updated 9/20/2005 9:46:39 AM ET 2005-09-20T13:46:39

Guests: Holly Phillips, Julia Reed, Russel Honore

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tonight‘s top headline:  Come home.  Wait.  Don‘t.  What‘s going on in New Orleans?  Mayor Ray Nagin made the controversial decision to invite 200,000 residents back to their city this weekend.  Now he says, stay away, but has he already put their lives at risk? 

And then, Tropical Storm Rita, we were just talking about it.  This storm is gaining strength and an evacuation order has already gone out for the Florida Keys, but this storm is going to get so—trust me.  I told you this about Katrina.  When it gets in the Gulf, the waters are warm.  It‘s going to heat up.  This one is going to be a 3 or 4 by the end.  It‘s going to be so dangerous and going to threaten the beleaguered people across the Gulf states. 

Welcome to this special edition of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, “Katrina:

Crisis and Recovery.” 

Thanks so much for being with me tonight. 

Now, we are three weeks to the day since Katrina crashed into the Gulf Coast.  And now New Orleans is gearing up for what‘s being called the second disaster, people returning too soon, getting hurt, with no hospitals, contracting diseases from polluted water.  Why would anybody say, come back now?  We‘re going to be talking live to a doctor who‘s warning of that second disaster once the people do try to go home to New Orleans. 

Here we go again, Tropical Storm Rita making its way toward the Florida Keys tonight, not taking any chances and being a lot smarter than some people in New Orleans.  A lot of residents of South Florida are evacuating, getting out of Dodge.  But will Rita take a turn towards New Orleans? 

Let‘s go to Bill Karins and MSNBC‘s Weather Plus. 

Bill, tell us about this storm.  Where is it going?  How strong is it going to be? 

BILL KARINS, NBC METEOROLOGIST:  As you know Joe, you mentioned the stuff about the Gulf and how warm it is and everything else.

Everyone in the Gulf considers themselves to be a hurricane expert.  And you know, once this storm makes the translation here from the Atlantic over to the Gulf, it doesn‘t spell anything good at all.  For the first time, Rita is now popping up on the radar, the center of the storm located right in here.  It‘s kind of hard to see the banding, but it‘s there.

And you can notice the bands in here.  And I‘ll tell you what.  I have been watching this storm the last three hours.  This storm is just exploding right now.  When you notice the red colors, that indicates where the thunderstorms are.  These are the coldest cloud tops.  That‘s what we watch for technically. 

And when you see that red exploding like that, this storm is just pulsating.  It‘s feasting right now on the warm water in the Florida Straits, south of Miami and north of Cuba.  And that‘s why hopefully everyone has gotten out of the Keys already.  The timing on this, watch how quickly we‘re going to go from a tropical storm to a Category 1 to Category 2.  We think this could jump up to a Category 2 by the time we get to Tuesday afternoon, heading through Key West as a Category 2, maybe with winds as high as 100, 105 miles per hour. 

So, that is why hopefully everyone‘s left the Keys.  And, of course, what everyone wants to know, Joe, after this, is, after it‘s done with Florida in about 36 hours, where does it go after that?  Right now, the Hurricane Center is saying Category 3.  This water is plenty warm.  It could be anywhere from a 2 to possibly a strong 4.  And once these get this strong, as you know, Joe, they have these eye wall replacement cycles.  We will be talking about that over nation three or four days.

It‘s a technical term.  All it really means is that the storms can‘t stay a really strong Category 4 or 5 for a long period of time.  They fluctuate.  And that‘s what we will be watching probably right through the Gulf.  And, hopefully, we will get it on one of those tail end fluctuations by the time it hits somewhere between New Orleans or Houston. 

Right now, Houston, you‘re in the crosshairs.  But this will change.  It‘s four or five days away.  You have to kind of wait and see how the computer models take this storm. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, thanks so much, Bill Karins, from MSNBC‘s Weather Plus.  Greatly appreciate the update.

And, friends, you see—again, you see that thing going across the

Gulf.  I can tell you, if you‘ve never been in the Gulf of Mexico,

certainly—I just went out there with my family a couple days ago and it

is like bath water out there.  It is so warm, 90, 91, 92 degrees, warmer

than I can recall it being when I was growing up.  That‘s what happens,

So, when it comes into that Gulf, that is like pouring fuel on a fire. 

I would be surprised if this thing didn‘t end up being a Category 4 storm.  And, usually—and you always see it—we have seen it for the past several years.  What happens is, it does go across the Gulf.  I‘m no meteorologist here, but I do live on the Gulf.  Those things usually tick up to the north.  Could be very bad news for Louisiana and New Orleans, specifically. 

Speaking of New Orleans, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has been at the center of the debate about whether his residents should return to that beleaguered city. 

With the latest from the Big Easy, here‘s NBC‘s Kevin Tibbles. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KEVIN TIBBLES, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  After a weekend of open debate about the wisdom of inviting people back to New Orleans, the advancing storm now has everyone here, including the mayor, in agreement.  People should stay out for now. 

