updated 9/26/2005 8:58:49 AM ET 2005-09-26T12:58:49

Guest: Rick Boone, Joey Durel, JJ Starbuck, Patrick Andrews, Kenneth Mack, Richard Wagenaar, Jack Stephens, David Dewhurst, Max Mayfield, Oscar Ortiz, Guy Goodson, Brian Zachariah, Peter Teahan, J.D. Flores, Dennis Albright, Mike McDaniel

RITA COSBY, HOST:  As you can see, the rain and the wind is coming down here.  And some breaking news tonight, everybody.  Hurricane Rita is just about to make landfall.  This big storm is coming, like it or not.  The waves are already ripping into the Texas coast, and it‘s only going to get worse.  And this is just a heart-breaking sight, water rushing over the levee in New Orleans.  And the first big rescue of Hurricane Rita, a Coast Guard crew actually saves a family and a pregnant woman.  Some dramatic scenes already taking place.

We have got this hurricane covered up and down the Texas and Louisiana coast, but let‘s first check in with Weather Plus NBC meteorologist Bill Karins.  Bill, what can we expect in the next few hours?

BILL KARINS, NBC WEATHER PLUS:  Well, the Galveston area where you‘re located there, Rita, we‘re getting that back side of the storm.  Winds are strong coming off the coast, not off the water.  Very important.  That‘s why we‘re not concerned about the flooding from the storm surge there in the Houston and Galveston area.

You can watch this black line.  This has been the track of the center of the storm.  And we‘ve noticed a little bit drift towards the north over these last couple hours.  We may be looking at a landfall in Louisiana instead of Texas.  No matter what, it‘s going to be close right around areas like Lake Charles, Port Arthur and Beaumont.  No matter what, almost all of those areas should go through that eyewall.

I want to show you our single (ph) site (ph) Doppler radar, and you can see the center of the storm now moving onto the bottom of your screen.  You can see that dark red inner core there, and then the clearing of the middle.  That‘s where the strong winds, up the category three force, are going to be found.  Just to the bottom down here, you can see that little clearing there.  Now, all of this is just very heavy rain.  The winds are going to continue to pick up in this area.

This is Cameron parish down here.  Only about 5,000 or 10,000 people live in this parish, and hopefully, all of them are gone because this is one of the areas that‘s going to get hit the worst.  And I‘ve seen about 50 percent of this is all swampy areas, too.  So that‘s where the significant storm rise is going to be.  Right now, the tides are running about two to maybe four feet above average here on the coastline of Louisiana.  Down through Galveston and Port Arthur, right around two or three feet.  So we are getting a little bit of that storm surge.

This was the forecast track from the Hurricane Center, taking it right over Port Arthur, but it may be leaning just a little bit to the east of this.  That‘s going to be very important for the residents there in Port Arthur.  They don‘t want that landfall to the west of them because that would bring them the storm surge.  If it goes to the east of them, that prevents that flooding for the possibility of the port there.

We‘re also watching the potential for very heavy rain.  That‘s going to be the big story throughout the weekend.  I think the rain end up being worse than the storm surge, and the rain may end up being worse than the winds from this storm.  Some areas could get one to two feet of rain by the time we‘re done.  This only takes us out through Sunday.  In some areas of Louisiana and Arkansas it‘s not going to stop raining until Monday or Tuesday of this upcoming week.

So the landfall, I do expect it within the next five to seven hours.  That‘s the northern eyewall that‘ll be making on shore somewhere right around the Texas/Louisiana border.  Rita, back to you.

COSBY:  All right, Bill.  Thank you very much.

Well, we‘re getting some very, very severe winds and a lot of rain.  Take a look at the palm trees behind me here in Galveston, Texas.  And again, this is just the beginning.  As you just heard from Bill Karins, the worst is still probably a few hours away.  And we‘re going to be with you, wall-to-wall coverage on what‘s happening.

Again, I‘m in Galveston, Texas, but the eye of the storm is expected to hit in Port Arthur or Beaumont, Texas.  And that‘s where my colleague, David Shuster, is standing by live.  David, what‘s it like there?

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  (INAUDIBLE) pretty hard, and the wind gusts are picking up.  One of the things that we know that has happened in Beaumont already tonight, and that is that part of the city is now without power.  And the reason we know that is because off in the distance a few moments ago, you could see the telltale signs of the green slashes of the transformers blowing.  In addition to the transformers blowing, we‘ve seen a couple trees get knocked down, branches are coming down.  There‘s some debris.  When you go farther away from the buildings, they get blown across the parking lot.  So it certainly is picking up.

At this very moment, the police and the fire department are actually here, where we, are at this hospital, the Christuff (ph) Hospital here in Beaumont.  They‘re on some of the upper floors.  They‘re just waiting this out, waiting to see what daybreak will bring tomorrow.  There‘s some great fears here in Beaumont that in a county which includes Port Arthur and Beaumont, a population of more than 200,000, that there may be as many 20,000 to 25,000 people who decided to ride out the storm.

And so at first daylight tomorrow, the first responders expect to potentially try to go on a search and try to find these people.  But in the meantime, of course, everybody riding out the storm.  The evacuations have been over for some time.  And again, just to repeat, the winds are picking up, the rain, as you can see, is coming down.  Transformers are starting to blow, and also some of the trees now starting to be uprooted—Rita.

COSBY:  All right, David.  Thank you very much.  Take care, my friend.

And also, Port Arthur, which is not too far from where David is standing, is also expected to take a very strong hit.  It may actually be the place where it will get a direct hit from Hurricane Rita.  And KBTV anchor Rick Boone is standing there live.  Rick, what is the weather like right now there?

