Guest: Michael Brown, Bob Bea, Shea Guinn, Frank Michel, Burton Guidry, Walter Boasso
LISA DANIELS, HOST: Hi everyone. And welcome to a special edition of the ABRAMS REPORT. I‘m Lisa Daniels, sitting in tonight for Dan.
One story on the docket again, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin now says he believes hundreds, most likely thousands of people were killed by the floods that followed Katrina. And there‘s still a desperate race to find rescue and evacuate as many as one 100,000 people still trapped in homes by New Orleans‘ flooded streets.
In Mississippi and Alabama, the search for victims continues in communities shattered by the power of Hurricane Katrina. At the bows, less than an hour ago, President Bush, surrounded by his cabinet saying the administration would work with local officials to save lives, support the refugees and rebuild the region. Congressional leaders Bill Frist and Dennis Hastert say they‘ll make swift action to the disaster their highest priority once Congress is back in session next week.
Another 10,000 National Guard troopers have heard orders to join those already on the ground. And the water choking New Orleans could be there for weeks, perhaps even months. The Army Corp of Engineers wants to drop huge sand bags into breaches in the city‘s levees and flood walls, but it‘s never tried a repair like that. They don‘t even know if it will work.
MSNBC‘s Michelle Hofland is live in New Orleans where officials are fearing a heavy death toll.
And Michelle, you don‘t often hear officials giving out numbers like this. It just sounds horrible.
MICHELLE HOFLAND, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: You know, it really is but frankly for those of us who have been here for the past couple days, it‘s not surprising. Let me give you one example why. Yesterday, or last night, I was going out with some people on boats to rescue a couple hundred people who were stranded on top of a levee since Monday and when we were being given the instructions, the boaters, the volunteers, given the instructions, they said that on the way out, we would possibly see many bodies floating in the water. What they told us is to not touch the bodies, don‘t get near the bodies because of possible contamination and that what they were supposed to do is focus on the living.
And just down the street from here on Canal Street, there is a man lying in the street dead and we‘ve also heard of other people who say that some family members are dead inside their house. So while it‘s very, very sad news for those of us here, those numbers, frankly are not surprising at all.
And let me show you what‘s going on right now. Here live in New Orleans on Canal Street, right behind me, they‘re fighting a fire. This is at a shoe store, a tennis shoe store and all day long we have been watching this store because—not because of the fire, because we saw so many people running into the that store, grabbing out boxes and boxes of tennis shoes and t-shirts, looting this building, right in front of police officers. Now this building is on fire, on Canal Street with other buildings close by. There are six fire trucks there now and they have been fighting this for a couple hours and have been having a very, very tough time fighting this fire.
With the looting going on, what‘s happening is that inside this building, earlier today, people were going inside there, stealing things as I said, right in front of police officers and sometimes the police officers would say “hey, give that stuff to me, it‘s not yours, obviously, there are tags on it” and then they would mark down their names. Other times, the police officers would simply just ignore it.
Other things going on, some very serious things in regards to evacuations throughout the city. Earlier today, the governor said that they had rescued about 3,000 people. Still reports of hundreds more. Some are trapped inside of a school. We heard of a report about 200 people trapped inside the second or third story of a school where they sought shelter when the waters were rising. Now, we have also seen video of people dangling out of broken windows of high-rise apartment buildings and office buildings. They‘re dropping sheets with notes, begging for help and just begging to be rescued. The problem is right now, many of those places are so difficult to get to because the water is so high. It‘s very dangerous to get out of there and even swimming or getting our out of this water is dangerous because you don‘t know what‘s in the water—what could be in the water, No. 1 and No. 2 it‘s contaminated with all sorts of human sewage and chemicals.
