be in charge of FEMA.  He was in charge of the division that many people may remember as the one that was responsible for the duct tape just two-and-a-half years ago.  That was not one of the administration‘s finer moments, when they suggested that in the event of a chemical or biological attack, people ought to use duct tape and plastic on their homes and have a safe room.

In any case, he does have experience as a former fire chief for Miami-Dade, a county in Florida that, of course, has a lot of experience dealing with hurricanes.

As for the president, he talked about the FEMA response and said there will be a complete review.  Here‘s what the president said earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  There‘ll be plenty of time to play the blame game.  That‘s what you‘re trying to do.  You‘re trying to say somebody is at fault.  And look—and I want to know.  I want to know exactly what went on and how it went on, and we‘ll continually assess inside my administration.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SHUSTER:  One of the issues, of course, was that, in many areas, they did not get the help they need, and that, apparently, was the case at the Memorial Hospital here in New Orleans.  They found 45 bodies, according to officials, 45 bodies yesterday.  Officials at the hospital say that all these bodies were patients at the hospital, apparently in fairly critical care.

But you can see that there was an upside-down sign that said, “Help please” that was posted on the door.  That help did not come.  They never did get power.  They were able to evacuate the doctors and nurses, but many of those patients, of course, had died by the time a lot of people in that hospital were able to get out.

But there is some progress being made, Rita, and that is that the New Orleans airport is expected to open tomorrow.  This is, again, a sign of the effort to try to get business to at least take a look at the city.  Even if they can‘t open the city up, they want people to know they‘re cleaning up the downtown.  They‘re opening up traffic at the airport starting tomorrow.

COSBY:  (INAUDIBLE) you know what‘s so strange?  They‘re saying, OK, everybody evacuate, but open up the airport.  It‘s, like, which way do they want it?

SHUSTER:  Yes, I think it‘s both a sign to say, Look, we can bring in relief supplies and equipment so that people need to bring in generators.  If they need to order things, they can now get a delivery point at the New Orleans airport.  But again, it‘s a focus that, Look, we‘re making progress.  That seems to be the message they‘re trying to get out, even as they say that in some parts of the city, it‘s going to be months before anybody can return.

COSBY:  All right, David.  Thank you very much.  We appreciate it.

And joining us now, if we could, is James Lee Witt.  He‘s the former FEMA director, also brought in by the Louisiana governor, Kathleen Blanco, to sort of oversee and help her with FEMA efforts.  If we could go now to James Lee Witt, who joins us there from Baton Rouge?

James Lee, good to see you.  First of all, your reaction to Mike Brown stepping down.  Right thing to do, right?

JAMES LEE WITT, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR:  Well, you know, that‘s a decision he had to make and—you know, and I‘m sure he feels good about that decision, probably not so good, under the circumstances.  But you know, that was his call.

COSBY:  Were you surprised by the move?  A lot of people—as we were just hearing from David Shuster, a lot of folks were sort of surprised at the timing.

WITT:  Well, you know, I‘m sure that he had a reason for that, and I‘m sure he was trying to do what he thought was best to help FEMA and help the president and help his recovery efforts.  And you know, if that was the case, good for him.

COSBY:  What do you make of the biggest problems of FEMA, from your perspective, having been in that seat?  What do you think were the biggest bundles, James, and what needs to be fixed?

WITT:  Well, you know, Rita, I go back to the years I was there.  And I know the FEMA employees, how dedicated and caring they are and how hard they work.  And you know, as I said before, I think that Congress and the administration needs to put FEMA back together so it can be—so it can be responsive, so it can fulfill its role and responsibility to the American people in very difficult times, such as this hurricane and those in the future, so—and I wish and hope that they do that.

COSBY:  What do you make about this new guy, R. David Paulison?  We don‘t know too much about him.  I want to show a little bit of his resume.  We know that he was fire chief in Miami-Dade County, 30 years of fire experience.  What have you heard about this guy?  Do you know him, James?

WITT:  I know Dave Paulison really well.  I worked with him when he was fire chief, and he also had emergency management under him as fire chief in Miami-Dade.  And you know, all the years I‘ve known him and worked with him, I find him to be a very caring and very professional person.  He‘s been heading up the U.S. Fire Administration.  And you know, I can say he‘s got the skills and he‘s got the talent, and I just wish him the best.

COSBY:  You also spent the day, James, with the president today.  What was his reaction?  This is the third time he‘s been here.

WITT:  Well, you know, I think Governor Blanco and the president, you know, are looking forward to moving forward with all of the—at warp speed now to try to get through this response and also start the long-term recovery efforts because it‘s going to take a huge amount of time and effort and money to do this.  And the governor is really focused on it, and I think President Bush is, too.  And I think today, the meeting was extremely good, talked about areas they need to focus on and work at.

And then we also—I sat down with the admiral and Captain Atkins (ph) and FEMA, and we talked about bringing everyone together to look at the short-term and long-term reconstruction, which is—Rita, it‘s going to be—it‘s going to take a huge effort to do this.

COSBY:  You know, I‘ll tell you, the more I see of the community—and I‘ve been out in a lot of parts, as I know you have, too, James Lee—you know, when you look at it, it is going to take forever, don‘t you think?  I mean, I wonder if people can ever go back in their home.

