updated 9/23/2005 1:25:05 PM ET 2005-09-23T17:25:05

Guests: Jim Reed, Ken Ostra, Katherine Miller, Ivor Van Heerden, David Vitter

RITA COSBY, HOST, “RITA COSBY: LIVE & DIRECT”:  Let‘s now go to Joe Scarborough, who is in Washington.

And Joe, it looks like this one we are seeing, it‘s going to be rough right here on Galveston island tomorrow night. 

JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST:  Rita, you are a professional.  You understand how serious this is.  Just be safe down there. 

COSBY:  Thank you. 

SCARBOROUGH:  A killer-force storm coming on board.  I am telling you, this is going to be a devastating storm, Rita.  And, obviously, we are going to be following you through the whole thing.  Good luck down there. 

COSBY:  Thank you, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Tonight‘s top headline:  Hurricane Rita is ready to rip the Gulf Coast.  Rita is now a killer Category 4 storm, and it‘s on target to slam a battered region, this time on the Texas-Louisiana coastline.  It‘s a massive storm on a deadly course. 

Plus, there is fear and loathing tonight in New Orleans.  The rain has already started.  Tropical storm warnings have gone up.  Friends, we are going to find out tonight very soon just how deadly that could be for that battered region.  The only question is, tonight, how long until the levees crumble into the sea?  Can the levees survive and, more importantly, can this battered region survive? 

We have got complete coverage up and down the Gulf Coast on this special edition of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  

I will tell you what, friends.  This is such a serious situation tonight.  And we come to you tonight from the nation‘s capital.  And I was up on Capitol Hill today.  Politicians on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue are still riding out a political storm called Katrina, while, in my home region, Gulf Coast residents are preparing for a possible just terrible meeting with a hurricane called Rita. 

Tonight, we are going to take you across the Gulf Coast, from massive traffic jams in Texas, to battered storm walls in the Big Easy, to the tragic desperation—I talked to my wife right before I came on the show.  There is tragic desperation across the Mississippi Gulf Coast, still recovering, still battered by Katrina, while tonight, tropical storm warnings in New Orleans and more questions for politicians, this time on whether their incompetence have caused massive 100-mile traffic jams.  But why weren‘t empty lanes on the other side of the road opened up? 

You know what, friends?  In 1995, I went through this in Florida.  I am going to tell you how we fixed it in Florida 10 years ago. 

Plus, we are going to have a bird‘s-eye view of this monster storm, as we fly with hurricane hunters.  So, the question tonight, just how big is Rita? 

Let me tell you, let me start by telling you how big Rita is.  This afternoon, I called home.  I was up in Washington to give a speech, called home.  I said, how are things going down there?  What are you hearing in Texas?  My wife said, I don‘t know about Texas, but I can tell you, our dock is under water.  This is a storm headed for Texas and, yet, in Pensacola, Florida, about eight hours away, on Interstate 10, our dock, under water.  It is a massive storm. 

The question tonight is, where will she hit, and what impact will that have across the Gulf Coast? 

To get answers to that, let‘s go now to NBC Weather Plus and bring in meteorologist Bill Karins. 

Bill, give us the very latest on what is sure to become a killer storm. 

BILL KARINS, NBC METEOROLOGIST:  Yes, good evening, Joe. 

I just want to give you the perspective.  You were talking about how big this storm is.  Sometimes, we just focus on the actual system, but I want who show you the whole United States and then, on the bottom of your screen, show you how big our hurricane is. 

The clouds are already moving, almost up to Tennessee now.  And the storm clouds go all the way south, down to Cuba.  It is raining hard with thunderstorms associated with the outer band in the storm in Tampa, Florida, and, at the same time, it is raining from this storm in New Orleans.  That‘s how huge this system is.  And it unfortunately continues its northwest track. 

Let‘s go in closer and take a zoomed-in look at this.  And you can see the well-formed eye.  This storm is staying just as intense.  Yes, it went from a 5 to a 4, but that doesn‘t really make much of a difference.  A 4 is catastrophic.  Katrina was a 4.  And we all saw what that did.  It doesn‘t need to be a five to just level towns. 

And that is what could happen wherever that storm surge goes in, the same thing that happened in Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis, all those locations, in Gulfport there.  The same exact thing is going to happen on wherever the right side of this storm goes through. 

I want to show you some other perspectives of this storm.  Look how large the wind field is.  Everywhere in orange is where there are tropical-storm-force winds.  Now, those winds that are unfortunately probably going to be deadly are these red ones.  And that‘s the center of the storm, currently 145-mile-per-hour.  It‘s only about 350 to about 400 miles now away from that Texas-Louisiana coastline. 

And you can notice the cloud shield inching onto the screen here.  I want to show you the wall of water that is now popping up just south of the Louisiana coastline.  And this will be rotating through as we go throughout the night.  That‘s why we are extremely concerned with how New Orleans is going to fare.  Tropical storm warnings are in effect. 

Want to show you the latest radar out of New Orleans, and it‘s raining in downtown currently.  These heavy downpours continue to move through the region.  By the time the storm is over with, Joe, we are saying at least three inches in New Orleans, the possibility of half-a-foot in the city.  And even from there, they already put out a flood statement, saying, from Katrina, those storm drains are clogged.  So, that water is not going to be running into any sewer system and out into the ocean.  It‘s just going to sit there. 

SCARBOROUGH:  You know, Bill, you make a great point.  Obviously, you know this stuff a lot better than I do.  I just know it from personal experience.  But the between difference a Cat 5 and a Cat 4, negligible. 

