updated 9/20/2005 9:33:56 AM ET 2005-09-20T13:33:56

Guests: Jimmy Weekley, Bobby Jindal, John Walsh, Beth Holloway Twitty,

Harold Copus, Rod Wheeler, Reuban Rodriguez, Frank Cerise, Lyda Ann Thomas

RITA COSBY, HOST:  Good evening, everyone.  I‘m back from covering Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.  And tonight, there‘s another big threat out there.  We are tracking Tropical Storm Rita, of all names.  It‘s gaining strength, and it‘s now just below hurricane strength as it heads east, approaching Florida.  The Texas and Louisiana coasts could also be at risk, including New Orleans again.

We have NBC‘s Michelle Hofland standing by in New Orleans.  But first, we‘re going to start with NBC‘s Donna Gregory, who is in Key West, Florida, which is bracing for a big one—Donna.

DONNA GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hello, Rita.  Hopefully, they will not be taking your name in vain tomorrow, but people here are bracing for what is expected to be at least a category one hurricane.  In fact, Governor Jeb Bush said that about five million people in Florida could be affected by this hurricane when it brushes by sometime between late afternoon, or between early afternoon and late afternoon tomorrow.

A mandatory evacuation is in place, but officials here admit there is no way to really enforce that.  However, they are urging everyone who can to leave the Florida Keys.  They started this rolling evacuation yesterday, where people who live in mobile homes were asked to leave, and then visitors were asked to leave.  Today it became mandatory for all residents in the Florida Keys to leave.  But again, they cannot enforce that.  They do say that this is one of the worst possible scenarios, though, because when people leave this island, there is only one way to go.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILLY WAGNER, SR. DIR., MONROE CO. EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT:  We have a storm that‘s rapidly intensifying as it‘s moving toward the coast, and we don‘t have ample leave time to successfully get everybody out.  And we have one major problem, especially in the upper Keys, where we have a road system, a 20-mile stretch that‘s not adequate to hold the flow of traffic at the last minute.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Rita, the hospitals have evacuated the critical care patients.  And so the power companies say they will not go out to restore any downed power lines or to restore power to any people until the hospitals reopen.

So again, that evacuation is in effect.  There are always people who try to ride out a hurricane, and in Key West, that is no exception.  People are staying around in the downtown area.  At least some people are.  They‘re boarding up the businesses that they hope to save.  We saw a lot of sandbags around the area, as well.

And we should tell you that there are actually establishment that are open tonight.  There are people who are walking around the downtown area.  We hear music coming from several of the nightspots.  These are people who‘ve ridden out at least three hurricanes this year.  Remember, there was Dennis, and of course Katrina just a few weeks ago, and then Rita, which, as I mentioned, is expected to be at least a category one when it comes by sometime tomorrow afternoon—Rita.

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

Well, we turn now NBC Weather Plus meteorologist Bill Karins, who has been following the storm.

BILL KARINS, NBC WEATHER PLUS:  Well, good evening, Rita.  I don‘t have much in the way of any good news.  Tropical Storm Rita is now intensifying.  You can see that clearly here.  Look at the blow-up here of this dark red and even some of that white.  That indicates really strong thunderstorms right underneath the center of this storm.

It‘s continuing to move here towards the north-northwest, and it‘s going to be heading more or less just due west as we go throughout probably the next 24 hours, taking it just to the north of Cuba, into the south here of about Miami.  And unfortunately, that brings it dangerously close to Key West.

Now we‘re thinking it could be as strong as a category two hurricane as it passes Key West tomorrow afternoon.  That means winds could possibly be between about 95 miles per hour and 105, gusts possibly above that.  So you can tell how much of a dangerous situation this is.  That‘s why everyone is leaving the Keys.

The slightest shift to the north will bring some of the stronger winds into Miami.  As of right now, we don‘t think the hurricane force winds should hit the Miami area, but stay tuned as this continues to evolve throughout the night.

Now let‘s talk about after it‘s done with Florida, as it heads out into the Gulf.  This is where all eyes are going to be closely here on New Orleans and Houston and anywhere here on the coastline of Texas.  The thinking now is that this will be a major hurricane, a category three or larger, possibly at times fluctuating to a category four.  And then it‘s going to take more of a northwestward turn somewhere towards, it looks like, Houston or maybe the Louisiana coastline, but anywhere in this yellow cone.  We still have to watch this very carefully.

The thing we‘re going to be watching is all of our new computer models as they come in.  As of now, most of them are taking it up towards the Houston area.  There‘s one to the north who takes it close to the southern coastline of Louisiana, and another one that takes it down to the Mexico/Texas border.  We have a lot of time to wait and watch, but now is the time to prepare.

COSBY:  All right, Bill.  Thank you very much.

Well, as you heard, the National Hurricane Center is predicting the eye of this next storm will pass near the lower Florida Keys.  Key West mayor Jimmy Weekley joins me now live.  Mr. Mayor, first of all, we heard about the evacuation from Donna Gregory -- 200,000 people.  How is it going?

MAYOR JIMMY WEEKLEY, KEY WEST, FLORIDA:  It‘s going well.  We anticipate about  35 to 40 percent or maybe even a greater number than that of our residents here in Key West have evacuated or will be evacuating.  The weather service tells us that anyone who wants to evacuate has until midnight tonight to make that decision and to start heading out of the Keys.  So I know earlier today, reports from the sheriff‘s department and the highway patrol saying that traffic on US-1 was about twice the amount that it normally is this time of year.  So that was good to hear.  We feel that, in fact, residents are evacuating, like we have asked.

COSBY:  Is there a sense there, that after Hurricane Katrina, people are taking this a lot more seriously?

