Guest: Mick Bullock, Fred Shaw, Bob Horton, Ron Rychlak, John T. Martin, Walter Maestri, Robert Flowers, Jennifer Leaning
LISA DANIELS, GUEST HOST: “Devastation greater than our worst fears, this is our tsunami,” Words from officials struggling with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Hundreds believed dead, millions without any power. Water rising in the streets of New Orleans, Louisiana‘s governor saying tens of thousands in shelters must be evacuated. And a massive relief effort underway in four gulf coast states as rescuers pluck stranded survivors from the roofs of flooded homes.
Hi, everyone, you‘re watching a special edition of the ABRAMS REPORT, I‘m Lisa Daniels sitting in for Dan tonight. Just one topic on the docket, the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, from Florida, last week, to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, tens of thousands of homes destroyed, hundreds of thousands left homeless, and deaths, Authorities just starting to count.
In Louisiana, no power, no drinkable water; and floodwaters rising in the streets of New Orleans, two levees holding back Lake Pontchartrain gave way, flooding a city that‘s mostly below sea level to begin with. And just a short time ago, Louisiana‘s governor saying everyone left in the Superdome and other shelters should be evacuated from Mississippi—to Mississippi.
Hundreds feared dead in Biloxi, gulf shores and smaller communities.
And in one county alone as many as 80 people killed.
In Alabama, flooded streets, hundreds reportedly still waiting for rescue on top of flooded homes. And a major bridge in Mobile closed by an oil platform cut loose by Katrina.
We‘ll get the latest from our correspondents out in the fields in just a minute, but first, we have dramatic pictures out of Mississippi for you. Aerials of the unbelievable destruction left in Katrina‘s wake. The pictures you‘re about to see, captured by Coyt Bailey with our Jackson, Mississippi affiliate, WBLT.
COYT BAILEY, WBLT REPORTER: We left the office this morning, early, about daylight. And I tell you, we really weren‘t prepared for all the damage just en route, down to Gulfport. It was incredible. But, once we got down there, this bridge that you‘re seeing is in the Long Beach area, which is just to the west of Gulfport, about three to five miles west of the Gulfport Airport, this was along the beach. The devastation was just amazing. It looks like about half mile in from the beach, everything has been leveled, flattened, destroyed. The buildings, there just aren‘t really any structures standing anymore. That‘s right in front, I think formerly a Kmart, right there. And that was a marina right in the Long Beach area, which was just fattened, just nothing left standing at all. There was restaurants and marina offices there, they are just gone.
This is proceeding eastbound along the beach. The Gulfport Airport is just to the north of this area and as you can see, it‘s—everything was destroyed. Homes, businesses, we‘re looking at a lot of freight vehicles from the port of Gulfport there, that were stacked in the port area and they‘ve been washed all through the downtown area of Gulfport. At first we thought they were rail cars, but it appears these were the 18-wheeler containers washed out of the port of Gulfport.
We‘ve been flying these hurricane stories for 10 years now, we‘ve covered up in Florida and Alabama and Mississippi and they do not compare to what we‘ve seen today. It‘s just absolutely beyond description.
Now, this is the—one of the casinos there, right in the Gulfport area, I believe it‘s one of the—I think it‘s Casino Magic, I can‘t be sure. If you member the aquarium, that‘s the aquarium right there, that was in the port of Gulfport it‘s been completely destroyed.
This was Treasure Bay Casino; it looked like a Spanish Galleon. As you can see, the structure has been completely undermined as the storm surge just went all the way through it. This was the area just to the east of the Broadmoor Marina (ph), where there use to be an old putt-putt golf course and several restaurants and buildings and those areas are just—they‘re gone.
This the back end of the Hard Rock Casino, which was still under construction, but you can see it has just fallen off into the water, now. That, I believe, is the Grand Casino in Biloxi that was picked up, removed from its moorings and deposited to the west of its—where it was moored, it was brought back over Highway 90 there, and just dropped down. It looked like what appeared to be on homes.
We‘re looking now, back to the east, towards Ocean Springs. That‘s the old bridge, just to the left side, kind in fact middle, which was no longer being used and then the railroad bridge, which is further to the left side of the screen, and it looks like it has had extensive damage as well. The center section seems to have kept some of the concrete on it, but it‘s buckled and I imagine all of those pilings are going to have to come out, all of the concrete is going to have to be removed from the bay. It‘s going to be a very big cleanup job.
Some dolphins that were just off the Beau Rivage and it was amazing to see that outside all of the devastation, that life in nature continues to go on.