I remember, before Ivan crashed on shore a year ago, it went from a Category 4 to a Category 3.  We had storm surges in some areas approaching 40 feet. 

Talk about the storm surges and what kind of impact they are going to have from a storm this powerful and a storm this size. 

KARINS:  Well, I just got done reading the information out of the Lake Charles weather office, located here.  This is probably the area that is going to be hit the worst.  They just put out a statement saying they are expecting a storm surge between 20 to 30 feet. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, good lord. 

KARINS:  That would be the equivalent of what they saw.

And anyone that has driven through this region around New Orleans, on I-10, a very popular road along the coast here, that is about 20 miles inland from the ocean.  They said the storm surge could go through the swampy areas and the lakes all the way to I-10.  They said that storm surge could go about 20 miles inland. 

That is extremely significant.  They have asked everyone there—this isn‘t a highly populated area, but I am sure there are still at least 5,000 to 20,000 people.  They have told all of them to get out, because those are the towns that will just be leveled by that storm surge.  And that‘s anywhere to the right, Joe. 

And, as we have been mentioning, yesterday, this track was 100 miles southwards, down the coastline.  Yesterday, we were thinking Galveston and Houston.  So, in 24 hours, this has shifted 100 miles.  We are still about 36 hours away from landfall.  So, don‘t focus just on this line.  It still has a chance to keep moving as we go throughout the night. 

And we are going to get that new update coming up in about 45 minutes from the Hurricane Center.  And I will bring you the latest and I will tell you exactly where this line sits now and where the worst storm surge is going to be. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right, Bill, thank you so much.  We are going to back to you throughout the hour.  Bill Karins from Weather Plus, greatly appreciate it. 

And, friends, I told you last night—again, not a meteorologist—I play one on TV—but I told you last night, historically, what we have been seeing over the past several years, when these things hit closer to the shore, for whatever reason right now in the weather patterns, they take a northerly tick.  This one has already started early. 

I remember, when Ivan came on shore, it darted to the right, darted east at the last minute.  That happened with Katrina.  I am afraid it‘s going to happen here.

I want you to look at this storm system.  If you drove from Tampa, Florida, to Houston, Texas, it would take you 15 hours on the Interstate system.  And yet a storm that is about to crash into the Texas-Louisiana border is causing rainfall 15 hours away in Tampa, Florida. 

Friends, I want to take you.  Please look at Mississippi.  Look at Louisiana.  Tonight, people in Pearlington, Mississippi, people in Waveland, Mississippi, people who lost everything in Katrina just three-and-a-half weeks ago, tonight, some are sleeping in parking lots.  You sent money to Christian Ministries.  We have been buying them tents.  We have been buying them cots.  We have been trying to get them blankets, trying to get them shelter, to get shelter.  But there will be no shelter from this storm.  They are going to be wiped out. 

Again, again, just three inches, four inches, five inches, people tell us in Mississippi, going to be devastating.  My God, what‘s going to happen in New Orleans—we are going to find out in a minute—with that fragile levee system?

You know, there‘s a story, though, tonight in Texas about two million Texans who began evacuating only to find themselves stuck in traffic for hours.  I got to tell you, as a guy who worked this problem out in Congress with the leaders of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia 10 years ago, I can‘t believe they were having this problem and still having this problem in Texas tonight. 

Well, NBC‘s Ron Blome made his way through traffic today.  And I can tell you, it is a hellish situation. 

Ron, what do you got? 

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RON BLOME, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Good evening, Joe. 

In our drive across Texas today, we saw plenty of people running out of gas.  And, tonight, we are standing in front of a gasoline refinery, and it may be a symbol of what‘s to come for America.  We could be running out of gasoline stocks, at least in the short term, if Rita should make landfall here, as the Hurricane Center is predicting.

Now, in the Houston area, there are 10 refineries.  In the entire Texas to Louisiana Gulf Coast region, where the storm is coming in, there are some two dozen refineries, providing about 23 percent of the refined product for the United States.  So, even if the refineries are not damaged by wind of 140 miles an hour and a huge storm surge, even if it‘s just a shutdown while they wait out the storm, it could have a big effect on U.S.  petroleum stocks. 

As you recall, when Hurricane Katrina came in, it knocked out about 10 percent of the U.S. refining capacity over in the New Orleans area. 

Now, back to people running out of gas.  It was literal, and it was along the highways today.  A massive evacuation from the Houston area, about 1.8 million people from the total coastal area, a little over a million from Houston.  They were clogging the highways.  And despite the best efforts of the state of Texas to contraflow, or make the interstates go out four lanes in one direction, it was still backing up. 

As we came over from Port Lavaca over towards Beaumont and Port Arthur today, we were caught ourselves in traffic jams, where it ran four or five miles an hour.  And when you only have 30 miles to travel and you‘re looking at six hours, it can be quite discouraging. 

Some people were turning around and heading back home.  Officials said that was a mistake.  They should still evacuate.  Others were running out of gas along the side of the road and wondering who would pick them up. 

But, all in all, the evacuation continues.  The traffic jams will continue tomorrow until the tropical-storm-force winds begin to move in by midday.  That‘s the latest from Port Arthur—back to you, Joe. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCARBOROUGH:  I will tell you what.  Thanks so much, Ron.  I greatly appreciate it. 

