updated 9/23/2005 1:22:07 PM ET 2005-09-23T17:22:07

Guests: Guy Goodson, John Vanden Bos, Matt Sebesta, Karen Sexton, Mel  McKey, Joseph Suhayda>

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Tucker, get us up to date with THE SITUATION tonight. 


Well, it‘s a scary situation, as you know, in Texas and Louisiana tonight.  The outer bands of the Category 4 Hurricane Rita, already over vulnerable New Orleans, just three and a half weeks after Category 4 Katrina made horrible history all along the Gulf Coast. 

Rita spent Thursday tracking slightly further to the east than had been predicted, and now the evacuations, which have emptied Galveston and clogged Houston‘s highways, have spread to the coast of Louisiana. 

The cities now in the storm‘s devastating crosshairs appear to be Port Arthur and Beaumont, Texas, as well as Lake Charles, Louisiana.  And two major metropolitan areas will certainly feel Rita‘s wrath as well.  They are Houston, and, cruelly, New Orleans once again. 

MSNBC‘s Rita Cosby is on the ground in Galveston Island, where it was eerily sunny day today—Rita. 

RITA COSBY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Tucker.  Indeed, the residents here in Galveston Island, in Texas, are bracing for the worst, and the worst is yet to come.  It is expected to come here the next 24 to 36 hours.  And the hurricane is expected to be a big one, and indeed, Galveston Island is expected to be in the crosshairs. 

Let me show you sort of the scene over my shoulder here tonight.  You can see the waves are just crashing here, and in fact, in the last few hours, the waves have really heightened.  A few hours ago, we just saw some very small waves.  We could barely even see the white caps, but in the last few hours, the waves have basically quad resumed.  A sign that there will be a lot of strong storm surge, there will be a lot of high winds and a lot of powerful water coming on board. 

Also, we can pan a little bit further to the right.  You can see that there are still lights on in the city tonight, just a few lights.  Some on the roadways, some on the commercial buildings.  At this point, all power is operational in Galveston Island. 

And of course, residents are hoping it‘s going to stay that way, but we‘re told from folks at the emergency services that, should a big hurricane hit, one of the first thing that‘s going to happen is we‘re going to lose power.  We‘re going to lose electricity.  We could also lose some communication services.

And another big fear tonight is also that the hospitals may not be working.  They‘re trying to evacuate the hospitals.  They‘re trying to evacuate the nursing homes.  And they‘re also trying to evacuate those who are disabled.  Anybody who needs some extra care has basically been bused out of the city. 

You can see just a few cars are on the roadways because at this point, this town, basically, the population of 60,000 at this point has about 3,000 or 4,000 residents who are in the area, just a few mostly emergency services personnel, and basically also reporters. 

The big concern is this wall of water.  If we can pan a little bit further to the right.  Sort of the darkened area, right before the roadway, is the sea wall.  You can see a little bit of a shot of it there.  The sea wall that goes all around this city is about 15 to 17 feet high.  That sounds pretty significant. 

And that happened after the 1900 hurricane that basically decimated that city.  What happened there was an enormous wall of water came in, killing about 12,000 people.  And then after that, they built the city up, about 15 to 17 feet. 

Now sounds like it would be sufficient, but not if you listen to what the city manager told me a few hours ago.  He said that if this hurricane hits and hits with a really strong force in this area, it could hit with a 50-foot wave.  You do the math. 

That means that we could see a wall of water going up over 30 feet over that massive, massive sea wall, and that means that there will be significant devastation to this area, that a lot of flooding will take place, particularly on the north side of this area, also, the western side of this island. 

And if you look at right now the waves, all the white caps that are happening tonight, water is going to be key.  This small island, if you look at it basically in size, it is two to three miles wide.  It is about 30 miles long.  And that means a wall of water comes tumbling over it, it will do significant damage.  It is low-lying, after those sea walls. 

And we‘re told, in fact, that the only hotel that we‘re staying in tonight is basically going to be the only building that‘s going to be left standing.  It is San Louis Hotel.  That is if worst case scenario takes place. 

That is because in the 1800‘s and 1900‘s, it actually was used for an Army garrison, basically a bunker.  So that may be the safest place.  Of course, that‘s where we‘re going to be staying.  That‘s where the emergency personnel are also be staying, and we will be there throughout the night, hoping, of course, that the rest of the island will also stay intact. 

But right now, if you look at that wall of water, you look at the waves right now, it looks like a very ominous, very strong storm that‘s going to be heading to this area. 

Tucker, back to you.  I know we‘re going to be talking with you tomorrow night, tracking the storm right here from Galveston Island. 

CARLSON:  Thanks a lot, Rita. 

Among the busiest people in America this hurricane season continues to be Max Mayfield of the National Hurricane Center.  He joins us now. 


CARLSON:  Max, what do we know about where this hurricane is going to hit?  We‘re hearing all sorts of conflicting forecasts about it. 