DANIELS: MSNBC‘s David Shuster rode out the storm in Biloxi, Mississippi, a city where the best and worst sides of human nature are in evidence. We saw rescuers helping strangers survive the storm, but in other places looters scavenging through the wreckage.
David Shuster, what have you been seeing where you are?
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lisa, as far as the problems are concerned, Scott, I‘m going to ask you show the pawn shop, which is this sort of sandy area down here where you can see sort of a yellowish type of structure in it. That was a pawn shop and it had, apparently, half a million dollars worth of guns, and the owner, apparently, was quite mad to come back and find that people were rummaging through it and that many of his weapons were missing. So that was one problem.
If you go farther, to the west, there was a 200-year-old Victorian house that once stood there; it was one of the only homes overlooking the water. The person who ran the lighthouse lived there many years ago, historic home, completely leveled. And then when you go farther to the west, you do see some buildings, some structures that appear to be still intact, but when you get up close, you see that everything, at least on the first floor of the buildings, completely destroyed, damaged, and the buildings are simply unsafe to even walk in.
That is what it essentially has been like all day long, Lisa. We‘ve seen people walking back, trying to find any mementos, anything that is worth recovering. And a lot of people, even people about half a mile away from us who were on the highest point in this part of Biloxi, they had severe damage. They had water coming at them from both the gulf and also from the bay, essentially converging. Neighbors were having to swim out of their homes to seek higher ground. And today when people come back and they‘re just finding the devastation is even worse than they had possibly imagined it might be. And, again, these are areas half a mile from the water, the highest points in Biloxi.
In addition to just seeing all the devastation, and it goes everywhere, we‘re hearing just story after story about how people survived, people who essentially thought that they could read it out on the second floor of their home and then had to scratch their way up to the roof and essentially claw in and hold on during 100-mile-per-hour winds. And then against all of that, are the stories about people who did not, a number of people witnessed, for example down the road, an apartment complex where people thought they could read it out, they had ridden out the storm, Hurricane Camille, some 36 years ago. This time the water came so fast that the last—a few—the last time anybody saw a couple of people in that apartment is when they were swimming desperately trying to cling to the apartment railing and they were not seen again.
So, it‘s just—the stories, Lisa, are remarkable. And then when you look at what‘s happing right now, I mean, right now, no power, there‘s no electricity, cell phone service sometimes works, sometimes it does not and the entire city reeks of gasoline because all the gasoline lines, many of them have problems, some of them, and gasoline is leaking out. Officials are worried about fires, about explosions, and that‘s slowing down the rescue because they have to try to make sure that block-by-block officials can even get in. And then once they get in, we were talking to the sheriff‘s, here in Harrison County, who said, that they believe there may be hundreds of bodies in this particular county that they simply can‘t get at because there‘s so much debris and when human beings try to get out through the debris, it‘s too much, and they haven‘t been able to bring the dogs in yet to try to sniff them out. So, it‘s just problem after problem, here in Harrison County, which encompasses greater Biloxi—Lisa.
DANIELS: So many tragedies coming from there. David, I‘m just curious, where are you and some of the other reporters staying?
SHUSTER: We took refuge up at a hotel that‘s about four miles inland. But what‘s so remarkable, Lisa, is when you look at, basically, within an hour and a half‘s driving distance and nobody has power, everyone‘s having to rely on the Red Cross to bring in food, cell phone coverage is spotty, and the hotel‘s farther away that actually do have power, I mean, everyone wants to, you know, sort of crash those because obviously you already have so many tens of thousands of people that have abandoned this area, that have taken up refuge at those hotels. So, it‘s simply—it‘s impossible for—just the logistics, for example, the Red Cross trying to figure out how the Red Cross can come in and help. One of the biggest problems they have right now is trying to figure out, well that‘s great when the Red Cross people come in, where are they going to stay? Because all of the hotels, all the places they might stay, those are already occupied by people who abandoned this area. So, it‘s just one logistical nightmare after the next.
DANIELS: David Shuster in Biloxi, such a sad story from there.
Thanks so much, David.
And join me now on the phone, Mick Bullock. He‘s a spokesperson for the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency.
And, Mick, I‘ve heard that the phone lines are completely jammed, they‘re not working actually, at this point. How are you coordinating the logistics without any phones?
MICK BULLOCK, MISSISSIPPI EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: Good afternoon, Lisa. Actually, the Mississippi Emergency Management headquarters, here in Jackson, is able to stay in contact with our people on the coastal areas, basically by satellite phone. All other telecommunications have been brought down.
DANIELS: So, you‘re using the satellite phones. I‘m not going to ask you for numbers, because I know you don‘t have any at this point.