RAY NAGIN (D), MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS:  I‘d rather err on the side of conservatism, so that we make sure that we have everybody out. 

TIBBLES (voice-over):  Mayor Ray Nagin says, if Rita hits New Orleans, the city‘s pumping stations will simply not be able to handle the rush of water. 

NAGIN:  We are suspending all reentry into the city of New Orleans as of this moment. 

TIBBLES:  At the White House, the president was even more blunt, laying out a worst-case scenario. 

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  If it were to rain a lot, there is concern from the Corps of—Army Corps of Engineers that the levees might break. 

TIBBLES:  But in the Algiers neighborhood, where residents had already started come back today...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Good to be home.

TIBBLES:  ... there were visible signs that, even without a new storm, the city is unprepared for people. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  These are the rules and regulations. 

TIBBLES:  New Orleans cops were handing out leaflets to anyone coming in of the dangers ahead, gas leaks, downed power lines, mold, bacteria, and toxins. 

SHANTELL WRIGHT, RESIDENT OF ALGIERS:  Like a ghost town.  It looks basically like nobody lives here anymore. 

TIBBLES:  Shantell Wright accepted the mayor‘s invitation to come back home, only to find there are no schools nearby to send her four children. 

WRIGHT:  This is home.  I have been here all my life. 

TIBBLES:  Others face long lines at the few stores that managed to survive. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No stores.  The military is out with guns everywhere. 

TIBBLES:  With no emergency medical facilities, health care officials worry about what they call secondary disasters, citizens getting hurt while cleaning up. 

DR. PETER DEBLIEUX, CHARITY HOSPITAL:  There is the absence of a level one trauma center here within the city.

TIBBLES:  Now residents are being told to get ready for another hurricane.  And the governor insists evacuation orders will be followed. 

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA:  Well, there will be a mandatory evacuation.  And I do believe that 100 percent of the people will listen this time. 

TIBBLES (on camera):  And now all those residents who listened to their mayor and came back are now being told they may have to pack up and leave again by Wednesday—back to you. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thanks so much, Kevin. 

Friends, I don‘t even know where to start with this mayor.  As you know, I have been very critical of the president of the United States.  I have almost given the mayor a free pass.  Criticizing him?  Atticus Finch would say that‘s like killing a mockingbird.  There‘s no sport to it. 

He just—he just—it seems so over his head.  But, again, I haven‘t been critical of him.  We expect more of our presidents than we expect of our mayors.  You know, a lot of people—and I wasn‘t one of them, but a lot of people accused the mayor of failing to use school buses to evacuate residents before Katrina made landfall.  He could have done it. 

And then, at the height of the storm, though, after he failed to use those buses, the mayor went on local radio and he had this tirade. 

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

NAGIN:  I don‘t know whether it‘s the governor‘s problem.  I don‘t know whether it‘s the president‘s problem.  But somebody needs to get their  (EXPLETIVE DELETED) on a plane and sit down, the two of them, and figure this out right now. 

Don‘t tell me 40,000 people are coming here.  They‘re not here.  It‘s too doggone late.  Now get off your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) and let‘s do something and let‘s fix the biggest (EXPLETIVE DELETED) crisis in the history of this country. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know what?  I have been critical.  I have been critical of the governor of Louisiana, clueless.  I have been critical of the president of the United States.  He was detached the first 72 hours of this crisis, and people died because of it.  But this mayor has no room to talk. 

He had no room to go on a rant.  And think about this.  It gets even worse.  This is the mayor who, last Thursday, talking about hundreds of thousands of residents returning to the city, had this to say:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NAGIN:  It‘s a good day in New Orleans.  The sun is shining.  We‘re bringing New Orleans back.  And this is our first step.  We‘re reopening up this city and almost 200,000 residents will be able to come back and get this city going once again. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, immediately the feds said, come on, Mayor, give us a break.  He got in a fight with the head of the Coast Guard down there, insulted him, but, finally, presented with the president—and, by the way, I have got to be fair to the president.

If you‘ll remember, the president was calling, begging the governor of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans to call a mandatory evacuation days before they finally decided to do so.  But, anyway, today, presented with the president and a Coast Guard vice admiral and also others opposing him and a new storm heading towards the Gulf, the mayor finally backed down, and he had this response today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NAGIN:  We are suspending all reentry into the city of New Orleans as of this moment.  I‘m also asking everyone in Algiers to prepare to evacuate as early as Wednesday. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  So, the mayor invites 200,000 people in on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, And the feds go crazy for good reason.  It‘s still a toxic dump down there.  And now he‘s changing his mind again. 

Well, thank God he is.  He really has no choice.  It‘s the only thing he could do.  The question is, why doesn‘t Mayor Nagin just move to Dallas?  He‘s already bought a house out there.  I think everybody in New Orleans would be a lot safer if he‘d just leave.  I‘m sure that‘s not going to happen, though.

So, let‘s go live to New Orleans and NBC‘s Michelle Hofland. 

Michelle, so much confusion on the ground.  Can you give us the very latest?  What‘s the status?  is there a mandatory evacuation?  Are people still allowed to come in?  What‘s up right now? 