RICK BOONE, KBTV ANCHOR:  It is incredibly severe right now, Rita.  My plan was to do this live shot via the telephone outside my car, but I‘m sorry, I can‘t do that right now because the rain is bearing down heavier than anticipated so early for this storm.  We thought that it would be a few more hours, that we would have a breather time, but no, the hurricane, Hurricane Rita, is certainly hitting hard at this point here in Port Arthur, much like David said in Beaumont.  Power is out, and people are still here in town.  A few members in this population of 60,000, maybe just a few thousand, are here.  And right now, they have to be certain to be thinking that they should have left because Hurricane Rita is in town.

COSBY:  And Rick, what is sort of the prediction of how bad it‘s going to get?  You told me it‘s terrible now, but it‘s undoubtedly going to get worse.

BOONE:  Yes, it will be.  Myself and our chief meteorologist (INAUDIBLE) we were the only two to stay behind for our station, KBTV here in Beaumont.  The rest of our staff is up in Shreveport, Louisiana, or they were able to evacuate the area.  So the reason was because it was anticipated to have landfall of a hurricane 4, and certainly, you know about the effects of a hurricane 4 to a small community, the effects of that, just seeing Katrina just a few weeks ago.

So we are very concerned about storm surge.  That is our biggest concern because if that should happen, Port Arthur is no more come Sunday.

COSBY:  All right, Rick.  Thank you very much.  Please keep us posted.

And joining us now on the phone is Tom Costello, our reporter from NBC who is traveling with the FEMA search and rescue teams outside of Houston.  Tom, what are they preparing for?

TOM COSTELLO, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Rita, thank you.  I‘m with the Colorado urban search and rescue team, one of seven urban search and rescue teams under the FEMA umbrella that had just moved in from San Antonio.  Another seven or so are up in Dallas, and they‘re also pre-positioning.

This is a full urban search and rescue team, 80 members.  They have got heavy equipment, everything from robotics used to search for people that may be trapped in buildings, to the equipment to cut apart buildings that may have been collapsed due to the weather.  In addition, they‘ve got swift water dive team, a rescue team here, I should say, and all the firefighting, the heavy rescue apparatus and equipment that would you expect.

We have come down here with, in fact, two semis full of equipment and two smaller trucks, and then again, 80 personnel, just one of 14 urban search and rescue teams that FEMA is pre-positioning, trying to get ahead of the storm.  As you know, they didn‘t have nearly this many urban search and rescue teams pre-positioned ahead of Katrina, and they‘re determined to make a different stand this time.

COSBY:  All right, Tom.  Thank you very much.  Please keep us posted with any developments on that end and whatever they‘re hearing, in terms of places that they are heading towards.

And now let‘s go, if we could, to New Orleans because we‘re getting battered by high winds and rain right now, as you can see.  But unfortunately, New Orleans really got the worst of it.  In fact, those levees, those very, very fragile levees, were overtaken by water again today.  One of the worst nightmare scenarios actually came true in New Orleans.

And let‘s go, if we could, to our reporter, Michelle Hofland, who‘s in New Orleans.  Michelle, what is the mood of the city?  And how bad is the break and the overflow there?

MICHELLE HOFLAND, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  There are some people here who are just devastated by what they‘re seeing right now.  Let me set this up a little bit.  Three-and-a-half weeks ago, Hurricane Katrina blasted through here.  Levees broke, flooding 90 percent of New Orleans.  This morning, 90 percent of New Orleans was dry.  But now tonight, much of the area is once again under water, as much as five to ten feet of water.

What happened, just up the river, up the Mississippi river from downtown New Orleans, there‘s an industrial canal.  And levees that had just been patched up on both sides of that industrial canal broke again this afternoon, flooding both sides of the 9th ward.  They flowed over the top and then breached those levees that had been patched with sand and rock and sandbags and things like that.  Now these areas that were dry this morning are once again flooded tonight.  It‘s from the 9th ward and now back into the St. Bernard parish.

There‘s also some other areas of New Orleans under water, the interstate, interstate 10 at 610, that‘s under water tonight with standing water.  Other parts of the city are under water because of all the flood waters that we‘re getting right now and from all the rain waters.  The storm drains just can‘t handle the rain.  We‘re expecting up to six inches of rain here tonight.

We‘re starting to get some now.  I‘m in a little sheltered area here in New Orleans.

And what they‘re talking about also is they‘re still having some rescues.  We spoke with the 82nd Airborne a short time ago.  They said they rescued two different groups of people who just were tired of all this, overwhelmed by all of it.  They thought they could hang out, and they just gave up and said, Get me out of here.  Get me to some place dry—Rita.

COSBY:  All right.  Well, you stay dry, my friend.  Thank you very much.

And now, a lot of places—although New Orleans is basically vacant, as you heard, it‘s a ghost town because of what happened from Hurricane Katrina—other parts of Louisiana, people are moving inland.

And let‘s go to J.J. Starbuck, who‘s with KMRC-AM radio station.  He‘s in Morgan City, Louisiana.  J.J., what are you experiencing there?  Is there a lot of water on your end?

J.J. STARBUCK, KMRC-AM RADIO:  Yes, we‘re getting a lot of rain.  I‘m seeing—we‘ve probably got about five to six inches of rain in the last eight hours or so.  The winds are about 60 miles an hour, I would say, for the last four or five hours.  I got the owner standing here with me, and he‘s agreeing with me and stuff.  He came in from Plaquemines, New Orleans side, just a little bit ago.

We‘re getting a band—or actually, I looked at the radar a few minutes ago, and we‘re getting a band that‘s going to be here in about 30 to 45 minutes.  And from what we‘re understanding, we have the possibility of tornadoes and stuff.  There‘ve been tornadoes sighted 15 to 18 miles away from us here at the station.  We‘re located in downtown Morgan City.