What you‘re hearing overhead, by the way, I don‘t know if you can hear it right now, there are helicopters flying overhead, trying to rescue people off of rooftops and trying to get the people out of here. The other thing that‘s going on, the people that did evacuate on Saturday and Sunday to the evacuation site of last resort, the Superdome, here in New Orleans. There are about 20,000 people who have been there for what, 3-1/2 days now with very little food, no air conditioning. It‘s very hot out here and they‘re really having a difficult time dealing with the situation. There are big lines there. What they‘re trying to do is get the people from here, in buses, and send them over to, we believe they‘re being sent to Houston. But what the folks in the bus are telling us as they get on the bus, they‘re saying, “I don‘t know, we‘re just being told we‘re being sent west.” They have really no idea where they‘re going. We spoke with one person there who said, “You know what? Life there in that Superdome has been grim.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The conditions is very bad because we don‘t have no air, water. The food is limited. I mean, sanitation is poor. We don‘t have nothing—no cleaning supplies to clean up or nothing. We‘re just living in poverty. We‘re suffering.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOFLAND: Another thing that‘s going to help those people who are at the Superdome, there are helicopters that are going, they‘re National Guard and Coast Guard helicopters and they are trying to take some people west. We believe they‘re going to Houston. Still, those people haven‘t been told exactly where they‘re going to. But there are long lines of people. We understand there are fights breaking out of people getting onto those helicopters, trying to get those seats and get out town. It‘s, frankly, a very desperate situation for people who need some food, need some water, need some shelter. Many who can‘t find their family members. Most here just had no idea where they‘re going to go and what they‘re going to do—
DANIELS: This is a fight for survival. Michelle Hofland, thank you so much.
Well, the landmark Astrodome once was called the eighth wonder of the world and now more than 20,000 refugees from New Orleans will soon call it home. Joining me is the is Shea Guinn, the president and general manager of S&G (PH) Reliant Park, which is the management company for both the Astrodome in Houston and also the Superdome in New Orleans. Also joining us, Frank Michel, director of communications for the city of Houston.
Shea, let me begin with you. How soon do you expect people to actually come through the Astrodome‘s doors?
SHEA GUINN, GENERAL MANAGER, ASTRODOME: We don‘t have an exact time of arrival at this point, we are hearing the same thing, reports, that you are today, they are starting to mobilize to try to get them out of the Superdome and over here to Houston. But we do not have an exact time of arrival yet.
DANIELS: Before I get to Frank, I ask you, Shea, you just heard our correspondent saying that these people are getting on the buses and they‘re not being told where they‘re going. They‘re just being told they‘re going out West. Why not give them the extra communication and tell them where they‘re going?
GUINN: Yeah, again, at this point, our communications with the people on the ground in New Orleans is spotty. What we are doing is doing everything we can, here in Houston, and the Astrodome of Reliant Park to repair for their arrival and so our focus is getting everything ready on the ground here to help Harris county, and the city of Houston, FEMA and all the other government organizations and it is Red Cross to help mobilize here at the venue in anticipation of getting here.
DANIELS: Yeah, just wondering if you knew if those buses were in fact going to the Astrodome.
Frank, let me ask you. I expect thousands of people are going to be pouring into the Astrodome. Eventually, these people have to be absorbed somewhere. Is it your understanding that they may call Houston their home after a couple of months?
FRANK MICHEL, CITY OF HOUSTON DIR. OF COMMUNICATIONS: Well, certainly we‘re prepared for that is eventuality. You know, 20,000 or more people, we understand, are arriving at the Astrodome some time in the next day or so. That‘s in addition to the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands that have already come here, fleeing the storm. And so we know this is kind of an unprecedented event. Essentially we‘ve taken a small to mid-sized city and retransplanted it into Houston and with that comes along all the things of population that any city has: Transportation issues, healthcare issues, all of those sorts of things, so we‘re preparing as best we can to deal with that.
DANIELS: At least you guys are rising to the challenge. What about the—you got to imagine that these people are dehydrated, they‘re hungry, some of these people need medical attention, and fast. Shea, do you thing you‘re up to the challenge of supplying all of this on such a quick time level?
GUINN: Yeah, we, actually, we‘re unloading 18-wheelers as we speak, now in the Florida dome with supplies. We‘re working with Red Cross and all the medical authorities here in Houston to set up a medical triage area. You know, we‘re working with the authorities to set up a children and infant area inside the Astrodome, as well. And we‘re just doing everything we can to prepare to help these people come to town because we know they just had absolutely unbearable situation for the past couple of days in the Superdome and everything from water to food operations, we‘re setting up and getting it ready.
DANIELS: Frank, let me ask you, where is all this stuff coming from?
Is it coming from donations?
MICHEL: Donations, there are fund drives going on the in the community. It‘s been incredible, you know, Lisa, I‘ve been asked many times today by reporters around the country if we‘re feeling overwhelmed. And I would say it‘s—we‘re sort of opposite. Most of the calls we‘ve handled in the last day or so are from Houstonians wanting to know what can I do? How can I do it? We‘ve had people showing up out at the Astrodome on just the vaguest information, wanting to pitch in and volunteer and help prepare the Astrodome, so there‘s a, kind of an—we are overwhelmed with compassion at the moment, I think.
