updated 9/21/2005 10:22:09 AM ET 2005-09-21T14:22:09

Guest: Paul Prudhomme, Craig Eiland, Rick Roth, John McCain

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Good evening.  I'm Chris Matthews.

We begin HARDBALL today with Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, who, along with Mayor Ray Nagin, is holding a news conference right now. 

Let's continue to listen. 

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA:  Our first mission is to save lives, to save as many lives as possible.  And we would urge people to evacuate, take precautions.  It's much easier to take a car ride—even though it might get a little frustrating in some traffic—than to risk losing a life. 

And that will be our mission from here on out.  We are praying that the hurricane dissipates, that it weakens, that it becomes simply a tropical storm of sorts—even though tropical storms can injure us to some extent. 

A devastation of a hurricane Category 3, which is what it is projected to possibly increase to, could hurt us once again. 

This state can barely stand what's happened to it.  We could hardly stand to think of what we'd have to deal with if southwest Louisiana were also impacted. 

But we are working on it.  We will deal with it.  We want to protect lives, again. 

Thank you. 

(APPLAUSE)

VICE ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, U.S. COAST GUARD:  The governor and the mayor and I just came from a very extensive brief with the president.  The brief was divided into two parts.  One was a forecast on where Rita may go and the implications associated with that.  That's already been referred to by the mayor and the governor. 

The second brief was the status of the current conditions in Louisiana as it relates to our response to Hurricane Katrina. 

He is fully briefed and understands that we are adequately addressing both threats.  We are redeploying military forces where they are needed in case Rita comes ashore and we need those forces there. 

We are repositioning forces in and around New Orleans.  I have General Honore and his staff behind me here.  They can answer specific questions about the military force adjustment, if you'd have any questions regarding that.

One of the major moves was a field military hospital into the Convention Center that can support medical emergencies as we pass through this time of threat here.  We are also providing extra medical assistance teams and trauma units to the extent that they are needed inside the city of New Orleans.

We have been working throughout the day with the state and parish and city planners to preposition equipment, should we need it.  We have nearly 500 buses that are staged and ready to be used in an evacuation, if that is necessary.  We have water and MREs ready to support a population of about 500,000 should that be necessary. 

We are in continual consultations with the state.  And around the clock, we are doing reassessments.  And if there is an evacuation order at some time in the future or a higher alert status is obtained, we will be ready to act. 

As the governor said, this is a combined federal, state and local planning effort.  We are ready to execute.  We will keep our people out there.  We are providing services on scene.  If and when a decision is made to move people out of parishes, that's when our people will leave.  But until then, they will be there with the people, providing those services.

Are we taking questions, Mr. Mayor? 

RAY NAGIN (D), MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS:  I think Chief Compass has a little update.  And then we'll take questions.

EDDIE COMPASS, SUPERINTENDENT, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT:  First of all, I want to thank everybody for coming.  We have our communication systems that are up.  We have our police officers at the checkpoints.  We have some vehicles that have come in, so we're on patrol.  We're doing everything we can do disseminate our personnel into the areas as the city dries out. 

We have been working very closely with the federal agencies and with the military.  And the city of New Orleans is very, very safe. 

I want to let you know that this police department is prepared to do whatever it takes to keep this city safe.  I will have to put on another hat because Captain DeFillo is not here, so I'm going to be in charge of questions.

I saw him do it enough.  From the left to the right. 

ALLEN:  The mayor was kind enough to give me a T-shirt.  We were talking the other day in one of our meetings, and I told him it might be useful, especially for me, to understand where the evacuees have gone to because we're trying to reconcile demand and supply for housing and transient housing. 

To know that, you've kind of got to know where the people went.  And it's been very difficult for us to reconcile to what part of the country they went to.  And the mayor was very interested in that.

I told him I would put my people on it and see what we could come up with.  And I promised him this chart that I'd like to show you all.  And what it is, it's a density plot of where the people in the United States have evacuated have gone to and then applied for the assistance, so you can see the concentrations of where the people left and have gone to.

Mr. Mayor, per our discussion...

MATTHEWS:  Well, that's, of course, Admiral Thad Allen of FEMA and Ray Nagin, and mayor of New Orleans.  And, of course, the other person joining them is the governor of Louisiana, Kathleen Blanco. 

Oh, that was a debate—actually, it was a presentation by the leading officials of the state of New Orleans—the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana—as to preparations for Hurricane Rita, which is perhaps going to hit New Orleans.  It's going to hit perhaps, more likely, a piece of Louisiana to the west. 

But, of course, it is something they are getting ready for right now, in addition to trying to figure out how to bring people back into the city, on what basis. 

You heard Mayor Nagin there, the mayor of New Orleans, saying no pets, no children, and no senior citizens.  That was an odd ordering, but that is the way he said it.  No schools are open.  So, he is basically saying to people, come back and take a look at your property, make a very sad assessment of what you have lost and what you have to deal with in terms of perhaps your business books, and then get back out of town again. 