MAYFIELD:  Well, we just issued the official government forecast, and we didn‘t change it at all.  We still have the center of the hurricane coming into the extreme upper Texas coast. 

I don‘t really want really anybody to think that we can give a perfect forecast.  It obviously could be a little bit to the left or a little bit to the right of that.  It will have a big impact on the storm surge, on exactly where it makes landfall. 

If it comes in on the track we have now, the high storm surge will likely be in the Port Arthur, Beaumont area, and also over to Camden, Louisiana, and up in the Lake Charles area.  If it were to move just a little bit to the west of our forecast track, that high storm surge could still go up into Galveston bay. 

CARLSON:  Explain for viewers who have been following this day after day, and like me are ignorant of meteorology.  Why can‘t we get more precise forecasts?  Why don‘t we know for certain where it‘s going to land?  Why is there that unpredictability still?

MAYFIELD:  Tucker, you know, every time we sat down to make a forecast, we make a five-day forecast every six hours, we try to make a perfect forecast. 

The atmosphere is unbelievably complex.  And we look at a variety of different computer projections every time we make this forecast, and they never all agree. 

We are doing everything we can, including flying the NOAA jet not through the hurricane but around the hurricane to sample the steering currents and all.  There‘s just a ton of information that comes back from that aircraft.  There‘s so much, we can‘t begin to look at it, but if we get into the computer models, the computers can handle that, and that is, indeed, making an impact, and giving us a lot better forecasts than we used to. 

When I first came here in 1972, the three-day forecast errors were over 400 nautical miles, and now they‘ve come down to less than half of that.  So we are making improvements, but we can‘t give that perfect forecast.  And we really want to let people know that. 

And I think one of the reasons that the National Hurricane Center has the credibility we have is that we have been very, very honest with people.  We verify every forecast we make.  They‘re all out on the Web for anyone to look.  And you can go back several years, actually decades, you can see how we have improved with time. 

CARLSON:  You had said earlier that you believe that Hurricane Rita was going to be as devastating or could be as devastating as Hurricane Katrina.  Do you still think that based on what you‘ve been seeing today?

MAYFIELD:  Well, it certainly can be, if it—of course, the worst-case scenario would be if it were to move just a little bit to the south of Galveston Island, and that would push 15, 20 foot of storm surge into Galveston Bay, and all of the petrochemical plants there and communities would have extreme devastation there. 

If it is a little bit to the east of Galveston, it will actually—well, we‘ll have storm surge, certainly, on Pilon (ph), the Bolivar Peninsula and Galveston Island, but all the water from the bay would actually be pushed out of the bay, and water would go down there. 

So this is really critical, whether it hits the extremely populated area there around Galveston, Houston, or eases off a little bit to the east like we‘re forecasting now. 

CARLSON:  Max Mayfield, the National Hurricane Center, a man who‘s likely to get just about no sleep over the next few days.  Thanks a lot for coming on. 

MAYFIELD:  Thank you, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Hurricane Rita is expected to make landfall, you just heard, almost exactly 24 hours from right now.  The center of the storm will likely strike near Beaumont in the southeast Texas town of 110,00 not far from the Louisiana line. 

Exxon Mobile has already closed it‘s refinery there.  Beaumont‘s hospitals and nursing homes have been evacuated, but could everyone who wanted to evacuate, in fact, get out?  That‘s one of the questions we will ask our next guest, Beaumont mayor, thanks for joining us. 

MAYOR GUY GOODSON, BEAUMONT, TEXAS:  Thank you, Tucker, great to be on the show. 

CARLSON:   Has everyone who needs to get out and wants to get out been able to get out of Beaumont tonight?

GOODSON:  We‘ve been very pleased that we‘ve been able to move those evacuees who didn‘t answer the voluntary evacuation but who did after we called for mandatory evacuation.  We believe that our special needs, medical needs, primarily, people are out, and the other people who wanted to get out are out.  So there are still people here, though, just like was mentioned earlier about Galveston. 

CARLSON:  I‘m sorry to say, but you already know, Mr. Mayor, but it looks like, according to forecasters, your town is really going to catch it in the teeth from the storm.  I‘m sorry.  Are you planning to stay?

GOODSON:  Yes.  In fact, both mayor, city manager, and a number of key city employees, firefighters, police officers all plan on staying.  We have gotten a relationship through our port of Beaumont here, which is right by our downtown area here, with the Department of Transportation and the Maritime Administration, which has been kind enough to work with us to let us place fire trucks, EMS vehicles, police cruiser on two of the ships that were involved in Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Enduring Freedom.

And those ships are going to be used to stage operations for the return into the city after the storm, so that we will have an immediate presence of fire, police, and EMS as soon as the storm tracks through our area. 

CARLSON:  Good for you.  I admire what you‘re doing.  You are the mayor, I think you should stay, though I think you‘re a brave man for doing it.  Are you worried—is your family worried you might be hurt?  This storm is really enormous. 