DANIELS: That is so good to hear because it‘s so sad to be reporting all this misery all day. It‘s always nice to hear a good story and that people are coming and helping. Shea Guinn and Frank Mike—Michel, thanks so much. All the best, by the way.
GUINN: Thank you. Take care.
MICHEL: Thank you.
DANIELS: Coming up, we talk with Louisiana attorney general‘s office about how authorities are trying to restore law and order in New Orleans. And the feds announce today, what Washington is going to do to help out.
We‘re going to talk with a man in charge on the ground, FEMA director
Michael Brown. We‘ll be right back
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL MCHALE, ASST. DEFENSE SECRETARY: We anticipate at this point, the nature of the criminal activity is such that civilian law enforcement and the National Guard in state status will be able to establish and preserve civil order.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DANIELS: The National Guard and police are on the gulf coast trying to help the thousands of people trapped there and stranded by Hurricane Katrina. But as you heard, they‘ve also got another serious problem to deal with and that is lawlessness. Looting, carjacking, violence, all of it has become a major problem in the ports of New Orleans that are not submerged underwater.
People have been looting food and clothing shops, even a gun store. And as it‘s happening, citizens are taking to the streets to try to restore order themselves. In fact, some store owners sat in front of their businesses with guns in their hands.
Now the Pentagon is ordering 10,000 more National Guards troops to Louisiana and Mississippi and a third of those troops are military police who will be assisting local law enforcement to restore order and try to control the looting situation, but it‘s a huge undertaking. Joining me now to talk about how to restore law and order to some of those areas where people have taken the law into their own hands, is Burton Guidry, Louisiana‘s assistant attorney general in charge of the criminal division.
And you don‘t have to tell me, if you‘re picking between property and life, life wins every time. But the lawlessness situation, that is very worrisome. What is being done to control it?
BURTON GUIDRY, LOUISIANA ASST. ATTY. GENERAL: The attorney general and the governor have already met and she‘s just issued specific orders that once this—once life has been preserved and the first rescue and search mission is over, then we can come in and begin to get back some of the turf that some of these criminals that have taken over.
DANIELS: But, how are you going to do it?
GUIDRY: Well, we have a state statute that allows us that once the government delayers an emergency, which he did several of days ago, that the military personnel and state police and the law enforcement personnel of the state, can go right in and begin to enforce the law. The difference between what we‘re doing here and what everyone around the nation is probably making a mistake calling martial law, is that we preserve the constitutional rights while they‘re doing it.
DANIELS: I mean, to me, there‘s a huge difference between looting for survival and looting for greed. Are you going to be distinguishing between the two?
GUIDRY: No. It‘s crime and we will—I promise you, we will prosecute, we will arrest and we will convict these people.
DANIELS: I don‘t understand, when you say that you‘re going to prosecute it, how are you going to do it? How do you know who‘s looting? There are no jails.
GUIDRY: Well, I think right now if you watch CNN, you can probably get a few cases right off the video.
DANIELS: Well, we‘ve got plenty of video right here on MSNBC. What are you going to do?
GUIDRY: Well, what is going to happen is once we can restore enough safety of the people who are in this dire need, then the military personnel and the law enforcement people can begin to focus on it.
DANIELS: So, you feel like these people are going to be prosecuted even though it‘s going on now and everyone‘s trying to save people?
GUIDRY: Well, unfortunately, if you have to make a choice between saving a life or stopping somebody from taking shirts out of a store, we‘re going to pick saving the life.
DANIELS: Yeah. Absolutely, you should do that every time. I just don‘t understand how the lawless situation here is going to be put under control. The military‘s is going to be brought in and what powers do they have to stop this?
GUIDRY: Under our state constitution, the military personnel, meaning the National Guard, have power of arrest, they also have the sheriff‘s office, state police, attorney general‘s personnel, local law enforcement, several other agencies in New Orleans, who all belong to the law enforcement community who can actually make the arrest. The biggest problem at this point, is where do you put them? Because there‘s no place to put them at this point.
DANIELS: No, absolutely and believe me, I understand that in a situation like this, there are priorities and right now, the looting, unfortunately, is not one of them. But hopefully, you will end up prosecuting the people who are looting for greed.