DANIELS: But give me a sense of the progress in terms of food, water, medical aid, the bare essentials that people need.
BULLOCK: Right, Lisa, right now, basically we have been—our total effort has been searching and rescue type efforts, of course. Second part of it is the Salvation Army as well as American Red Cross have been having people headed down that way all day long, with what is called “Canteens,” basically mobile kitchens. They‘re headed that way right now, as we speak.
DANIELS: Mick, have you every seen anything like the damage that we‘re looking at right now?
BULLOCK: Lisa, no we have not seen anything like this type of damage. There were several of us sitting around the office a few minutes ago, watching the same footage that you were watching and, you know, we can‘t believe this is actually Mississippi. You know, we‘ve seen this in Florida before, but we‘ve never seen this since Camille came through—through Mississippi.
DANIELS: You are balancing so much today, so many priorities. What‘s on top of that list?
BULLOCK: Again, No. 1 priority today, were search and rescue, totally search and rescue. The other part of that, of course, is to make sure that the hospitals that are operational down on the coastal areas, that we‘re getting fuel to the generators there to keep the hospitals operational as well as water.
DANIELS: You just heard David Schuster reporting from Biloxi saying, hey these roads are completely blocked off.
BULLOCK: They are.
DANIELS: There‘s debris everywhere. How are your workers getting to the places they need to go?
BULLOCK: Lisa, we‘re just doing just the very best we can, we‘re moving it as we go.
DANIELS: Just one by one?
BULLOCK: One by one.
DANIELS: Hand by hand.
BULLOCK: That‘s right, Lisa.
DANIELS: And are you worried that there are people trapped inside their homes, who are unable to get to their roofs and call for help?
BULLOCK: Well, of course we are, Lisa. We had had accounts even right before the hurricane actually hit, where people were saying that they were trapped in the roofs where the water was rising, they couldn‘t get out. I mean, those are the type of calls that we were getting.
DANIELS: Toughest part of your job right now, Mick?
BULLOCK: The toughest part of my job right now is receiving calls from loved ones, from people that are wanting to get in touch with their loved ones and not being able to. That‘s the toughest part, right now.
DANIELS: And what are you telling these folks?
BULLOCK: Well, actually, there is a number that is set up through the American Red Cross for them to call, and that most of them are calling into. The only problem is American Red Cross is experiencing the same thing with jammed calls. So, that‘s the best we can do. Because, keep in mind, all telecommunications in that area is brought down, so we‘re in the same area as they are.
DANIELS: Mick Bullock, sounds like you‘re doing the very best you possibly can under terrible circumstances. Thanks so much for filling us in.
BULLOCK: All right, thank you, Lisa.
DANIELS: Continued luck to you.
BULLOCK: OK, bye. Thank you.
DANIELS: In Louisiana, people living in New Orleans were told to evacuate before Katrina hit. Four out of five residents listened, they left. Now many of those who stayed behind are being ordered out. Floodwaters are rising, the bumps are down, and there are still people clinging to the roofs of their homes. You saw the pictures. They are pleading for rescue. NBC‘s Steve Handelsman is there.
And Steve, the situation in New Orleans turned out to be so much worse than first thought.
STEVE HANDELSMAN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lisa, who figured that the worst case scenario would happen, apparently not public officials here who had not planed well enough for a minor evacuation to the Superdome, to have enough water and food and medical supplies and medical personnel ready, which is why they have to evacuate the Superdome now, that was the place to evacuate to prior to that problem.
We were out in New Orleans east today, which is an area, as it sounds, east of downtown. Let me flick this enormous wasp, the city is full now of insects, one of the minor problems. New Orleans east, is plagued with enormously high floodwaters: Chest-deep, waist-deep, maybe the least of it and virtually everybody who didn‘t evacuate from New Orleans, from New Orleans east, is still in their homes. But police through two solid days of using life boats, cruising the neighborhoods, in some cases crashing through walls to get people trapped in the upper stories of homes in New Orleans east, have managed to rescue, but maybe 1,500 people. But that leaves, they estimate many, many more thousands trapped tonight, in New Orleans, with the waters here rising. Back to you.
DANIELS: Unbelievable, Steve Handelsman, thanks so much. Take care.
Coming up the problems are not just from the elements. Unfortunately, they‘re also man made as looters take advantage of dire situations breaking into businesses across the hard-hit areas.