WEEKLEY:  I think so.  I think they‘ve seen the devastation that Katrina caused, and you know, they—they want to get to the safest place that they can find, and they know it‘s not staying here in Key West.  But they need to secure their property and to make sure that their families are safe and leave the area.

COSBY:  One of the things, too, I understand that you are doing buses, too, that you‘re offering those for folks.  I mean, this is one of the disasters in New Orleans.  They didn‘t have enough buses available.

WEEKLEY:  Right.  And we were limited to the number of buses we had, also.  We went out and contracted with a bus company to have them available, if we needed them.  The last count that I‘m aware of is that we probably transported somewhere in the neighborhood of about 150 to 200 people by buses up to Florida International University in Miami, which is the shelter.

COSBY:  Now, how worried are you about storm surge?  Because I was seeing some early predictions, even if it stays where it is now, just a tropical storm, six to nine feet.  What kind of damage could that do?

WEEKLEY:  It could do a tremendous amount of it damage.  You know, Key West is at sea level.  Our highest point in the island is about 16 feet above sea level.  So one of the things, also, is that there‘s a possibility to get a storm surge from the Atlantic Ocean, as well as the Gulf of Mexico.  So we could have, you know, storm surges on both sides of the island, and it could cause a tremendous amount of damage to residents and business properties here in Key West.

COSBY:  All right, Mayor Weekley.  We‘re going to be watching closely. 

I hope you do not get hit, sir.  Thank you very much.

Well, after Katrina, no one in New Orleans wants to take any chances with another serious storm.  In fact, Tropical Storm Rita is forcing the city to cancel plans to let some people go home for the very first time.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR RAY NAGIN (D), NEW ORLEANS:  We are suspending all reentry into the city of New Orleans as of this moment.  I am also asking everyone in Algiers to prepare to evacuate as early as Wednesday.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  And joining us now from New Orleans is NBC‘s Michelle Hofland. 

And also in Baton Rouge, we‘ve got Republican congressman Bobby Jindal.  But first let‘s go to Michelle about that quick turnabout by the mayor of New Orleans, Michelle.

MICHELLE HOFLAND, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, you know, Rita, for the past three days, the head of the hurricane relief effort, Vice Admiral Thad Allen, has been saying, You know, it‘s just too early for people to return to this area because there‘s no safe drinking water and the levees are just too weak.  But now today, the mayor of New Orleans—he rescinded his decision to allow people to return to the city.  And late today, our crews saw the National Guard at the checkpoints starting to turn people around, long lines of people around, turn them around and send them back.

And then late this evening, the governor of Louisiana said that now is the time for people to get ready to evacuate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA:  Even if it doesn‘t strike the Louisiana coast directly, if the eye of the hurricane goes into our neighboring state of Texas, into the eastern side of Texas, I want to remind our citizens that we are on the east side of the hurricane, and we could potentially have the same impact that Mississippi received.  So we are still in a very dangerous place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOFLAND:  The governor says if you can leave now, that‘s great.  But if not, what she wants you to do is to prepare to find some place, say, north of here to go stay and to start preparing your food, get your whole family together and get ready to leave within the next few days.

But the sheriff of St. Bernard‘s parish tells me tonight that he is not waiting.  Tomorrow, 1,200 people who are in his parish, one of the most devastated parishes or counties in this area by the last hurricane—those 1,200 people, which are mostly contractors and environmental consultants and some families—those people are going to be told to leave tomorrow.  It‘s just not safe.

But you know, Rita, this is the last thing that people around here need.  The sheriff tells me that his people there are absolutely overwhelmed.  They‘re exhausted.  For the past three weeks, they have been working around the clock, and this is absolutely the last thing they need.  Not to mention that there are countless roofs and buildings and homes around this whole area that have been ripped open by Hurricane Katrina, and if they get any rain at all, everything inside those homes and buildings will get wet.  Back to you.

COSBY:  Unfortunately, I know that all too well from being there on the ground with you, Michelle.  Michelle, what about the levees?  You talked about the structures.  What kind of concern is there?  I mean, some of them were just built up.

HOFLAND:  Well, and that‘s just the concern.  They haven‘t been shored up.  They haven‘t fixed all those levees so that they can handle another storm.  And that‘s what Vice Admiral Allen was very concerned about.  And so that‘s why he‘s saying, You know what?  Any more rain, if we get another storm surge, those levees could break again.

COSBY:  All right, Michelle.  Thank you very much.  Stay safe, my friend.  I know you‘ve been there a long time.

And let‘s bring in, if we could, Congressman Bobby Jindal, who‘s also a Republican of Louisiana.  Congressman, first of all, let me ask you about the levees.  Are you worried that there could be the same issue again, even just a little bit of rain?

REP. BOBBY JINDAL ®, LOUISIANA:  Absolutely.  We very much want the Corps not only to repair permanently the levees where they broke, we think there needs to be an investigation of the entire levee system, make sure there are not hidden weaknesses.  These levees have withstood a lot of wind, a lot of water.  What we‘re worried about is there may be weakness that haven‘t been discovered yet.  I think not only do we have to reinforce where we know there are breaks, we need to inspect the entire system.

COSBY:  Do you think we could see maybe even some criminal investigations?  Some people were telling me privately that they think maybe the maintenance wasn‘t even done properly leading up to the point of Katrina.

JINDAL:  Well, we certainly need to get to the bottom of it.  Whether it was willful neglect or whether it was just natural erosion, I don‘t know.  And we need what‘s called a forensic investigation.  That‘s when the engineers can go in there, inspect every square inch of that levee because as we‘re putting people and businesses back there, we owe it to them to make sure they‘ve got better protection to make sure in case there‘s a future hurricane, or future storm, that they‘re not in harm‘s way.  We need to do this immediately, but we need to do a very thorough inspection not only throughout New Orleans but he entire region.