GOODSON:  My family is in the Dallas area, and they are worried sick, but if you saw the size of these vessels and the enormity of the equipment, and ordnance that is put on these during these military operations, it‘s really quite mind boggling.

And the ship draws about 28, 30 feet of water sitting in 40-foot channel.  And they tell me today, that if the storm becomes very bad and the storm surge gets to that 20-foot level they can actually fill the ballast of the bottom of the ship and literally sink these two ships down in the mud, and it would be just like a gigantic anchor with all of us on board. 

So we‘re not worried about our health or well-being.  We‘re obviously worried about those people who don‘t have the benefit of something like the city has put together for its key employees.  We‘re worried that people are staying and they shouldn‘t. 

CARLSON:  What about the people who have left?  I mean, we know from Katrina, we know from looking at footage from wars that when people‘s homes are destroyed, their neighborhoods become unrecognizable after some disaster, it‘s pretty traumatic.  Do you think the people of your town who have gone to Dallas or north of Houston are ready for what they might return to?

GOODSON:  Probably it would not have been, had it not been for the incredible footage of not only New Orleans but the devastation in Mississippi and parts of Alabama.  I think that that was the stark realization of what they may face, and most of the people I know, people even that used to be I would say quietly optimistic about what a storm‘s damage would do are very stern-faced and somber as they left this city over the last few days.  People realize the gravity of a Cat 4 storm. 

CARLSON:  Since you are an elected official in the state of Texas, I can‘t resist asking you, what you thought of the evacuation today and yesterday.  Those pictures we had—I‘m sure you have seen them—of the highway, completely backed up leaving the gulf area and completely open on the other side. 

That struck a lot of us watching as a pretty inefficient way to run an evacuation.  What do you think of that?

GOODSON:  Well, you know, we have a transportation plan here, and we did turn roads north, the Department of Public Safety did here, in an effort to try to get more people out.  It was still a long, arduous drive. 

Unfortunately, not enough people take the voluntary evacuation notice seriously and get out.  They kind of wait to play the roulette game of where the storm is going to go before they make the decision to leave.  And then they throw themselves into the teeth of that traffic. 

And so no plan is good.  As I heard someone say, to Bill White in Houston, the mayor, when you‘re trying to take and get a couple of mill wrong people out of the city of almost four million.  I mean, there‘s just not enough road surface to do that in a short period of time. 

CARLSON:  Yes, that‘s true.  Mayor of Beaumont, Texas, a man who is staying, knowing full well what could happen, knowing full well the dimensions of this hurricane, and he‘s staying behind anyway because it‘s his city.  Good for you, Mayor Goodson.  We admire you.  Thanks. 

GOODSON:  Thank you, Tucker. 

CARLSON:  Still ahead on THE SITUATION, Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans like no storm ever had.  But Hurricane Rita—will it lay the same city to waste again?  Hard even to imagine that. 

People trying to recover from the first storm are readying themselves for one just as damaging.  We have the latest details and chances of success. 

Plus, authorities in Texas have done their best to get citizens to pick up and leave.  The problem, they all seem to pick up and leave at exactly the same time on exactly the same road.  We‘ll have an update on historic Houston gridlock as Texans try to escape Hurricane Rita. 

We‘ll be right back.


CARLSON:  Coming up, what did Gulf Coast evacuees expect to find when they eventually come home? We will ask some of them, plus, hear the cockpit recordings from the emergency landing in L.A. 


CARLSON:  The abject failure, in the end, the deadly failure of evacuation efforts before Hurricane Katrina clearly taught lessons to safety officials in the state of Texas. 

The Gulf Coast there has seen evacuations and preparations for days in advance of Hurricane Rita, but there‘s still work to be done.  To update us on that, John Vanden Bos, the assistant emergency management coordinator in Brazoria County, Texas.  He joins us now by phone. 

John, thanks for coming on again.  Good to talk to you once again. 

JOHN VANDEN BOS :  Good to talk to you, and I‘m glad I am in a position where I still can. 

Carlson:  Yes, and I hope you remain there, to update us as THE days go by.  Now the only pictures we‘ve seen from, you know, more than 1,000 miles away today have been of these terrible traffic jams in Texas. 

Tell us—give us a broader picture of the evacuation.  How many people have moved, do you think, and has it been a success?

The county judge gave an estimate today, approximately a third of the population of the county overall has evacuated.  We have tracked some 300 what are referred to as special needs folks that either have transportation difficulties or health problems and require special handling, and so on, but overall, out of approximately 250,000 people, we figure about a third have actually evacuated, and...

CARLSON:  So that‘s still a lot of people there.  Are they going to ride out the hurricane? Is that the idea?

VANDEN BOS:  Well, the thing that is misleading, the population is not evenly spread across the county, and what we probably got was most of the folks down in the southern portion, close to the gulf, at the greatest risk, and the ones that are still here are the ones in the northern part of the county, because they‘re not at risk from the storm surge, and so on, and have opted at this point to ride. 