MICHELLE HOFLAND, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  You know what?  It‘s a bit confusing for those of us here and certainly for these people who are trying to get into their homes. 

Let me try to—well, if you can keep the scorecard, try to keep track of all this.  OK, so, for more than the past three weeks, the folks here and around New Orleans have been told, evacuate; get out; leave.  And then, this weekend, the mayor said, hey, some of you business owners here in the French Quarter and in the central business district, you can come back and check out your business and get ready to open.

And, some families, you guys can come back, too.  But, today, the mayor changed his mind, saying, OK, Hurricane Rita is heading this way.  And then, tonight, some of our crews saw the National Guard turning around some families on the interstate who had spent hours driving here, who had been waiting three weeks to get into their homes, those people, our crews, saw turning around on the freeway. 

And then, tonight, the governor of Louisiana said, OK, folks, get ready to evacuate.  You don‘t need to leave now.  It might be a good idea, but get prepared.  Find someplace to go north of here, but get prepared to leave in the next few days. 

But then, over in St. Bernard Parish, which was one of the most devastated by Hurricane Katrina, I spoke to the sheriff today.  And he said to me, Michelle, we are going to evacuate our parish or county tomorrow.  We‘re not going to wait around for anyone to tell us that.  We—the sheriff said they have about 1,200 people.  They‘re mostly contractors and environmental engineers and a handful of families.

Those people, he is going to make sure they evacuate tomorrow.  Joe, he told me it‘s just not safe for them to be there. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So, what‘s the situation on the ground right now as far as—we know it‘s basically been a toxic dump over the past several weeks.  Are there still a lot of dangers lurking, even if—even if this storm doesn‘t hit? 

HOFLAND:  As a matter of fact, there are. 

Just driving around in many places, there are still downed power lines.  And you can see there are no street lights here.  And then I spoke with an environmental consultant today, who said he just cannot believe that people are being allowed into some of these areas, because the bacteria level is just off the charts. 

He said his guys are out here cleaning in white hazmat suits.  They‘re wearing gloves.  They‘re wearing masks.  And he can‘t believe people are just allowed to roam around in their home through the muck, not to mention that there‘s no freshwater for people to drink or anything else. 

(CROSSTALK)

HOFLAND:  Go ahead.

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, I‘m sorry to interrupt you. 

We have got an image that our viewers are watching right now just of this dark, nasty sludge pouring out of all of these pipes.  I mean, there has to be so much bacteria and E coli.  And I understand—I heard from somebody that police officers can now tell the difference between the smell of a rotting human and a rotting animal.  I mean, it is just a filthy, toxic dump there, isn‘t it? 

HOFLAND:  Well, I will tell you, the smells around here are just horrendous right now. 

There‘s the smell of the toxic sludge left behind by the floodwaters, and the floodwaters smell different than that as well.  Then there‘s the smell from the mounds of mud that have slid in from the Mississippi River and are coating some areas in the area called the Ninth Ward.  And then, of course, there‘s all the stuff inside the restaurants down here, and then the smell of the human bodies.  It‘s just not very fun to be down here at all. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No, I would guess not.  But you‘ve been there from the very beginning, Michelle.  Thank you so much for the report tonight, another great one, taking us inside of New Orleans. 

Now, coming up, the diseases, and, as she said, rotting flesh and tainted waters of New Orleans.  We‘re going to be talking to a doctor about the toxic risks of New Orleans. 

Plus, as the Florida Keys evacuate, we‘re going to get an update on the death of Rita.  It‘s going to be a killer storm.  That‘s when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Raw sewage, E coli, a chemical wasteland.  One historian calls it apocalypse now.  We‘re going to be taking you there to New Orleans, plus talking to the general on the ground in charge of it all, when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Let‘s go to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, right now, and bring in Lieutenant General Russel Honore.  He‘s the commander of Joint Task Force Katrina. 

General, thank you so much for being with us tonight. 

Obviously, we have been hearing from everybody involved that you‘ve provided strong leadership for a region that‘s needed it so desperately, but now a new challenge coming, Hurricane Rita.  Can you tell us what preparations you‘re making and what your men and women are having to make for this possible storm? 

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, COMMANDER, FIRST U.S. ARMY:  Yes.

We have positioned a defense coordinating officer in Florida.  That‘s a team of about 30 personnel working with the state of Florida at the state emergency operations center.  We have conducted several teleconferences today and have identified necessary assets.  We have started to support the state of Florida.  National Guard assets have been chopped to Florida in terms of a C-130 from North Carolina to start evacuating patients. 

The state of Florida identified its assets and helicopters, as well as agreements with National Guard assets from other states.  And on the DOD side, we‘re starting to reposition some of our naval assets out of New Orleans to take to save haven.  We have the USS Bataan in Pensacola now taking on supplies.  It will loiter in a safe place to be prepared, if they are needed in the Florida Keys, as well as the USS Comfort, which is a hospital ship, had been off the coast of Mississippi.  It was—it is moving at this time. 

And the USS Tortuga will also be moving out of the part of the Gulf..