I thought it was very interesting that the governor was very passionate when she said, you may not like taking a long trip in a car with bad traffic going north, but it will save your life, perhaps, a very strong warning, I think, to the people that they may be in danger again.

Let's go right now to NBC's Michelle Hofland in New Orleans. 

Michelle, thanks for joining us again. 

What is the feeling there, that we are about to get hit again? 

MICHELLE HOFLAND, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  That is what a lot of people here are very afraid of. 

You know, they—for decades, they have been saying OK, there is going to be a hurricane coming.  But the people here are saying, you know what?  We have never had a strong hurricane.  We will be all right. 

But now, after Hurricane Katrina, people here are very jittery.  The restaurant that I am standing in front of, the folks came back this weekend to start getting ready to reopen.  Now they are back trying to empty their refrigerator and putting up the boards and getting ready, because they know, after Hurricane Katrina, things can get very bad very fast there.

People I talked to are also very sad.  They're overwhelmed.  They have been here for three weeks now.  All these volunteers, firefighters, police officers, they have all been working around the clock, also trying to deal with their own devastated homes and devastated neighborhoods.

And, frankly, Chris, they are exhausted.  They're overwhelmed.  And this is the last thing they need.  But even a little bit of rain is bad for the folks around here, because all these roofs are ripped off of homes throughout this area.  So, a little bit of rain will just drench the inside of these buildings that have been trying to dry out for three weeks. 

So, they are waiting, they are watching, and just praying that they don't get much rain or winds in this area. 

MATTHEWS:  Michelle, maybe I am looking for trouble, but I noticed a difference in point of view from the governor and the mayor, the governor of the state of Louisiana and the mayor of New Orleans.  The governor was speaking in drastic terms of saying, it is better to get out there and hit the highway and put up with some traffic than getting killed, getting drowned down here in the next couple days or even hours. 

On the other hand, the mayor was distinguishing between the way you come back into town now to pick up your belongings.  Don't bring the whole family back.  He seemed to be less distressed by the potential of this hurricane coming. 

HOFLAND:  Well, you know, he was trying to be optimistic and has been trying to be optimistic now for weeks to—from what I understand, he is very worried that the business people, big business people, are going to be leaving his town, so he has been trying to get people to come back here, like the owners of this restaurant, to start getting ready to reopen. 

And, at the same time, we are hearing people like Vice Admiral Thad Allen saying, you know what?  It is a little too early for the folks to get down here.  So, even though I saw, at the press conference, they were all together and the mayor even gave Thad Allen a T-shirt, a New Orleans—“I love New Orleans” T-shirt, there has been lot of dissension.  There have been a lot of disagreements and a lot of communication problems and trying to let these people know, OK, is it safe to come down here or not? 

OK, let me tell you, there is no drinking water, no fresh drinking water, no place to buy it around it.  And, you know, the temperatures have been—it feels like it is 115.  Inside the houses, it's much hotter, not to mention the chemicals and everything else and the weak levees.  It is a very dangerous situation.  We are getting a lot of different, conflicting information from different people, and especially the officials around here. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes.  I thought I just heard a distinction there between the governor and the mayor.  I will say it again.  The governor seems to be very much on the side of get out of town while you can.  And the mayor is still in this sort of uncertain position of, well, come on back in and check out your goods and see how you stand here.  Maybe he is still trying to encourage a repopulation of that city while people are still thinking about coming home.  We will see.

Anyway, thank you very much, Michelle.

HOFLAND:  Yes, that—that...

MATTHEWS:  Go ahead, Michelle.

Anyway, thank you, Michelle.

HOFLAND:  Oh, no.  That's why I said that's what—OK.

(LAUGHTER)

HOFLAND:  Back to you, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you.  We have a delay there.  Thank you very much.

Let's go right now to Donna Gregory, who is in Key West, Florida, much closer to the new action now.

There she is.  Donna Gregory, thank you for joining us. 

How—what is going on?  Are we—are we looking at something like a Category 3 or Category 1 right now? 

DONNA GREGORY, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  This, right here, where we are, Chris, may not even qualify as a Category 1.

These are just tropical-force winds that we are feeling sustained.  Now, we are getting some gusts of hurricane-force winds, but the last we heard gusting from the airport was somewhere around 61, 65 miles an hour.  But we are keeping an eye behind us.

Some of these awnings have been losing their bolts.  They are bolted into this stucco against the walls.  And we are a little concerned that some of these may fly off.  We have seen it already across the street, one awning just simply ripped off by these heavy winds. 

And these are just minor winds.  So, imagine adding a Category 3, Category 4 to that, as are some predictions as it's turning across the Gulf.  Very minor damage here, if at all, just—as I mentioned, just a few awnings down. 