The storm conditions—excuse me.  If it looked like it was coming in here, as a Category 5, then the plan had been to do a mandatory on the entire county.  If, as it‘s seemingly at this point, that we are looking at maybe a cat four, to the east of us, puts us on the clean side of the storm, we probably will not go to a full county evacuation.  It wouldn‘t be required. 

CARLSON:  At what time, at what point is it too late for people to try to evacuate? What is the point of no return?

VANDEN BOS:  As of the time that we go to tropical storm wind, which are 39 miles an hour or greater, you really have used up your time.  Because once the wind get to 50 or better, it‘s difficult, if not impossible, to operate a vehicle on the highway, and you run the risk of getting to see the rest of the storm really up front and close. 

CARLSON:  Yes, you do.  I hope there‘s no one in that position.  John Vanden Bos, thanks again for joining us.  And I hope we talk to you again in the coming days. 

VANDEN BOS:  All right, sir.  My pleasure. 

CARLSON:  Thanks. 

Well, Angleton, Texas, lies just inland from Galveston and south of the city of Houston.  That town will surely, certainly absolutely feel Hurricane Rita‘s punch in the next 36 hours.  Max Sebesta is the mayor of Angleton.  He joins us now, as he and his neighbors await what will likely be a pretty violent event. 

Mr. Mayor, thanks for joining us. 

MAYOR MAX SEBESTA, ANGLETON, TEXAS:  Thank you, Tucker, glad to be here. 

CARLSON:  What‘s the state of your town?  How many people are left? 

Has everyone who needs to leave gone?

SEBESTA:  We believe everyone that needs to leave has gone.  We‘ve estimated that probably 85 percent of our population has evacuated, so we‘re in decent shape on the evacuation. 

Folks started early yesterday getting out of town, and had some leave today, but I think the ones that are going to stay are here, and the ones that decided to evacuate have already gone. 

CARLSON:  Are you saying?

SEBESTA:  I am here. 

CARLSON:  Good for you.  I read today that your town, that you, I think, had been in contact with Wal-Mart, which had offered to give some sort of free supplies, water and maybe more, should you need it.  Tell us about that. 

SEBESTA:  Wal-Mart has been very good with us.  We‘ve got one of their key people here in town, has got a key to the store, and anything we need, just make a list, and we get what we need.  They are working with us very well. 

CARLSON:  That is amazing.  Good for Wal-Mart.  What about the state and federal authorities? Do you feel like they are ready for anything that can happen to Angleton over the next two days?

SEBESTA:  I hope so.  I think Katrina was a good learning curve for the nation, especially for Texas, since a lot of the Katrina evacuees ended up in Texas.  We see what the human toll is on that, and I know the governor is working diligently on making this work and making it work right. 

And we just hope all the resources are in place to make that happen.  The big thing right now is, of course, the traffic congestion in the Houston area.  I‘m hearing some pretty tough stories from some of the issues that they‘re facing.  A lot of the businesses have closed up.  Folks are having fuel problems, and I know that they‘re scrambling to try to address those concerns. 

CARLSON:  Well, there‘s also this terrible snafu at Bush Airport in Houston today.  I‘m sure you‘re familiar with it.  Two hundred out of 350 TSA federal screeners just decided not to come to work today, thereby preventing a lot of people from leaving the Houston area when they needed to get out.  Are you familiar with this, and can you shed any light on why these people suddenly decided they didn‘t need to work?

SEBESTA:  Actually, this is the first I‘ve heard of that, but I have been working on the issues in my city, and that‘s a little bit north of us.  That‘s on the other side of Houston.  I can tell you this.  I am a lot closer to the coast than intercontinental airport, and I have got staff between 40 and 50 police officers and dispatchers.  They are all here.  They‘re all working. 

And I‘ve got our ambulance crews here.  We‘ve got our volunteer fire department.  They‘ve got almost 30 folks here.  So we‘re doing our end.  I can‘t answer for the folks up there, what they‘re doing, or not doing. 

CARLSON:  All right.  Thanks, Mayor Sebesta, Angleton, Texas.  Thanks for joining us. 

CARLSON:  Thank you, Tucker. 

You really get the impression that Texas just has its act together more than Louisiana did.  And it makes you wonder if the devastation in the wake of the first hurricane, Hurricane Katrina, wasn‘t largely caused by ineptitude and corruption in the place it hit.

We‘ll know next week after this hurricane how much the unprepared nature of New Orleans led to the disaster, because we can compare the two hurricanes.  Good government matters is the point. 

Well, coming up on THE SITUATION, just as New Orleans tries to catch its breath from Katrina, Rita takes a cruel turn toward Louisiana.  We‘ll have a report from the city bracing for its second monster hurricane in less than a month. 