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  So, General, you all are obviously planning well in advance for this storm. 

Take us, if you could, inside of New Orleans.  I know that it‘s a terrible situation inside the city.  There was talk about people returning, but are you sending the message, as well as everybody else, don‘t come back to New Orleans right now? 

HONORE:  Well, I think that‘s the prudent measure. 

The mayor has issued a statement to the people based on this storm, that is, based on Rita.  We‘re in New Orleans every day.  I have got thousands of troops there.  And I take issue with the fact that you call it a toxic city.  There are pockets of where some spills from oil.  I mean, it is an industrial city of enormous capacity that is very important to this nation.  Its port facility in the petrochemical business is key to the entire nation. 

And when a Category 5 storm hit it, you could expect some of these type of things to happen.  But it is not a toxic city.  My troops are there.  The first-responders are there.  And, right now, on top of fighting the aftermath of Katrina, as you are showing on your screen now all of the water that‘s being pumped—over 90 percent of the water‘s been pumped.  There‘s been an outcry to try and get the business leaders in to assess their business.

And, unfortunately, we have got a crisis on top of a crisis with Rita coming across the Florida Keys and coming into the Gulf, as you‘ve most eloquently described by your weatherman.  So, we have got a combination of catastrophes working here.  Over. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You say, General, that it‘s not a toxic city.  But for Rita, would you think it would be safe to bring people back into New Orleans? 

HONORE:  Well, and I think that‘s been decisions been made by the mayor and the governor, based on current information by Rita.

You know, you made decisions three days ago.  People start confusing plans with actions.  And we have got to constantly update our decision points.  And that‘s what we‘re doing.  We‘re working close with the city and the state.  And they have great planners there.  And we‘re working through this and we‘re going to do the right thing to get the people evacuated prior to the effects of Rita coming in.  But, at the same time, we‘re still dealing with the aftermaths of Katrina.  Over. 

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  Thank you so much, General.  I appreciate you being with us. 

Right now, let‘s bring in vogue magazine‘s Julia Reed.  She‘s a New Orleans resident.  And she‘s been volunteering her time down there.  And, also, we have Dr. Holly Phillips.  She‘s a general internist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. 

I want to start with you, Julia.  The general, I guess, was offended by my suggestion that New Orleans was toxic, when you‘ve got—everybody I have talked to there says they‘ve seen rotting corpses.  There have been massive oil spills.

JULIA REED, “VOGUE”:  Well...

SCARBOROUGH:  There‘s chemicals all over the place, E coli.  I‘m sorry.  I don‘t know what you‘d call it, but it ain‘t paradise, baby.  Talk to me about it. 

REED:  Well, it‘s not paradise on—it‘s not paradise on a normal day. 

I mean, if you jump into Lake Pontchartrain before the hurricane, you‘d have E coli swimming around with you.  I talked to a public health officer—the former public health officer in New Orleans this morning.  And he was drinking the water to prove that everybody was overreacting. 

Now, I‘m not sure I‘d go that far. 

But I have said before, New Orleans is really a tale of two cities right now.  And the part that the mayor was encouraging people to come back to, there were never going to be 180,000 people coming, so that‘s beside the point.

But the part that people were trying to get back, he was encouraging to come back to, is fine.  I mean, you can work around and think, whoa, what‘s the problem?  We could be up and running.  Now, if you go to the areas that were under water, you do still see corpses.  You see the slime where the water‘s drained off.  You still see oil in the water.  But that is—you know, they really are in two separate spots. 

So, walking around the dry parts, doing business, like half the people in our business are doing—I mean, most of the people in New Orleans right now are reporters or National Guardsmen—they‘re fine.  Nobody‘s in any danger.  The air is not contaminated.  I mean, like I said, I would not drink the water.  But, heck, the public health officer was doing it to prove a point.  So...

SCARBOROUGH:  So, Julia—so, Julia, help me out here, then.  I have been—have I been too tough on Ray Nagin?  Should he possibly run for governor in the future and possibly president of the United States?

REED:  Well, at this point...

SCARBOROUGH:  Or was he an idiot for telling people to come back to New Orleans, 200,000, a beautiful day in New Orleans? 

REED:  No.  I know.

Well, I think, you know, the mayor—I hate to beat up on the mayor myself.  I‘m getting sick of it.  But I‘m like you.  But he—I think that he‘s not displaying maybe the smartest leadership, because, while there are some business leaders that it would behoove them to get back into town, restaurateurs that are not making any money.

I mean, there are engineers.  There are all these people in there.  If those kind of businesses in the dry places, where it is safe, could get back in, that would make sense.  But he can‘t—I mean, it was insane.  It was an exaggeration on par with 10,000 body bags needed to say 180,000 people were going to be back in the city in a week-and-a-half, because, first of all, if they had children, they can‘t go to school. 

If they break their leg, they can‘t go to the doctor.  I mean, if you‘re having a heart attack, you can‘t call 9/11.  And right now, like, this morning, I saw two traffic lights working.  Also, when you ask normal people, you know, just civilians to come in, they had checkpoints on I-10 that were slowing down traffic so much that they were, like, hundreds and hundreds of Entergy—Entergy trucks stopped on the interstate for at least two or three hours, when that was two or three hours they could have been getting the power back up and clearing the lines off the streets. 