We have seen some low-level flooding in some of the streets, which of course is a concern.  Still a concern as the storm slides to the west of us about a southerly sweep and a storm surge between six and nine feet.  But I just talked to a police officer, who said there's about 4,000 people on this island without power, power outages all throughout the Keys.  But he called this a piece of cake compared to some of the other storms that the people on this island have had to deal with. 

About half the people here, Chris, left.  They heeded the mandatory evacuations.  And now Governor Jeb Bush says, it is too late to go.  Do not leave now.  The storm will be gone in just a few hours.  In fact, the Hurricane Center says, in about two more hours, we can expect one more major squall and then that should be it for the Key West. 

But we are keeping our eye on all of these awnings and things like that.  We have seen some flashing across the street that has literally ripped off.  So, still a little scary here, but a lot of people maintaining a party atmosphere in Key West—Chris.

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Donna Gregory, in Key West.

When we return, Senator John McCain on whether we are ready for another major hurricane, as Rita closes in and how to pay for Katrina, about $200 billion.  Where is it going to come from? 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Coming up, something has got to give if we are to pay for Hurricane Katrina.  What is it going to be?  More with Senator John McCain when HARDBALL returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Our guest is Senator John McCain, senator from Arizona. 

Senator McCain, we have not had you on since Katrina hit.  What have you learned that we have been doing wrong in getting ready for these major natural disasters? 

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN ®, ARIZONA:  Everything. 

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  We have made serious mistakes. 

I think it is clear that, to state the obvious, that we had probably placed too much emphasis on a terrorist attack vs. a natural disaster.  And there were many mistakes that were made, including lack of communications capability, a lack of coordination between the different levels of governments, all the things that I have been watching you talk about for the last couple of weeks, Chris. 

But, primarily, I think the focus perhaps was misplaced to a degree over to countering a terrorist attack, as opposed to handling a natural disaster. 

MATTHEWS:  If you were president, would you name somebody from the Arabian Horse Association to head FEMA? 

(LAUGHTER)

MCCAIN:  Well, somebody said no—well, at least no Arabian horses died. 

No, I—no, I wouldn't.  But I also would seriously consider, if I were president, the appointment of now an overall administrator that everybody could look to.  I am told that there are still problems of coordination between state, local, federal officials.  And I think you should have a go-to guy.  I think Rudy Giuliani would be a great one for it, Colin Powell, General Tommy Franks, maybe Jack Welch or  Lou Gerstner, one of those people who is used to administering bureaucracies.  We probably need that now. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do you think the vice president opposes such an action? 

MCCAIN:  I—I didn't know that he did. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes, he does. 

MCCAIN:  Well, I had heard that the administration was considering such a move, but I didn't know... 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  He doesn't want a name brand named, a big fellow like you mentioned.  You mentioned four or five people that could be president.  And, apparently, the vice president is not interested in having somebody of that stature fill this position. 

MCCAIN:  Well, I don't know anything about that. 

But I know that the vice president has the highest priority of getting this crisis handled, not only for the good of the nation, but for the good of this administration. 

MATTHEWS:  What about getting FEMA outside of Homeland Security.  You mentioned there's a—we put too much emphasis on the homeland security part, the anti-terrorist function.  Do we need to have two different departments, two different agencies handling the terrorist challenge and the natural disaster? 

MCCAIN:  Probably, you need to take it back out. 

But, look, Chris, isn't the moral of the story here, you know, you can shuffle boxes around on the organizational chart, but unless you really give enough priority, assets and talents to the task, that is secondary?  In other words, suppose that inside—FEMA inside the Department of Homeland Security had focused enough attention on taking care of natural disasters, had had the qualified kind of leadership that it needs.  We might not be arguing about moving the boxes around. 

So, it makes me a little bit uneasy by saying, OK, let's take it out of DHS and then everything is going to be OK.  Do you see my point? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

You know, of the things that's been reported on about Louisiana is, it is guilty of the same kinds of things we are seeing at the federal level, cronyism, where somebody happens to be a friend of Joe Allbaugh, who was head of FEMA at one point and his—he's his roommate in college and so gets the job. 

Down here in—down here in Louisiana—rather, in Louisiana, you see all kinds of family relationships.  You have got Mitch Landrieu as the lieutenant governor.  The senator is Mary Landrieu.  And everybody seems to be related.  And they're all buddies with each other, and rampant corruption, historically, down in that part of the country.  Is that going to be a challenge?  I mean, are you happy sending a lot of money to Louisiana? 

MCCAIN:  I am happy sending a lot of money to Louisiana.  But we really need—this is one of the arguments for the administrator.  It's another reason, argument, for I.G.s of the most highly qualified type. 

Look, I don't think you can focus—funnel all the money direct from the federal government to whoever the recipient is.  But you have also got to have accountability.  There has not been one disaster that I can remember where there wasn't a lot of money wasted.  Maybe we could do it a little better this time. 