Plus, the pictures told us of the pilot of this Jetblue plane.  We knew he was a hero just by watching.  We‘ve got the audio evidence to prove it.  Listen to what was happening in that cockpit last night during that dramatic emergency landing at LAX.  Stay with us.


CARLSON:  Hurricane Rita has our undivided attention tonight, and for good reason.  But there was some other important news happening today in the rest of the country. 

Senate Judiciary Committee recommended confirming Judge John Roberts to be the next chief justice of the United States and did so with the help of nearly half the Democrats on that committee, including the most powerful Democrat of all. 



Judge Roberts is a man of integrity.  I can only take him at his word he does not have an ideological agenda. 

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA:  I basically believe that once someone has earned a right, they should not lose that right.  I‘m the only woman on this committee, and when I started, I said, that was going to be my bar, and he didn‘t cross my bar. 


CARLSON:  Dianne Feinstein, a U.S. senator. 

Hillary Clinton, by the way, from New York, Democrat, has indicated tonight that she will vote against Judge Roberts when the full Senate weighs in next week. 

The committee supported nomination with a vote of 13-5.  A vote by the full Senate, as we just said, next week.  Roberts‘ nomination is expected to pass without the help of Mrs. Clinton. 

The lead investigator from the Jetblue airliner that made an emergency landing yesterday says there had been at least six previous incidents of nose wheel problems with the European made Airbus A320. 

Today, we‘re getting our first glimpse of what went on inside the plane during those nerve-wracking three hours.  Here‘s a bit of the conversation between the pilot and air traffic control.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Is 2-5 right going to be closed?  I‘m going to request access to cross. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Two-5 right, you can have access. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Roger, thank you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  292, hello again. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  292 is with you. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  2-5, left, going to land. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Going to land 2-5 left, 292. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Need to land runway, 2-5 left. 



O‘BRIEN:  The plane landed safely without serious injury to any of the 145 passengers and crew on board. 

And if you listen again to the voice, it‘s amazing.  These people are at the moment of truth.  They may die, and the captain is just rock solid.  Not a single quiver in his voice.  Amazing. 

Well, coming up, some of the most gut wrenching stories from Hurricane Katrina‘s after math involve hospitals robbed of power and beyond the reach of rescuers.  Hurricane Rita bearing down with brutal force.  What‘s being done to keep the infirm safe?  Can another series of tragedies be avoided this time? 

An update from the projected storm track is next.


CARLSON:  An update from the projected storm track is next.



GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUSIANA:  Some people insist on staying and believe that they can weather this kind of storm that perhaps they should write their Social Security numbers on their arms with indelible ink.


CARLSON:  That was Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco issuing a stern warning to residents of her state to get out of the way of Hurricane Rita.  It‘s not clear why anyone would listen to a word Governor Blanco says after her completely inept, totally inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina.  Hope she‘s enjoying her final term in office.

Louisiana, meanwhile, still reeling from that storm Katrina but it appears more and more that Rita is headed their way now.

NBC News‘ Michele Hofland is in New Orleans with the latest—


MICHELE HOFLAND, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Tucker.  The streets of New Orleans are empty tonight.  As I drove around this evening, all I saw were some police cars, some firefighters and a few soldiers but that‘s about it.

And, the streets of New Orleans are also we tonight.  Hurricane Rita began brushing up against this city before dawn this morning, bands of wind and rain swirling overhead.  We‘re getting a little bit of a break now but all day and all night we‘ve been getting lots of rain and, remember, Rita is still more than 30 hours away.

Also, in the central business tonight, I want you to take a look, there is still a lot of power on.  As you drive through you see some generators in the road, some construction equipment but that‘s about it.  Over here in the French Quarter you can‘t see anything.  That‘s because there‘s no power in the French Quarter and many parts of New Orleans still tonight.

I spoke with some people there who are very concerned about this upcoming hurricane.  People have never been worried about hurricanes before, especially about the levee situation.

The experts are telling us, the Army Corps of Engineers, that these levees, the patched up levees can‘t handle a big storm surge from Hurricane Rita and so people are very nervous that the areas that are newly dry are going to get flooded once again.

The mayor of New Orleans has a mandatory evacuation for most of the city.  He says most of the people are out tonight but still there are some people who refuse to evacuate.


ELIAS JACKSON, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT:  All these buildings have been proven, they‘re hurricane proven and since Katrina could not take them down I don‘t think this hurricane will take them down either.  If there‘s going to be a flood, I‘ll be the next one ready for search and rescue because I got my boat.

ARMANDO ORTIZ, FRENCH QUARTER BUSINESS OWNER:  I‘m not scared of it but what they say with the levees, if we get—if we get some—some wave in three to four feet it might hurt us.  That‘s what I‘m afraid of right now.


HOFLAND:  Governor Blanco tonight has a very sobering message for those who refuse to evacuate.  She‘s telling them to write their Social Security number on their arms in indelible ink.  That way their bodies will be easily identified after the storm—Tucker, back to you.

CARLSON:  Thanks, Michele, Michele Hofland in New Orleans.