WITT:  Yes, I think so.  And I think that we have to show that, you know, we have made great strides.  And I think that they‘re going to see that they‘re not going to only have their cities back and their communities back and their schools back.  I know Governor Blanco has really, really pushed all of us to make sure that, you know, we get this done and get it done as fast as possible in a partnership with FEMA.

And so—you know, I‘ve seen—Rita, I‘ve seen this many times over across the country for eight years and 340 disasters we responded to.  And I have seen communities destroyed, and I have seen communities come back and rebuild back better and stronger.  And this can be done here, as well, and I think people will see that.

COSBY:  Well, we certainly hope so.  James Lee Witt, good to have you with us again, my friend.

And now joining us, we‘ve got the mayor of Gulfport, Mississippi. 

We‘ve got Brent Warr, who also spent some time with the president today.  And joining me here, we have got two very special guests.  We‘ve got Sheriff Harry Lee of Jefferson Parish.  And also with him, a surprise guest who just joined us a few minutes ago, actor Steven Seagal.

Let me start with you, Sheriff, first of all.  How are you doing?  First of all, because you and I saw each other a couple days ago.  Bad news today.  I was hearing on the radio on the drive in.  They were saying that no home in your area is going to be livable.  Is it that bad?

SHERIFF HARRY LEE, JEFFERSON PARISH, LOUISIANA:  Where?

COSBY:  Yes, in a lot of your communities, that a lot of the homes are just so badly destroyed.

LEE:  I think some of them (INAUDIBLE) But we‘ve been very fortunate.  That storm went 20 miles to the east, and we were spared.  Steven and I drove around the lower part of the 9th ward, where the storm really hit, and it could be several months or maybe a year before that area is rebuilt.  I mean, they‘re going to have to go in there with the bulldozers and...

COSBY:  Yes, that 9th ward is really bad shape.  Steven Seagal, let me bring you in, if I could, a little bit.  You know, talk about the 9th ward, which the sheriff talked about.  What was your reaction?  You‘re not from here, but you‘re from Tennessee, right?  You‘re from Memphis.

STEVEN SEAGAL, ACTOR:  I‘m in Memphis, but I am sort of from Louisiana, in the sense that I‘m here from childhood a lot.  I‘ve been with Harry for 15 years.

COSBY:  Yes, how do you two know each other?  A great friendship here.

LEE:  We got to be friends—he actually was trains my SWAT team, pistol and hand-to-hand combat.  And I gave him a commission 15 years ago.  He was filming in Romania.  And we get calls all the time, but he wanted to come down, so he finally made it today.  So he‘s getting ready to ride with the New Orleans SWAT team for a little while, and then he‘s going to come back and just answer calls with us tonight.

COSBY:  Oh, that‘s great.  So you got the real deal out here on the scene, which is great.

LEE:  Yes.  I mean, he‘s probably the best shot in the area, so...

COSBY:  Yes, I‘m sure he is.  You probably are, right?

SEAGAL:  Well, it‘s not for me to say.

COSBY:  No, well, I think the sheriff is saying it for you.  What‘s your reaction when you come out here and you see the devastation?  You know, when I came, I was stunned, especially when I saw it from the air.

SEAGAL:  I mean, I talked to my boys every day from Europe, and they tried to tell me how bad it was.  When I got here, it was worse than I could imagine.  I‘ve been in war zones before and terrible situations, and this is, you know, just more terrible than anything I could have imagined.

COSBY:  What do you think you can help to bring to these guys here on the force, not just the sheriff but the folks you‘re going to ride along tonight with the New Orleans police?

SEAGAL:  I mean, anybody—I‘m just trying to raise the morale.  And anybody who‘s suffering or needing help, the sheriff and I are there to try to help people.

COSBY:  You know, you...

SEAGAL:  That‘s why we‘re here.

COSBY:  You do a lot of big action films.  A lot of us are big, big fans of what you do.  But I will tell you, you know, when you come here, this is the real deal.  It must just be stunning for to you see.

SEAGAL:  I mean, I‘ve been in the real deal before, but this is like nothing anybody‘s seen.  This is crazy.  I mean crazy.

COSBY:  What are you telling the folks on the patrol?  Because this is tough stuff.  You know, I was out with the U.S. Marshals earlier today...

(CROSSTALK)

LEE:  ... came to lift the morale of the people in New Orleans, and they were so happy to see him, just that he would take the time from his busy schedule just to come be here.

COSBY:  Yes, I bet.  I bet.  How do you feel, also, being able to help these guys?  Because these guys are in dire straits.

SEAGAL:  A lot of these people are my old friends.  When we came up on Eddie Compass, he said, Steven Seagal is here, y‘all, to fuss at you.

(LAUGHTER)

SEAGAL:  You know?  So everybody‘s happy to see me, and I‘m happy to see them.  And I‘m just hoping that we can do the best we can to help some people who are suffering.  That‘s all.

COSBY:  I‘m sure you can.  And hold on, if you could (INAUDIBLE) I want to bring in the Gulfport mayor because, Brent Warr, you‘re still with us.  Brent, you know, you also had, you know, the president with you today.  What are his thoughts?  This is his third visit.  Is he seeing improvement?

MAYOR BRENT WARR, GULFPORT, MISSISSIPPI:  Are you speaking with me, Rita?

COSBY:  Yes, I am, Mayor.  Is he seeing improvement...

WARR:  Yes, ma‘am.  I‘m sorry...

(CROSSTALK)

COSBY:  Yes, Mayor, is he...

WARR:  I‘m having a hard time understanding you.