I want to show you images of traffic tonight.  Some of these traffic jams go as far as 100 miles an hour.  As somebody that has evacuated from several storms, I can tell you it‘s a hellish situation.  You have got kids in the car.  It‘s hot.  You are running out of gas, and you know, you know, when you get out there, if you don‘t get out early enough, that what happened to some members of my family in 1995 when they were trying to escape Hurricane Opal could happen to them, where you are trapped on the road.  The storm is approaching.  You can‘t evacuate quickly enough. 

And, pretty soon, you have got police riding up and down the Interstate with bullhorns telling you to find shelter, that you are not going to escape, that it‘s too late, and, if you have to get out of your car and go to ditches, then that‘s what you are going to have to do. 

That‘s not going to happen tomorrow, hopefully, in Texas.  Maybe they started this thing early enough. 

But we talked earlier to Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison.  I was frustrated.  And she expressed frustration with the traffic jams that are taking place right now in Texas. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KAY BAILEY HUTCHISON ®, TEXAS:  I saw on television, like everyone else, that you had all the traffic going one way and empty lanes on the other side. 

That seemed to happen in Katrina as well, when we were looking at the pictures of New Orleans.  I don‘t know why it wasn‘t addressed earlier.  I know the mayor has complained bitterly about it in a call this afternoon, and that now has begun to change.  And maybe it‘s late, but at least now I hope that people have all the lanes going out of the Gulf Coast area.  And I hope that, by morning, those lanes have a much better picture. 

So, you have seen people running out of gas and not having water on the road, and taking 16 hours to drive from Houston to Dallas, which is usually a four-hour trip.  So, I know there are so many complaints about it.  However, I think they have now opened I-10, so that it is now going both ways.  And I hope that is going to allow the traffic to get out. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCARBOROUGH:  I will tell you what, friends.  Again, I just don‘t understand why politicians don‘t learn from previous storms. 

Again, 1995, we got together.  We got all the states together and said, when a storm hits the Gulf Coast again, we are going to make all four lanes northerly lanes.  We—again, we figured that out 10 years ago.  The question is—and show—show—look at that. 

Now, who is the rocket scientist in charge of this situation that would allow something like this to take place, when you could have, again, instead of 100-mile traffic jams, you could use, what, what is that, three, four, five, six more lanes going north?  And, again, this is stuff we figured out in Florida back in 1995.  So, what happened?  People get frustrated.  They turn around.  They go back home.  And they get killed in storms. 

It‘s time—I just don‘t understand the political incompetence. 

But let me tell you what.  Coming up next, we are going to talk about something even more serious, a lot more serious than traffic.  This storm could be catastrophic for New Orleans.  The question is, are resources, all resources, being drained to Texas?  And what is going to happen with the fragile levee system? 

We are going to tackle that one with Louisiana Senator David Vitter right here in Washington coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hurricane Rita is going to the Texas-Louisiana border.  But no doubt the impact is going to be felt in New Orleans.  The question is, will the levees break?  We have got somebody that checked it out earlier today and will give us a live report coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You are looking at a live shot right now from Galveston, Texas, storm surge hours away.  But that is an island that if, I mean, if it is the target, if it‘s where the eye crosses, you are looking at a barrier island that is going to be battered and beaten and probably under water by Saturday afternoon. 

Right now, we want to bring you back into the studio in Washington, D.C., and talk to Louisiana Senator David Vitter. 

Senator, I just got to say, these are terrible times for New Orleans.  I have heard three, four, five, six inches of rain in New Orleans, could have a devastating effect.  We have both lived on the Gulf Coast long enough to know...

SEN. DAVID VITTER ®, LOUISIANA:  Sure.  Sure. 

SCARBOROUGH:  ... if this thing comes in on the border, New Orleans is going to get slammed. 

VITTER:  Yes, it‘s been moving a little further east...

SCARBOROUGH:  They always do.

VITTER:  ... toward the Texas-Louisiana border.  And, obviously, the more east it goes, the worse it is for New Orleans in terms of rain.  And that‘s what we are concerned about.  Any significant amount of rain, we just don‘t know exactly what is going to go on with the levees. 

They are obviously in a dramatically weakened state. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Dramatically weakened state.  And, as we know, also on the Gulf Coast, the eastern side of these things get the worst storm surges.  The storm surges that came in from Katrina—and show the video.  I want to show you the video. 

VITTER:  Sure.

SCARBOROUGH:  We had Heath Allen‘s video that he fed to us the other night. 

These are the storm surges that are coming in, I think, the Ninth Ward, Heath Allen and his cameraman crazy enough to record those while it was going on. 

VITTER:  Yes.  I think that is St. Bernard.  Heath was actually in St.

Bernard all through this. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s St. Bernard. 

This could happen, again, as you know, with the rain coming in.  What‘s going to happen with the levees?  There‘s no way they can hold up if there‘s a lot of rain, is there? 

(CROSSTALK)

VITTER:  I am not concerned about storm surge like that.  I don‘t think there‘s any chance the storm will go that far east toward New Orleans.

But the issue is rain.  And any significant rainfall can cause some problems with the levees, just because they are, as I said, in a dramatically weakened state.  So, I know folks, including the Corps of Engineers, private contractors, have been working around the clock to bolster them as best we can.  We are just going to have to wait and see. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

We have got Heath Allen.  Let‘s bring him in right now. 

Heath, you went out and you visited the levees.  Is there any way these things are going to stand up to three inches or, let‘s say, half-a-foot of rainfall the next couple days? 