Well, the highways are jammed tonight with people trying to get themselves out of Rita‘s path.  What about people who can‘t get themselves out of Rita‘s path, people like patients at the University of Texas Medical Center at Galveston?

I‘m joined now on the phone by Dr. Karen Sexton. She‘s the CEO of that hospital which now has been totally evacuated.  Dr. Sexton, thanks for joining us.


CARLSON:  You‘ve gotten everyone out of your hospital tonight?

SEXTON:  Absolutely, all patients are gone.

CARLSON:  Is there anyone else, doctors, nurses still in the building?

SEXTON:  You bet.  I have here some amazing individuals who just would refuse to leave and wanted to be here and take care of anything that happened in our community in the duration of the storm.

CARLSON:  So, you‘re there too?

SEXTON:  I‘m here.

CARLSON:  Good for you.  You are the third person in Texas we‘ve talked to tonight, the third executive in charge of something who has decided to remain behind and face this storm.  That is really a brave decision.  What do you expect to be dealing with?  Do you expect patients to come in, is that why you‘re remaining?

SEXTON:  Well, we don‘t know.  We don‘t know how many people have chosen not to evacuate and we want to be here in case there‘s anyone who‘s electrocuted, drown, stress-related incidents.  We want to be here.  This is our community.  This is our home.

CARLSON:  Good for you.  Now what—I know, of course, the hospitals in New Orleans famously lost power and that turned out to be I think in some cases fatal for some of the patients.  Do you have backup generators and the fuel to run them?

SEXTON:  Absolutely.  They‘re on a high floor.  We have lots of fuel to run them and we are prepared but we just didn‘t want to take any chances with our patients and we got them out.

CARLSON:  Tell me about the building.  I‘m not familiar with your hospital.  Is it—do you think it‘s physically capable of withstanding a storm?

SEXTON:  We know that it‘s physically capable.  We are going to be putting everyone who chose to stay in the strongest part of the building that we have.  It‘s a 1979 building and we have been assured by an engineer who has been going through those plans that it can sustain those kinds of winds that we might get.

CARLSON:  So, all of you are going to be in the same room?

SEXTON:  You bet.

CARLSON:  How many are staying behind?

SEXTON:  I think we are going to have about 250 people.

CARLSON:  Wow!  Are you afraid?

SEXTON:  No.  We‘re safe and we‘re together.  We‘re a family and our patients are safe and that‘s really what matters to us.

CARLSON:  Was it difficult and was it dangerous to get some of the patients out over the last couple days?  How do you evacuate someone who is seriously ill?

SEXTON:  Absolutely, it was dangerous and one of the things that we were determined to do given the consequences of what would happen if we lost power for a sustained period of time, we wanted to get the sickest of the sick out and we started with our physicians and nurses and we prioritized all of our patients on life support and in our intensive care units and we were determined to get them out first.

We knew we could manage other types of patients in the event that we could not evacuate them but we ended up working together and we had amazing support from state facilities and ambulances and aircraft and we managed to evacuate 424 people in an eight-hour period.

CARLSON:  You know I am just amazed by how incredibly well organized Texas seems to be.  I am really impressed.  Dr. Karen Sexton, CEO of that hospital in Galveston, going to ride out the storm, we really appreciate your coming on, thanks.

SEXTON:  Thank you.

CARLSON:  Well, they already broke and left one of the country‘s greatest cities ruined by floodwaters.  Is there a chance in the world that the patchwork levees charged with protecting New Orleans will withstand the unholy soaking Hurricane Rita has already begun to deliver?  An expert‘s prediction is next.


CARLSON:  It wasn‘t Katrina‘s initial surge that did the damage in New Orleans it was the weak levees that gave way and flooded the city with disastrous consequences.  Now there are similar concerns in some Texas cities that sit in Rita‘s path tonight.

I‘m joined on the phone by Mel McKey He‘s the superintendent of the Velasco Texas Drainage District and the man responsible for the levees there.  Mel, are you there?


CARLSON:  Thanks a lot for coming on.  How confident are you that your levees are going to hold?

MCKEY:  I‘m quite confident that they‘ll hold.

CARLSON:  Why are you so confident?  I mean I think people in New Orleans were confident of their levees holding too and they didn‘t.

MCKEY:  Well, again, I don‘t know the New Orleans levees.  I know our levees and I feel very confident that we have levees that will withstand a historical type of weather event like a category four storm.  A category five I‘m a little iffy on that particular situation but I think our levees will hold up for the historic storm as we‘ve had on the Texas coast to this date.

CARLSON:  What are they made out of?

MCKEY:  Well, we have earthen levees and we also have some levees that are concrete walls.

CARLSON:  How far above the water are they now?

MCKEY:  Well, right now we‘re only experiencing about a three-foot tide, maybe a little higher than that, three and a half at the present time but, of course, our levees, the frontal levees are 22-foot elevation and then they vary back according to the models, you know, that have. 