And of course, you said, you know, we‘re KMRC, a station here in Morgan City.  We stayed to weather, to let our listeners know what‘s going on and stuff, and that‘s what it‘s about and that‘s what we‘re about.

COSBY:  And J.J., real quick, what are you expecting later on tonight?

STARBUCK:  Well, it looks like that the worst part scenario we‘ll probably get in that 30-minute to one-hour timeframe.  Like I was saying, there‘s a big cell in the Gulf that‘s fixing to swing on up.  And there‘s sirens and stuff going out in the city.  I would open the door and let you hear it, but I probably couldn‘t hear you if I did that.  But we‘ve got a lot of rain and stuff going on and some wind and stuff going back and forth.

PATRICK ANDREWS, OWNER, KMRC-AM RADIO:  Hey, J.J.  This is Patrick Andrews (ph), owner of KMRC in Morgan City.  And it is absolutely—it‘s picking up a little bit here.  I stayed in New Orleans during Katrina, downtown, and watched the winds and the rain there, but it‘s fair to say in Morgan City right now, and going towards Iberia, you‘re getting very similar winds and rains.  And I can only imagine what it‘s got to be going towards Beaumont and Lake Charles.

COSBY:  All right.  Well, guys, thank you both very much.  We appreciate it.  Stay safe.

And of course, as you can see, everybody, here the wind is really picking up.  In the last few hours, we‘ve gotten some pretty strong gusts here in Galveston, Texas.  You can see just the tree tops are just blowing.  The rain is just really pounding us here.  And the waves are also crashing along the shoreline.

And one of the guys who‘s in charge of making sure that this city is safe is the chief of police here, Kenneth Mack.  Thank you so much for joining us, sir, under these conditions.  How is the city holding up?

CHIEF KENNETH MACK, GALVESTON POLICE DEPT.:  Very well.  Very well.

COSBY:  What are your big concerns tonight?

MACK:  Well, right now, our big concerns are people who are not getting in out of the weather, thrill seekers who are putting themselves at risk.

COSBY:  How many folks are there?  I know there‘s 50,000 on this barrier island.  How many folks have actually stayed, do you think?

MACK:  I really don‘t have a way of estimating that.  I can tell you that I believe a significant portion of our population did evacuate.

COSBY:  We were hearing from the mayor.  She thought maybe 3,000, 4,000, maybe 5,000 actually stayed.  Does that sound about right?  And what‘s sort of the worst case?  We saw a surfer actually (INAUDIBLE) couple hours ago.

(LAUGHTER)

COSBY:  It was crazy!

MACK:  Well, 3,000 to 5,000 people might be a pretty good estimate.  And as far as surfers, if we hadn‘t had the evacuation, we‘d have had surfers out there all day.

COSBY:  You‘ve heard—you‘ve had a little bit of issues in terms of robbery.  Tell us about that.

MACK:  I haven‘t heard of any robberies.  We had a couple of attempted burglaries.

COSBY:  Into homes?

MACK:  Into homes.

COSBY:  And some of the nicer homes, or...

MACK:  On the west end.  And that‘s not really unusual because we have residential burglaries all the time.  And I‘m not saying it‘s commonplace, but it‘s not anything particularly associated with the weather.

COSBY:  So it could just be sort of par for the course, which would be a good thing, as opposed to something...

MACK:  Right.

COSBY:  ... someone taking advantage of a bad situation.  What are you worried about in terms of damage tomorrow?  You know, say it gets to—they‘re predicting it could be up to 100-mile-an-hour winds, at some point, some gusts here, as it kicks in.  What kind of damage could happen?  And how does that make your job more difficult?

MACK:  Well, basically, you‘re going to be looking at roof shingles and things of this nature.  Lesser constructed buildings stand a good chance of being damaged.  But that‘s not really going to be a big concern for the police.

COSBY:  You worried about power and communication?

MACK:  No, ma‘am.

COSBY:  You‘re not?

MACK:  No.

COSBY:  Because you think the winds are not going to be severe enough.

MACK:  Well, I believe the winds are going to be severe and we‘re going to experience some power outages and, you know, damage along power lines and that sort, but Reliant Energy and the various entities responsible for that are on hand and working around the clock to make sure they restore it as quickly as possible.

COSBY:  Well, we hope so.  And thank you so much, Chief, for being out here in the thick of it.  You‘ve been in very good spirits the last few days, which we appreciate.  I‘m glad—looks like your city‘s going to be spared, too, which is the good news for all the folks here.  Again, it looks like Galveston will not get a direct hit.  And of course, everybody is happy about that.

And coming up, we have a lot more ahead.  Stick with us, everybody.  We‘ve got lots of stories to cover.  We‘ve got, first of all, the New Orleans levee.  As you just heard from Michelle Hofland, a lot of damage there, water coming over the levees.  And some more heart-breaking scenes coming out of New Orleans.

And we‘re also going to talk to the mayor of Lafayette, Louisiana.  That‘s another area that‘s being hit hard, as it looks like Hurricane Rita is moving much more to the east.

And we can, of course, not forget about Texas because lieutenant governor of Texas—he‘s coming up next.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No money to get out of here.  No way to get out of here.  Don‘t have a phone.  Been watching the news and praying.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I lived through Katrina, and now I wish I were dead.  (INAUDIBLE) I wished I would just lay here and die.  I went through Katrina, and it was a nightmare.  It‘s still not over.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COSBY:  More tough times in New Orleans today, more water in the heavily-damaged 9th ward.

But first, as we‘re showing you some live pictures where I‘m standing in Galveston, Texas, with just some very, very severe winds, high rain, and as I pointed out, a lot of wind and rain also in New Orleans.  And that did not help those levees that were so fragile to begin with, water overflowing there, damaging the 9th ward and also some other parts of the city.