So, that was kind of nuts.  I mean, I have to say that that was maybe not the best-thought-out decision on his part. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Probably not.

REED:  I mean, having a checkpoint to slow down emergency workers is just crazy. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I don‘t understand it.  I don‘t understand how the locals, the state officials, or the feds have been running this thing from the very beginning. 

Dr. Phillips, let me bring you in here.  Talk about the dangers.  And, again, it really is a tale of two cities.  If you go around, actually, the first area where New Orleans was formed, the Crescent, which is the older historic area across the Mississippi, it is high and dry, but the other part of the city, very dangerous.  What are the dangers lurking out there? 

DR. HOLLY PHILLIPS, LENOX HILL HOSPITAL:  Well, what a lot of the health officials down there, the first-responders, the emergency workers, are concerned about is something called a second-wave disaster. 

That happens when a city is repopulated before its infrastructure is

adequately in place, meaning, for instance, people will go home and there‘s

a myriad of possibilities, in terms of accidents and other injuries they

could have.  They could expose themselves to electrical wiring and become -

become electrocuted.  Their houses may not be secure.  They could fall through the stairs or a roof could collapse on them.  

They could hurt themselves while trying to clean up debris.  The issue is, they could have some injury.  They can‘t exactly expect 911 or emergency services to be able to arrive as promptly as they might in another—in another time.  There are other—other concerns, but that‘s one of the greatest, is this second wave disaster that we can see when things aren‘t in place. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  No doubt about it, Doctor.  And, as Julia said, you don‘t have 911.  You don‘t have electricity.  You don‘t have refrigeration.  Again, people don‘t realize that haven‘t been through a hurricane before that, for a week, sometimes two weeks, sometimes even longer, in New Orleans, you don‘t have these basic essentials. 

And if you need—like, for instance, if you‘re a diabetic or if you‘re infirm or young or very old, it‘s just extraordinarily dangerous to be in a hurricane zone after it hits and all the basic necessities aren‘t there.  It really is.  It‘s like you‘re in the Stone Age. 

Julia Reed, Holly Phillips, stay with us.  We will be right back. 

And when we return, incredible new video from New Orleans, as Katrina wreaked havoc and some disturbing details of the city‘s stench. 

Plus, is it about to happen all over again?  We‘re going to get a new update on where Rita is heading and the likelihood that she‘ll strengthen into a deadly hurricane by landfall later this week. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You‘re looking at video that‘s just been fed in to us, fires across New Orleans, as New York, Chicago, and L.A. firefighters and other firefighters across the country converge on New Orleans.  We will tell you about the video and much more when we come back. 

But, first, here‘s the latest news you and your family need to know. 

(NEWS BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  She‘s spinning off the coast of Florida, Tropical Storm Rita.  But what‘s going to happen when it gets into the Gulf?  We have got new information coming in, updating where Rita‘s going to go and how strong the storm will be. 

Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  That part of the story in just minutes.

But, right now, let‘s go to Heath Allen.  He‘s in New Orleans right now. 

Heath, you have some incredible new video in.  Tell us about it. 

HEATH ALLEN, WDSU REPORTER:  Well, I will tell you, just a few minutes ago, we responded to a fire right on the edge of the central business district. 

This is an ongoing problem here in the city of New Orleans, fires in the downtown area, especially when you‘re turning back on electricity, when you‘re turning back on gas.  This big fire, it looks like it was probably caused by gas.  You can see on the one side of the blaze this big gas plume that‘s just feeding the fire.  And it‘s one of the reasons why it‘s so difficult to put out. 

One thing you‘ll notice in the pictures, firefighters from the city of New York, firefighters from the city of Chicago, firefighters from Des Plaines in Illinois, all of these people have converged on the city of New Orleans over the past couple of weeks to kind of help their brothers with the fire department here in the city of New Orleans, as all these fires break out. 

First of all, there was a lack of water pressure.  But now, the water pressure‘s back and any fire that breaks out in the city of New Orleans right now, we counted as many as 20 fire trucks, fire engines, on this particular fire tonight on the edge of the CBD, everybody responding.  These fires don‘t really stand a chance. 

Why is that so important right here?  All of the buildings here in the city of New Orleans are very old, wooden frame structures.  And they‘re all packed so closely together.  If one fire gets out of control on a city block, that whole city block can go up and it can do it in a hurry.  So, when these guys respond, they isolate that fire and then they try to drown it right where it stands and not let it get to any of the structures that are nestled so nearby. 

And so that‘s what they were doing this evening.  It‘s amazing to watch all the folks, you know, from New York come down and jump all over these things, New York, Chicago.  It and almost looks like a repeat of 911 when you see that FDNY all over the place. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I‘ll tell you what, quite a story.  Heath, stay with us. 

We will be right back to you. 