COSBY:  ... improvement in your area?

WARR:  Yes, ma‘am, we really are.  We‘re making a lot of progress.  It was really kind of the president to come down today with Governor Barbour and spend some time with us.  And we‘re seeing tremendous improvement.  We‘re at about 98 percent on our wastewater treatment, and water is just about to every citizen in Gulfport that can accept water in their home right now.  Power is coming on.  So we‘re seeing tremendous improvement.  The roads are improving, as well.

COSBY:  How long is it going to take in terms of clean-up in your area, Mayor, you know, as you get a lay of the land and kind of step back and the waters are receding?  You know, as we look—I just came back from some of the 9th ward, where the sheriff was talking about, and some of these other places.  The water is stepping back, but it just looks like it‘s going to take forever to get back into those homes, if at all.

WARR:  Well, it‘s going to take us quite a while to rebuild.  And certainly, clean-up is the point of work for the day.  Of course, all the waters receded immediately after the storm here, but the clean-up is just an absolutely massive effort, probably near four million cubic tons of debris.  And that‘s just in the public areas, the right of ways and the roads.  That‘s before we ever start talking about that that‘s on private property, and there‘s probably that much again.  It‘s just an absolutely massive project.

COSBY:  It is a massive project.  And Sheriff Lee, in terms of your community—you know, I‘ll at the you, a lot of folks I‘ve talk to, they love you in your community.  But what are you telling your folks tonight, in terms of is there a glimmer of hope?

LEE:  I tell them that we‘re very fortunate that the storm turned the way it did.  There‘s some devastation.  There‘s some homes will be bulldozed.  But the parish president, Aaron Broussard, asked today that all the businesses return, get ready, because in a very short time, the people will be coming back to Jefferson parish.

We‘re very fortunate that we did not have the physical damage they did in New Orleans.  Jefferson Parish will be the jump-start place when New Orleans is rebuilt.  All of the building materials, all of the personnel, all of apartments in here, everything will be ready.  We‘ll be booming in just a matter of weeks.

COSBY:  That‘s great.  And Steven Seagal, what are you telling the folks, too, in terms of the folks who have lost so much?

SEAGAL:  Well, just that they‘re alive and that‘s the most important thing, and they‘re going to get a lot of help from everybody in America and everybody all around the world to help them start a new life.

COSBY:  Great.  Thank you for being here.  And I‘m sure it‘s going to lift a lot of the folks‘ spirits.  Thanks so much.

SEAGAL:  Thank you.

COSBY:  Steven Seagal, Sheriff Henry Lee, always good to see my friend...

(CROSSTALK)

COSBY:  And also, Mayor Brent Warr.  Thank you so much for being with us.  We appreciate it.

And stick with us, everybody.  We‘ve got a lot more ahead, right after the break.  Tropical Storm Ophelia—she‘s been downgraded, the good news is, from a hurricane.  She‘s coming towards the Carolina coast.  Have authorities learned anything from the mistakes in the Gulf states?  I‘ll ask the mayor of Myrtle Beach.  He‘s coming up.

And a blackout in southern California.  Was the Department of Homeland Security ready to move into action?  And you won‘t believe how many experts say they warned people at the top that Katrina would be a killer.  So who dropped the ball?  That‘s next on LIVE AND DIRECT, as we continue here from New Orleans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

IVOR VAN HEERDEN, HURRICANE EXPERT:  On Saturday evening, we put out our first storm surge model output that showed the city was going to flood.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, LOS ANGELES:  I‘m here to assure you that our city is prepared to handle these situations.  In fact, as I said, power was restored to the vast majority of DWP customers, 90 percent, within the first two hours.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  And that was the mayor of Los Angeles.  Today, LA was really put to the test.  There was a major power outage today.  Utility workers connected the wrong wires, causing a massive outage, two million affected in LA.  It happened midday for about two hours.  And of course, this comes on the heels of the disaster here in New Orleans, where people are just so skittish over what happened here.

Now we are joined by the California homeland security director, Matthew Bettenhasen.  He joins me now live.  Director Bettenhasen, let me ask you a quick question.  First of all, this outage today—how nervous were people, when all of a sudden, on the heels of what‘s happened here in New Orleans, obviously, 9/11, and then we got this—this disaster here, just a mistake.  But I‘m sure people at first were very nervous.

MATTHEW BETTENHASEN, CALIFORNIA HOMELAND SECURITY DIRECTOR:  Well, you

know, obviously, there‘s always those concerns, where you want to first make a determination as to whether there might be terrorism involved with it.

Both—I want to compliment the mayor and Chief Bratton and Chief Balmontre (ph) for their wonderful work.  And we were working quickly with DHS because we do realize that we‘re just at the fourth anniversary of 9/11, and so you wanted to make sure.  And it became clear very early on that this was not a terrorist act but an accident.

And the Water and Power Department did a great job in getting that recovered, and I think the city handled it very well.  Their plans were immediately put in place.  The fire department was deployed.  The police department was deployed.  So things worked very well.  It was seamless between the federal, state and local cooperation.

COSBY:  Cooperation, I think, is the key because that‘s one of the things that everybody is saying here is not necessarily happening.  It seems that the FBI and New Orleans police are working very closely, but there are some agencies that seem to be tripping on each other.  Is there a lesson learned from New Orleans that you‘re taking now into LA and elsewhere?