COSBY:  You bet.  Now, Governor Blanco of your state told residents just about two hours ago, Look, maybe should you leave, at least some of the portions particularly of New Orleans.  What are you telling your residents?

JINDAL:  Absolutely the same thing.  You know, we have experience down here evacuating in anticipation of hurricanes.  Obviously, after Katrina, I think everybody is taking these warnings a lot more seriously.  Nobody wants to take any chances.  I was in St. Bernard with the sheriff.  You‘ve seen, I‘ve seen personally the devastation.  There‘s no reason to risk people‘s lives.

I think the people that can get out need to get ready in case the hurricane comes this way.  People that have to stay, first responders, medical personnel, need to get the resources, need to get to higher ground.  But again, we‘ve got experience before, but what Katrina showed was that sometimes, the worst-case scenarios can even overwhelm those preparations.  So I think we need to take this very seriously, and I think people need to get ready in case it comes our way.  And let‘s pray that it does not.

COSBY:  Let‘s certainly pray now.  Do you believe that you and others are much more organized this time?  I mean, the (INAUDIBLE) last time seemed to be on the mayor and also, you know, federal officials.  Do you believe they‘ve gotten their act together?

JINDAL:  I think it‘s gotten a lot better.  Look, I‘ve been one of those who was very critical at the state and federal response initially and the search and rescue.  Do I think it‘s perfect?  No.  Do I still think there‘s still some red tape and bureaucracy?  Absolutely.  I think it‘s gotten better with the increased presence of the military.

I think, going forward, especially as we go to the rebuilding phase, it would help to have clear lines of authority, better communication.  We need a sense of urgency to get around this red tape and paperwork.  We‘re about to embark on the largest reconstruction effort in my state‘s history and probably our nation‘s history.  We need to do it right.  We‘re not going to get two chances to do it.  So it‘s gotten better, but I thin we still have a lot of work to do to get the federal and state bureaucracies to work together.

COSBY:  Absolutely.  Congressman, thank you very much.  I think, unfortunately, you and I will be talking a lot in the next few days.  Thank you very much.  We appreciate it.

And still ahead: thousands of children separated from their families, victims of Hurricane Katrina, that could become victims again, maybe even by sexual predators.  John Walsh is helping the youngest of victims, and he joins me next.

And is there a second disaster waiting for people returning to New Orleans?  Wait until you hear what danger doctors say worries them the most.

And a former FBI special agent uncovers some shocking details about the night that Natalee Holloway vanished.  Could there be ties to organized crime?  Natalee‘s mother joins me live—there she is, Beth.  She‘s going to join us next on LIVE AND DIRECT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES BERNAZZANI, FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  And right now, we have the window of opportunity to set this up because most of the violent criminal activity we believe has either been neutralized or is out of town.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  And that was Jim Bernazzani, he‘s the FBI special agent in New Orleans, talking earlier on Chris Matthews‘s show.

Well, there is a big concern that even if Tropical Storm Rita spares New Orleans, the city may not be ready to protect the people who live there.

We‘re joined now by John Walsh.  He‘s the host of “America‘s Most Wanted.”  He is also the co-founder of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and also the creator of this new video.  It‘s a video series called “The Safe Side: Educating Kids.”  Got a lot to talk with you about, John.  First of all, let‘s talk about Mayor Nagin saying, Let‘s come back into the city.  It seemed way too early.

JOHN WALSH, HOST, “AMERICA‘S MOST WANTED”:  Oh, absolutely way too early.  I mean, I‘m from Florida.  We had four very serious hurricanes last year, two of which hit the East Coast brutally, Frances and Jeanne.  And everybody in Florida knows you don‘t come back until the power is on.  You don‘t come back for a couple of weeks.  And Florida wasn‘t the toxic waste dump that New Orleans—you were there.  I was there when it happened initially.

COSBY:  It is disgusting.  I think it‘s hard to convey.  I was even telling my staff today, it is just muck.  It‘s deserted.

WALSH:  It‘s deserted.  And when you go out in the boats—we went into a couple of the different parishes.  And there were—when I was there, there were bodies floating.  All kinds of gasoline has come up from the tanks in the gas stations.  You‘ve got human sewage floating everywhere.  The E. coli factor 100 times higher than even when they close beaches and tell you not to swim in it.

It was way too—if I was someone from New Orleans, I‘d be very confused if initially they didn‘t tell us to get out in time and then they said Come back too early...

COSBY:  Yes, hurry up and come back.

WALSH:  ... and then they said, Well, oh, wait a second.  I told you

to come back this morning and you‘re on that line—you saw the traffic

coming into New Orleans.  From Baton Rouge, it‘s about 70 miles.  It‘s

bumper to bumper.  And then say, Oh, my God, we forgot about a hurricane

that may be coming and you shouldn‘t go back.  I mean, they should make it

who‘s in charge?  That‘s—that‘s—I mean, everybody can take the shot at President Bush and everybody can take a shot at FEMA.  Absolutely.  You know, there‘s lots of blame to go around here.  But when the mayor and the governor are not on the same page, one‘s saying, Don‘t, Yes, No, it‘s very confusing.

COSBY:  And then you got Thad Allen, who‘s in charge of the whole thing, saying, Wait, wait.

Here‘s some shots of you, actually, on the boat, going in the thick of it.  Still, it‘s confusing crime-wise, too.  There‘s still some looters.  And then to send a whole influx of population back in, and now another hurricane...

WALSH:  I don‘t think it‘s safe.  I mean, they say that they have secured the city, but you saw it.  I mean, I was down there in an armored car when New Orleans cops in T-shirts, without any radios, et cetera., with no bullets, were shooting it out with looters.  They looted police cars.  They drove buses into buildings.  A lot of the media hasn‘t shown that, but...