Julia Reed, I want to bring you back in here and just talk about New Orleans, again, looking at fires and, again, all the other things we have talked about.  Is New Orleans inhabitable?  Are you going to be staying there?  Or how long will it be until you take your family back there? 

REED:  Well, I mean I have been going back and forth.  I haven‘t been spending the night much, because I tend to like air conditioning when it‘s about 100 degrees outside.  And I don‘t have a generator.

But where I live is pretty inhabitable.  But, you know, it‘s sort of terrifying, because we keep dodging all these bullets.  The folks on the high ground in the Quarter and the Garden District, where I live, you know, the first day, we thought, OK, we survived the hurricane.  Then comes the flood.  Then we survived the floods.  Then come the looters.  We survived the looters.

And now these fires keep coming up.  I mean, the first thing I did was turn off my gas and those of all my neighbors.  I went around with a farmer friend of mine who had a big wrench. 

But, you know, back to what he was saying, I have to say, the most moving sight I saw was a week ago on Sunday, which was September 11, 2005.  And all these guys from New York had just come and signed up for two-week stints.  And they had T-shirts on that said, “Never Forget.”  And they were sharing their food with the Guard, who has to eat MREs. 

And it was pretty—I mean, there are some uplifting sights among all the dreck, as you—and among the toxicity.  So, that‘s—and it‘s certainly a welcome sight for folks to see hoses with water coming out on television.  So, that‘s—I mean, if a hurricane comes after this, I think New Orleans is going to be feeling like the most beleaguered Job-like place on the planet. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt.  All right, thanks much, Julia.  As always, I really appreciate you being on. 

REED:  Thank you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Now let‘s—all right.

Now let‘s bring in presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. 

Doug, you‘ve been down there.  Let‘s talk.  And you and I have been very critical of the response on all levels, particularly the federal level.  But let‘s talk about this mayor inviting 200,000 people back into your fair city.  Is New Orleans really ready to take those people, even without Rita, or is it still a bit apocalyptic? 

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, NBC ANALYST:  It‘s absolutely not ready to take in 180,000 people.  Mayor Nagin has been confusing people. 

I think, when one looks at the history of this whole event of Katrina, the way that Mayor Nagin says one thing and then the other thing happens—what you just showed with Heath Allen, a first-rate reporter from WDSU in New Orleans, fires in the warehouse district.  That‘s connected towards—to the French Quarter, central business district.

And, you know, it‘s—I went all over different places, even these high-and-dry neighborhoods we‘re talking about.  And the smell of gas is all over the place.  And it doesn‘t take a lot to get these fires started.  There—it is—if anybody‘s listening now, is thinking about going to New Orleans, don‘t.  Give it another week.  There are still way too many problems. 

And I was listening earlier with you talking to the lieutenant general.  It is a toxic city, by any civilized standard.  No human beings, unless you have to be there, should be there. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Doug, I‘m so glad—I‘m so glad you brought that in, because, I mean, everybody I have talked to that‘s been there talks about the stench, the rotting corpses, the oil that‘s spilled, St. Bernard‘s Parish, the Ninth Ward. 

It is all—I mean, it‘s a chemical wasteland.  Can you describe for those people who may have heard the general say it‘s not toxic what you‘ve seen every time you‘ve gone back to New Orleans? 

BRINKLEY:  Well...

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  And, more importantly, what you‘ve smelled? 

BRINKLEY:  Well, you know, there‘s whole—six major oil platforms, refineries have spilled oil all over. 

If you drive down some roads and you hit the water, the stench is—it‘s undescribable.  It‘s a mixture of petroleum.  It‘s the smell of death.  It‘s of rotting garbage.  You couldn‘t have children.  Any person that has kids couldn‘t be living in this city.  There‘s no—the sewage system is not working.  There‘s no electricity.  There‘s no water. 

Yes, there are some generators at some hotels in the French Quarter.  Yes, it‘s nice to see a light here and there.  And—but—and I‘m an optimist in life.  I believe that optimism is an oxygen for all Americans, but you can‘t be dumb and stupid and confuse people.  New Orleans is in serious shape right now, not considering the storm and that, for some reason, the people keep wanting to put a prettier face on it than the reality is. 

It is—it‘s a dire situation still.  It hasn‘t improved that much in the last few days.  It‘s great that there are people to put fires out, but the fear of fires with that many cracked gas lines, I don‘t know what person would want to come back, only if you‘re trying to think of your business interest and you want to get papers and get your life going.  But it‘s not worth, for money, to be putting life on the line.  I think Mayor Nagin is confusing the issue.  He should stay very clear on message right now for people, not give exaggerated numbers, say one thing in the morning and another thing in the afternoon. 

And I find that, pretty soon, we‘re going to have to federalize it, because—the city of New Orleans completely, because I don‘t think people can listen to the mayor now.  I think he‘s a bit shell-shocked and doesn‘t know really what he‘s saying.  He‘s acting emotionally on an hour-by-hour basis. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I think you‘re right.  And, you know, it‘s easy for me to sit here in Pensacola, Florida, and second-guess.  He might—I know a lot of people that went through Ivan last year that still really haven‘t recovered emotionally.  Got to be very tough for him.  We expect more from our leaders, though. 