BETTENHASEN:  Well, I think we were actually working on it long before what we saw there because it really was a lesson learned from 9/11, that cooperation and coordination is essential.  So Governor Schwarzenegger, through his leadership, and along with the FBI, we created the statewide fusion (ph) center, and then four regional fusion centers for looking at threat information.  In fact, those fusion centers—one in LA, one in San Diego, one in San Francisco and one here in Sacramento—bring together federal, state, county and local law enforcement so that they‘re working together.

So we‘re very proud of the fact that the new JRIC, the joint regional information center, is going to be opening officially this month in Los Angeles.  They‘re already working together and sharing information as true partners.  It doesn‘t matter the color of your uniform, it‘s doing the right thing to coordinate and cooperate.  So that that kind of information has been exchanged and is being exchanged long before what we‘ve seen in New Orleans.  And it‘s a rather innovative program that the governor invested $2 million in each of those regional fusion centers that has made California safer and better prepared.

COSBY:  Well, that‘s good to hear.  All right, Matthew Bettenhasen with the California Homeland Security Department, the director there.  We really appreciate you being with us.

As we talk about LA, of course, everybody‘s also still talking about here, New Orleans.  A lot of people are saying, What went wrong?  What could have been prevented?  What did the government know before this crisis?  Well, “DATELINE‘s” Stone Phillips has the story about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STONE PHILLIPS, “DATELINE” (voice-over):  The threat of hurricanes and flooding was so severe that as far back as the 1700s, private landowners began to build levees to protect New Orleans because what was obvious back then, and what we‘ve seen again these past 10 days, is that New Orleans is uniquely vulnerable to flooding.

MARK SCHLEIFSTEIN, REPORTER, “NEW ORLEANS TIMES-PICAYUNE”:  Well, it‘s a bowl, and it‘s so low that my house is eight feet below sea level behind that levee.  So once water tops the levees, you‘re filling a bowl.  And the more water that pours in, the more water- you know, the higher it gets.  And you can‘t get the water out.

PHILLIPS:  Recognizing that threat, starting in the 1960s, the federal government spent millions around New Orleans to greatly expand the levee system.  The goal, to make sure the levees could withstand a major hurricane and hold back the water surge that might accompany it.  One way or another, the city survived every major hurricane that came its way:

Betsy in 1965, Camille in 1969 and Ivan just last year.  But two weeks ago, as Hurricane Katrina approached the Gulf Coast, forecasters became increasingly alarmed that this storm was growing into a monster unlike almost any other they‘d seen before.

BILLY WAGNER, SR. DIR., FLORIDA KEYS EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT:  There‘s going to be a tremendous amount of damage from this system.  It‘s a big system.  It‘s a lot bigger than Camille was.

PHILLIPS:  This was the scene inside the National Hurricane Center in Miami as the storm approached.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s very classic.  It‘s a very mature hurricane, a very intense hurricane.

PHILLIPS:  The experts in Miami weren‘t the only ones worried about Katrina.  At the same time, in Baton Rouge, another hurricane expert, Ivor Van Heerden of Louisiana State University, was running computer models to predict the possible damage.  It was looking really bad to him, too.

IVOR VAN HEERDEN, HURRICANE EXPERT, LSU:  On Saturday evening, we put out our first storm surge model output that showed the city was going flood.

PHILLIPS (on camera):  On Saturday night?

VAN HEERDEN:  Saturday night.  And we sent out an e-mail to federal agencies, to the state agencies.

PHILLIPS:  So your model said, even on its track Saturday night, that a storm surge could lead to flooding in the city of New Orleans.

VAN HEERDEN:  Yes.

PHILLIPS (voice-over):  He sent the e-mail to the Hurricane Center in Miami.  There Max Mayfield, the director, had already issued a public alert warning that this could be the big one.

MAX MAYFIELD, DIR., NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER:  You know, we kept emphasizing that the potential for large loss of life was there, and our headline said, “Potentially catastrophic Hurricane Katrina.”  So that‘s—you know, that‘s what is really hard to let go of, the loss of life.

PHILLIPS:  He was so concerned, he did something he rarely ever does.  He called everyone he could think of who could help get the word out, among them New Orleans‘ newspaper reporter Mark Schleifstein.

SCHLEIFSTEIN:  He said, Mark, how high is your building?  And what‘s its structural integrity?  And I knew at that point that we were going to get hit.

PHILLIPS:  He also called Walter Maestri, one of the top emergency relief officials in the New Orleans area.

WALTER MAESTRI, DIR. OF EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT, JEFFERSON PARISH:  And he said, Walter, let me tell you right now I think it‘s coming to you.  Be prepared.  I said, Max, are you sure?  He said, I‘m as sure as I can be.  And I can tell you, Max Mayfield is not a person who does that lightly.

PHILLIPS:  And Mayfield didn‘t stop there.

MAYFIELD:  And I did call the Louisiana and Mississippi governors and Mayor Nagin in New Orleans, just to tell them that, you know, this is the real thing.  And I wanted to be sure that I had done everything that I could do to, you know, let people now how serious this was.

PHILLIPS:  On Sunday, as the storm picked up speed, Mayfield even briefed President Bush in a videoconference.  The president had already declared a state of emergency.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  And joining us now is Ivor Van Heerden.  He is a professor at Louisiana State University.  You just saw him in Stone Phillips‘s piece where he talked about making the models, basically, predicting exactly what did happen.  Mr. Van Heerden, you and I spoke—gosh, it‘s been about over a week.  It feels like a year ago.  Been to a lot of places since you and I spoke.  But I understand in just the last few days or so, you‘ve been really focusing on water samples.  Tell us about what you‘ve been testing in the water and how dangerous it appears to be.