HEATH ALLEN, WDSU REPORTER:  Well, I will tell you what.  They have gone out and they have done some very interesting things to try to protect some of these levee breaches. 

One of the things they did today along the 17th Street Canal, which is the one that pretty much put the city of New Orleans under water, they took the bridge—and if you are looking at the pictures, they took the bridge, and on the lake side of the bridge, they sunk these metal—pieces of metal, and went straight down, and they have created a dam there, dropped in sandbags behind it.

So, if that—you know, if the water starts coming in, it‘s going to stop there at the bridge.  Now, the levee breach, the weakened levee that we have been talking about, it‘s on the other side.  So, if any of that storm surge that would come in, that would stop it. 

The real concern, as Senator Vitter was saying, is not so much storm surge where we are located now.  We might get two to three feet higher than normal.  But the real problem is how much rain we would get.  And those levees in those weakened conditions, they literally could wash away.  Some of the Industrial Canal is just shell.  It could literally wash away under a heavy rainfall, same thing on the 17th Street Canal.  Much of that could wash away. 

And what we don‘t know is just how weak other portions of the levee system may be.  They may be washing away in places we don‘t even know about at this point.  So, the real problem that we are going to see here is going to be heavy, torrential rainfall that could come, not so much the storm surge.  The further west it goes, the less we are going to see.  But we are in that counterclockwise flow, and the further east it goes, that could, indeed, be a problem.  Let‘s just continue to hope here in New Orleans, it goes west. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Well, you know, the rainfall has already started there.  It‘s been moving to the east slowly.  As it gets closer, a lot of times, as you know, it does tick even—I‘m sorry—further to the east.  That causes problems for New Orleans. 

Talk about the fear down there.  When the rain started up today, what is the attitude on the ground? 

ALLEN:  Well, you know, right here, it‘s kind of a good-news/bad-news situation, Joe, because there‘s not a lot of people to be fearful of. 

We are pretty much a ghost town now.  Most everybody that is going to evacuate has long since evacuated.  People on the West Bank are not so concerned anymore.  And a lot of people are going to sit here and ride this thing out, thinking this is going to be a rain event.  And, of course, we hope that‘s what that is. 

You know, if there‘s any sense of fear whatsoever, it really is kind of looking at the levee system.  But, heck, the whole place is like—it‘s a pile of rubble.  What else can a storm do to New Orleans?  What else can a storm do to St. Bernard Parish or Plaquemines Parish?  It may clean the houses up a little bit, may rinse some things off.  I mean, at this point, the devastation here in New Orleans has already occurred, and...

(CROSSTALK)

ALLEN:  ... much more a storm can to do to us.

SCARBOROUGH:  Senator, how does New Orleans recover?  How does Louisiana recover if you have another event like this coming in behind Katrina? 

VITTER:  Well, we are going to get through this.  I am very hopeful that that sort of problem with the levees won‘t occur. 

And then we will pick up where we were about a week ago, and get back to the gradual repopulation and recovery.  We are trying to do our part in the delegation up here.  Just today, Senator Landrieu and I dropped a major package, legislation for Louisiana recovery.  And it covers a number of things, obviously some direct spending and appropriations.  But, also, equally as important in my mind, is some real incentives to get businesses and jobs back.  That is absolutely crucial. 

SCARBOROUGH:  What about—what about getting control away from incompetent mayors and clueless governors?  I know you have to be tactful.  You are working with these people.  But your mayor is just a joke.  I mean, I have been very critical of the president, Republican president. 

(CROSSTALK)

VITTER:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  This has nothing to do with partisanship.  The guy is inviting 200,000 people back into New Orleans when you have got a major hurricane coming. 

I mean, the president talks about billions of dollars going down there, but everybody I have talked to in middle America just doesn‘t trust New Orleans politicians, don‘t trust New Orleans politicians to spend that money to save the city. 

VITTER:  Well, one thing we have in this package is a call, a mandate in the legislation for a strong federal leader, in terms of Katrina reconstruction.  And that is necessary.

SCARBOROUGH:  Who do want that to be?  

VITTER:  Well, I have shared some name with the White House.  I don‘t want to announce them publicly, but I think that‘s necessary for a bunch of reasons, necessary on the federal side to clean up the red tape and cut through it and to get through FEMA.  You know, I am still bothered by the fact that, after FEMA...

SCARBOROUGH:  Oh, yes. 

VITTER:  ... proved itself incompetent in the first week, we are still sending those tens of billions of dollars all through FEMA.  That is the agency that it‘s flowing through. 

SCARBOROUGH:  They are helpless. 

VITTER:  So, I‘m—I‘m—I have a big problem with that. 

So, there‘s a reason for this strong manager, leader on the federal side.  I think there‘s also a reason in Louisiana for that person to be a strong, competent partner with the governor and the mayor and other local leaders. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

FEMA—FEMA has just—it has been such a disaster.  It‘s been such a difference between what happened last year and this year. 

You have been working with Senator Landrieu. 

VITTER:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Democratic senator. 

VITTER:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Did you ever ask her why she said she wanted to punch the president in the face? 

(LAUGHTER)

(CROSSTALK)

VITTER:  I have worked with Mary for a while, so I don‘t have to ask. 

(LAUGHTER)

SCARBOROUGH:  Did Mary—did Mary ever consider punching the mayor of New Orleans in the face or the governor of Louisiana in the face?

VITTER:  It‘s pretty clear she didn‘t, because it‘s a different party affiliation. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Or at least splashing water.