Doug, I want to show you—speaking of Heath and the great work that he‘s done, I want to show you video that he fed to us on Friday, remarkable video of the waters rising, because this is what it may look like again if Hurricane Rita comes in and it‘s even a Category 2 or a Category 3.  If this storm hits—and it‘s a big if, but I got to tell you, there is a possibility of it—if it hits, will this be really an unprecedented disaster for an American city? 

BRINKLEY:  Well, I‘m in Houston, Texas, right now and I‘m actually hoping the hurricane hits here and not New Orleans. 

The levee system, as we know, is in—it‘s not—we saw the sandbags being dropped.  The levee has not been reconstructed perfectly yet.  It is extremely weak, and not just in the places where‘s it‘s cracked before.  There are other places that it‘s very weak.  And if a storm, even a tropical storm hits, brings in more water and puts pressure and stress on the levee system, you could have more breakage and more neighborhoods that need to be—that get destroyed. 

The bottom line is, we should be very clear about this.  Don‘t go to New Orleans right now.  This is not the week to play games with reemerging back in your house and trying to start your life over.  Give it another week.  Let Rita get out of the way and let the—you know, let the National Guard forces do their job they need to do right now. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thank you so much, as always, Doug Brinkley. 

BRINKLEY:  Thanks.

SCARBOROUGH:  And I look forward—when Rita passes by, I look forward to seeing you in New Orleans. 

BRINKLEY:  Yes, me, too. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, thanks again. 

I‘m joined now by Tucker Carlson.  He‘s, of course, the host of “THE

SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON.”

Tucker, you‘re tackling a different angle of this disaster tonight. 

Tell us about it. 

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”:  Well, you remember, Joe, a couple weeks ago, right after Hurricane Katrina hit, a bunch of so-called civil rights leaders went on television to debate not when food and water were going to arrive, but what we ought to call the victims.  We should not call them refugees, they said.  We ought to call them evacuees, as if there was some distinction. 

Well, it turns out there was a distinction.  “The New York Times” reported over the weekend that, had they been refugees, they would have gotten federal aid a lot sooner.  We have got Jesse Jackson on tonight, someone who went on television 21 times in the first week after the hurricane...

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh.

CARLSON:  We counted tonight—to talk mostly about why they shouldn‘t be called refugees.  And we are going to confront him with the fact it would have been a lot better had they been refugees.  We will see what he says. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Tucker, I‘m going to be watching that.  Thanks so much.

CARLSON:  Thanks, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Greatly appreciate it.  And make sure you all tune in to “THE SITUATION” tonight at 11:00 p.m.  You‘re not going to want to miss that.

And still ahead, I‘m going to go back live to the Florida Keys, as Rita bears down and evacuations are under way with evacuees—or are they refugees?  We will straighten that out, too, when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, it‘s still the most remarkable video I have seen of Katrina as it made landfall in Chalmette, Louisiana.  Look at that.  I mean, it‘s unbelievable, the power of this storm.  See those lights flashing? 

That means the water rose up so fast that they didn‘t even short out.  With me now is a man who was there, Heath Allen.  He‘s a reporter from our affiliate WDSU in New Orleans. 

Hey, Heath, I want to ask you, you look at this video and obviously it‘s compromised the levee system.  You don‘t need a Category 4 to put New Orleans under water when Rita comes through, too, do you?  I mean, a 2 or 3 could do the job. 

ALLEN:  Let me tell you what.

Right now, if a Category 2 or 3 storm hit this area, yes, we‘re talking about an unprecedented disaster.  This is already an unprecedented disaster.  What happens, you put a 2 or a 3 on top of it?  The guy that took the pictures that you‘re talking about, Tom Fitzgerald, and I were just standing on the Industrial Canal levee, the one they used to replace that breach. 

Well, there‘s no way that storm—that levee could withstand any sort of storm.  The levee that they had there that they built to withstand a storm didn‘t withstand a storm.  So now they‘ve got a bunch of sand out there.  That‘s not going to work.  If a 2 or a 3 comes right now, that simply won‘t work. 

And the real problem is all that of the levee breaches have not been repaired.  There are levee breaches all over creation that they have not been able to get to and repair.  They‘ve done work along the 17th Street Canal, which is what flooded most of the city of New Orleans.  They have done work on the Industrial Canal, which is what got Chalmette and the Lower Ninth Ward and other parts of New Orleans there.

But those levees are not made to withstand a hurricane.  Those levees are made, so that the water will stop coming across that‘s already on the ground.  Another storm comes, those are going to wash away like sand on the beach.  It‘s going to be like you put your sand castle up there and it‘s going to be gone. 

So, we can‘t—we can‘t take a 2 or a 3, certainly not a direct hit.  And depending where that storm goes, even if we‘re on the wrong side of it, we catch that wind coming in, it‘s going to push that water in from out of the Gulf.  Then we have really got a problem. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  And, Heath, I was just going to say, you may want to explain.  Obviously, you‘ve been in New Orleans.  You know how these things hit.  You don‘t have to have a direct hit.  If it‘s even 100, 150 miles to the west of you, you‘re still going to get that eastern eye wall and it‘s going to flood the city.  Isn‘t it? 