And, also, there is Mississippi and Alabama as well that have to be handled.  So, am I uncomfortable when I read that there is a different governmental entity for every levee?  Yes. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MCCAIN:  And some of the expenses, like a fountain of lights, instead of—but, also, isn't it also true, Chris, that, even though Louisiana got the largest amount of Corps of Engineers money, a whole lot of that went to pork-barrel projects, rather than what would have been judged by an objective observer as higher priorities? 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

And the other question I raised with the local head of the Corps of Engineers was, do we know there wasn't graft in building of those flood walls down there, because they gave way right across the board.  And nobody can figure out what happened to the materials, the construction.  And he said it was an open question, whether we were seeing some graft here, the old trick of six inches of concrete for eight inches of payment. 

MCCAIN:  Well, also, isn't it true that some of these projects actually contributed dramatically to the erosion of the wetlands, which, as you know, requires certain conditions...

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MCCAIN:  ... as opposed to preserving them?

Now we are looking at a $14 billion tab for the reconstruction of the wetlands, without which, in the view of many experts, you're never going to be able to protect New Orleans and—or...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCAIN:  ... provide it with increased protection.  I have seen the pictures of the erosion of the wetlands over the last 10 years.  It is dramatic. 

MATTHEWS:  We will be back with Senator John McCain, talking about how to pay for Hurricane Katrina and whether we are ready for Hurricane Rita. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

We are talking with Senator John McCain. 

Senator, you mentioned a number of economy measures that might be well to think about right now to pay all—for the cost of Katrina, which could be $200 billion.  Do you think we should reconsider the tax cuts of the president? 

MCCAIN:  No, I don't.  I don't think we have to do that at this time.

Let's look at spending savings first and then get to that.  But, first, I'd like to see where we can—before we would have to do—to do that, I would like to look at the spending cuts that would be necessary and I think applicable. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think that the cost of Katrina is going to put the squeeze on the war?  And you're a military guy, of course.  Everybody knows that.  Are you worried that some of the materiel, some of the support for our troops may be shortchanged because of the big pressure for Katrina? 

MCCAIN:  I got—I got to be straight again with you.  I'm very worried about some of the polling numbers that I have seen concerning support for the war, because it has been affected by Katrina. 

I hope that the president and some of us who believe we must win this conflict have got to speak up, remind people of the importance of this conflict and the consequences of failure and the benefits of success, and try to shore that back up.  But a lot of it is understandable. 

Katrina has dominated what they have seen and heard for the last three weeks or so, and so that it has caused Iraq to recede somewhat in the background.  But we have got to—we have got to speak up on this issue.  We can't—we can't cut and run. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think—and this is a real political question.  I have gotten to know you pretty well over the years and it's a real political question. 

A lot of people have been very skeptical about this war and why we are fighting it.  And maybe that is most of the Democratic Party now.  Would it be smart for the president to come out to the American people and say:

“This is not an argument about whether we should have gone or not.  You know, we can argue about that.  Maybe you are right.  Maybe I'm right.  We can argue about that in 20 years.  But we have got to get out of there the right way over the next couple years.  And there is a right way to get out and a wrong way to get out”?

Do you think he would ever say it that way? 

MCCAIN:  I hope so, because I have been.

I have made the case that I think we did the right thing.  But I have also said, and almost in the words you just used, that whether we should have gone in or not is a bit of an academic argument.  And I am sure there will be plenty of time for it.  But we have got to stay the course.  We have got to win.  We cannot afford to fail. 

And if we do win, it will have profound benefits for the region and for the world and America. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you ever worry that we bet on the wrong horse?  We are betting on the Shia majority to have a democratic government.  Could it be that the Sunnis, the minority, 20 percent of the country, are the real fighters, they're the ferocious group, and they are going to be damn tough to keep down, even if we have a democratic system over there? 

MCCAIN:  Well, first of all, the Shia were the underdogs and the oppressed, as you know, by the minority Sunnis for a long period of time. 

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

MCCAIN:  Second of all, it is not that. 

It is whether the Sunnis will feel that they can legitimately participate in the government of their country.  And that is the problem we are facing right now, is that many Sunnis feel that the constitution did not contain sufficient provisions for them to feel that their rights are protected. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MCCAIN:  We have got to continue to work on that.  We have got to continue to try to convince the Sunnis and make changes, if necessary, in the constitution to make them feel included. 

MATTHEWS:  That's a powerful statement. 

Thank you very much, Senator John McCain of Arizona.  Thank you for joining us tonight. 

We will talk—and coming up, we are going to talk to a lawmaker and a sheriff whose cites are Hurricane Rita's path right now.  The big question, are they ready?  Do they have their drills ready?  And how did—

Hurricane Katrina, how did it change their preparations? 