The Corps of Engineers of course built these levees and they were built to withstand the greatest storm or at least a historical storm that has ever struck the Texas coast.

CARLSON:  Is that the 1900 storm?

MCKEY:  Well, yes, the 1900 storm was a category four storm, likewise was Hurricane Carla, so in terms of the largest type of hurricane that struck the Texas coast we‘re looking at a category four.  So, a five would make us very nervous of course but four we feel pretty confident that our levees would hold up.

CARLSON:  What do you expect the water to do tomorrow?

MCKEY:  Well, this time yesterday I was quite nervous because we were looking at a category four and probably a five being formed and it being a direct hit right below us putting us on the dirty side of the storm. 

But, presently the forecast is calling for the storm to strike about 60, 65 miles to the north of us, which puts us on the cleaner side of this storm, so we‘re looking at probably an eight-foot surge tomorrow rather than a 20-foot surge.

CARLSON:  All right, well I hope you‘re right and it sounds like you know what you‘re talking about.

MCKEY:  Well, we hope we‘re right too.

CARLSON:  I hope so too.  Mel McKey joining us tonight from Velasco, Texas, thanks.

MCKEY:  Velasco Drainage District.

CARLSON:  All right, Velasco Drainage District.

MCKEY:  Yes, sir.

CARLSON:  Good luck.

MCKEY:  Goodbye.

CARLSON:  Patched together with sandbags in New Orleans, levees are about to get another test from another cataclysmic weather event.  Do they stand a chance against Rita?

Joseph Suhayda is the former director of the Louisiana Water Resources Research Institute at LSU in Baton Rouge who joins me now by phone.  Mr.  Suhayda, thanks for coming on.


CARLSON:  How are they going to do, the levees tomorrow?

SUHAYDA:  Well, actually we have a mixed situation.  Some of the levees were really damaged by Katrina but actually there are a number of levee systems that were not damaged at all and they should hold up very well.

CARLSON:  Now, the damaged levees we‘ve been hearing all day have been patched with seashells in some cases.  That‘s the report we‘re getting anyway.  And the reports have made it sound like a heavy rain is going to make them collapse, do you think that‘s true?

SUHAYDA:  Well, I think the issue really is more than the rainfall.  It would be the storm surge.  The predictions for the rainfall for this part of the state of Louisiana is really not that excessive but the storm surge if it got above three or four or five feet could actually then re-flood some of the areas that were flooded by Katrina.

CARLSON:  Meaning the city of New Orleans.

SUHAYDA:  Meaning certain parts of the city.

CARLSON:  Right.

SUHAYDA:  There were parts that weren‘t very flooded but certainly the parts that were flooded before in New Orleans East, St. Bernard, the 9th Ward, those areas could be flooded.

CARLSON:  What will it take to build levees that are hurricane proof or is that even possible?

SUHAYDA:  Well, I think the previous guest talked about category four protection and I think what we are dealing with is how much protection can you afford?  We were protected from a category three storm in New Orleans.  You‘re talking about category four protection in Texas. 

I think we can afford up to a category five in terms of the cost of being a couple of billion dollars, which sounds like a lot but it‘s certainly within a small fraction of the cost of the damages associated with Katrina.

CARLSON:  Well, of course.  It‘s a city.  It‘s one of the greatest cities in the world.  Hundreds of thousands of people live there.  You‘re going to have severe hurricanes just because of where you are.  It seems to me obvious you should build levees strong enough to handle it.  What would those levees be made out of, levees that could withstand a category five?

SUHAYDA:  Well, I think we could use the same type of design.  Actually, the earthen levees that protect it from the storm surge did very, very well.  It was actually the flood wall type structure that didn‘t perform as well and most of the flooding of the city resulted from the failure of flood walls, not the earthen levees.

CARLSON:  So, dirt works best?

SUHAYDA:  It‘s because the dirt structure is very, very massive and it is not subject to a catastrophic failure.

CARLSON:  Right.

SUHAYDA:  So, if you could think of the side of a boat is like a flood wall, as soon as you punch a hole in the side of a boat water immediately comes in and fills up the boat.

CARLSON:  Yes, we drove by levees in New Orleans a couple weeks ago that were the size of hills and they looked to me totally unaffected by the storm.  They looked fine.

SUHAYDA:  Those were the ones that were the hurricane protection levees, for example perhaps on the south shore of the lake, which as you described are very, very massive structures.

CARLSON:  Right by Autobahn (ph) Park up there in the uptown?

SUHAYDA:  Yes and those would be 50 to 100 feet wide at the base, whereas the flood walls might be as little as ten feet wide at the base.

CARLSON:  So, why not build earthen levees all over the city?  Is it too—are they too expensive?  Are they too big?  Why not?