I guess this is my question.  This is what bothers me.  How can you take a storm like this and become a partisan, try to play party politics...

VITTER:  Well...  

SCARBOROUGH:  ... when people are dying in your state?  It‘s just disgusting. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  And I have got to say, on both sides of the aisle. 

VITTER:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I am disgusted by the partisanship by right-wing Republicans and left-wing Democrats. 

VITTER:  After staying in Louisiana for weeks after the storm, I finally got back here, back to session.  And when I made my first speech about Katrina on the floor, one of the main points I made was exactly that. 

I said, literally, that I had seen horrible scenes on the ground in Louisiana, and I had smelled sweltering stench, but none of that made me as sick as some of the things I heard out of Washington, the partisanship in the middle of all this. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s awful.

VITTER:  And that just turns people‘s stomach.  And it‘s also something you don‘t hear a bit of on the ground in Louisiana or Mississippi or anywhere else.  There, people are rebuilding their lives. 

SCARBOROUGH:  They‘re...

(CROSSTALK)

VITTER:  They don‘t have time for that. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

VITTER:  You know, they don‘t have time for these ridiculous arguments...

SCARBOROUGH:  Right. 

VITTER:  ... about the war in Iraq and the Reagan deficit and everything else under the sun. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  They are—they‘re—they‘re fighting for their lives.  They need insulin for their children who are diabetics. 

VITTER:  Right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  They need water for their babies.  They need diapers. 

They need formula. 

VITTER:  And, yet, for too many people up here, all this is, is a convenient little news story...

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s an opportunity.  Exactly. 

VITTER:  ... to squeeze into their preconceived ideological notions and arguments. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes.  It‘s awful. 

Hey, Senator, thanks so much. 

VITTER:  Thanks, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And I‘ll tell you what.  I want—when you come back, I want—I want us to talk about how young babies could die of heat exhaustion on sidewalks in New Orleans in the United States of America.  It‘s something that just still greatly disturbs me, and I know it disturbs you. 

VITTER:  Absolutely. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I don‘t understand how politicians can take a tragedy like that and try to politicize it. 

VITTER:  Absolutely. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Thanks, Senator. 

(CROSSTALK)

VITTER:  Love to visit with you more about it, and I would love to do it in New Orleans six months from now, when we are on the road to recovery. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  We will be there.  We will be there.

All right, thanks so much. 

And coming up next, is the government ready this time for Rita?  Have lessons been learned from Katrina?  Take a look at this traffic in Texas.  It doesn‘t give me a lot of confidence.  We are going to be talking about that and a lot more when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  You are looking at a beast called Rita.  It‘s blasting its way toward the Texas-Louisiana coastline in a path of destruction sure to follow in its wake.  We are going to get you up to date with the very latest on the storm and much more when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.

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

(NEWS BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  The man who captured these incredible images comes to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  How he and his team are tracking Rita, we will have that story.

And, also, you are looking live right now at that monster called Rita.  She is barreling toward the Gulf Coast right now.  And people along the coastline are battening down the hatches, and they are afraid that this could be the big one, could be catastrophic, not only in Texas and parts of Louisiana, but also over to Mississippi, where a lot of refugees—and that‘s what they are, refugees from Hurricane Katrina—are camped out in parking lots and low-lying areas across Mississippi‘s Gulf Coast. 

Welcome back to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. 

Just how big is this hurricane?  And where will it land? 

Let‘s go back to NBC Weather Plus and bring in meteorologist Bill Karins. 

And, Bill, get us up to date with the latest. 

KARINS:  Yes, we are still waiting for the Hurricane Center to give us the new info.

But I want to show you something new here.  A lot of viewers, Joe, are kind of hurricane experts.  You‘re a big fan of all this stuff.  And you have been monitoring it closely and you‘re really experienced.  We have been showing you all these lines with the projected paths of where the landfall possibly could be. 

What we have at Weather Plus is actually what we call MicroCast.  And this is one of our own computer models that will show us where we think the worst of the weather is going to be.  This is the expected rainfall totals over the duration of the storm, taking us all the way out to 400 a.m. on Sunday‘s.

And, notice, southern Louisiana, about 14 inches of rain, And Lake Charles, possibility of nine inches of nine inches of rain, Lafayette, nine.  And this is just one computer model that‘s staking these claims.  These numbers aren‘t going to be exact when it‘s all said and done.  It just gives us a general idea of what to expect.

As far as the eye of the storm, the landfall, this hurricane model, our MicroCast actually takes the center of the storm and makes landfall—

I paused it right here—Saturday, 9:00 a.m., right along, just on the east side of Louisiana.  And, notice, this right punch would be all right through central sections of Louisiana.  So, we have had a little rightward shift. 

Our computer model agrees with that.  After that, it will slowly just die off, and very slowly.  Let me give you another example of this.  This is actually—that was the wind.  This is actually the clouds and the rain.  And one thing we are going to notice that is going to be significant is that, once the storm moves on shore—and that‘s going to be about landfall there—by the time we get through, I would say, probably it looks like Saturday evening, all of the heavy rain is going to be in east Texas, all the way back through Louisiana. 

That‘s what this is telling us.  There‘s a lot of dry air in Texas, a lot of locations, like Corpus Christi, San Antonio, Dallas, you are going to be on the dry side of the system.  And you may see hardly any rain at all.  It‘s going to be the tale of two sides of the storm.  And it usually happens this way in the Gulf.  The right size is miserable.  It‘s not where you want to be. 