COSBY:  We had guards.  We had armed guards every (INAUDIBLE)

WALSH:  Absolutely.  I mean, there‘s still an element of bad guys around there.  I don‘t think they have it secured that there couldn‘t be random petty crimes, muggings and, you know, occasional things like that.  And they haven‘t really gotten a handle on the criminal element.

I mean, you and I talked about this.  There are literally thousands of guys that were let out of jail.  Records were destroyed.  Who knows if there‘s a serial rapist moving back in, if there‘s a guy that got out of the jail that‘s some kind of—I mean, there‘s 4,500 sex offenders whose records have been partially destroyed.  They‘re floating around.  Nobody knows where they are.  Until they get a real handle on it, I don‘t think it‘s safe to go back.

COSBY:  Also, let‘s talk about the kids.  And I want to show a little clip from your show.  This is really heart-wrenching.  This is of someone looking for their granddaughter and their brother.  Let‘s take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m looking for my granddaughter, Nila Waters (ph).

WALSH:  Nila Waters.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I don‘t know which direction they went to.  But I did go over there to try to put it in the computer.  And I‘m looking for my brother, Timothy.  He was in one of the group homes.  His name is Timothy Gregg (ph).  And he‘s in one of them, but they put them somewhere, and we‘re trying to find him, as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  How many stories like that are there?

WALSH:  I mean, everywhere I went in New Orleans.  We were down there to say to the New Orleans police and the marshals and the state police, Tell us who‘s committing the crimes, who‘s doing the shooting, we‘ll put them on “America‘s Most Wanted.”  But everywhere I went, people came up to me and said, I put my kids in that helicopter to save their life, and they came back for me five or six hours later, and I don‘t have a clue.

I mean, the National Center was asked to do this.  We only really deal with missing children, with people under 18.  But we‘re swamped now.  We‘ve had 21,000 calls since September 1.

COSBY:  By the way, we‘re showing on the side, on the other side of the screen, if anyone‘s watching—these are a lot of the missing kids.  Of course, if you have any information...

WALSH:  Oh, please, please!

COSBY:  ... call you or call the National Center.

WALSH:  There‘s still about 2,000 kids.  And nobody‘s saying they‘re in grave danger.  Most of those 2,000 kids are with social workers.  They‘re in a shelter somewhere.  They‘re in a home and...

COSBY:  But they‘re looking for the parents.

WALSH:  Well, here‘s—the not knowing is the worst, Rita.  They got about 130 bodies in that morgue.  God forbid if one of those was your dad or your brother, whatever.  The not knowing is the worst.

But can you imagine if you went through all that hell in New Orleans and you‘ve been relocated to Salt Lake City or to Houston, and you still don‘t know where your 14-year-old teenager that you left behind?  We‘ve got about 2,000 kids.  We call them fractionalized families.  They really need to know.

And here‘s the problem.  As you notice when you look at some of these pictures, there is no picture.  For the first time ever, we‘re saying, This is the name of the child, but when people left their homes, they didn‘t have the soccer picture or the grammar school picture or the class picture.  So they‘re saying, I‘m looking for 12-year-old Bobby Jones or whatever, and they don‘t even have a picture.

COSBY:  How do you locate them?

WALSH:  Well...

COSBY:  Because I saw—I told you I ran into a lot of your Team Adam guys on the ground.

WALSH:  Team Adam, yes.

COSBY:  I thought they were so great.  They were in the thick of it a couple times, some in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

WALSH:  Yes.  Absolutely.  Ernie Allen, that runs the center, and all the staff there and all these wonderful volunteers—these are former homicide detectives who have given their time to go down into the three states and are working the phones at the National Center.  We‘re just trying desperately to collate—if somebody calls up and says, I‘m looking for this 14-year-old boy, you can imagine how tough it is to collate the calls from the 14-year-old boy‘s that are saying, I‘m looking for this family, with no picture.

COSBY:  I would imagine it‘s overwhelming.

WALSH:  It‘s overwhelming, but I think they‘re doing a good job.  They‘ve reunited about 800 families so far.  We‘ve had 8,000 cases of adults that are—still haven‘t been reunited with their families, and about 2,000 kids.  So I‘m still telling people, it‘s a simple 800-number, 800-THE-LOST.  If—just call up and say, I think I have this kid in North Carolina.  He doesn‘t know (INAUDIBLE)  It is—you know, it‘s just—they‘re everywhere.

COSBY:  You got children still living (INAUDIBLE)

WALSH:  Everywhere.

COSBY:  One of the other things you‘re doing is “Safe Side.”  Tell us about this video.  I think this is really neat.  It‘s gotten a lot of promotion, and I think it‘s important.

WALSH:  Well, you know, all these years, we‘ve been looking for a tool that wouldn‘t terrorize kids, that would give them good, solid information about what to do if they‘re approached or if a situation comes up.  Parents have always said to me over the years, We don‘t know what to tell our kids.  And I‘ve always said that knowledge is power.

COSBY:  This is a way to send it directly to the kids.

WALSH:  Absolutely.  And this is geared to—Julie Clark (ph), who is the genius lady who put together “Baby Einstein” and who really knows about these things, spent her own money, made her National Center a benefactor of the “Safe Side” video.  You have to sit down with your kids.  You sit there, it empowers the children, good, solid knowledge, and the parents now have a game plan.  It‘s available at the safeside.com Web site, and I urge parents to get it and say, Look, in these tough, tough times, with all the terrible cases that you‘ve covered this last year...

COSBY:  Jessica Lunsford and all the other ones.

WALSH:  Coeur d‘Alene, Idaho.