VAN HEERDEN:  Well, LSU started 10 days ago sampling both in Lake Pontchartrain and in the city, in order to get an idea of what was in the water and what the potential impacts would be to the environment once the city water entered the lake system.  The initial data would indicate that the chemical contaminant levels are lower than we would have expected, which is good news.  In addition, though, the bacterial counts are very high, the EPA says 10 times above the safe limits.  So obviously, the water is definitely not safe to drink and could still pose some environmental problems.

COSBY:  And in fact, Mr. Van Heerden, I can tell you I was with the 82nd Airborne, and they said one of the dogs that they were trying to rescue—she took a drink of water, walked 15 feet and then collapsed after she was drinking a lot of the water.  So they seem to be extremely concerned about it, the bacteria, just as you pointed out.  You talked about the models, too.  You basically predicted these two sort of worst-case scenarios happening.  And what did the federal government do when you told them this could happen?  And that was a while ago.  This was before the hurricane happened.

VAN HEERDEN:  Well, we participated in the Hurricane Pam exercise and helped produce the model that was used then that showed catastrophic flooding of New Orleans.  We tried to communicate all our science, over three years of science and research to all that, that exercise, from studies of public opinions, people‘s attitudes, where they would go to, all the way through to our concerns about the chemical contaminants and the large number of folk who would have to be rescued.

COSBY:  And very quickly, I got to ask you about the levee because today, there was a little water overflowing over the levee.  How concerned should we be?  And how vulnerable is New Orleans to possibly another storm?

VAN HEERDEN:  Well, we just heard from—I just heard from a New Orleans counselor that there‘s been another break in the London Avenue canal levee.  The city is extremely vulnerable.  All we need is a tropical storm, and we could overtop the levees, the levee seals, the repairs, and totally flood the city again.  So it‘s still very, very vulnerable, and we‘ve still got quite a bit of hurricane season to go.

COSBY:  Yes, unfortunately.  Ivor Van Heerden, thank you very much. 

Good to have you with us again, sir.

VAN HEERDEN:  Thank you.

COSBY:  And still ahead tonight: A new terror warning from someone who is believed to be an American-born al Qaeda figure.  A new tape came out this week.  What did it say?  Where is the warning pointed at?  And another danger, Tropical Storm Ophelia could hit the Carolina coast in just a matter of days.  Are people there ready to cope?  We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  The sound of tree-cutting taking place in St. Tammany‘s Parish, just outside of New Orleans.  Our crew caught these guys in action, as the cleanup is already beginning. 

But the cleanup is barely beginning here in New Orleans.  You can take a look behind me.  Just the damage is so severe.  And what you‘re seeing here is pretty common in most parts of the city. 

In fact, some of the places that I went to today are still under water.  A lot of people saying there‘s no way that they‘re even going to be able to rebuild. 

So what is America saying about all of this?  Well, let‘s go to two top radio talk show hosts to find out what they think about all of this.  If we can bring in Leslie Marshall.  She is from Los Angeles.  And also Martha Zoller from Atlanta. 

Let me start with Leslie, first of all.  Leslie, you know, I don‘t know if you can see the damage behind me.  Behind me alone, it looks like a war zone basically.  What are your listeners saying about what happened in New Orleans and who is to blame? 

LESLIE MARSHALL, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST:  Well, I can‘t see you actually, Rita, the way they have me set up in the satellite here in Los Angeles, but I certainly have seen a lot of the video of the devastation there, as have the listeners that I talked to here in Los Angeles and throughout the country. 

And they‘re blaming a plethora of people, two G‘s, the big one and the little one, God and George W., also, homeland security, the people of Louisiana, believe it or not, for their dependence on the government, and, of course, local leaders, such as the mayor and such as Governor Blanco. 

So the blame, at least from my listeners here in Los Angeles, and from what I‘m hearing throughout the United States, is that everybody feels everyone has a lot to blame, especially politicians not only currently but in the past, with the knowledge of what could happen, the devastation that could happen with these levees. 

And quite frankly, this is something that people are pointing a finger on both a state and federal level, in the House and Senate, obviously... 

(CROSSTALK)

COSBY:  I agree.  Let me bring in Martha Zoller...

MARSHALL:  ... representatives.

COSBY:  Let me bring in Martha Zoller, if I could, because I want to give you guys equal time. 

Martha, first of all, let me show you a comment.  This is from New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin.  You know, a lot of finger-pointing to go around.  He‘s basically saying the feds should have come.  Take a listen to what he had to say. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAY NAGIN, MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS:  My biggest mistake is having a fundamental assumption that, in the state of Louisiana, with $18 billion budget, in the country of the United States that can move whole fleets of aircraft carriers across the globe in 24 hours, that my fundamental assumption was, “Get as many people to safety as possible, and that the cavalry would be coming within two to three days.”  And they didn‘t come. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  Martha Zoller, you‘re in Atlanta, a little closer obviously than Los Angeles is from here, a lot closer.  What‘s the pulse of the people there?  Is the mayor just sort of just trying to pass the buck? 

MARTHA ZOLLER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST IN ATLANTA:  Well, I think that, clearly, I mean, the Constitution sets up that local governments are responsible for this first, because they know their people.  They know how to do things. 