GUIDRY: Looting is one of our smaller problems. It‘s more when you have personal problems with robberies, murder, you know what I mean, there‘s people getting shot, there people who are actually doing even more serious crimes. And I can promise you that it‘s not going to go unchecked.
DANIELS: Yeah, and the lawlessness is just—it‘s a dangerous thing.
Attorney General Guidry, thanks so much for calling in. Appreciate it.
GUIDRY: You‘re welcome. Please show the hard side and the good side of folks while you‘re at it.
DANIELS: We are thinking all the best for all of folks down there.
We really are. Thank you so much.
GUIDRY: All right.
DANIELS: Joining us now on the phone is Louisiana state senator, Walter Boasso, who represents four parishes east of New Orleans.
How bad is the situation out there?
SEN. WALTER BOASSO, LOUISIANA: Lisa, the best way to describe it is it‘s something nobody‘s ever seen before.
DANIELS: I mean, can you put into word words what you‘re seeing?
BOASSO: Lisa, well what we seeing is—the message I want to the get out to the people of those four parishes which is several hundred thousand people, just to let them know that—what‘s going on. As far as done Plaquemines Parish. Plaquemines Parish was hit tremendously, that‘s the boot off of Louisiana and right now we have planes flying in with food and water. We still rescuing people as we speak. St. Bernard Parish, all 40,000 homes have been going underwater and please, stay where you are. It‘s going to be at least a week before we can get you back in. We have rescued several thousand people and we still pitching people off rooftops.
DANIELS: Do you feel like the people are getting the message, don‘t touch the water. This stuff is crawinging with all sorts of disease, not to mention animals. Is that message getting out to the people who are not listening to this broadcast who really need to hear it?
BOASSO: Yeah, you know, it‘s really difficult. We have so many problems going on. This disaster has affected, you know, I mean, over a million people and you know, the sanitary situation is so terrible and of course, you know, we have to deal with all the other things in the water because of, you know, all the run-off and everything else from businesses, etcetera...
DANIELS: You might not be able to see our pictures, but we‘re showing rescue operations, we‘re showing people wading in the water and every time we have the health expert on, they are saying that‘s so bad, they shouldn‘t even be in the water, there are so many creatures crawling in that water, not to mention the fact it‘s basically a sewer.
BOASSO: Lisa basically, it doesn‘t make a difference to a lot of people right now. Is that all they trying to do is save their lives. And by no means am I trying to put anybody any kind of panic situation, but you know, we have a disaster that is just—I guess in so many ways, it looks like Armageddon.
DANIELS: Wow. I can‘t imagine how it is on the ground because the pictures coming from that area, they‘re just horrendous, there are no words for it.
BOASSO: You know, just the main thing I want to let people know—people that did make it to the shelters, everybody‘s getting evacuated out, we are carrying them cross the Mississippi River to busses to move them to shelters. We have a massive rescue effort going on at this time.
DANIELS: I‘m so happy to hear that and I hope you get to the—the word to the people who need to hear it over there. Senator Boasso, thanks so much.
BOASSO: Thank you.
DANIELS: All the very best to you.
Now we‘re going to go Biloxi, Mississippi where MSNBC‘s David Shuster is in the middle of what could be described as utter devastation.
David, maybe you can give us a look at the scene where are you, pan around and show us what you‘re seeing.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Lisa, absolutely. What makes this so sad is this is poorest part of Biloxi and it got hit the hardest. It‘s a neighborhood known as “The Point,” every home in this area was totally destroyed, you see, of course a couple rooftops over there, but that‘s all underneath. It‘s just total devastation. Ironically, what we‘re standing in right now is a parking lot of what used to be the Salvation Army, and in fact, this brown building, that you see behind me, this was sort of the main center of the Salvation Army, is the only thing left standing on this lot. We think that behind the Salvation Army, just a little bit over in that direction, there may have been a house. But the biggest changes, you see that really big building that‘s about five stories tall, 300 yards long. That wasn‘t there before the hurricane. That is the Grand Casino, it‘s on a barge. It was actually about a half mile away, pointed the other direction. You couldn‘t see it from this location but the storm surge lifted it up, brought it across a highway and then put it there. The beach is just on the other side and the highway just beyond that. So the landscape here has totally changed.