COSBY:  Yes.

WALSH:  Serial pedophiles in non-compliance with their parole and probation, sex offenders that didn‘t register, didn‘t give valid—I mean, look at the guy, Duncan, in Coeur d‘Alene, Idaho.  He had two warrants for noncompliance in two states, was bonded out after torturing a little boy, and still was able to get out and allegedly kill a whole family and keep this poor little girl.

I mean, these guys roam.  They roam from state to state.  So people need solid, good information.

COSBY:  And it‘s got to start at home.

WALSH:  Absolutely.  Sit down with your kids.  Go over this video repeatedly.  And it‘ll give you—again, I say knowledge is power.

COSBY:  John, great to see you, my friend.  Always keep up the great work that you‘re doing.

WALSH:  Nice to see you, Rita.

COSBY:  Thank you very much.

WALSH:  Thank you.

COSBY:  And still ahead, everybody, tonight, we‘re keeping an eye on Tropical Storm Rita.  We‘ll have an update right after the break.

And shocking new details in the Natalee Holloway case, a case that John and I have both been following a lot.  A former FBI special agent uncovers details about the night that Natalee vanished that you have not heard before.  And Natalee‘s mother‘s going to join me now LIVE AND DIRECT.  That‘s coming up.

Plus, a girl disappears during her first week of college.  Tonight, the clues in the case are ominous.  We‘re going to tell you what some officers found just ahead on LIVE AND DIRECT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: From MSNBC world headquarters, here is Rita Cosby.

COSBY:  And if you‘re just joining us tonight, we are continuing to watch the newest storm heading towards the United States.  We just got word a short time ago that Tropical Storm Rita now has maximum sustained winds of 70 miles per hour, but it‘s expected to get stronger as it moves towards the Florida Keys and also the Gulf of Mexico and possibly next hitting already paralyzed New Orleans or Texas.  We‘re going to continue to follow Rita‘s path, and we‘ll keep you posted with any major developments throughout this hour.  We‘ll also be talking to the mayor of Galveston, Texas in just a few short minutes.

But now we‘re going to turn to another big story that we‘ve been following for a while, shocking new details tonight in the disappearance of Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway.  A private investigator just back from the island of Aruba says there‘s much more there than meets the eye.  Live and direct tonight from Birmingham, Alabama is Beth Holloway Twitty, Natalee‘s mother, and also from Atlanta, Harold Copus, he‘s the man who uncovered the latest information in the Holloway case. 

Harold, let‘s talk if we could, you and I just missed each other when we were in Aruba.  But what did you find out from Deepak Kalpoe, one of the brothers? 

HAROLD COPUS, FORMER FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  Well I think the interesting thing was that Deepak had said that he claimed that he, his brother and Joran Van Der Sloot all had sex with Natalee, which was very shocking.  It was very—he was just very distanced the way he described it. 

COSBY:  And, Harold, did he talk about what I know Beth and I have talked about before.  Sort of going in and out of consciousness during this issue? 

COPUS:  He certainly did.  One of the things that he had said was that when they left Carlos & Charlie‘s, that she was obviously an individual who couldn‘t stand up, very well intoxicated, passing in and out of consciousness.  It makes you really wonder what they were trying to do there, and take advantage of that young girl. 

COSBY:  You bet.  And, Beth, you know, I want to tell you, we are not going to forget about this case.  You and I talked a bit, when I was in Aruba.  How angry are you, when you hear what Deepak Kalpoe is talking about? 

BETH HOLLOWAY TWITTY, NATALEE HOLLOWAY‘S MOTHER:  You know, Rita, it‘s just incredible that all this new evidence is coming out, and there‘s still even be a question of its credibility or, you know, or whether this is enough evidence brought forward to warrant the re-incarceration of these suspects.  It‘s just unbelievable.

COSBY:  How hard , as a Mom, too, Beth?  I mean, you loved Natalee so much.  I tell you, you know, John Walsh and I were talking during the break.  It is because of you that this story has been alive.  Just you and your love for your daughter.  It just must outrage you to hear what this young boy is now talking about? 

HOLLOWAY TWITTY:  Oh, I know.  Well, you know, Rita, it‘s so difficult, because Doug and Dave, Natalee‘s father and I, we‘ve all three known that, at least Joran had admitted in his statements that he had had sex with her.  So this is something that we‘ve had knowledge of since before July 1.  And also, of course, huge suspicion of Deepak and Satish‘s involvement.  And, you know, we‘ve had to hold this in for a long time.  And, you know, it‘s—you know, now I‘m just glad the world sees that—what has all happened to Natalee.

COSBY:  Absolutely.  And, Harold, why not hold these boys under suspicion of rape?  I mean, you‘ve got a guy who‘s saying that she was going in and out of consciousness.  You‘ve got a number of them now saying that they had sex with her, while she clearly was incoherent?  Why not hold them on rape? 

COPUS:  Who knows?  You know it‘s really hard to understand that system, and what they‘re trying to accomplish down there. 

COSBY:  Are you stunned, Harold?  I mean, you‘re a seasoned FBI guy.  You‘ve been in law enforcement forever.  If this was America, would these guys be free? 

COPUS:  Well you know after awhile, and even in the job I‘m in now, you get hardened, but yes, I think stunned would be, at least, the smallest word I could use. 

COSBY:  What about Michael Posner?  There‘s this gentleman who owns a casino where Natalee and Joran were seen spending time.  Apparently, Joran has a big credit line there.  I went into that casino.  What do you know about the guy that owns that casino, Harold? 

COPUS:  Well this guy has that casino.  He‘s alleged to have organized crime ties back to Chicago.  And you can say alleged, he‘s actually served time.  He‘s been convicted.  So he comes up into Aruba and is able to get a gambling casino.  At the same time, we‘re told that Joran and his dad both are gambling there.  It really makes you wonder how that‘s happening and how they got this line of credit. 