DANIELS: And we just got this video in. This is literally the latest video coming to us from New Orleans, WWL-TV. You can see the utter devastation, rooftops completely submerged in water in New Orleans. The floodwaters, a huge problem after two levees, there, broke. And as the hours go by, it seems that the situation gets more dire for those were in the path of Hurricane Katrina. Shelters overflowing, water supplies dwindling, homes are floating away. Joining me now, two men involved in the extensive recovery effort: On the phone, Colonel Fred Shaw with the Mississippi National Guard and Lieutenant Colonel Bob Horton with the Alabama National Guard.
And, Colonel Horton, let me begin with you. Just what is the top priority? It‘s saving lives, but is it just those aerial views that is we saw from the roofs or are you trying to move into the inner areas and moving debris?
LT. COLONEL BOB HORTON, ALABAMA NATIONAL GUARD: Well, the initial missions that we had, was a preservation of lives. We were first involved in search and rescue missions, over the past 24 hours; however, those missions have shifted to the security. We‘ve also provided two National Guard battalions to the state of Mississippi to help with security and to support law enforcement officials with maintaining law and order in that state. We‘ve also deployed an engineer battalion of 500 personnel Mississippi, to help with the clearing of debris. Here.
DANIELS: Yeah, Mississippi it‘s just so hard-hit. Colonel Shaw, there may be people under the debris there. It‘s a reality. When will that recovery operation begin? And, boy, will it be grim.
COLONEL FRED SHAW, MISSISSIPPI NATIONAL GUARD: Yes, we—we‘ve started pushing soldiers down, as soon as we could, last evening, after the worst of the winds died down and it was a slow go. It was actually trees all in the road, and they got to Gulfport at a air national guard facility that we have set up there, that we use for base operations for incidents such as this, and we immediately started search and rescue and trying to identify people that were stranded. And we are now into debris clearance so that other assets can be moved into there. And we also have a security plan that augments law enforcement operations, and we are starting to implement a distribution plan where we set up distribution sites, where we receive and distribute commodities such as water and ice food and food.
DANIELS: Colonel Horton, we‘re talking about 11-foot flood waters in Mobile. Is the National Guard doing anything, right now, to get those waters down?
HORTON: Well, we have not received any requests from the state to help lower the level of the floodwaters in the Mobile area. The units that we‘ve deployed to the Mobile area, they have the proper equipment to get into areas that may be inaccessible to traditional vehicles. We have 2-½-ton, 5-ton trucks, we have Humvees deployed, and we also have a unit of Special Forces with Zodiac boats with outboard motors to help patrol the flooded areas, just in case they‘re need.
DANIELS: Have you used those boats yet or they‘re just on reserve, in case?
HORTON: Yeah, the first 24 hours we were patrolling the waterways and the flooded areas in the Mobile area helping with the search and rescue missions.
DANIELS: Let me ask you, Colonel Shaw, there are rumors that some of the National Guardsmen are watching, unfortunately, some of the looting and that they‘re not doing too much about it. False? True? Just part of the reality?
SHAW: I have not heard that report. We are there to augment law enforcement and we attempt to deter that as much as possible, but we do what we can in assisting in the local law enforcement, but I would say that we‘re not standing by and watching people steal.
DANIELS: Well, I know you have so many priorities it‘s hard to do all of them at the same time. Colonel Horton, we‘re also hearing stories on the flip side that National Guardsmen are being told to take breaks, they‘re refusing because it‘s become so personal and it‘s easy to see why. Are you hearing reports like that as well?
HORTON: Well, when you‘re mobilizing the National Guard you mobilize our communities. Our guard members come from our communities. They understand what their missions are, they take pride in what they do, and they want to help the citizens of Alabama, the much—the best they can. So, you know, we‘re going to make sure that we rotate our personnel in and out of these missions so they can function at the highest level possible. And also, it‘s a safety concern, so we‘re going to make sure that our guard members get plenty of rest as we continue with this mission.
DANIELS: Absolutely, this is not a short-term thing, this is going to be weeks and weeks of cleanup and recovery. Colonel Shaw, Colonel Horton, big thank you to both of you and all the best of luck.
SHAW: Thank you.
HORTON: Thank you.
DANIELS: And for survivors of Katrina the list of worries are endless? Are their homes still standing? What‘s the extent of damage to their houses and when can they return to actually see their homes, now top of all of that there‘s another concern and that is looters. As disgusting as it is, it‘s happening just like it happened in history all the time. Police have made several arrests in New Orleans, even using automatic weapons to patrol a grocery store there after looters went on a rampage, grabbing groceries, ripping apart ATMs.
Now in some cases, looters came out just moments after the storm passed and officials are vowing they‘re going to nab these looters and punish them severely. In fact, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour warned of a zero tolerance policy for all looters.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR ®, MISSISSIPPI: I have instructed the highway patrol and the National Guard to treat looters ruthlessly. Looting will not be tolerated, period. And rules of engagement will be as aggressive as the law allows.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DANIELS: And he has said that repeatedly. Joining me now to talk about how far the state can go to prosecute these people, University of Mississippi law professor Ron Rychlak.