SUHAYDA:  Well, you mentioned being too big.  That‘s a problem for our drainage canals which really are very narrow bodies of water that go quite a ways into the city and there‘s really no room.  There are homes right adjacent to the canal and, of course, the canal itself has to be cleared to allow the water to leave the city during rainfall events.  So, there‘s really not much room there to do other than some kind of a flood wall.

CARLSON:  Boy, I hope they do something that works next time.  Joseph Suhayda, a man who knows everything about levees, we appreciate your joining us tonight and filling us in.

SUHAYDA:  Thank you, Tucker.

CARLSON:  Thanks.

Coming up on THE SITUATION, what happens when two million people leave the Gulf Coast at exactly the same time?  This is what happens.  We‘ve got the story of 15-hour traffic jams and some frustrated evacuees when we come back.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m just taking the bare essentials, medicine, toiletries, some of our clothes.

GOV. RICK PERRY ®, TEXAS:  Stay calm.  Stay patient.  You‘ve done the right thing by leaving.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We haven‘t moved one mile an hour for the last two and a half hours.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  After watching what it did in New Orleans I don‘t think I want to stay for that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Ninety percent of our residents have left the island.  It feels like a ghost town.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (INAUDIBLE) but when you see that tsunami.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I wish I would just lay here and die.  I went through Katrina and it was a nightmare.  It‘s still not over.


CARLSON:  There are like two million people that have been ordered to evacuate the Texas and Louisiana coasts as Rita approached.  That means a nightmare commute.  That means all roads north turned into virtual parking lots today as people tried to get out of harm‘s way.

Lester Holt has that story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Interstate 45 is virtually at a standstill.

LESTER HOLT, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  As of late this afternoon all roads lead north from the Texas coast.  For the first time ever the governor has reversed traffic on the southbound lanes of I-45 to try and create a big one way express lane out of danger.

PERRY:  I want to say something to all those individuals that are stuck in traffic right now.  Stay calm.  Stay patient.  You‘ve done the right thing.

HOLT:  But many drivers have run out of gas waiting to move.  The state has dispatched gas tankers but they have to ride these highways too and the mayor of Houston says he‘s looking for a plan B.

BILL WHITE, MAYOR OF HOUSTON:  We‘ve requested for quite some time some military airlift capability so we can get fuel closer to the spot so it can be delivered.

HOLT:  There‘s gridlock at Houston‘s George Bush International Airport where 100 screeners didn‘t show up for their shifts today.  The airplanes headed out are all full.

But the evacuation plan is working on Galveston Island.  Its historic town center and beaches largely abandoned, even the jail evacuated.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m getting the hell out.

HOLT:  Alice Malley (ph) and Michael G have little money and no car but want to leave.  Did you call the police?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The police are coming.  They‘re going to take us I believe to the bus.

HOLT:  And minutes later a city employee does arrive to drive both to the island community center where busses stand ready to evacuate those with no other means of escape, many with Katrina on their minds.


HOLT:  City officials say if you haven‘t left by now, you‘ve got a problem.

JAY JAWORSKI:  If you don‘t leave by now on a bus, you‘re going to be stuck on a highway in hurricane winds.

HOLT:  The last bus left without 79-year-old Helena Avery (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m going to stay right here and go down with Rita.

HOLT:  Others feared they‘d never find a hotel room even if they did get through traffic so they decided to ride it out here.  Officials in Galveston are encouraged that Rita‘s changing path may spare them a direct hit.  Still, FEMA is telling everyone to leave and don‘t look back until the coast is clear.

DAVID PAULISON, ACTING FEMA DIRECTOR:  Well, I don‘t think anyone in the gulf coast is out of harm‘s way.


CARLSON:  That was NBC‘s Lester Holt reporting from Galveston, Texas today.

Well still ahead on THE SITUATION, this storm is moving so fast, so unpredictably it has changed even as we‘ve been on the air tonight.  We‘ll check in with NBC‘s Weather Plus for the very latest on where it‘s heading in these next crucial few hours.  Stay with us.


CARLSON:  There it is the storm we‘ve been talking about all night.  We‘ll continue to be talking about days to come, Hurricane Rita, howling 145 mile-an-hour winds, 400 miles wide, expected to hit tomorrow, downgraded to a category four today, still a devastating, enormous, terrifying storm hitting the gulf coast possibly affecting New Orleans.  We pray not but it looks increasingly likely as it moved to the east today.

We‘ll note that of all the people we talked to day the organization in Texas incredible, amazing.  I hope that helps.

Well, a special note, you can track the path of Hurricane Rita and see live reports from the scene even if you‘re not at a television.  On Friday, MSNBC and the NBC Weather Plus team will be streaming special live coverage right to your computer at msnbc.com.

That‘s THE SITUATION tonight.  Tomorrow night I‘ll be here for four hours beginning at midnight Eastern Time.  We‘ll be live on the air as Rita makes landfall.  We‘ll have everything you need to know about this devastating storm and its aftermath.



Watch The Situation with Tucker Carlson each weeknight at 11 p.m. ET


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