You're watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Hurricane Rita is gaining strength and is expected to become a Category 4 storm by tomorrow. 

Craig Eiland is the state representative from Galveston, Texas.  And Rick Roth is the sheriff of Monroe County, Florida, which is being hit by Hurricane Rita.  He joins us by phone. 

Let me go right now to Sheriff Roth.

What is the situation right there in Florida now? 

RICK ROTH, MONROE COUNTY SHERIFF:  (AUDIO GAP) to the south of Key West, and has already passed the upper and middle Keys.  So, it is now impacting Key West.

But it is far enough south that we are just getting the northeast corner and it's not as bad as it could have been. 

MATTHEWS:  Has the experience that the country has gone through visually in the south of this country, particularly, helped you prepare for this kind of event, for Rita? 

ROTH:  Well, we have—this is our third evacuation for this year.  So, we kind of have this figured out.  We do it on a regular basis here in the Keys. 

Thank goodness we didn't have a storm as serious as hit New Orleans. 

But Katrina did hit us first, so we evacuated for that, also. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the trick to a successful evacuation, Sheriff? 

ROTH:  Well, actually, in our case, because our county is so long and narrow, that the best information we can get is early information.  For Hurricane Rita, we got late information and we had to do the entire evacuation. 

We already have it planned.  We have it planned in our plans and have had for years.  But we only had one day to evacuate, but we were able to do that.  And all the people that wanted to leave were able to leave in that 24-hour period. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go right now to State Representative Craig Eiland, who is in Galveston. 

Sir, what you are facing right down there by—by the end of the week? 

(CROSSTALK)

CRAIG EILAND (D), TEXAS STATE REPRESENTATIVE:  Well, hopefully, we will all be—hopefully, we will all be gone by the end of the week. 

The—there has been a mandatory evacuation that will be called tomorrow.  But there is already evacuations beginning today on a voluntary basis.  And, in the morning, they will begin a mandatory evacuation of special-needs, nursing homes and those types of populations. 

MATTHEWS:  How far back from the main—from the shore do the people get to go, are encouraged to go? 

EILAND:  The whole county is going to be under a mandatory evacuation for the unincorporated areas, but, all the way up, almost to the city of Houston, probably about 30 miles. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, sir, how do you make people leave?  We saw this in New Orleans.  They didn't want to leave.  They were told to leave.  They didn't.  How do you get your folks to leave facing this Hurricane Rita? 

EILAND:  I think by having them watch the situation in New Orleans over the last two weeks has done more for mandatory evacuation responsiveness than anything else. 

MATTHEWS:  What is it that the people there are facing if they stay behind?  Will they actually be drowned? 

EILAND:  Well, I don't know that they will be drowned.  But they certainly could be facing things similar to New Orleans. 

I mean, we are a barrier island with 60,000 people.  We do have a seawall after the devastating 1900 storm killed some 6,000 to 7,000 people.  However, we could be cut off from the mainland.  We have a causeway that connects us.  So, there could be a serious situation for anybody that stays behind.  And that is what we don't want, which is why the evacuations are starting to occur now.

My family is gone.  My law office is boarded up.  And that is what is happening here on Galveston Island, even though it is a beautiful, calm, sunny, hot day. 

MATTHEWS:  How far above sea level does your area get? 

EILAND:  Well, they raised Galveston Island.  There are portions of it that are nine feet above sea level.  But there are also areas out on the west end with the multimillion-dollar homes right on the beach and right on the bay that are just, you know, feet above, two to three feet above. 

MATTHEWS:  Is that smart, to build two to three feet above sea level on an island that gets hit by hurricanes? 

EILAND:  No, but they are all built on stilts, so they are probably—they're about 15 feet above.  But, still, a big wind could blow some of those houses down. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think you will get 100 percent evacuation, sir? 

EILAND:  No. 

There is going to be people that refuse to evacuate for whatever reason.  And the city manager and the mayor have said that they are not going to arrest people and drag them out of the house.  I will tell you that this is the first time that we have had in the state of Texas the authority to order a mandatory evacuation. 

After what happened to Florida last year, the legislature did pass a law giving cities, mayors and county judges the authority to order a mandatory evacuation. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  Do you have a looting problem down there?  I mean, a lot of people in Florida—in New Orleans, as crazy as it sounds, were afraid to leave their properties behind because it turns out there were looters ready to grab it, to grab anything they had. 

EILAND:  We—sure, we are going to have looters, but we are also going to have—I know the governor is just amassing 5,000 National Guard troops that he is going to ready to send in immediately, wherever the affected area is.

Our sheriff and police forces will stay behind, for sure.  So, we are trying to address that ahead of time and get people here ready to go as soon as it is available. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, just to finish up, sir, in the next several days, when do you expect to have a complete evacuation of Galveston? 

EILAND:  Galveston Island is supposed to evacuate tomorrow beginning at 6:00 p.m. and continuing through the Thursday morning. 