And Professor, do these states affected have laws on the books that punish looters more severely during times of crisis like these disasters?
RON RYCHLAK, UNIV. OF MISSISSIPPI, LAW PROFESSOR: Absolutely, Lisa. In Mississippi, looting carries a 15-year maximum penalty, regular burglary seven years, larceny—grand larceny 10 years.
DANIELS: So, we‘re talking about civil penalties and criminal penalties, time in jail, actually?
RYCHLAK: Yes, absolutely. And there are fines, significant fines and also, up to 15 years in prison.
DANIELS: Let me ask you, because there‘s big difference in my mind between looting for survival and looting to get a TV. Do the laws account for that difference?
RYCHLAK: Absolutely. There‘s a defense called the defense of necessity. If you‘re stranded somewhere and you need blankets, you need water, you need food, and there‘s a store nearby, there‘s something nearby and you take that to survive, that‘s—there‘s a defense to the crime in that case.
DANIELS: I mean, some of these reports are simply outrageous. People wading in the waters going into homes and stores, carrying out TVs. At a certain point can a homeowner take the law in their own hands and shot these people?
RYCHLAK: Well, a homeowner should not use deadly force. Certainly use force to defend yourself, to defend your person. But deadly force, there are very restrictive situations where that can be employed.
DANIELS: All right, so a homeowner goes home, finally, sees all the damage of their homes, a looter comes inside, what can they do?
RYCHLAK: If the person is threatened, if they‘re in their home, deadly force can be authorized. I‘m not encouraging that. But certainly they can threaten it, they can use physical force. I mean, you can punch somebody, you could hit somebody. You know, if you became threatened personally, deadly force could be used.
DANIELS: It‘s horrifying that the reports are that some of this is happening in front of cops. And I‘m not blaming the police because I know they have plenty to do and the National Guardsmen, but some of them just turning a blind eye to the looting. Is this common?
RYCHLAK: I don‘t think it is common. I think number one, you‘ve got a lot of National Guardsmen who are not really policemen, you know, they‘re not sure what to do. You do have issues here as to, you know, whether it‘s being done for necessity. Now obviously, television sets are not, but, you know, the chain of command, the what they‘re supposed to do, that‘s a difficult call here for people who are not trained in law enforcement.
DANIELS: Yeah, but our correspondents are reporting that we‘re talking about shelves of groceries, just a lot of material, even pawn shops, you just heard David Shuster saying. It‘s amazing to me, that kids are doing this. We heard reports of a kid yelling “86, 86” which is the radio code for police, that these kids are inside the stores grabbing things, when everybody should be indoors, in safety.
RYCHLAK: Well, and you‘ve got to think, you know, what—who are the parents of these children who are doing stuff like this? You know, having them out in these kinds of conditions. It‘s—I don‘t think they‘re doing this on their own. They‘re working with people and it‘s a terribly sad situation. You‘re right.
DANIELS: You hate to dwell on the negative, because there‘s so many stories of neighbors helping neighbors. But, what about the price gouging? You know, we‘re also hearing reports of public insurance adjusters trying to scam people. I mean, you got to be kid canning me.
RYCHLAK: That‘s an absolute outrage. The governor called some of these people “sub-human beings.” The attorney general of this state has threatened severe retaliation, has worked hard to try to keep that from happening, has had his agents out keeping an eye on these maters.
DANIELS: And we‘re hearing very strong words coming from both Governor Haley Barbour and other officials, but when all is said and done and there‘s so many priorities, do you think that some of these people will actually be prosecuted?
RYCHLAK: I think if—right now, that‘s the question. Right now, do you take the time to arrest the people to lock them up? Can you afford to spend that kind of energy, that kind of commitment to do those kind of things? If they are arrested and kept until trial, absolutely, they‘ll be prosecuted. The questions right now are what to do, what the priorities are on the ground.
DANIELS: I know this has happened throughout history, but every time you see it, it‘s just absolutely disgusting. Professor Ron Rychlak, thanks so much for the clarification, appreciate it.
RYCHLAK: Thank you.
DANIELS: Coming up, what about the hardest-hit areas of Louisiana? We‘re talking east of New Orleans. How are people surviving without power, drinkable water, safe shelters? And we‘ll also be speaking to a long-time resident of the French Quarter who refused to leave his home for Katrina. He‘s still there. We‘ll be back.