The west side, it can still be windy, and you can still get damaged.  So, you are not out of the woods, Galveston and Houston.  That‘s not the message I am trying to say.  It‘s just, that right side, Joe, is the area that is going to get it by far the worst. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt about it. 

And, as you said, these things are so unpredictable.  It could still slam on shore in Corpus Christi.  It‘s still too far out to sea. 

KARINS:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  But what a huge difference, Bill, just 50, 60 miles makes in these storms. 

I remember, when Ivan hit, Mobile was hardly touched.  Pensacola, 50 miles away, absolutely devastated.  The same thing happens here.  You talk about, though, if it follows the path you are talking about right now, what you all have projected, what does that mean for all those low-lying areas in southern Louisiana? 

KARINS:  All of those areas, Joe, well, if they are below an elevation of about 20 feet, odds are, they have a good chance of being under water.  Hopefully, by now, a lot of those people actually realize what the elevation of their property is.  Anyone that is down here on the coastal water down in southern Louisiana, for that matter, all the way back through Houston, hopefully will know what your property elevation is.

If you are above 30 feet, you are probably going to be safe.  Below 30 feet, I‘d get out of town. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, no doubt about it. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Hey, thanks so much, Bill.  Greatly appreciate it.  We will be coming back to you to get the very latest live updates. 

KARINS:  Yes. 

SCARBOROUGH:  And, again, I saw in Mississippi, when I went along the Gulf Coast, there were people that lived three blocks off of the Gulf Coast in Biloxi.  And, as you go up, you have got elevation that goes up 20, 30 feet up.  And I will guarantee you, those people had no idea that a storm surge would be able to plow on shore and destroy homes that survived the Civil War, that survived Hurricane Camille, that have been around for 150 years.  These storm surges are unpredictable.  They can slam on shore and bury an entire city. 

Right now, let‘s go live to New Orleans and back to Heath Allen.  Of course, he is reporter with our affiliate WDSU in New Orleans. 

Heath, this storm is taking a tick to the east, like I have been predicting and others have been predicting.  As it gets closer to shore, it may continue tacking east.  The question tonight, we started on it earlier.  But the biggest question is, if you get half-a-foot of rain, if you get a foot of rain, will the levees be able to hold? 

ALLEN:  If you get a foot of rain, right now, here in the city of New Orleans, the levees where they breached, they won‘t hold.  That‘s the bottom line. 

Three to five inches, they will be OK, six inches, kind of borderline;

12 inches, they are not going to hold, especially where they have been breached before.  But, really, it doesn‘t matter.  Does it matter?  The people are gone.  The houses on either side of these levees have already been absolutely wiped out.  It‘s all rubble anyway. 

I mean, if you get a storm surge that comes through this area right now anywhere near what you had with Katrina, does it matter?  All the people have already been flooded out.  All of the people are already gone. 

(CROSSTALK)

SCARBOROUGH:  So, Heath, are you telling us tonight, Heath, that there‘s just nothing left to destroy in New Orleans?  Is this like the Russians—the Russians burning their property like when Napoleon was invading them? 

(CROSSTALK)

ALLEN:  Bottom line, if you go to St. Bernard Parish—St. Bernard Parish, look at your map.  That is what sits right on the Gulf of Mexico.  Plaquemines Parish, look at your map.  That is what sticks out.  That‘s the toe of Louisiana. 

Counterclockwise wind comes in, whether it‘s just rain or whether it‘s storm surge, you are looking at the two hardest-hit areas, including Slidell, Louisiana, in the entire state.  It‘s been wiped out.  They said it was 100 percent devastation, 100 percent destroyed in St. Bernard Parish.  What can another storm do?  What do you do to 100 percent?  If the levees fail, you are flooding vacant property. 

The people are already gone.  They have already made—they have filed their insurance claims, or at least they have tried to.  You are really flooding vacant streets at this point.  The damage has already been done.  The work to repair them now is only after the fact.  This is all after the fact.  The work they have done on that bridge, you looked at a little bit before.  It‘s after the fact.  Good idea now, but we are probably not going to get it because it is going to track west of us.

We are going to get some rain, and the levees are probably going to hold if we don‘t get too much.  But what does it matter?  There‘s nobody here to flood anymore. 

SCARBOROUGH:  OK.  Thanks so much, Heath.  As always, greatly appreciate it. 

And Heath brings up—and he brought up a great point last night also when he was on our show.  He was talking about the fact, if you are going to get slammed by two storms, get slammed before you rebuild again.  Obviously, though, in some of these parishes, like St. Bernard‘s Parish, there were some houses that survived. 

If there‘s another breach, they are not going to survive, and there are unfortunately still people who are remaining in New Orleans that are still trying to weather out this storm.  It is a dire situation.  The question that I am the most concerned about is, what happens to the people that got slammed by Katrina?  What happens to the people not only in New Orleans, but in other parts of Louisiana, where we have been taking supplies over?

And, again, they have been asking us for tents.  They have been asking us for cots, because they are homeless.  They have been asking us for supplies for their children.  They have been asking us for medical supplies for their families.  What happens to those people?  What happens to people along the coastline?  You would like to think that our government is going to be competent enough, that they are going to be able to step in to that breach to repair that breach.  It didn‘t happen in Katrina. 

And let‘s pray to God, for the sake of the people on the ground from Mississippi all the way over to Galveston, down to Corpus Christi, a great Navy town, let‘s pray to God that public officials are more competent this time, again, not a lot of reason to hope after what we saw in Texas, where they left five, six, seven lanes vacant while people started—started basically a 100-mile roadblock. 