And Lisa, what‘s so sad about this particular neighborhood, as we‘ve heard a number of stories about people who couldn‘t afford to leave. This is an impoverished area, people get their checks on the first and the third of the month. With the hurricane striking when it did, a lot of people were already out of money, couldn‘t spare the 30 or $40 to try to fill up their car with gas and get out of here. So, total devastation here, a lot of fatalities among people who simply thought “I‘ll try to ride it out and use what money have I to buy batteries.”
Outside of this particular neighborhood, people in some of the other areas that have a roof over their head, a lot of them today seem to be at the local Biloxi Wal-Mart. The line stretched from the front to the side, all the way to the back. People waiting to try to buy bear necessities. We spoke with one woman and here‘s what she had to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People need to send stuff in here. We are desperate. I mean, whatever stores can open, they need to open. People need stuff. I mean, we have—I have nothing. No bread, no nothing. Not a thing. I know they don‘t have bread and that‘s fine. But I mean, you know, people need essentials other than food, too.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: Of course a lot of passion, a lot of emotions today and now, a couple days after the hurricane hits, I mean, you‘ve got people running out of key supplies and they‘re trying to find it. The good news, of course, for the Wal-Mart and some of those other stores is that supplies are on the way. And unlike New Orleans, at least the situation here, seems settled. Trucks are able to get in with supplies. The big problem now is they don‘t know where some of the bodies are because there‘s just so much debris, as you can see behind me, and so little indication of who stayed and who decided to leave that they don‘t know essentially where to begin to look for people. They have cadaver dogs trying to figure out where some of the bodies are, but it‘s awfully, awfully grim situation. A lot of people say at the moment, you know, the focus has got be on getting water, getting gas, and getting some sort of power, electricity if that‘s possible, generators and hopefully, all of that is coming into Biloxi, but it‘s still a pretty grim situation.
DANIELS: It‘s so sad to see that—the face of that young boy on the line trying to get some water. You just have to wonder, what is he thinking, what‘s happened to his world? David, the woman that you had a sound byte from who was saying that they‘re just waiting for something—do we know if supplies got to them?
SHUSTER: Yeah, we do believe that there was some 25 trucks that apparently arrived at that particular store. They were filled with water, with ice, with some other things. So even though people in line were expecting that they would not get any water or ice, apparently they did and at least now, it‘s pretty clear in Biloxi, there are different points around the city where they have actually set up some distribution centers, where they‘re trying to get people to go and pick up the bear necessities. The next problem of course is trying to clean up and trying to actually get into some of these places.
And it‘s just the enormity of this, Lisa, is just for people—it‘s mind boggling. And you have people walking around, I mean, for example, there was a couple that we met that had four kids that are sleeping in a car because their house was totally destroyed. They don‘t know where to go, they don‘t have much money, they don‘t know what to do. I mean, you find that everyone. I mean everywhere you point the camera, every street you walk down you find another amazing story about people who are just trying to figure out what to do with themselves.
DANIELS: That‘s exactly right. People are wandering, they don‘t know where to go. David Shuster. Thanks for your reports and all of your reports, they‘ve been great, thank you.
SHUSTER: Thanks Lisa.
DANIELS: Coming up, President Bush takes an aerial tour of New Orleans and the gulf coast as the federal government calls for the largest search and rescue mission in history. We‘re going to talk with one of the people leading it, FEMA director Mike Brown.
And the race against time to fix those broken levees that are supposed to keep the water out of New Orleans. The Army Corp of Engineers saying it could take weeks to get the water out of the city.
We‘ll be right back.
DANIELS: Coming up, President Bush speaks out what he saw flying over the hard-hit gulf coast today and we‘re going to talk with FEMA director Michael brown. But first another look at today‘s top stores.
DANIELS: And we‘re back with more of this special edition of the ABRAMS REPORT on the chaos and the carnage that followed Hurricane Katrina. Here‘s the very latest.
President Bush went on the air about 90 minutes ago, surrounded by his cabinet and promised an effective response to one of the worst national disasters in the nation‘s history.
The Army Corp of Engineers is hoping to block the breaches hundreds of feet long in New Orleans battled levees with helicopter drops sandbags and highway barriers. And New Orleans mayors saying some chilling words that he fears hundreds or more likely thousands of people may be dead in his city.
Joining me now with more on President Bush‘s announcement is MSNBC chief Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell.