Let‘s bring in one of the guys to who oversees all that, head of the Army Corps of Engineers, the public spokesman for it, Colonel Richard Wagenaar.  Colonel Wagenaar, what happened in New Orleans?  I mean, this is disastrous.

COL. RICHARD WAGENAAR, U.S. ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS:  It is.  We had what we call overtopping of the eastern repair on the inner harbor canal.  We had gauge readings of 7.8 this morning, and the construction of that repair was somewhere between seven and eight feet, so it started overtopping that repair.

COSBY:  And how many homes were affected by that, sir?

WAGENAAR:  Well, this is a previously flooded area in the lower 9th ward, and so I don‘t know the exact number of homes, but water continued to flow into the neighborhood uncontrolled.

COSBY:  How much water is in that area again, 9th ward?  I went there at the most severe flooding point.  And then when I left a few days ago, it was dry.  How high is the water right now, sir?

WAGENAAR:  I think there are places right now that there‘s probably four feet of water in some areas.

COSBY:  What kind of damage are we going to see from that?  And has it been plugged, or is it still coming in?

WAGENAAR:  We think it‘s slowing down.  We were out there, and it was just barely flowing over the repair.  We‘re going to go back out tomorrow and look at trying reinforcing that and raising that elevation back up.  We‘re going to start pumping.  All of our auxiliary pumps are headed over to the 9th ward as soon as we can get over there after Rita leaves.

COSBY:  And is the damage—why it was not fixed, or why did this problem happen so soon?

WAGENAAR:  Well, we had built this to eight feet.  We thought that there was a surge—reported surge was going to be two to five feet.  And this morning, we got a pretty strong push of water into that area, and it just started overtopping and eroding the top one to two feet of the repair.

COSBY:  Oh, what a mess.  And what a disaster for those poor folks in the 9th ward who‘ve already been hit so hard.  Colonel Wagenaar, thank you.

Let‘s bring in, if we could, the sheriff of St. Bernard parish, another area that‘s also experienced a lot of water, Sheriff Jack Stephens.  Sheriff Stephens, tonight what‘s your community feeling?

SHERIFF JACK STEPHENS, ST. BERNARD PARISH:  Well, we‘re a little discouraged by the events of the day.  (INAUDIBLE) 26 or 27 here, and it looks like we‘re rapidly getting back to square one with regards to water in homes.  I just surveyed the area in Araby Park, and there‘s about five or six feet of standing water.  For those are the residents that are familiar with that area, the water has about topped the railroad levee, which will mean it will inundate the rest of Chalmette from the industrial canal probably to Parish Road north of Judge (INAUDIBLE) and maybe even further south than that.

The water in the levees on the (INAUDIBLE) canal is at or near the top.  And high tide, I understand, is projected to be at 2:00 AM this morning.  And so we‘re probably going to top those levees back there.  Parish Road back into New Orleans is impassable, so we‘re again isolated.  We‘re surrounded by water.  Can‘t be reinforced, basically, by any rolling stock vehicles.  And I guess by tomorrow, the only way we‘ll be able to reach it is by boat (INAUDIBLE) the water.

COSBY:  And Sheriff, where are you?  And how much does this set you back in terms of coming back into your community?

STEPHENS:  Oh, this is a big setback.  The streets, for the most part, have been cleaned, except of obstructions that have flowed (INAUDIBLE) the middle, but they were passable.  And our president and governing authority were expecting to resume entry back into the parish Monday.  I really don‘t know how much of the parish is going to be inundated, but it‘s about at least half, probably, with the way things look right now.  (INAUDIBLE) the water is back up, and it‘s totally inundated again.  So from the standpoint of just the practical matter of cleaning up the streets and from the standpoint of the psychological impact this has, it‘s not a very good day.

COSBY:  Oh!  Well, my prayers are with you, Sheriff Stephens.  Thanks so much.  We‘ll check in with you, I‘m sure, in the next day or so.

Let‘s check in, if we could now, with the lieutenant governor of Texas, David Dewhurst.  Lieutenant Governor, what can you expect up and down the Texas coastline?  I‘m in Galveston, but I know Port Arthur and Beaumont are going to take a beating, huh?

LT. GOV. DAVID DEWHURST ®, TEXAS:  Oh, they really are.  I just saw you on TV just a moment ago.  You look very, very wet.  I‘m sorry that you‘re going through all that.

COSBY:  Thank you.  It‘s going to be a long night, Lieutenant Governor.

DEWHURST:  I know.  I know it is.  I know it is.  But it‘s going to be a long night for a lot of people up and down the Texas Gulf Coast and over into Louisiana.  We‘re looking, as you know, at probably a category 3 level when the hurricane hits land, but a surge of probably a level 4.  So although the surge level has gone down from 23-and-a-half feet down to 20 feet, if it‘s 20 feet, there‘s going to be horrific destruction in Port Arthur, in Beaumont.  At least the models I saw over at the emergency center earlier today, most of Port Arthur would be under water.  Terrible.

COSBY:  Have you looked at sort of in terms of the evacuations?  Because we‘ve seen some amazing statistics of how many people have evacuated in the state.  I mean, here in Galveston, they really seem to have heeded the warning.  I mean, there‘s a couple thousand left, but that‘s not many, when you look at a huge population.

DEWHURST:  No, that‘s right.  I mean, we originally thought that we‘d be moving about 1.2 million, 1.3 million people, Rita.  But what happened when the storm started to go to the west, towards Corpus Christi, then it looked like it was going to go to the east, towards Beaumont and back, the prudent thing to do—because our number one responsibility is to protect lives.  And so we had evacuations up and down the coast.  Unprecedented, the most in the history of the United States, somewhere between 2.5 and 2.7 million people.  Unprecedented!  Huge!