But let‘s hope, again, as Rita comes closer to shore and crashes on shore, our leaders will step up to the challenge and relieve these people and save the people who need help the most. 

Right now, I want to go to Tucker Carlson.  He is host of “THE

SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON.”

Tucker, I will tell you what.  The politicians, the bureaucrats, they just don‘t seem to be getting it here, but what is the situation tonight? 

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”:  They certainly—they certainly don‘t, Joe.  You showed pictures of the highways out of Houston tonight, which were unbelievable. 

We don‘t have pictures of the airport, Bush Airport.  Those pictures are almost as bad; 350 screeners, federal screeners, at the airport, this morning, 200 of them didn‘t bother to show up for work.  People could not fly out of the city as a result.  A spokesman for TSA called those people not showing up—quote—“appropriate,” defended that at the time of need.  Outrageous. 

We will also talk to mayor of Beaumont, Texas, one of the towns certain to be hit hardest tomorrow when this hurricane makes landfall.  That city might not be there in part by Saturday afternoon.  We are going to talk to him about how that feels.  It‘s going to be good.

SCARBOROUGH:  You know what?  Tucker, this is absolutely amazing, what you talk about, people abandoning their posts.  We saw...

CARLSON:  It‘s unbelievable. 

SCARBOROUGH:  We saw it in New Orleans.  We saw it in Mississippi.  People haven‘t talked about it, but a lot of sheriff‘s deputies in Biloxi just abandoned their post.  It‘s the opposite of what happened on 9/11.  On 9/11, you had everybody rushing to the scene...

CARLSON:  That‘s right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  ... to make a difference.  Here, you have people abandoning their posts.

CARLSON:  But then you have the Bush administration making excuses for it and calling that behavior appropriate, when it‘s inappropriate.  If you are a public servant in a time of crisis, you ought to be on the job helping the people who pay you. 

And if you are not on the job, you ought to be canned.  You ought—nobody should make excuses for you.  It‘s over the top.  And we are going to talk about that tonight. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It is over the top.  And, once again, it shows how important political leadership is.  I will guarantee you, Rudy Giuliani wouldn‘t have put up with it on 9/11. 

CARLSON:  That‘s right. 

SCARBOROUGH:  I am going to be watching the show again, Tucker. 

Greatly appreciate you being here tonight to tell us what‘s going on. 

CARLSON:  Thanks, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Make sure you tune in to “THE SITUATION” coming up, because, again, Tucker is talking about the same thing we are talking about.  Our public servants, our bureaucrats, they are just letting us down.  They are letting people down when they need them the most. 

Coming up next, we are talking about how a small amount of rain could cause a great disaster across the Gulf Coast.  What is being done to save New Orleans and Mississippi from further devastation?

And riding out the storm with a camera.  Meet the guys who are watching Rita closer than anybody else—incredible video when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  Just six inches of rain from Rita could cause problems with levees and start flooding in the Louisiana area. 

With us right now to talk about the condition of the levees and the threat to Louisiana is Ivor Van Heerden.  And he‘s of the Louisiana State Hurricane Center. 

Ivor, you know, you made so many predictions that were dead on before Katrina came on shore.  What are your biggest concerns tonight about Louisiana in general? 

IVOR VAN HEERDEN, LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY HURRICANE CENTER:  Well, I think, first of all, if the storm keeps tracking to the right, to the east, we are going to see very significant surges, up to 15 feet.  And these could penetrate as much as 10 miles inland. 

And that is in western Louisiana.  As far as New Orleans goes, we could see surges up to six feet, which would mean that large parts of St.  Bernard Parish would once again flood.  The lower Ninth Ward would once again flood, so, the potential once again of seeing a lot of flooding in Louisiana. 

SCARBOROUGH:  OK. 

So, you are talking about—and it makes sense to me, because that‘s what I was expecting, but a couple people refuted me earlier—you are talking about the possibility, if it keeps tracking east, of storm surges of up to six feet in New Orleans.  And that would be devastating for that city, wouldn‘t it? 

VAN HEERDEN:  Yes, it would, especially for the eastern half of New Orleans. 

The western half, the areas around the 17th Street Canal, London Avenue Canal, as long as the surges don‘t get too high, those sheet pile seals that the Corps of Engineers has put near the entrance to the canals should—should save those parts of the city. 

SCARBOROUGH:  So, talk about the state of the levee system in general right now.  What is going to work, what is not going to work if it has to withstand a six-foot storm surge? 

VAN HEERDEN:  Well, along the Industrial Canal, they have used limestone chips to build berms.  And those limestone chips will erode very, very rapidly.

So, we could see the breaches on the Industrial Canal reactivated.  And then the other levee breaches along the Gulf—intercostal waterway, the Mississippi River Gulf outlet, where really large portions of the levees are completely gone.  So, a six-foot surge is going to come all the way back into St. Bernard Parish, Orleans East, to the lower Ninth Ward, maybe even the Upper Ninth Ward. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thank you so much, Ivor.  As always, we greatly appreciate it. 

And, again, this guy called it before anybody else.  I will tell you what.  I didn‘t want to cross our reporter out of New Orleans.  Heath is great.  He knows what he is talking about.  But I was sure that, again, there‘s a possibility, as Ivor says, of a six-foot storm surge.  That is going to have a devastating impact on New Orleans if it happens.  And it‘s very possible that it happens. 