COSBY:  Yes.  And a big, big line of credit.  Beth, I know you‘ve actually been to the casino, right?  And Michael Posner threatened you, is that correct? 

HOLLOWAY TWITTY:  Well, there was a phone call made.  And it was just really having me refer to—you know, I‘d only mentioned the fact I had gotten from prosecuting attorney as far as the open line of credit, and that Joran is in his casino gambling, and I don‘t think there was ever a question that Joran and Paulus Van Der Sloot had been in that Excelsior Casino, and, particularly, on the night of the 29th where he and his father met Natalee. 

COSBY:  Well they seemed to be worried about business.  Well, of course, your daughter‘s well being is a lot more important.  You know, Beth, as you think about this, you know, I was so heart broken.  We left to cover the hurricane.  And when I say we, not just myself, but a number of other people, because, of course, I was so devastating.  And then, sure enough, a couple days later, they all get out.  How disgusted are you at the system? 

HOLLOWAY TWITTY:  You know, it‘s just incredible, and especially as early as September 1, I felt like we were so close to getting answers.  And it‘s just amazing that, you know, that they can hide underneath the cloak of Hurricane Katrina, right in the midst of just getting close to finally having an answer to what happened to Natalee and where is she.  The Dutch interrogators were just as shocked as I was, when these suspects were released. 

COSBY:  Yes.  And they certainly seemed, Harold, didn‘t you think that they were closing in.  That was the sentiment I got, too.  Real quick, Harold.

COPUS:  Well I think so.  I think this case was really close.  And now one more time, it seems like something was easily within our grasps, we‘ve lost it one more time.  In a case, it‘s hard to gain momentum, especially, when it‘s had this stop and go so many times. 

COSBY:  Well we will stay on it, guys.  And please keep us posted, both of you.  And our prayers are with you, of course, Beth, as always.  Good to talk with you. 

And still ahead, everybody, another missing college student.  She walked out of her apartment and disappeared.  Tonight, police have a big clue.  But could it lead them to her? 

And Is there danger for other students?  I‘m going to ask the dean of her school. 

And reverse course in New Orleans.  Now they won‘t come back home so soon, especially after word that another hurricane may plow into that state in a matter of days.  We‘ll give you the very latest on Tropical Storm Rita.  

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  Well it‘s been exactly two weeks, and there‘s still no sign of 17-year-old Taylor Behl.  The college freshman vanished after leaving her dorm room on labor day carrying her car keys and some cash.  Tonight students and staff at Virginia Commonwealth University are holding a vigil hoping for her safe return.  Reuban Rodriguez is the Dean of Student Affairs for that university.  He‘s on the phone now, and he‘s just returned from the vigil.  And also with us from Chicago is former Washington D.C.  Homicide Detective Rod Wheeler.

Let me start with you Mr. Rodriguez.  How is the community handling everything?  You just came back from the vigil.  And also with us from Chicago is former Washington, D.C. homicide detective Rod Wheeler.

Let me start with you, Mr. Rodriguez.  How is the community handling everything?  You just came back from the vigil? 

REUBAN RODRIGUEZ, VCU DEAN OF STUDENT AFFAIRS:  Yes, that‘s correct, Rita.  The community is handling the situation as best as possible.  Obviously everyone at Virginia Commonwealth University has Taylor in our thoughts and prayers, and as evidenced by the vigil this evening, we had over 300 people in attendance, many of them VCU students, but also members of the city of Richmond community, as well as friends and family members of Taylor.  So certainly going into our third week now.  We‘re still very concerned and want to make sure that she returns home very safe.   

COSBY:  Absolutely.  And Rod, you know, a big clue came up just a few days ago, the car being found.  And what I thought was really significant, it was found without the original license plates.  Had license plates of another stolen vehicle.  How do you read that? 

ROD WHEELER, FORMER D.C. HOMICIDE DETECTIVE:  That‘s right, Rita.  That‘s a very significant point.  Now, what that specifically tells the police is that they‘re dealing with someone that is obviously involved in other crimes as well. 

Now, the main thing here, though, that I think the viewers should be aware of is the fact that Taylor Marie may not be that far as far as being kept.  If someone has abducted her, she may be in that same very area where that car was found, Rita, because we typically find vehicles not far from the areas in which the suspects actually live and reside. 

COSBY:  So that may actually be a good, positive clue, because he ditched the car.  And the question is why? 

WHEELER:  That‘s right. 

COSBY:  Let me bring ...

WHEELER:  That‘s, right, because, you know, most—go ahead, Rita. 

COSBY:  No, you go ahead, Rod.  You go. 

WHEELER:  Well, most individuals that abduct and kidnap people, Rita, just for your information, they don‘t want to keep that car, because what can happen is they‘ll start getting evidence in that car, evidence such as fingerprints.  They‘ll start dropping personal items in that car.  So they want to get rid of that car as soon as possible.  Now, that‘s exactly what the Richmond Police Department right now is trying to find out, whether or not there‘s any physical evidence in that car that they can use to try to identify who in fact could have done something to Taylor Marie. 

COSBY:  That‘s a great point.  Mr. Rodriguez, do you know the area?  I think it was about a mile and a half from campus where the car was found.  Do you have any idea like what type of area that is?  Is that a highly traveled part of town? 

RODRIGUEZ:  Yes, Rita, it is very highly traveled.  Of course, VCU is in the heart of Richmond.  It‘s an urban campus, both our main campus and (INAUDIBLE) campus and NCD (ph) campus.  And the area just to the west of us is called the Fan.  It‘s an historic district within the city of Richmond.  Many of our VCU students live in that area, as well as many city of Richmond residents.  And it‘s also just a few blocks away from what we call our museum district. 