And our listeners, of course, are very involved in relief efforts.  There have probably been hundreds of people from our listening area that have already gone down to help, have taken trailers, and trucks, and chain saws, and all this kind of stuff that have been helping. 

So most of the people in my area are blaming the governor and the mayor, because the president called the state of emergency on Friday night, which was the signal to the governor to do her thing, which is bring the National Guard in and get them in place. 

But we are learning, we are learning from this disaster...

COSBY:  Martha Zoller, what about the resignation of Mike Brown?  Is there a sense that now hope is sort of on the way, a new fresh start? 

ZOLLER:  Well, and I think that Michael Brown, the people with him, was that people were perceiving FEMA to be first-responders.  And they are not first-responders.  They coordinate things.

And we need to have a debate in this country about what we want FEMA to be.  And that, when we have a multi-state disaster like this, do we treat it differently?  But that‘s a debate we have to have, that we need to be sure are in the bounds of the Constitution. 

Because just because we want the National Guard to come in today doesn‘t mean they‘ll come in another time. 

(CROSSTALK) 

COSBY:  Let me bring in Leslie Marshall, because, you know, come on, look, these guys are supposed to oversee the whole thing.  I have not seen a FEMA truck here yet.  I‘ve been here over a week.  Give me a break. 

MARSHALL:  Rita, I think it‘s a good point.  You know, I mean, I‘m sorry, Martha, there are semantics and then there‘s doing the right thing as a government official. 

First of all, FEMA needs to work with homeland security.  I think, if we‘re going to debate something, we need to debate as to whether these people should be cabinet members.  And I say, “Yes.” 

Two, my in-laws‘ house is still not rebuilt, is still not fixed from Florida‘s hurricane.  That‘s how behind FEMA is.  And we can‘t just look to one entity and one person running one entity. 

One of the problems that bothers me here is politicians on a local and national level—all men by the way, ladies, if you notice—are not being real men.  Because the man, in my opinion, whether the president, whether the mayor, or whether the head of FEMA steps up to the plate and says, “I‘m going to be responsible.  Here‘s what I‘m going to do.”

If you want to talk National Guard, the National Guard is in Iraq and can‘t help on a local level, because they‘re not here. 

ZOLLER:  Oh, that‘s ridiculous.  There are 70,000 military people...

COSBY:  Let me get Martha.  Martha, you got 10 seconds.

ZOLLER:  ... in New Orleans right now.  There are 70,000...

(CROSSTALK)

MARSHALL:  What we‘re seeing, Rita, is the will of the people helping the people, not the politicians. 

ZOLLER:  The people are helping the people in Louisiana. 

COSBY:  And what you‘re going to see is me cutting both of you guys off.  Thank you, both of you. 

ZOLLER:  Thank you.

MARSHALL:  Thank you. 

COSBY:  We‘ve got to go, you guys, unfortunately.  We appreciate you being with us.  Wish we had more time with you. 

One of the fine groups and one of the things that everybody‘s talking about is the 82nd Airborne.  This is the elite military unit.  In fact, I think I see some—here they are.  They‘re walking behind me right now, some members of the 82nd, the fine guys from Fort Bragg coming in, men and women. 

These guys, about 5,000 of them, are on the street.  And I can tell you, their presence has been a very powerful sight.  I got to ride and actually go on the Zodiac crafts with some of them, as they went in an effort to save lives.  Take a look. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY (voice-over):  They are considered some of the best in the air.  But on this day, the 82nd Airborne, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, took to the water, in hopes of saving anyone still trapped in their flood-ravaged home. 

I joined them, wearing the required zip waders, since the smelly and murky water is so incredibly toxic.  Working with the U.S. Coast Guard, they blast the mayor‘s order to evacuate on their loud speaker as they float by what was the heart of St. Bernard‘s Parish. 

Seeing at first only car antennas and markings showing some homes that have already been searched. 

CAPT. BRIAN ROEHER, U.S. ARMY 82ND AIRBORNE:  Single line, from the top down and the right to left, is a sign that somebody went in there.  Coming across from the left-top down to the right-bottom, that‘s a sign that somebody went in there and came out. 

COSBY (on-screen):  So it indicates they cleared it and what they found? 

ROEHER:  Yes.  The (INAUDIBLE) what they found on the sides, going around, so they can track, so not going through the same buildings twice. 

COSBY (voice-over):  After snaking through deserted apartment complexes in the scorching heat, a glimmer of hope. 

(on-screen):  What did you just hear over your radio? 

ROEHER:  Heard over the radio that the Coast Guard down there with the rest of the guys found signs of habitation down there.  So we‘re going down there to link up with them and continue to search. 

COSBY:  Someone may be alive? 

ROEHER:  Yes. 

COSBY (voice-over):  We come upon several homes, where the residents have left cloths hanging out front, designed to show that someone inside is alive. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  U.S. Coast Guard!  Is there anybody in there?

COSBY:  No answer from the front of the home.  And after hearing a noise in the back, the Coast Guard goes in with guns drawn, ultimately only finding a dog.  They appropriately name him “Hurricane.” 

Here in St. Bernard‘s Parish, we found lots of water.  In some cases, it‘s still eight to ten feet deep.  But we did not see any human beings alive. 