DANIELS: Coming up, 80 percent of New Orleans is flooded and the water keeps pouring in. The governor is saying there is a plan to evacuate anyone there in the Superdome. We talked to somebody who doesn‘t want to go. First a quick look at the other stories in the news today.
DANIELS: Back now with this special edition of the ABRAMS REPORT, I‘m Lisa Daniels sitting in for Dan tonight. Only one story on the docket, we‘re talking about the latest from the Gulf Coast. Heart-wrenching, communities ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Now, described by one federal official as “the most significant natural disaster to hit the U.S.” In New Orleans, the Superdome and other shelters there, being closed as water rises in parts of the city. Two levees holding back Lake Pontchartrain have been breached.
In Mississippi the death toll could rise well into the hundreds. At this point, how many lives Katrina claimed is not known, but paramedics are saying they‘re not going to stop counting the bodies for days.
In Mobile, Alabama one of the state‘s largest bridges is still closed, thanks to an oil platform torn loose by Katrina. And meanwhile, 1,600 National Guards have will be called in to help with disaster relief.
Joining me now by phone is John T. Martin, who‘s a Voodoo priest who lives in the French Quarter of New Orleans. He chose to rode out the storm in his house. He‘s still there despite the evacuation orders.
And John, I almost hesitate to do this phone interview, because I don‘t understand why you defied the evacuation order and stayed. Why did you do it?
JOHN T. MARTIN, VOODOO PRIEST: Well, the main reason is, I do have animals that I would not leave behind. They would go with me. I have been very disappointed in some of the things I‘ve seen. Today, the place has been widespread looting throughout. The police just seem to turn their eyes. And they—we have gangs that case the French Quarter.
DANIELS: How are you seeing all of this? Are you going outside?
MARTIN: Oh, I‘ve been outside. And I can see it from my balcony.
DANIELS: And what are you seeing exactly? What type of looting?
MARTIN: Well, they totally looted the Wal-Mart over on Magazine, they also looted the Robert‘s, they broke the windows of the A&P and looted it. And they‘re looting a lot of other places.
DANIELS: I mean, it‘s just so disgusting that people do this during a national crisis. Do you see cops or National Guardsmen there at all?
MARTIN: No, the cops I see will not even stop to say anything to you.
DANIELS: But what I‘m asking is, do you see the cops just looking at the looting happening?
MARTIN: I understand, from some friends that just came back, that the cops were absolutely there when a lot of the looting was going on at Robert‘s.
DANIELS: Well, if those reports are true, and we just don‘t know for sure, I just don‘t understand it. I know that the police and National Guardsmen are very busy. But, there is not...
MARTIN: Well, I actually witnessed them vandalizing Buster‘s Food and Deli store, here in the quarter. They had broken the window out, they were coming in and out, they had carts that they were loading.
DANIELS: You know, I‘m amazed to hear that you even got outside.
What is the flooding situation where you are right now?
MARTIN: Here, it‘s still clear. Actually, I am thinking seriously of going with my neighbor across the street, loading up my animals and going to Baton Rouge.
DANIELS: Well, at this point, is it safe for you to do that?
MARTIN: I can go down to Chopitulous (ph), and get on 90, to 310, and then go I-10 into Baton Rouge.
DANIELS: Well, I hope it‘s safe at this point to do it, because officials are saying to stay of the roads. What about your food and water?
MARTIN: The food and water situation would last me for probably four days.
DANIELS: This is a hard decision and that‘s why officials were saying to evacuate from the beginning. Why didn‘t you do it?
MARTIN: Actually, the officials may be saying this, but they have botched the whole thing. A lot of things were left up to the last minute, because they actually were waiting to see if it turned, if it did this, if it did that, and of course I have seen it turn at the last minute. And of course my building has been here since 1824. I did have little minor roof damage on the front and I did lose the railing to my balcony. But outside of that, the place is marvelously intact.
DANIELS: What about the rest of the French Quarter, do you think there is going to be a French Quarter when all is said and done?
MARTIN: I think that it‘s not going to be the same and I really think people are going to think twice about buying a condo in the French Quarter.
DANIELS: You sound exhausted.
MARTIN: Dear, I am exhausted. This has been a very trying thing.
DANIELS: Yeah, well, I hope for the future, you know, you learn a valuable lesson to evacuate when the officials say to do it. I know that you have animals, but at the same time now you‘re stuck in the situation where you might not be able to evacuate to safer ground. John T. Martin, we wish you the best and stay safe.
MARTIN: Thank you so much.
DANIELS: All right John.