And we—there are staged areas throughout the county that—

Galveston is first, because it is the southern-most.  And then just areas off the pay will evacuate next.  So, there is a controlled plan that has been in place and is being implemented.  And it is being announced tonight.  But, hopefully, by Thursday afternoon, everybody that is going to leave Galveston Island will be gone. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, Representative, stay with us a second.  We are going to be talking to our weather person. 

I also want to have Sheriff Roth stick with us. 

Now for the latest on Rita, we go to NBC Weather Plus meteorologist Bill Karins. 

Bill, what does it look like?  Give us a layout of the next three or four days. 

BILL KARINS, NBC METEOROLOGIST:  Well, first off, we need to get done with Key West.

We just got a little more serious information out of Key West.  We just heard of an official wind gust of 102 miles per hour.  That is by far the highest wind gust that we have seen out of the Key West area.  Wind gusts like that, you're going to get some significant damage. 

After we are done with this storm, as it pulls away from Key West, then, of course, we have to deal with it as it heads out into the Gulf.  And the Keys were pretty lucky.  They didn't go through the eye wall of this system.  Unfortunately, somewhere along the Texas and Louisiana coastline, it . 

The thing that changed with the new update, not so much the path, but with the intensity.  We now expect it to be a Category 4 hurricane as early as tomorrow afternoon or tomorrow evening, then staying a Category 4 hurricane, maybe bouncing back and forth a little bit before maybe a strong 4, then a weaker 4, then a strong 4.  They tend to fluctuate when they get to this intensity, then taking that turn as we heads towards Friday.

If anybody is going to get preparations done and prepare, Friday is going to be too late.  The storm will be bearing down on you.  So, you have up until about Thursday to get things done.  And right now, the target zone continues to be between Houston and Corpus Christi.  And you were just talking there to the people in Galveston about how high that would be, their elevation there. 

A storm surge with a Category 4 is going to be somewhere probably between about 10, maybe even as high as 20 feet, to the right of wherever that center goes.  And you can imagine that devastation, what it would do to elevations 10 feet or less there right along the Texas coastline.  That looks like we are going to be dealing with something like that as head through Friday night, early Saturday morning. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we just heard that Galveston Island, the highest real estate there is about seven or eight feet. 

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  So, it sounds like that storm surge would take a—take that away in a minute, especially the low-lying homes where the wealthier homes are.

What about that western portion of Louisiana?  One thing I learned from Sean last week was the right-hand punch is the hard part. 

(CROSSTALK)

KARINS:  Yes, there is no—there is no doubt about it. 

It's anywhere to the right of the center will see the storm surge.  Anywhere to the left of the center won't get the storm surge.  So, let's say the center line switches a little bit, heads all the way back up towards Houston.  Well, that would actually mean that the worst storm surge would be around the right portion of the storm, Texas, Louisiana border, all the way towards about Baton Rouge, not—Baton Rouge is not on the ocean, of course, but down along the coastline there, anywhere to the left side will not.  So, as far as storm...

MATTHEWS:  You mean we might be hitting Baton Rouge? 

KARINS:  Anywhere in this yellow cone still, Chris. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, God, that is where all the refu—I'm sorry—where all the evacuees are.  We were just there the other day.  They are all—that—that town is filled up with people.  You mean they may have to evacuate? 

KARINS:  If this takes a little more of a northern jog, the storm, if it was a Category 4 at landfall, would probably only weaken maybe to a Category 3 or 2 if it made a direct beeline for Baton Rouge. 

On a path like this, no, they probably would not evacuate.  But if it does track a little further to the north, yes, that is not an unlikely scenario. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  That is the way it happened last—two weeks ago.  It kept moving to the right.  Anyway—moving to the east.

Thank you very much, Bill Karins.

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  When we come back, we will back with Senator rep—Senate

·         State Representative Craig Eiland from Galveston and Sheriff Rick Roth of Monroe County, Florida, in just a moment, by the way, both of which are bracing for Hurricane Rita.  We are going to go back and talk to two people who have to deal with this weather reality right now. 

And, later, how one of New Orleans' famous chefs is feeding those who are working to save the city—that's Paul Prudhomme, of course—here on HARDBALL. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Still ahead, what can be done to improve emergency communications before the next natural disaster? 

HARDBALL returns after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

In the first few hours or days after a catastrophe like Katrina, the rescue burden is almost always on first-responders, including firefighters and police.  But before they can respond, they have to be able to hear, receive or transmit information, obviously.  But that was a problem in New Orleans.  And government officials fear it may be a problem in cities across the country, simply talking to each other. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster explains. 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Firefighters and police say there is nothing more important than communications.  But when Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans, the result, according to a fire chief, was a communications nightmare. 