So we moved onto another part of New Orleans, this time using a massive transport vehicle which can drive through flooded streets.  Here we meet one of the residents who refuses to leave. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) the electricity is not going to come back, and the sanitation in the water for awhile. 

COSBY:  The captain tries hard to convince her to go.  She is not just any resident, but known as “Mama Dee,” (ph) the matriarch of this neighborhood, who carries considerable sway over other residents here, who also don‘t want to leave their prized possessions. 

(on-screen):  Right now, you‘re surrounded by a lots of water.  There‘s lots of disease.  There‘s mosquitoes.  Aren‘t you worried about getting sick? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No, baby.  You know what a Cajun is?  You know where they live?  In the water with the alligators.  And it‘s a way of life.  We southerners.  We eat alligators. 

COSBY:  You‘re not leaving? 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No.  No.  Believe it or not, even when you all tell you all total, I bet you I could go and find 2,000 or 3,000 people, if I would be able to go citywide, because what they‘re doing now that we got dry land is they‘re able to go places, and get out of the water, and go back in and check—and that‘s what they‘re doing. 

COSBY (voice-over):  Mama Dee (ph) herself refuses to go for now, but agrees to soon convince some disabled residents to head to shelter. 

(on-screen):  She‘s talking about 2,000 or 3,000 other people that she knows in the neighborhood. 

ROEHER:  Yes, Mama Dee (ph) is pretty critical.  She knows where a lot of the people live.  And she also is almost a matriarch.  A lot of the elderly listen to her.  What she says is the word.  They trust her.  She‘s a leader here, a community leader.  So what we need to do is convince her that it‘s, you know, it‘s the best option for these people to come out.

COSBY (voice-over):  Being a negotiator is just one of the roles played by the 5,000 members of the elite 82nd airborne now in New Orleans.  Even though most are just 20 or 21 years old, they‘ve already seen combat in Afghanistan and Iraq.  But seeing the fight to survive now in America is overwhelming. 

(on-screen):  You were in Iraq.  You were in Afghanistan.  How does this compare? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Honestly, this feels a lot worse than Iraq does for me emotionally, just because it‘s U.S. soil and these are American citizens I‘m seeing hurt, and basically in trouble, and need help.  Over there, there‘s foreigners.  We knew they need help, but they weren‘t Americans so, for me, it‘s pretty special to be helping these people, so...

COSBY:  Are you hoping you‘re going to find some more people alive? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, I know we‘ll find more people alive.  I‘ve been doing this since we got here.  And we‘ve been finding people every day, so...

COSBY:  Have you been finding people? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes.  We are.  This week is a lot worse that was it was—what I saw from Afghanistan and Iraq.  I mean, we‘ve seen Iraq and a lot of rubble and stuff, but the damage here is horrible compared to there, seeing lines down in the water, seeing bodies and stuff like that.  It really hits close to home. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COSBY:  And our hats off to the fine men and women of the 82nd Airborne.  We really appreciate them taking us along for the ride. 

Incidentally, they evacuated 5,000 people since they‘ve been there. 

They have a lot to be proud of. 

And coming up, a terror warning from someone who is believed to be an American-born Taliban.  This man seen on this tape, he is a guy from California.    Are we ready to deal with this kind of a danger?  Stay tuned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  A major power outage today in Los Angeles, a place that‘s already jittery, of course, because of everything else that‘s happened there.  But a utility worker connected the wrong wires, leaving two million in Los Angeles without power.  Apparently, it only lasted about two hours.  Most of the power is restored at this time.

Of course, this comes on the heels of an American Taliban found on a tape that came out over the weekend stating that L.A. and Australia would be targets.  Adam Gadahn, who is someone that we‘ve been talking about, actually for the last year or so, is not a typical Al Qaeda figure.  His parents are Jewish and Catholic.  And he grew up in an L.A. suburb. 

To talk about all of this and all of the terror fears, we‘re now joined by Haitnam Bundakji.  He actually knew Adam Gadahn in the ‘90s.  And also, Walid Phares, who is a terrorism expect.

Haitnam, let me start with you, if I could.  What do you know about Adam Gadahn?  What type of a guy is he?  And was he violent? 

HAITNAM BUNDAKJI, ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF ORANGE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA:  Well, actually, when I met him, he was quiet or appeared to be quiet.  However, asking about the fact that whether he was violent or not, yes, he was violent, because when he was unhappy with me, he did not hesitate to come to my office, charge into my office, and slap me right across the face.  So I think he‘s a violent person. 

COSBY:  Are you surprised that here he seems to be now, at least as of this weekend, the main terror threat, the biggest concern for us right now, if what he‘s saying could be true, that L.A. and Australia could be targets, sir? 

BUNDAKJI:  Well, I pray to God that you will take that threat seriously.  And I‘m not surprised at all. 

When he appeared during the elections a few months ago, I recognized him right away.  And now his face is shown even more.  So it‘s very, very clear that it was Adam Gadahn, the man that I know. 

COSBY:  Absolutely.  I want to show—we talked to Adam‘s aunt, actually, earlier today.  And she gave us some quotes.  I want to show what she said to us. 

She said she saw the tape, that she cannot tell if it‘s Adam or not.  “I watched both tapes.  My family cannot tell if it‘s him or not.  The FBI has not made a definitive statement.”

But Mr. Bundakji, as you see the tape, does it look like him to you? 

BUNDAKJI:  It is funny that his family still do not recognize him.  It is very, very clear.  It‘s...