And Nora, I‘ve got to say that numbers are so staggering; it‘s hard to get a grip on the scale that we‘re talking about.
NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: That‘s right. And with America facing one of the greatest natural disasters in history, that‘s why President Bush rushed back to the White House today and appeared in the rose garden, franked by his full cabinet to send the message, not only of sympathy, but also to steal the country for the very tough road ahead. And the president today said this is going to take a long time to do some of the recovery that‘s required.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is going to be a difficult road. The challenges that we face on the ground are unprecedented. But there‘s no doubt in my mind, we‘re going to succeed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O‘DONNELL: The commander-in-chief back at the White House today and the president, earlier today, when he was on his way back from Texas took Air Force One and flew over Mississippi and Louisiana, including the Superdome. The president seen sort peering out of the window, bringing Air Force One, which usually flies about 29,000 feet, bringing it down just about, like 1,700 feet to get an up-close look at the damage. He‘s going to return to the region in the couple of days in order to get a closer look and sort of lend his support.
But really, what the president was doing today, in a very public way, is making clear to the American people that the federal government is launching one of the largest mobilizations in history to help the hundreds of thousands who have been hurt by Hurricane Katrina and you know, what is being done?
Well, all hands are on deck and the numbers are staggering. To think about the federal resources that are headed down there to that region, the administration making clear today that they are sending some 39 disaster medical assistance teams. There are going to be 1,700 trucks loaded with more than five million meals, 13 million liters of water and 135,000 blankets and generator generators.
The Coast Guard has already rescued or assisted more than one thousand people in distress. Also being done today by the federal government, the EPA waved standards for gasoline and diesel fuel to prevent supply interruptions, they‘re hoping that helps with the high cost of gas and there won‘t be supply interruptions.
Also, they‘re going to be releasing fuel from the strategic petroleum reserve. The government expected to have more announcements on that. Also the Pentagon sending some 10,000 National Guard troops to Louisiana and Mississippi. The Pentagon making clear today that they are putting together one of the largest search and rescue operations in history. The Pentagon not only sending C-130‘s with supplies down there, but both the USS Comfort in order to provide medical attention. So President Bush we‘re expected to hear more from at this time coming days but also this administration saying they are helping in every way they can—Lisa.
DANIELS: That‘s good to hear. Norah O‘Donnell. Thanks so much Norah appreciate it.
DANIELS: And as we‘ve heard from the president, Hurricane Katrina is one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history. And joining me now is the man in charge of the recovery efforts, FEMA director, Michael Brown.
And you heard the president, this operation is in your hands and it‘s in the hands of Michael Chertoff, the Homeland Security director. Can you give us some words of assurance that all is being done to get that whole area rescued and just put back to normal?
MICHAEL BROWN, FEMA DIRECTOR: Absolutely, Lisa. The president‘s charge to me was that I‘ve got the full resources of the federal government every department, every cabinet agency, every agency that exists in the federal government at my disposal to do what we need to do the rebuild, not only New Orleans, but we have to remember, we‘re still doing response and recovery operations in Mississippi and Alabama also.
DANIELS: You know, I heard you earlier saying that it could be months before people come home. Perhaps they‘ll never be able to rebuild their homes in the places where they were living. Where are these people going to go?
BROWN: Well, that‘s one of the most daunting challenges we have right now is getting people to understand that New Orleans is virtually obliterated. Right now, there are sections of New Orleans that houses—the water is up to the roofs. Water continues to rise, although the Army Corp of Engineers is telling me it‘s beginning to stabilize a little bit. This is going to be a massive effort. People—in lots of ordinary disasters, people can get back into their neighborhoods, you know, maybe a few days, maybe a week afterwards. In this case, it‘s literally going to be perhaps months before they can even get back in there, just to see the damage, not to live there, but just to see the damage.
DANIELS: Mike, do I still have you? All right. Obviously, we just lost him. Maybe we‘ll try to get him back, but a big thanks to Mike Brown, he‘s a very busy man, head of FEMA, right now.
Well, we‘re going to go back to the hard-hit New Orleans area and follow a police lieutenant as he returns to his home for the first time.
And the Army Corp of Engineer is going to unprecedented lengths to shore up
the levees around New Orleans. Tonight, they‘ll try to drop 15,000-pound
bags of filler from helicopters to stop the water. We‘ll be right back
DANIELS: And back with me, the head of FEMA, Mike brown.