KEITH TRAINER, NEW ORLEANS FIRE CHIEF:  The radios went down shortly after the storm.  We tried individual cell phones and sporadically we could get through on the radios.  But there was maybe two or three times a day that you had some type of communication with—other the group that we were operating in. 

SHUSTER:  Two or three times a day at a time when firefighters were trying to communicate with each other and helicopter crews to rescue thousands of people. 

It got so bad that a fire department battalion chief, fed up with the problems, said he broke into a sporting sports store and took hold of maritime walkie-talkies.  Some New Orleans police officers resorted to personal ham radios.  The mayor's office, without telecom lines or cell service, cobbled together an Internet phone link. 

And the National Guard relayed messages through the use of runners, a throwback to efforts during the Civil War.  The jury-rigged communication systems comes four years after 9/11, when emergency radio systems in New York failed and many firefighters who rushed inside the Twin Towers never heard the order to evacuate. 

MCCAIN:  So, after spending millions of dollars in funding an additional spectrum for our nation's first-responders, why aren't we better off than we were on 9/11 when it comes to interoperable communications? 

SHUSTER:  The answer, according to experts, is complex.  The Department of Homeland Security, which last year gave the states nearly $1 billion for communication equipment upgrades, does not tell the states what to buy. 

And within each state, sometimes, the police, fire and rescue personnel all use different systems.  There are also turf wars among the agencies.  And some agencies have reported that their specific radio frequencies have interfere problems related to cell phones.  Then there is Congress. 

MCCAIN:  Senator Lieberman and I reintroduced our legislation to provide spectrum to first-responders, yet Congress has yet to act this year. 

SHUSTER:  That legislation would create a dedicated national wireless network.  But broadcast companies now control the spectrum and have lobbied hard not to give it back. 

(on camera):  In the meantime, hurricane season continues.  And with another hurricane now headed across the Gulf, first-responders in the region can only hope that this storm doesn't hit them the way Katrina hit New Orleans and make an already jumbled emergency communication system practically useless. 

I'm David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MATTHEWS:  Thanks, David.

We are back right now with State Representative Craig Eiland from Galveston, Texas, and Sheriff Rick Roth, who is on the phone from Monroe County in Florida. 

Sheriff, you know that point was brought out by Senator McCain.  But he also brought out the fact that, in New Orleans, the city of New Orleans Police were on a totally different frequency and a different system than the three surrounding parishes.  Is that a problem you face as well? 

ROTH:  Well it shouldn't be. 

We have a system called Motobridge.  And that system is supposed to bridge the frequencies that we use with any agency that comes in to visit for assisting us in law enforcement.  The system is brand new.  We are going to find out if it works or not.  The test have been very good, and we expect it to work in this case. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, let me ask you a question.  Compare yourselves to New York during 9/11.  I remember hearing that the fire department in New York could not talk to the police department.  Is that a problem that happens in municipalities? 

ROTH:  It could happen and it has happened to us in the past. 

But, hopefully we have bypassed that problem and we are now able to communicate with all other law enforcement agencies through this patching network. 

MATTHEWS:  Let me go right now to State Senator Craig Eiland, who is in Galveston Island right now.

Representative, is this a problem that you have been able to figure out there? 

EILAND:  Well, it is one that the county addressed several years ago.

If this would have been five, six years ago, it would have been a big problem.  Different agencies in the county could not talk to each other, but now they have a unified system, where everybody does have the ability to communicate.  So, hopefully, it won't be a problem for us down here this time. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you think, Representative, that we need a job boss in situations like this? 

It's the old problem of American government.  If the Democrats find a problem, they will blame it on the Republicans, the Republicans on the Democrats.  The state blames it on the federals.  The feds blame it on the local.  The president's people dump on the mayor.  The mayor's people dump on the governor.  Is there any way to get accountability when you have got so many levels and so many political levels going on? 

EILAND:  Unless there is some type of definite hierarchy pre-storm, I don't think there is any way that you are ever going to avoid that type of finger-pointing or blame-shifting. 

Hopefully, people will be better prepared now that they have the devastation that can occur if you're not prepared and you're not coordinated and organized.  And one of the things we have is, we do have a little lead time on this storm that we are trying to get prepared for. 

MATTHEWS:  What do you think of FEMA, Representative? 

EILAND:  Boy, they sure didn't respond very good or very quick, from what I know.  And so, they do have a long way to go, I think. 

MATTHEWS:  Should we carve it out from Homeland Security and separate natural disaster relief from—and preparation from terrorism? 

EILAND:  I think we should have a—whether you carve it out or not, there has got to be a heightened responsibility and emphasis on natural disasters. 

And it doesn't matter which way it comes from.  Whether it's an earthquake in Florida, floods along the Mississippi or hurricanes on the Gulf Coast, it is just a different type of response than a terrorism.

MATTHEWS:  Well, we are learning that all together. 