COSBY:  Well, that‘s what—and, in fairness, that‘s what they said to us last time.  And of course, it seemed that they did know right away.  I think they‘re just playing it safe, of course. 

BUNDAKJI:  I believe so.  I believe so.  But I recognize him very well. 

COSBY:  Walid Phares, how big of a concern—how worried should we be about this man? 

BUNDAKJI:  Well, it‘s too close for comfort.  You know, my family and I live around Los Angeles.  So I pray to God that we take his threat seriously and we safeguards our country, our skies, our ports.

And I‘m sure that our government is doing a great job in safeguarding our country after 9/11.  And I pray to God that such a tragedy would never happen again, neither here nor anywhere else in the world. 

COSBY:  Yes, let‘s absolutely hope you‘re right. 

Now, Walid Phares, let me bring you in, if I could.  How concerned should we be, Walid? 

WALID PHARES, TERRORISM EXPERT:  What we should be concerned about is what he represents as a model.  I mean, I followed and researched his road map.  If you want to become a member of Al Qaeda or a jihadist, and it‘s very interesting. 

It‘s not really the conversion that he had.  I mean, people convert from one religion to the other.  That isn‘t the issue.  It‘s who basically, at the end of the day, converted him to the ideology of the terrorists. 

Now, he said it.  It‘s posted on Internet.  He said that it was through Internets, through chat rooms, the same chat rooms basically which are recruiting people from around the world. 

And this insistence, on behalf of Al Qaeda, to recruit American-born, European-born, people with no accent, with passports, and who can basically convince others to follow the same path. 

COSBY:  Walid, is there anything we can make of the timing?  Here I am in New Orleans.  And I‘ll tell you, I‘ve been out with some of the top law enforcement officials in the city.  The biggest concern that they just told me about a few hours ago is another threat, something, while we‘re so vulnerable here, throwing us a tape somewhere else.  Do you make anything of the timing of this?

PHARES:  Look, Adam is American.  He knows American mentality, political culture, psychology.  He does his first tape last year before the elections, maximizing as much as he can.  He does his second tape on September the 11th

So every time there‘s a possibility for him to impact us, intimidate the American public, he‘ll do it.  I don‘t think it‘s linked directly to an operation. 

COSBY:  All right, gentlemen, thank you both very much.  We appreciate it. 

And, everybody, one of the lessons we can learn from New Orleans, everyone—actually, we‘ve got move on, thank you, Mr. Bundakji, we do appreciate it.

What can we learn from New Orleans, everybody?  We‘re going to talk to the mayor of a town that could be hit next.  Is the next hurricane heading his way?  And what did he learn from this fine city here?  That‘s coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And Ophelia is now a tropical storm.  You can see her churning off the coast.  There‘s word that she may hit land on Wednesday in South Carolina. 

And joining us now is the mayor of Myrtle Beach, Mark McBride. 

Mayor McBride, how prepared are you if she comes ashore in your area? 

MARK MCBRIDE, MYRTLE BEACH, SC, MAYOR:  Well, we believe, from a city standpoint, we‘ve done all we can do.  We‘ve been through this, unfortunately, nine times in the last nine years.  And last year, we went through it three times, with an evacuation. 

You know, if anything can be learned by everything that‘s gone on in the Gulf Coast and last year in Florida, it‘s all about communication and planning.  And you really have to—you know, the professor from LSU, you have to listen and you have to plan. 

COSBY:  Now, speaking of communication, have you been involved in some of the conference calls with the governor?  Are they coordinating well with you? 

MCBRIDE:  No, that‘s one of the issues our idea is going—you know, those are issues we‘re going to deal with when this is all over and passed.  We‘ve had some communication shortcomings in this regard.  And that‘s certainly—this is an area we have to work on here. 

COSBY:  Doesn‘t that concern you, as I‘m here in New Orleans, I would imagine, sir? 

MCBRIDE:  Yes, yes, it certainly does.  I mean, you can sort of understand how the mayor and, perhaps, the governor had issues in Louisiana.  You know, it can happen anywhere. 

COSBY:  And real quick, you are doing some evacuations of the Outer Banks, real quick? 

MCBRIDE:  Well, the Outer Banks is North Carolina.  But at noon today, the governor of South Carolina did, you know, issue a voluntary evacuation.  But in doing that now that there is no mandatory evacuation and problems, on a local level, once the winds get up to about 50 miles per hour, we bring in all our public safety, our public works. 

And we don‘t have people on the street, whether there‘s an evacuation ordered on the state level or not.  So these are some of the discussion issues we have to have going forward. 

COSBY:  Well, I hope things get into shape, especially if it does hit home.  Mayor McBride, we really appreciate you being with us.  Thank you, sir. 

And, everybody, stick with us.  A lot more right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And finally, I went out with the U.S. Marshals today.  These

men and women travel heavily armed and they truly mean business.  We drove

around town with them, with their heavily armored vehicles and also in the

they went into homes.  And we‘re going to show you all of that tomorrow night.

And that does it for us, live here from New Orleans.  Now we‘re going to send it over to Joe in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY for the latest from there—

Joe?

JOE SCARBOROUGH, MSNBC HOST:  All right, thank you so much, Rita. 

Fascinating reports out of New Orleans.  Thanks so much.

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

Copy: Content and programming copyright 2005 NBC.  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 NBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.

Watch Rita Cosby Live & Direct each weeknight at 9 p.m. ET

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,