Mike I want to ask you about the video that we‘re seeing of people aimlessly wandering on these highways. Are they getting the information they need to food and water and just basic necessities?
BROWN: They are. We have rescue teams trying to get just basic information to them and get some MREs and some water to them. You know, one of the difficult things of doing a disaster of this massive proportion, is you have to prioritize and you have to save lives first. And so those aren‘t in quite as bad of danger as others, you give them the necessities so you can go save somebody‘s life first.
DANIELS: And the people on the highways that we‘re seeing, how are they getting their information?
BROWN: Well, the Coast Guard, the helicopters are dropping in and getting information to them. It‘s just one of those things. We got boats moving up to them. I don‘t know whether you have any video of it or not, but there are a lot of these small boats that we use in Louisiana that are literally going up to the edges of those places where people are on bridges, just to let them know what‘s going on.
DANIELS: Yeah, we have seen them on various video clips. I‘ve been covering the story all day and I have to say, until I heard the New Orleans mayor saying that we are dealing with hundreds, perhaps thousands of deaths here, I didn‘t even realize that it‘s a scale of this magnitude. Do you think those are accurate predictions?
BROWN: Well, I hope they‘re not accurate predictions, but with all respect to the mayor, I hope he‘s just wrong. But the problem is and I was trying to explain this earlier to some folks, is we‘re just right now, in a life-saving operation. When you think about it, and it‘s hard to describe if you can‘t see New Orleans, but you know, not to be morbid about this, but, in some of those houses, that we can‘t get to yet because the water‘s up to the roof, there may be bodies there. We don‘t know that. So, what we have to focus on are the people that we know are alive, get them out and then as we have time, we‘ll trying to retrieve those bodies and get into those homes that are inundated to see what we find.
DANIELS: So at 5:45 right now, New Orleans time, what do you need?
What‘s on the highest priority in terms of supplies?
BROWN: Well, right now, we‘re going to evacuate the Superdome. General (UNINTELLIGIBLE) from North Pond is on his way here. They have a plan in place, I just finished a conference call about the plan to start doing the evacuation of the Superdome. That‘s No. 1 priority. We have to get the rest of the people out of New Orleans before we can really kind of start even doing the rebuilding process. And if people don‘t want to leave the Superdome, are you going to force them to go?
DANIELS: Oh, yes. We will have—yes. We will—we will evacuate the Superdome.
BROWN: How dangerous is it right now?
BROWN: Well, it‘s stabilized, but it‘s—they‘re unbearable conditions. We have to get the people out of there and I know the general has a great plan, and I‘m going to support the general on getting that done as quickly as possible.
DANIELS: And what about the city itself of New Orleans. Were you going to force people out of there?
BROWN: Well, we will have to in those areas where people are trapped or in their homes. We will have to take those people out of there. You know, there are some areas of New Orleans that—people on the west bank aren‘t that bad, but that—the local officials will make that decision. But in those areas where it‘s inundated, but there are some dry spots, my guess is the mayor‘s going to evacuate all of those areas because there just simply is no infrastructure to support them.
DANIELS: Right. No, that makes sense. Mike Brown, thanks so much for joining me and I don‘t have to tell you that the nation‘s just praying that everything works out OK, and that you get all of the resources that you need.
BROWN: Thank you, Lisa. We appreciate that.
DANIELS: Thank you. And with the latest now from Slidell, Louisiana is MSNBC‘s Donna Gregory.
Donna what‘s the situation there?
DONNA GREGORY, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Lisa, this is the first time we have been an able to show you the massive destruction of this part of Slidell. Take a look over here, we don‘t even know what kind of businesses these were. Totally destroyed, there‘s cars buried underneath all of the rubble and then as you move on down the street, you can see this once was a discount shop right next door to a Chinese restaurant. Total destruction underneath.
Look next to this, there are four housing, right here. They‘re actually apartment unit units. You can see there‘s vehicles that are just demolished. But I want you to focus on that yellow one down at the very end. You can see that big, blue dumpster, that big structure right to the right of it. That may have saved the lives of five people. We met the five who actually rode out the storm with the 12 to 15-foot surge from Lake Pontchartrain on Monday. They sat terrified, huddled upstairs, one in a closet for hour, after hour as the waves pounded against the house, sometimes as high as that top railing. They managed to survive. All five were terrified, including a woman who was four and a half months pregnant. They rode out the storm.