It is very heavily trafficked, both by vehicle and foot traffic.  And again, it‘s fortunate, as Rod mentioned, that the vehicle was found.  It‘ll hopefully lead the detectives to more clues in finding Taylor. 

COSBY:  Let‘s certainly hope.  And Rod, real quick, there‘s this photographer, a 38-year-old photographer who seemed to have some sort of relationship with the college student, with Taylor.  He‘s been questioned.  How do you read that? 

WHEELER:  He has been questioned, but I will tell you that this photographer is still a suspect.  And just so that you know, everyone is still a suspect down in that area, Rita, until she‘s actually found. 

Two other real very quick things.  The police need to find out everyone that‘s a registered sex offender in that immediate area, and whether or not any other rapes or attempted rapes have occurred in the campus area.  Campus police are notorious for trying to cover up rapes and things like that.  It‘s not good for marketing for them, but the police need to find that out, because that could be very critical in finding Taylor Marie. 

RODRIGUEZ:  I‘d just (INAUDIBLE) response.

COSBY:  Yeah, go ahead, real quick, Mr. Rodriguez.  

RODRIGUEZ:  Sure.  Our campus police have been on top of the case since it broke.  And our public crime statistics are there for anyone to explore.  We don‘t cover anything up.  We want just to have Taylor found safe and sound, and returned to her friends and family. 

COSBY:  Well, of course, that‘s the key for everybody.  This photographer not officially a suspect, but certainly still being called by authorities a person of interest, which means, as Rod said, not been ruled out at all. 

Thank you guys very much. 

And up next, was it too much too soon?  Was telling people to come back to New Orleans the right decision?  Some are saying bad call, and everybody pointing fingers.

And doctors say that when people do come home, there could be another crisis.  We‘re going to tell you what has some medical specialists very worried.  I saw some of it firsthand.  That‘s coming up on LIVE & DIRECT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS:  The city of New Orleans, starting on Monday, starting this weekend, will start to breathe again.  We will have life.  We will have commerce. 

As we look at that new event, being Hurricane Rita, and as I assess everything that‘s going on as it relates to our drainage, it causes us to change the plans or adjust the plans. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  Well, should Mayor Nagin have ever even given the OK in the first place to go back?  We‘re joined by my colleague Joe Scarborough, who is in Pensacola, Florida. 

Joe, you know, you and I were there in the hard-hit areas.  Wasn‘t it outrageous that the mayor thought the people could start coming back so soon? 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST, “SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY”:  I‘ll tell you what, Rita, it‘s amateur hour down in the Big Easy right now.  You and I both know he made a hundred mistakes before Katrina hit that could have saved lives.  This guy starts—starts begging people to come back, 200,000 people to come back last Thursday, and continued through the weekend.  Now, he‘s fighting with the feds.  He finally has to back down. 

You‘re exactly right.  It‘s outrageous.  I believe this man has already cost the lives of many of his citizens by bad decisions he‘s made.  The question is, when‘s he going to finally get out of town and just move to Dallas with the rest of his family?  I think everybody in New Orleans would be safer if he‘d do that.  We‘re talking about that and a lot more tonight, Rita. 

COSBY:  Well, we‘ll be tuning in.  Of course, we want to see if he ever owns up to his end of the mistakes too, Joe.  

SCARBOROUGH:  Exactly, Rita.  Exactly.

COSBY:  Thanks so much, Joe.  We‘ll be tuning in in a few minutes. 

Thanks so much.

SCARBOROUGH:  Thanks.

COSBY:  And tonight, the New Orleans police chief is talking about the mayor‘s about-face as well.  He‘s just a few miles away from me over at Giants Stadium in New Jersey, where the New Orleans Saints are playing their first home game.  That‘s where Monica Novotny is live and direct. 

What did the chief have to tell you, Monica? 

MONICA NOVOTNY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, Rita, the chief, you know, he‘s essentially supporting the mayor.  He‘s been supporting the mayor.  We talked to him a couple of times.  We first spoke to him early on, before we knew that the word had come down from the mayor that he had changed his decision. 

So our first question to the chief was, do you support the mayor‘s decision to allow people back in this early?  And he said, absolutely, the mayor is my boss, and I support him. 

Well, after we heard the word, we grabbed the chief again; he was standing there on the field, shaking hands with the players, watching them warm up.  We pulled him over and said, Chief, all right, the word has just come down, we‘ve talked—we‘ve heard from the mayor now that, in fact, because of Tropical Storm Rita, he‘s not going to allow people back into New Orleans this soon, what do you think of his decision?  And this is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EDDIE COMPASS, NEW ORLEANS POLICE SUPERINTENDENT:  Well, you know, we‘re going to enforce that rule.  You know, whatever mandate the mayor puts in place, the police department is going to follow that mandate.  If the mayor says we‘re going to evacuate, we‘re going to use all our resources to get the people out and keep them safe.  We‘re going to do what is best in the interest of public safety, you know, and we‘re going to follow orders.  You know, as the superintendent police, I expect officers under my command to follow my orders without question.  Well I have to lead by example. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVOTNY:  Now, you know, Rita, one of the interesting things when I spoke with the chief the first time around, and I‘d asked him, you know, how much is he in contact with the mayor, and how much is he part of the decision-making process?  He said they certainly speak often.  He said the mayor takes his word into account.  But he said they really do look at these things differently.  He said, when he thinks about getting back into New Orleans and bringing people back in, he looks at it, the chief does, from a security stand point, and in his words he said the mayor is looking and taking a more holistic approach. 