And that‘s why when they all left on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning, we had a surge and we had to turn our lanes—we had to flow traffic on both lanes.  We had to get a thousand—I mean, roughly 100 trucks from our transportation department to go out and give gasoline to our motorists.  So it‘s been huge.

But this is the first part.  I mean, there are three parts to a hurricane.  We‘ve got to evacuate people, get them out of harm‘s way.  Then we‘ve got to go into rescue operations.  And the federal government has been very helpful, the National Guard, our emergency response, Jack Cawley (ph), our county, our city people.  Outstanding.

So we sent people this afternoon into the Astrodome.  We‘re moving resources.  So on the back of the hurricane tomorrow, we‘ll be able to fly missions perhaps as early as tomorrow afternoon, late tomorrow afternoon, look for people that need to be rescued and then also move with the storm because as the storm moves north along east Texas, it could—and I‘m not saying it will, but it could—drop 20, 25 inches of rain.  That‘s a huge amount of rain, and we could have flooding.  And therefore, we‘d have to have more rescue operations in the northeastern part of Texas.

COSBY:  And Lieutenant Governor, what kind of federal support are you getting?  I know the mayor here mentioned that she‘s asked for 1,500 National Guard troops to be on standby.  That was when she thought that we might take a direct hit.  How many do you have on standby?  And what kind of federal support do you have?

DEWHURST:  Well, Governor Perry is doing an outstanding job, and I think everybody is working together in unprecedented coordination.  The governor activated 5,000 Guardsmen on Tuesday, Talked to the president on Wednesday, I believe.  On Wednesday, about 10,000 more.  We‘re waiting to hear.

But the cooperation—let me brag on the federal government.  FEMA has done a really good job.  They‘ve been working with the state.  They‘ve been providing us assets and staging points, both ice and water and generators, and doing everything they can, both the National Guard and the other federal agencies.

COSBY:  All right.  Well, Lieutenant Governor, thank you very much.  We appreciate you being with us.  And I know it is a very busy night for you, and I hope you‘re drier than I am.  Thank you very much.  We appreciate it.

DEWHURST:  I am dry.  Thank you.

COSBY:  Good.

All right.  And still ahead, everybody, where is the storm going?  What is the latest?  What is the hurricane‘s track?  We‘re going to check in with hurricane expert Dr. Max Mayfield.  He‘s going to give us the answer next.

And can the Red Cross and other agencies handle another hurricane? 

That‘s all ahead on LIVE AND DIRECT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And right now, you can see the wind and the rain is really whipping us here in Galveston, Texas.  And I‘m not the only one blowing around, let‘s go to another shot of another reporter in Galveston right now.  You can just see that they are taking a beating.  This tiny barrier island, it‘s only about two to three miles wide, 30 miles long and just surrounded by water.  And so, it really is in the center of the storm and getting a heavy beating right now. 

Also take a look at Beaumont, Texas which is really going to get hard.  That and Port Arthur will probably going to be pummeled tonight.  And in fact, as you can see, the weather is getting very severe there as well.

Let‘s go, if we could, to Max Mayfield.  He is, of course, with the National Weather Service, basically, the best guy in the world on hurricanes.  Max, what‘s in store?  First from my own self-interest, what‘s going to happen here in Galveston in the next few hours, Max? 

MAX MAYFIELD, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER:  Well, you have got a north wind there in the Galveston Bay.  And it looks like, Rita, staying so track heading up towards the Texas/Louisiana border.  And what that means for you is that a lot of water is going to be pushed out of Galveston Bay.  So, I know they‘ve had some storm surge flooding on the Gulf side there.  But you‘re probably going to get some flooding for the back side of that island as the water gets pushed out of the bay, both in Galveston and on the Bolivar Peninsula. 

But the biggest concerns of storm surge is still going to be there and to the east of where the center crosses the coast.  And in particular around the Sabian Pass (ph) area, Port Arthur area.  And we‘re very, very concerned about Cameron, Louisiana.  That water is going to go all the way up into Calcacho Lake (ph) and up towards Lake Charles.  And, you know, they could easily have 20 feet of storm surge up there. 

COSBY:  And, Max, what are you expecting in terms of wind force, especially in those hard-hit areas?  What could the winds get up to?  And is this still going to be a strong category three?  What do you believe? 

MAYFIELD:  Well, the winds are coming down a little bit.  But I sure don‘t want to minimize that.  It‘s still a category three hurricane.  If you can see the graphic behind me, the red area here represents the area of hurricane force winds that will extend inland here through Southwest Louisiana and extreme Eastern Texas there. 

But we learned from past hurricanes that you don‘t have to have hurricane force winds to cause trees to fall down and power lines to come down.  And I would expect tremendous power outages here in the next 24 hours or so. 

COSBY:  When do you expect it‘s really going to sort of hit at its peak?  Max, just even being outside here in the last few hours it seems—in the last hour or two the winds have really picked up, the rain has really picked up here in Galveston.  What about like elsewhere?  Where do you think the worst is going to be? 

MAYFIELD:  Well, you‘re certainly getting some bands there in the Galveston area.  We just had a gust of 58 miles per hour at Beaumont, Port Arthur.  We‘ve had 90 mile-per-hour gusts at Cameron and over near Marsh Island on the Louisiana coast.  Conditions will continue to go down hill tonight both in Southwest Louisiana and along that upper Texas coast. 

COSBY:  All right, Max, thank you very much.  We really appreciate it. 

And I‘m sure we‘ll be talking to you a lot more tonight. 

Let‘s show everybody—and I‘m not the only one who‘s blown around.  Apparently, we have got some other correspondents out and about who are really taking a beating.  Let‘s show some live pictures, if we could, of some video that just came in.