Thank you very much, State Representative Craig Eiland of Galveston, Texas, and Sheriff Rick Roth of Monroe County, Florida. 

When we return on HARDBALL, New Orleans is famous for its great restaurants.  And even though Paul Prudhomme is closed for business, chef Paul is still cooking for relief workers and soldiers in New Orleans.  Let's talk to this guy, what a great guy.  He will join us when HARDBALL returns. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATTHEWS:  Since 1979, K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen has been a smash hit in New Orleans' French Quarter.  The man behind the success is the world famous chef Paul Prudhomme.  While he is planning on reopening his restaurant soon, most of his time these days is cooking for free for those who are working to save the city he loves.  So far, that is 6,000 meals in the last 10 days. 

Chef Paul joins us this evening from New Orleans. 

Chef Paul, thank you for joining us from the Quarter.  You're right across from the Cafe Du Monde.  I love that place, where all they have the beignets for people 24 hours a day, practically. 

What are you doing down there right now? 

PAUL PRUDHOMME, K-PAUL'S LOUISIANA KITCHEN:  Well, we're talking to you.

(LAUGHTER)

PRUDHOMME:  But, besides that, we are cooking for anybody.  And we're feeding anybody in sight. 

If you're hungry, we want to feed you. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the...

PRUDHOMME:  If you're in the military, we especially want to feed you. 

MATTHEWS:  What is the menu du jour? 

PRUDHOMME:  Well, you know, one of the best things about doing good cooking is rotation of the menu. 

And we're doing—we are doing—we are constantly rotating the menu.  And, as a matter of fact, yesterday, or Sunday, rather, when we did the big military event, I think we ended up with about five or six different dishes.  So, we—we are just—you know, the most important thing about food, Chris, is that if it's emotional, if it gives you an uplift. 

And I will tell you, that's my job, to lift people up with great food. 

MATTHEWS:  Why do I love jambalaya, chef Paul? 

PRUDHOMME:  You love jambalaya because of the taste and the emotion of it. 

You know, good food has an emotion to it.  It makes you feel different inside.  It gives you a joy.  It makes you want to hug somebody.  It makes you want to smile.  It makes you want to feel good about things.  And that's the kind of food that Louisiana does.  And I'm so proud to be a part of it.  I'm so proud to be a Cajun and from Louisiana and that I just can't stop feeding people.  And I never will. 

MATTHEWS:  What is about the Quarter?  You know, I have been down there a lot in my life.  And I love it.  I told you that before we got on.  But it's an amazing gumbo of good food, good music, girly shows, and a few seedy places.  How do they all fit together? 

PRUDHOMME:  Well, it fits together as a human switch. 

When you hit the French Quarter, your human switch is changed.  And most people love the change.  When you hit that French Quarter line and all of a sudden, almost anything goes, as long as you're not hurting another human being, you can almost—almost—do anything you want. 

And I will tell you, that's an allure to people all over the world, even when they can't speak English.  I have seen Japanese just having a ball in the French Quarter, you know?

(CROSSTALK)

MATTHEWS:  I know.  Well, they like—they especially like the strip shows down there, don't they? 

(LAUGHTER)

PRUDHOMME:  They really do.  They really enjoy the strip shows. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  I just wanted to make sure we are being candid here, chef. 

Anyway, you're a great guy.

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  And you're a better man than Dom DeLuise, even though you look like him.  But it's great to have you on.

And let me ask you this.  When is New Orleans going to be cooking again? 

PRUDHOMME:  I'm sorry?  When New Orleans is going to be cooking?  As soon as the water is good, as soon as they give us back permission to get into our restaurants, we will be cooking again. 

MATTHEWS:  The president said the other night—actually, it was the other day—he said, this country couldn't exist without New Orleans.  Why is that true? 

PRUDHOMME:  Because it's—it's the best thing about emotion that we have in our country today is New Orleans. 

I mean, we have true emotion.  And it's because of our people.  People worry—I have heard, you know, people talking about the structures in New Orleans.  The structures are very important because they're historical.  But what makes New Orleans great is our people.  And when our people get back here, we ought to have a good time!

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Great. 

Is that a Cajun accent you have got, Paul? 

PRUDHOMME:  It's a Louisiana accent.  I don't know.  I am a Cajun.  I was born and raised a Cajun.  My first—my first language is French.  And so, if you hear an accent, it's what we call a coonass accent. 

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, Paul Prudhomme, the great chef of our times. 

PRUDHOMME:  I only got—I only—Chris.  Chris.

MATTHEWS:  Yes. 

PRUDHOMME:  I only got one more thing to say.  Good cooking, good eating, good loving.

MATTHEWS:  OK.

PRUDHOMME:  We love you guys. 

MATTHEWS:  Right now, our...

(LAUGHTER)

MATTHEWS:  Our coverage of Hurricane Rita continues on “THE ABRAMS

REPORT.”

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

END   

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