I want to go right now to the phone with Katherine Miller.  Katherine has been working over in Mississippi at places like Pearlington, areas that we have been trying to get relief to. 

Katherine, tonight, what are the concerns about the possibility of three, four, five inches of rain?  What kind of impact will that have on the people who were so devastated from Hurricane Katrina just three months ago—three weeks ago? 

KATHERINE MILLER, RELIEF WORKER:  Well, the problem is going to be that the people in Pearlington don‘t have any shelter.  They are in tents, Joe.  And every inch of rain is another pound of misery for those people.  

SCARBOROUGH:  Now, they‘re—you say they are in tents.  They are in tents actually in parking lots, right? 

MILLER:  No, they are in tents in parking lots, but they are in tents on the grounds of their homes as well. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes, you know, Katherine, it‘s so hard for people to understand.  We have had people sending us in money to support these people.  I don‘t think they understand what they are doing to help them.  They don‘t understand, again, that these people are living in tents. 

We are sending tents over there.  We are sending cots over there.  It is a dire situation. 

You have been on the ground.  How desperate is the situation in Mississippi, a place that we have been calling the land that America forgot? 

MILLER:  In Pearlington, Mississippi, people are living in tents on the ground in their yard. 

Now, that was all right while things were dry for the last couple of weeks.  But this is a swamp area, Joe.  And the more rain, the more mud; the more mud, the more mosquitoes.  These people will be hip deep in mud if there‘s four inches of rain in Pearlington. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Quick question.  We want you back tomorrow night to talk about it, give us an update.  But what is the one thing people need to send?  What do they need to do to help these people in Mississippi? 

MILLER:  We need camping supplies, outdoor survival supplies.  And we need cleanup splices.

But, more than that, we need some assistance from the government.  We need some buildings, Joe. 

SCARBOROUGH:  No doubt about it. 

Katherine, thank you so much.  Greatly appreciate it.  And, more importantly, appreciate the work you are doing over in Mississippi.

And, friends, we are going to be talking about how you can help coming up.

But while millions are fleeing this storm, some people are heading straight to it to bring us video of this from Katrina.  Meet an extreme photographer who is watching Rita very closely—that when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  We have got the latest hurricane advisory that just came in, Hurricane Rita still an extremely dangerous Category 4 storm, still heading in the same direction, the Louisiana-Texas border. 

With me now on the phone to talk about what it‘s like to fly through a hurricane, Major Ken Ostra, an Air Force reservist who flew into Hurricane Rita last night, and also Jim Reed, an extreme photographer and co-author of the upcoming book, “Hurricane Katrina: Through the Eyes of Storm Chasers.”

Jim, your guys are on the ground right now.  They are in there.  What are you expecting us to see from this beast, Katrina?  Not Katrina, Rita. 

JIM REED, EXTREME WEATHER PHOTOGRAPHER:  Trust me, we have made the same mistake.  There have been so many hurricanes in the last year that it‘s getting tricky to keep them all separated. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

REED:  As far as what we are expecting, we are expecting, of course, a major storm surge, so, right now, we are trying to position ourselves where we can document it safely, and to do so in such a way that we can actually live through it. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Ken, you flew into Rita yesterday.  Tell us what you saw. 

MAJOR KEN OSTRA, AIR FORCE RESERVES:  You know, Rita started off yesterday when we woke up in the morning. 

It was about a Category 2 storm, maybe strengthening up to a Category 3 by the time we take off.  We took off.  We flew into it for about six hours.  By the time we were done, it had deepened to a Category 5 storm and became a very dramatic storm for us. 

SCARBOROUGH:  What is it like flying into a hurricane?  Most people would think that‘s a pretty stupid thing to do, Major.  I don‘t think I would like to fly into a hurricane.  What does it feel like? 

OSTRA:  Well, you know, it‘s a little bit different. 

(LAUGHTER)

OSTRA:  As you get in closer to the eye wall, it gets darker and darker, and the rain gets louder and louder, and sometimes you start getting beat around in the airplane. 

Rita was actually kind of rough right there in the eye wall, so the airplane was bouncing around quite a bit.  And then, as you break through the eye wall, you break into this great big vast bowl, where there‘s just clouds towering all around you, and a big solid wall anywhere you look. 

SCARBOROUGH:  Yes. 

OSTRA:  And then you make your fix on the middle of it, and then you go hit that wall and go do it all over again. 

SCARBOROUGH:  It‘s nasty. 

Jim, what are you guys expecting to see?  What are they telling you on the ground right now? 

REED:  Well, lots of wind, as you might imagine.  We are talking about surge, water, lots of flooding.  This one is going to be very, very tough, not too unlike Katrina. 

So, we are all very apprehensive.  We are doing everything we can to approach this and document it as skillfully and safely as we can.  But, to be honest with you, we are—we are anxious. 

SCARBOROUGH:  All right.  Thanks, Jim.

We‘ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCARBOROUGH:  When this killer storm hits, we are going to be there.  Join us for a special two-hour edition of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.  That‘s tomorrow night, starting at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, 9:00 p.m. where the storm is going to hit, Central. 

That‘s all the time we have for tonight. 

I want you to stay tuned and watch “THE SITUATION WITH TUCKER CARLSON” next.  Tucker is going to be talking, again, about government servants and bureaucrats who are letting these people down. 

Tucker, get us up to date with the situation tonight. 

(CROSSTALK)

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, “THE SITUATION”:  Thanks, Joe.                                                         

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

END   

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