This is just moments ago of a reporter in one of the hard-hit areas really, really being hit hard.  This is a local reporter experiencing, of course, some high winds and pounding rain.  And that‘s in the Galveston area, probably standing on the other part of the island not too far away from me.  I‘m on the southside.  And I know that the western part of the island is experiencing a lot of high winds, a lot of flooding.  So, I‘m sure that they‘re probably standing in that area which has been experiencing severe flooding because the seawall not carrying that part of the island. 

The seawall is protecting us a little bit here, but over there it is just totally, totally exposed. 

Let‘s go, if we could, to Carl Quintanilla, my colleague and friend who is over in Lafayette, Louisiana, which I understand, you‘re just getting some pretty strong weather.  What‘s it feeling like there, Carl? 

CARL QUINTANILLA, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT:  Hi, Rita.

As you know, we‘re on opposite sides, you and I, of the storm.  We‘re on what they sometimes call the dirty side of the storm, the northeast quadrant where you can often expect some of the heaviest rain, some of those violent winds.  We‘re about 150 miles east of where Rita is expected to make landfall. 

And the rain‘s coming down a little heavier.  The winds are obviously picking up.  The concern, though, are things like tornadoes.  One of those things that just as nature has it, tend to form in the northeast quadrant of these storms.  And because so much of central Louisiana along the Gulf Coast is bayou country, just three or four feet above sea level, it‘s not going to take a lot to result in some pretty serious flooding. 

So a lot of people we‘re talking to tonight are concerned, A, that if the storm lingers, sort of hovers over Louisiana, that could dump, as you know, foot upon foot of rain on the Gulf Coast region of Louisiana.  So, that‘s the big concern, at least, for people in Lafayette and south of here, Rita. 

COSBY:  And, Carl, when do you expect the worst is sort of going to be hitting your area?  We‘re told where I am, and I don‘t know if you could—

I‘m just doused right here.  It is just torrential rains, pretty strong winds are picking up.  We‘re told sort of the worst is yet to come in the next maybe four or five hours.  What about where you are? 

QUINTANILLA:  We‘re told starting about 10:00 local time, which is coming up fairly soon here, looking for some hurricane force winds.  We get gusts like that from time to time that are happening with a little more frequency.  The worst of it, though, is going to come after a lot of people have already gone to bed. 

1:00, 2:00 in the morning heading into the predawn hours.  That‘s when we‘re hoping to get as much of a show as we‘re going to get from here.  You know, the worst part, as you know, is going to be that Port Arthur area, Beaumont, right along the border of Louisiana.  So we‘re a bit removed from that.  But even so, the watch—the hurricane warning extends well east of us.  So it‘s going to be a pretty interesting show, Rita.  And as you know, it‘s already starting to happen even as we speak. 

COSBY:  Yes, certainly is.  And everybody, as you can see, it‘s definitely starting to show where we are here in Galveston.  Carl, stay safe.  Thank you very much. 

And everybody, stick with us, because there are a lot of hard hit

towns that are going to be really battered up and down the coastline of

Texas.  We‘re going to talk to a couple of mayors from some of the cities

in Texas and Louisiana, some of the bull‘s-eye cities.  That‘s coming up

next on LIVE & DIRECT

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And you‘re looking at a live picture that we‘re going to be showing you.  This is a reporter, a local reporter of KPRC, video that we just got in of a Houston reporter who is here on the other side of the island of Galveston and really taking a beating, really blowing very, very hard.  I‘m on the other side of the island.  We‘re get some wind, but we‘re also just getting doused with rain. 

But this isn‘t the worst of it.  There are other parts of the state that are really, really taking a beating.  In fact, we just notice some lights are going out, maybe a sign that some of the high winds are affecting the power here in this town.  But as you can see the rain is just coming down and just pounding. 

Let‘s go to three key mayors right now whose cities are really taking a beating and expected to be right there in the bull‘s-eye.  Mayor Joey Durel of Lafayette, Louisiana, also Guy Goodson of Beaumont, Texas and Oscar Ortiz of Port Arthur. 

Let‘s start in Port Arthur.  Mayor, Ortiz, what‘s the weather like there now? 

MAYOR OSCAR ORTIZ, PORT ARTHUR, TEXAS:  It‘s horrible.  I‘m hear in Lumberton (ph) at the high school with our command center, but I just got a report all the power has gone out in Port Arthur.  They say those transformers are popping right and left.  And know here at Lumberton, we‘re getting tremendous gusts of winds here and heavy rains. 

COSBY:  So, you said the power is out?  Did you say the power is out, Mayor? 

ORTIZ:  Yeah.  Most of the power is out in Port Arthur.  All the transformers, I understand, are popping over there.  So, one of the reporters said he could hardly stand up, he could hardly keep his vehicle on the road.  So, it‘s getting real bad in Port Arthur. 

COSBY:  And, Guy Goodson, where I am here in Galveston, we‘re really just getting doused, particularly in the last few minutes, the rain is just really pouring in the last like five minutes.  It‘s just screaming at us and pounding us here.  What is it like in Beaumont? 

Actually, I think we just lost you understandably because of all the technical difficulties. 

Let‘s go, if we could—let‘s go to Joey Durel, if we could.  What‘s it like in Lafayette?

MAYOR JOEY DUREL, LAFAYETTE, LOUISIANA:  Oh, Lafayette, I have to tell

you is not nearly as bad as what these two gentlemen and their communities

are about to go through.  They are in the bull‘s-eye.  Lafayette will get -

you know, we‘ll have, you know strong winds all night long.  We‘ll have, you know—less than hurricane force winds—the tropical storm force winds all night long, but nothing like what they‘re going to have.  I know they‘re in the path of it, and our hearts go out to them.