(CROSSTALK)

ALLEN:  The problem with a storm in the Gulf of Mexico, as far as New Orleans is concerned, because of the counterclockwise flow, if we‘re on the side of that storm where that counterclockwise is coming this way, it‘s taking the Gulf water and it‘s pushing it right back of Plaquemines Parish, where it‘s already been hit, right back on top of St. Bernard Parish, that‘s already been hit, right back in to Lake Pontchartrain, which would put it right back on those levees we were just talking about. 

So, the problem is, it doesn‘t have to be a big storm.  We‘re in a bowl down here.  It just takes that little storm surge and it can put it right back on top of us.  The ground, guess what, is already soaked.  There‘s no place for this water to go.  Only perhaps a third of the pumps are even operating.  If there‘s water on the ground, there‘s no way to get it out of here anyway.  We can‘t take it again. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No, no doubt about it, Heath.  Thanks so much.  I greatly appreciate your report tonight with the fire and also with this.  And, hopefully, we can get you back tomorrow night, as Rita gets closer and we get an update.         

And, right now, I want to go back to Dr. Holly Phillips. 

Dr. Phillips, we were talking about some of the dangers of this storm.  I want you to talk specifically, because there are people out there—I know, because I have lived on the Gulf Coast for 30 years—who, once Rita goes past, and if it misses New Orleans, they‘re going to bring their families back in, their young, their old, their infirm. 

Please tell us tonight who is most at risk by returning to what New Orleans resident Doug Brinkley calls a toxic city? 

PHILLIPS:  Well, you know, always the groups that are most at risk are the very young and the very old.  It was interesting. 

We just heard on your program earlier—Julia was telling us about a city health official who took a bucket of water and drank it just to demonstrate that he didn‘t have any concerns about the water there.  That‘s a bold move.  Frankly, if the CDC says not to drink it, don‘t drink it.  You know, it‘s pretty straightforward in that way. 

The water is contaminated, should not—people should not drink the water.  They should not be washing their hands or their bodies in the water.  They should not be cooking with the water.  Those are huge concerns.  Once they get back in their homes, they have to worry about things like mold.  Mold spores could have easily taken over many homes, and that can target people who have asthma or COPD, lung illnesses. 

It‘s difficult to talk specifically about the illnesses, because there are so many. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thank you so much, Dr. Holly Phillips. 

Greatly appreciate it, from a great hospital.  I should know. 

The latest on Tropical Storm Rita coming up live next.  We will get you up to date with the very latest when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  As we have been reporting, Tropical Storm Rita is expected to slam into the Florida Keys tomorrow evening. 

Let‘s go live now to Key West and get the latest from NBC‘s Donna Gregory. 

Donna, what you got? 

DONNA GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, Joe.

Wanted to give you kind of a sense of what‘s going on here on the famous Duval Street in Key West.  We still see people walking around.  We have had cars driving past us.  It‘s breezy here and cloudy, but you don‘t get the sense that people fear that this foreboding storm is right around the corner.

Yet, it‘s supposed to hit here at, at least Category 1 hurricane strength some time tomorrow afternoon, either mid-afternoon or late afternoon.  A mandatory evacuation is in effect, but the sheriff admits there‘s really no way to enforce that.  He says, you simply can‘t force people to leave their property. 

So, to that end, a lot of people have simply just boarded up the buildings.  You can see some of those behind me.  And they have taken the necessary precautions.  They have their generators.  We saw a lot of people in line at the gas station today.  They bought their water.  They have been told to keep supplies for at least three days.  When Hurricane Katrina barreled through a couple of weeks ago, power was out here for several days for a lot of people.

So, they are thinking about Katrina in terms of comparing the Category 1 to the Category 1.  We did talk to some business owners who say, hey, New Orleans, it was a levee problem.  So, they don‘t fear this Category 1 storm, as many people think they should. 

That evacuation is going fairly smoothly.  Keep in mind, there‘s only one way off of these islands.  And that is Highway 1, heading north.  And they say, if people wait until tomorrow, it‘s simply too late—Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Thanks so much, Donna Gregory, live in Key West.  Greatly appreciate it. 

And, of course, the Category 1 isn‘t the danger, friends.  It‘s when it gets out into the Gulf and gets into that water that is as warm as bath water and it starts heating up.  We are going to see that throughout the week.  And SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY is going to be with you.  And you can usually count—when it gets about halfway up to the Gulf, more times than not, it takes a northerly tick, and possibly could hit New Orleans again. 

We‘ll be right back in a second.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  That‘s all the time we have for tonight, but stick around, because a man who was once a refugee at CNN, but now who is home at MSNBC, is up next, “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON.”

Tucker, what is the situation tonight? 

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”:  Joe, once was lost, but now am found.  Thank heaven.

SCARBOROUGH:  Amen.  Amazing grace. 

CARLSON:  Amen. 

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