Now, the other thing you might want to know about the chief tonight.  He was very excited to be here, but of course he‘s getting on a plane right after this game, and going right back down to New Orleans, because, of course, his work isn‘t finished anytime soon, and he does not get a day off.  But you may have noticed that he was in his dress uniform, and he took the time to point that out to me.  He said if it weren‘t for my men, I would be here in a T-shirt.  The reason I‘m in my dress uniform is, because as the hurricane was coming in, believe it or not, someone actually thought to set this aside for me, they pulled it out of the closet, they wrapped it up in plastic and they brought it to a safe zone, because they knew, even at that point, that I‘d have some formal events to attend.  And so they saved me.  So he said even on the littlest things, his team has taken care of him—Rita.

COSBY:  Interesting.  I know 500 of his officers still missing. 

Monica, thank you very much. 

Well many fear that when New Orleans residents do return, there could be a second disaster.  The toxic city still poses a major risk, and with major dangers and diseases still lurking.  We‘re joined now by Dr. Fred Cerise.  He‘s Louisiana‘s secretary of health and also hospitals.  Dr.  Cerise, how worried are you about the sort of quote, second disaster from toxic water? 

DR. FRED CERISE, LOUISIANA SECY. OF HEALTH AND HOSPITALS:  Well, let me say this, the approach that the mayor has taken, and we‘ve been in contact with the city health officer down there in New Orleans, and they were taking an incremental approach.  You‘ve got to take into a number of consideration—a number of things into consideration when looking at having people come back.  And what they did over the weekend was they allowed some business people to go in and collect files and get things like that.  They went into areas that were dry. 

The things that you consider are is the water removed?  Is there safe drinking water?  Is there sewage?  Is there fire, and police, and E.M.S., medical capacity and those types of things.  In some areas of the city you‘re going to have those things, in other areas, you won‘t.  And so as you look at going back in, I think you‘re going to, necessarily, take an incremental approach. 

COSBY:  Yes.  Well, you know, and you talked about things that are in place.  I was reading that only four area hospitals are in place.  I mean, god forbid something happened to one of the rescue workers or someone going back into their homes. 

CERISE:  Well, we‘re keeping a close eye on that as well.  And, in fact, in the areas just surrounding the city, there are hospitals that are open and remained open, and they have significant capacity, as you can imagine, because the population isn‘t there right now.  So there is significant capacity in those hospitals as we speak.  Now as people come back into the surrounding areas, we expect that to change.  And so there are emergency room-type teams on the ground throughout the city.  There‘s a naval ship docked in Orleans that has the capacity do trauma care and those types of things, as we look at bringing up other hospitals.  So, again, there‘s ample capacity in the hospitals.  Now as people come back in, we‘re going to have to grow that capacity. 

COSBY:  And really quickly, Dr. Cerise.  In terms of how toxic the water was.  We had to throw our clothes out, after we were near the water.  How big of a concern and for how long, real briefly? 

CERISE:  Well we know that there‘s bacteria in that water, and you would expect that given the circumstances.  And so It‘s important that people get rid of their clothes or clean their clothes or wash them when they come out of the water.  Don‘t get that water in their mouths, because that could cause problems.  But absent that, you know, we have certainly not seen outbreaks of G.I. disease and that sort of thing that you‘re worried about. 

COSBY:  Well that‘s good to hear.  Dr. Cerise, thank you very much. 

And still ahead, everybody, Tropical Storm Rita is headed towards the Gulf of Mexico, maybe towards New Orleans.  And it could hit Texas and possibly New Orleans as a hurricane in just a few days.  Are people ready there?  We‘re going to find that out next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And Texas is not taking any chances.  Galveston officials today called for a voluntary evacuation of the island city as they wait for Tropical Storm Rita.  Joining me on the phone now is Galveston mayor, Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas.  Mayor Thomas, how is the voluntary evacuation going right now? 

LYDA ANN THOMAS, GALVESTON MAYOR:  It‘s working very well.  We have over 600 people signed up to leave the city on our public transportation system. 

COSBY:  Is that buses? 

THOMAS:  Yes, ma‘am. 

COSBY:  What about mandatory evacuations, do you think you‘ll get to that point? 

THOMAS:  I do think so.  I will officially declare voluntary evacuations tomorrow at 2:00, and I suspect that sometime Wednesday, late Wednesday, we will call mandatory evacuation depending on the track of the storm, which , as you can well imagine, storms do tend to change their minds, but if it stays on track, sometime Wednesday the city will call for mandatory evacuation. 

COSBY:  And I hear that some of my pals from the Texas National Guard, I spent a lot of time with them in Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, I heard they‘re being rerouted from New Orleans back to their home state.  Is that right? 

THOMAS:  That‘s according to the state emergency management planners, I suppose that‘s true.  They will not come on Galveston Island pre-storm.  If we need the National Guard, the possibility of that happening would be post-storm.  We also have the department of public safety officers that we would call upon to come and help us. 

COSBY:  Now, real quickly, I‘ve been to your beautiful island city, it‘s gorgeous. 

THOMAS:  Good. 

COSBY:  But I do recall, also, that there was a hurricane that wiped out the city, what, over 100 years ago.  So this is not a new experience. 

THOMAS:  No, we deal with storms of all forms every year.  We have an evacuation plan that we keep reviewing, and I believe at this point we are as well prepared as we could possibly be. 

COSBY:  Well, that is good to hear.  Mayor Thomas, we hope it does not hit you, and we appreciate you being with us.  Thank you.  And thank you, everybody, for watching.  I‘m Rita Cosby.  We‘re now going to pass it over to my pal Joe Scarborough in Pensacola, not too far from hard hit Biloxi.  You went back and forth, Joe, and you did a great job.  And now we‘re bracing for another one.

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

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