I also want to tell them that we have John Honore and General Crit (ph) here in town staging.  And I know they‘ll be ready tomorrow to go out and help them as much as possible. 

COSBY:  Oh, that‘s good.  So, the main guys are in your turf. 

Let me bring in Guy Goodson, if I could.  I understand we have him back up from Beaumont.  What‘s the weather like there now, mayor?

MAYOR GUY GOODSON, BEAUMONT, TEXAS:  It‘s deteriorating.  We‘re getting high winds, a lot of rain.  Starting to see some debris in the streets.  so The storm is definitely getting in here.  And we expect the winds to increase within the next several hours. 

COSBY:  Mayor Goodson, when do you expect it‘s going to sort of hit its peak, unfortunately, in your community? 

GOODSON:  Well, we expect to have high winds, you know, through the middle of the day tomorrow.  And we just hope that we can get back on the streets as soon as possible.  Our fire, police and E.M.S. are ready to go just as soon as the winds subside. 

COSBY:  What‘s your biggest fear, mayor?  I‘ve not been to your community.  I understand it‘s quite low lying.  There‘s a lot of businesses there.  Is that your big concern? 

GOODSON:  Well, actually, the loss of life is our greatest concern.  We still hope that we‘re not going to find any of our cities‘ residents dead, but of course a lot of people decided to stay.  And they‘re in low-lying areas.  So preservation of life is our No. 1 goal. 

After that, it‘s securing the city. 

Then after that, it‘s working to rebuild the city in those businesses you were discussing. 

COSBY:  And let me bring in Mayor Joey Durel from Lafayette.  Have most folks evacuated from your area?  How many folks are around? 

DUREL:  Oh, no.  We never did call for an—all we ever did was ask for a voluntary evacuation of anyone who was in mobile homes, in low lying areas that normally flood and for anybody who had medical needs that required electrical. 

COSBY:  Did people head to evacuation? 

DUREL:  We didn‘t have a mandatory evacuation—some people did heeded the evacuation in the low-lying areas.  the low-lying areas, I‘m sure evacuated.

COSBY:  And I‘m glad that your not...

(CROSSTALK)

COSBY:  Absolutely.  Well, I‘m glad to see that you have been spared. 

That‘s great news. 

And let‘s bring in Oscar Ortiz, if I could, because he‘s in Port Arthur.  And that area is expected to get very heavily hit.  Mayor Ortiz, and actually, we just saw a big flash of light in the distance over here, I don‘t know, it looked like maybe some sort of explosion, or something taking place over there.  But Mayor Ortiz...

ORTIZ:  We‘re getting a lot of damage over there.  I was told one of the reporters couldn‘t stand up.  And he was having a hard time keeping his vehicle on the road.  And all the transformers were just popping like popcorn.  So I would imagine by now, there‘s no power left in Port Arthur. 

COSBY:  Well, our prayers are going to be with you, sir.  And I hope you have a safe night.  And I hope your citizens are safe.  And in fact, I think we just actually saw a transformer—something blow in our distance over here too.  Thank you, all of the mayors, we really appreciate it very much.

And now let‘s go, if we could, to Mike Williams who is a correspondent who is in New Orleans.

Mike, what are you experiencing there?  And how bad are the fears with the levee overflows?

MIKE WILLIAMS, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, the fears are very high.  The anxiety is high as the water‘s been here over the last many weeks, Rita.  We‘re facing tropical storm force winds tonight.  In and of itself, that would not be so bad, but that‘s pushing a storm surge on New Orleans of some three to six feet.  And over the course of the day, we‘ve had very heavy rain squalls.  They‘re expecting three to six inches of rain. 

Already as I believe you‘ve shown your viewers, two levees in the Ninth Ward, a low-lying neighborhood in New Orleans, have burst, flooding a community, or parts of a community that had only been dried out from Katrina just days ago.  So, more misery, more damage piled on the detestation on Katrina.

You know, there‘s about a half million people who live in New Orleans proper, almost all of them fled because of Katrina.  They were forced to leave eventually after the deplorable conditions that were caused by Katrina.  Most have stayed out because of Rita.  But now wonder what will they now have to come home to?  How much longer will the recovery, already years in the making be because of what Rita will do tonight?  They wait and watch and hope it will not be as bad as they fear—Rita. 

COSBY:  All right, Michael.  Thank you very much. 

And everybody, stick with us as we continue here live from Galveston, Texas which is just getting a pounding.  What kind of preparations are being made medically just in case something should happen here and across the state? 

And also, what is the Red Cross doing?  Big effort between Katrina and now this hurricane.  We‘re going to have both folks coming up right after the break. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  And right now you can see the winds are really whipping here in Galveston and the rain is pouring.  Take a look at my feet, if you can.  I‘m already standing—this is a parking lot in an elevated place in Galveston.  Remember, the whole city is about 15 feet above sea water, because of the horrible hurricane that came through here in the 1900s, so they elevated the entire city.  But, you know, you can tell already the water is coming, and, in fact, the waves are crashing it looks like along the sea wall.  And this is just the beginning of what we‘re expected to experience.  In fact, it‘s going to get worst we‘re told in the next five, six hours here and up and down the Texas coastline. 

Joining us are two folks who are dealing with the emergency efforts here.  Dr. Brian Zachariah with the University of Texas Medical Center.  And also Peter Teahan, somebody I‘ve been talking to a lot the last few weeks, with the American Red Cross. 

First of all, tell us what‘s happening at the hospital now.  It‘s vacant pretty much, right? 