And coming up, the big problem now, in New Orleans, is not the rain that fell from Katrina, but it‘s actually the water pouring into the city from two of the levees built to protect it. How are officials going to get the water out? That‘s the question.
Also, New Orleans, 80 percent under water, which means mosquitoes, waste, rodents, all carrying disease; the floating dangers that residents are facing, that is coming up.
DANIELS: Coming up, many of the levees built to protect New Orleans are failing and water is pouring into the city forcing thousands more to evacuate.
DANIELS: The suburban area of Jefferson Parish, right outside of New Orleans, was hit very hard by Katrina. Water—Walter Maestri, director of Jefferson Parish Emergency Operations, joins me on the phone.
And Walter, the reports sound horrible. Jefferson Parish, one official said, is a dangerous place. We‘re talking about gas leaks everywhere, no power, no pumps, the water is toxic. How are people surviving it?
WALTER MAESTRI, NATIONAL WEATHER CENTER: Well, by the harness, Lisa, and we‘re trying to convince those who have evacuated, and it‘s a large number, to stay away while we deal with these issues. We‘re also encouraging those who are still here, if they can, and do have the resources to go ahead and evacuate now. We know now that we‘re going to be without power, electrical power, for quite some time, as much as 45 days. We know that we have problems with water; our water system is not functioning right now. We have, therefore, sanitary problems; literally, we cannot flush the toilets, so all of this is a problem. And we‘re trying as best we can to deal with these issues.
DANIELS: In terms of martial law imposed there, I was seeing conflicting reports about that. Can you clarify?
MAESTRI: Well, it‘s—yeah—it‘s the equivalent let me put it that way. Under the Louisiana Disaster Act, the parish executive, the parish president, and your listeners and viewers should know that in Louisiana counties and parishes are synonymous.
MAESTRI: So, under Louisiana‘s law, the county or parish executive, or president, has full authority within his domain over all the other offices that operate there.
DANIELS: Walter, I was also seeing a report out of Jefferson Parish, there are snakes in the water, vermin, lose dogs and cats. Is that accurate? Is that what you‘re seeing?
MAESTRI: No, it‘s true, it‘s true. The problem is that as the storm came through on marshes and our wetlands, the different animals and reptiles that are there, had been pushed forward with the water. And they, too, are attempting to survive. They‘re in a climate that they‘re not familiar with. Yes, that is an issue and one of the reasons why we beg our citizens who did remain, not to go out and traipse through the water. Not to go out and play in it. It‘s—this is not a swimming pool in your front yard.
DANIELS: Well, that‘s why I want to ask you, you say you‘re encouraging people, at this point, to evacuate, but is it possible, is it safe do that at this late point?
MAESTRI: Yeah, we have at least two of our major arteries that are available. To the east of the city, we have lost the major evacuation artery, our major artery, in the panels on the interstate system over the lake, have, in fact, been lost. We‘ve got a number of panels that are out, so—but we still do have roadways, systems that are intact, and the people can use to evacuate.
DANIELS: Walter Maestri, the conditions sound horrible and we just wish you the very best. And please pass that along.
MAESTRI: Thank you so much, Lisa.
DANIELS: All right, well, as we‘ve reported, 80 percent of New Orleans is flooded. Early this morning, two levees surrounding the city designed to keep the city from sinking began to leak. And now city officials are saying they won‘t be fixed, quote, “today, tomorrow or the next day.”
Then, just hours ago, Louisiana‘s governor ordering the thousands of refugees inside the Superdome and other shelters to evacuate the city.
Joining me now, Robert Flowers, he‘s a former chief of the Army Corps of Engineers.
And I know that we‘re dealing with at least two levees. Last I heard the National Guard was planning to fill up those levees with sandbags. Does that sound like a plan that could work?
ROBERT FLOWERS, FMR. ARMY CROPS ENGINEER CHIEF: Well, it‘s probably more than sandbags. They have geo-fiber, very large, bag that is weigh about 3,000 pounds. So it‘s a sandbag on steroids that can be put in to help try to fill the hole in the levee. But the real problem with these breaches, as I understand now, some are hundreds of feet wide. And your problem is getting there to the breach in the levee.
DANIELS: All right, besides that problem, and I‘m just putting that aside, it‘s humongous, what about the water inside New Orleans? How are they going to drain that? Will they have to punch holes in other levees to just get that out?
FLOWERS: That don‘t think that‘s going to work unless the water outside has lowered a great deal and that‘s just not going to happen. What‘ll have to happen is the levees will have to be repaired and the water inside has to be pumped back out over the levees. So, we‘re talking about probably water being in the city for some time.
