Video: John Walsh weighs in
updated 9/20/2005 2:45:36 PM ET 2005-09-20T18:45:36

If Tropical Storm Rita spares New Orleans, the city still may not be ready to protect the people who live there.

John Walsh, host of “America‘s Most Wanted" and co-founder of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, says the Big Easy possess a dangerous "element of bad guys" making it unsafe to return.

Walsh teamed up with MSNBC-TV's Rita Cosby to discuss the current state of New Orleans.  He also explains how the rescue missions impacted the search for loved ones.

RITA COSBY, LIVE AND DIRECT HOST: 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.  Everybody in Florida knows you don‘t come back until the power is on.  You don‘t come back for a couple of weeks.  Florida wasn‘t the toxic waste dump of 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. When you go out in the boats — we went into a couple of the different parishes.  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.

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 in 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? 

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: 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.

COSBY: We had armed guards.

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. 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....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.

COSBY: But they‘re looking for the parents.

WALSH: Well, 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?  Because 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 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.  Just call up and say, I think I have this kid in North Carolina.  They‘re everywhere.

Watch 'Rita Cosby Live & Direct' each night at 9 p.m. ET on MSNBC.

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