DR. BRIAN ZACHARIAH, UNIV. OF TX-GALVESTON MEDICAL BRANCH:  The hospitals pretty much empty.  We evacuated 430 patients two days ago.  We‘ve kept a skeleton crew of about 250 of our employees.  And we run about one or two patients a day in the emergency department, so we‘re pretty empty right now. 

COSBY:  What are you prepared for?  Because I understand you do have some folks on standby. 

ZACHARIAH:  We do.  We have about 250 people in the hospital

COSBY:  I‘m just going to get you turn this way, sir.

ZACHARIAH:  Sure.  We have about 250 people in the hospital right now, employees, all volunteers who are there so we can start treating the patients as soon as the wind clears, and we can get people in for us to take care of. 

ZACHARIAH:  What kinds of problems could you see afterward? 

ZACHARIAH:  Well you can imagine with the wind we see people who are blown into things, we see debris blown into people, broken bones, electrocution, people who get hurt with power tools as they‘re clearing their own property.  Really—car crashes.  Almost anything that you‘d see on a normal day worse with all this weather and water. 

COSBY:  And in fact I know a lot of the accidents happen after hurricanes.  Peter, you guys have been doing a lot with the Red Cross.  Tell us about some of the preparations that are being made.

PETER TEAHAN, AMERICAN RED CROSS:  Well the big thing we‘ve been doing today is opening shelters.  We are opening shelters at a rate of one every 30 minutes.  We anticipate more than 100,000 people in Red Cross shelters in protective zones where they‘re not going to get impacted by storm surge or this weather tonight.

COSBY:  How far inland are they?

TEAHAN:  Well they go quite a ways in.  As you know, Dallas, San Antonio, College Station.  So they had to go a ways, but this storm is so large that we had to get them away from the winds and the rains to be safe.  And that‘s what Red Cross is all about, is saving lives, being safe, getting them out of harm‘s way. 

COSBY:  How tough was this?  First you had Katrina where you and I talked, what, for about a month straight.  You know, here we are back out again in the elements, literally.  How difficult of a juggling act was it for you guys? 

TEAHAN:  Well it‘s been a real challenge—

COSBY:  Excuse me.  We‘re getting to be very good friends down here. 

Thank goodness you‘re taller than I am to block me here. 

TEAHAN:  Created a wall for you.  We have 149,000 Red Cross volunteers responding to Katrina.  We are building another phase.  We have over 2,000 already that are responding to this disaster and working at shelter.  That number will grow, but it will only grow if we get additional volunteers.  People all over the United States will make a difference by joining in this great humanitarian effort.  They need to go to their Red Cross chapters.  They say we need to make a difference, come help us.  And that‘s—with their help, we‘re going to make it, because Red Cross has a commitment to serve the American public, and we‘re just beginning to serve people in both Katrina and Rita to make a difference on this long road to recovery. 

COSBY:  Well you guys have done a great job.  And thank you both very, very much.  I know, it could be a long couple weeks.  I think we‘re going to be talking for some time.  Hopefully the damage won‘t be so severe from this one, let‘s pray.  Guys, tank you very much.  Good to see you. 

And, everybody, to continue you can see the live shot here.  You can tell the wind was really whipping.  At least I know Peter Teahan well enough to bang into him like that.  Thank goodness you‘re taller than I am to save me there. 

When we come back we‘ll have a lot more live from Galveston.  We‘re going to talk some residents who are riding this out, right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSBY:  As the wind and the rain keeps coming down here in Galveston, believe it or not, some residents are riding this out.  We have two residents, also Mike McDaniel on the phone.  But, J.D., let me start with you.  Why are you out here? 

J.D. FLORES, GALVESTON RESIDENT:  Out here?

COSBY:  Yes.  Why are you riding the storm out?

FLORES:  Family and friends. 

COSBY:  Family and friends.  And have you ridden out a hurricane before? 

FLORES:  Yes, ma‘am. 

COSBY:  Are you worried about this one? 

FLORES:  No, not now. 

COSBY:  Now that we‘re here to comfort you? 

FLORES:  Yes. 

COSBY:  Let me get your name. 

DENNIS ALBRIGHT, GALVESTON RESIDENT:  Dennis. 

COSBY:  And, Dennis, why are you riding this one out?

ALBRIGHT:  Well my wife and I live at the San Luis condominiums, and if it‘s good enough for the city of Galveston to come there, then we figured it‘s good enough for us to stay there. 

COSBY:  Are you surprised about the wind still kind of whipping and the rain coming down?

ALBRIGHT:  It is something else.

COSBY:  Thank you very much for being out here.  We also have Mike McDaniel, too, is with us on the phone.  Mike, why are you riding it out?  We were at your house earlier today and you were boarding up. 

MIKE MCDANIEL, GALVESTON RESIDENT:  Well we‘ve spent the last two days boarding up.  We boarded up over 28 houses.  Unfortunately didn‘t get to everybody on the list.  I have a construction company here, and so we were busy, and we were doing my house last.  And thank God for my brothers and crew that helped us get it done. 

COSBY:  Well that‘s—I‘m glad to hear that you‘re safe and sound. 

Both of you thank you very much for being here. 

And, everybody, we are going to be here throughout the night.  We‘re doing wall-to-wall coverage, but we‘re going to be here in Galveston throughout the night.  Pouring rain, lots of winds, some pretty strong gusts.  They‘re thinking that at some point the gusts could hit up to 100 miles-an-hour.  So far they‘ve clocked it about 50 or 60.  But they‘re saying it‘s going to get a lot worse as the night goes on.  So stick with us, everybody.

We‘re also going to be doing a special throughout the weekend tomorrow night and also Sunday night.  A lot more ahead.  And now let me toss it over to my colleague and pal, Joe Scarborough, who is in Pensacola.  Joe, are you dry?   If you are, I‘m jealous.

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

END   

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