DANIELS: That‘s a horrible situation. Of course these levees were not intended for this. It was built for Category 3 storms; we‘re talking about Category 4 and you‘ve got all of this erosion happening, and once these levees start to breach, as they are, is there danger that the surrounding levees are going to start to erode and come down?
FLOWERS: There is. Because on the side of the levee that was designed to take the water, in other words, the riverside or the side facing the lake, it‘s designed to take some water against it for a while. On the backside of the levee, the dry side, it‘s not. And now you have water on the backside of the levees, I understand some of the levees were over top, maybe in some of the surge conditions that caused some erosion and began the failure of the levees. And so those levees are going to have to be reinforced and inspected before they can be sound again.
DANIELS: And in the meantime, I guess New Orleans is the bowl of soup, except as I say, the soup is water. It‘s a horrible situation. It‘s a real puzzle as to how to get out that water. Robert Flowers, thanks so much. Appreciate your expertise.
FLOWERS: Thank you.
DANIELS: And coming up that water pouring into the street. It‘s not clean and it‘s bringing the threat of some serious diseases with it. Up next, we talk with a public health expert about the threat New Orleans is facing. We‘ll be right back.
DANIELS: Well, the storm has moved out of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, but the worst is not over. Serious health dangers pose a threat for Hurricane Katrina survivors who are very anxious to go back home. Among the problems spoiled food, no power, no sewage, no drinking water, not to mention the threat of mosquitoes and all the diseases that they carry. In some places, the water has pushed fire ants and thousands of poisonous snakes into the water supply. We‘re even seeing reports of human bodies floating in the water even though that‘s morbid. Joining me now to talk about the health threats in the area, Harvard University Public Health Professor, Dr. Jennifer Leaning.
I don‘t even know where to start, so let‘s start with the drinking water. I mean, there‘s no other way of saying this, except New Orleans right now is a sewer. Basically, a sewer with everything floating in it that you can imagine. How are these people going to stay safe and drink water?
DR. JENNIFER LEANING, HARVARD UNIVERSITY PUBLIC HEALTH PROFESSOR:
You‘ve probably identified one of the worst immediate threats. And the most important thing the media can do to help carry the message to the local people that are trapped in New Orleans or in areas where the water is heavily contaminated is that they must stay out of the water and if they have bottled water, drink that, but begin to prepare for straining and boiling the water that they find outside in the gutters and in the walkways. If they...
DANIELS: If they don‘t—yeah, I think you were just getting to that. What type of gastrointestinal illnesses are we talking about here?
LEANING: Well, it could be range of different kinds of diarrhea that will contribute to the dehydration and water loss that‘s already there, because people are stressed, they‘re hot, they‘re very active. And so they‘re going to have a pretty high water requirement, several liters a day, anyway. So a family needs to plan for the fact that over the next sell days, it may be difficult for the emergency personnel to get to everyone and so they need to plan, first of all, to have the supply of clean drinkable water. And that means if it is not boiled, if they‘re getting it from the ambient environment, they‘re going to have to strain it, boil it, at least one minute. I would suggest five.
LEANING: And if they have access to money and can buy bottled water, that would be a very high priority.
DANIELS: I just hope they can do it at this point. I hope it‘s not too late, because it‘s just very serious, what we‘re dealing with here. We‘re looking at pictures of people wading in the water. Where there‘s standing water, of course, there are mosquitoes. What type of diseases are they vulnerable to?
LEANING: Well, a mosquito bite, generally speaking, is a survivable event, but in very hot conditions, where people are not able to wash very much and they start scratching these mosquito bites, that is a situation where the bites can get infect and if some of this dirty contaminated water gets into a scratched bite, that also can cause a local skin infection. So, it‘s important for people to stay out of area where the mosquitoes are if they possibly can. And if they do get a mosquito bite, not scratch it.
DANIELS: Yeah, especially...
LEANING: Then you have issues of allergies to some of the other insects and that is also going to be a problem. So, a very crucial message is people should stay in shelter and not be moving around except when they must go out to get some water. Otherwise, staying out of the water during this period before help really gets to be sustained in the city is a very important thing to do.
DANIELS: That is the bottom line. Dr. Jennifer Leaning, thanks so much for that reminder. And we‘ll be right back.
LEANING: Thank you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This place is devastated. You know, it‘s just
unreal. I‘ve never been through anything like this before. It‘s—it‘s -
· I don‘t know what to say. I‘m lucky to be alive.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DANIELS: I think that says it, just happy to be alive.
That does it for us tonight, stay tuned to MSNBC for continuing coverage of Hurricane Katrina‘s aftermath.
Coming up next, “Hardball” with Chris Matthews. Good night.
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