Most of the people in Slidell heeded the word to evacuate, but when they came back to today, they found messes inside their home that were impossible to imagine. One of those people was the actual men who was in charge of the entire emergency operation, here in Slidell. His name is Lieutenant Rob Callahan and he was nice enough to let us inside of his home as he went in for the first time, touring the damage. What he saw astounded even the man who has seen damage beyond belief in his town. He found water marks up to his waist or chest up to his furniture. Fortunately he had moved some of his most prized possessions, including the pictures of his young children, up to higher ground so that the water would not damage the things that he most dearly prized.
But he found his refrigerator toppled over in the kitchen, water and sludge had just ruined most of the furniture that was in his home. But he is thankful that his wife and children were out of the area and he, on very little sleep, coordinated the emergency operation in Slidell.
We want to show you what has really lived up to its name in Slidell and then hopes top rise above it. This was “Ugly‘s Bar.” Across the street from the homes that you just saw, you can see the bar stool there. Beyond that is the manmade canal and beyond that had been had been marshland, beyond that was Lake Pontchartrain. That is how far the water came and they said those storm surges popped into their home that quickly. They‘re hoping now, Lisa, that this pile of trash here can once be their margaritaville on the bayou once they rebuild. Back to you.
DANIELS: I don‘t even know what to say, looking at those pictures. It‘s just—it‘s just horrible. Donna Gregory, thanks so much for the report. It‘s amazing.
Coming up, what must be done to fix the levees and get the water out of there—out of New Orleans.
DANIELS: New Orleans‘ system of levees and flood walls dates back to the 1920‘s and it was never really designed for a hurricane as strong as Katrina. Now breaches in two reinforced steel flood walls and a levee have poured so much into Lake Pontchartrain into New Orleans that the Army Corps on Engineers believes that the water in the city is now equalizing with the lake with parts of New Orleans under as much as 20 feet of water.
Giant pumps that help keep the city more or less dry for years have now failed. And while the Corp of Engineers hopes the sealed breaches as much as 300 feet long with these giant sandbags and highway barriers dropped from helicopters, it admits it‘s never done this before, it‘s never tried it. Bob Bea is a professor of civil engineering at the University of California at Berkeley and he also lived in New Orleans for eight years and survived Hurricane Betsy in 1965.
I‘m going to get to that in a just a second, but you know, it‘s a little scary to hear that the Army, or that the Corps of Engineers have not done this. At the same time, they‘re going to put these sandbags in. Do you think their plan will work?
BOB BEA, PROF. CIVIL ENGINEERING, UNIV. CAL. BERKLEY: I think the plan has a chance of working. Knowing the Corps of Engineers, that‘s where I started my career.
DANIELS: Right. What‘s involved in the plan? Why is it so complicated? Explain to it people that don‘t understand all the intricacies of engineering.
BEA: Well, it‘s not so much the intricacies of engineering as it is mobilizing equipment, manpower, materials, and we‘re talking about very, very large portions of the levee system that have to be reestablished, and it‘s just logistics, actually, of doing that.
DANIELS: And in term of the 17th Street canal, that‘s the major one now. If that doesn‘t work, is there a Plan B that you can think of that these engineers will fall back on?
BEA: Well, no. Essentially what they have to do is isolate the flooded areas in the sense that they can establish pumping operations to dewater those areas and as long as they are connected with other flooding areas, the problem becomes almost insurmountable. So they‘ve got to establish the integrity.
DANIELS: To hear that the water in the city is equalizing the lake, just gives you the picture, right there. You are a survivor of Hurricane Betsy in 1965. What are these people going through psychologically?
BEA: Well, the best way to put it is it‘s really pretty horrible. Yes I was there, I was there when Betsy came through, my family, a young son. We had to evacuate at the height of the storm. Wind speeds were clocking well over 100-miles-per-hour, and it was sucking out store fronts. We evacuated, as I heard someone put it the other day, vertically, into my office in downtown New Orleans, very close to the Superdome.
DANIELS: Yeah, well...
BEA: My family lived under my office desk for the next month. We had warm up the baby bottles for my son in the coffeemaker. We had to borrow sandwiches from the sandwich machine to stay alive.
DANIELS: Is the emotional...
BEA: So the impact on the people and the families is just absolutely horrendous.
DANIELS: I can only imagine. Forgive me for interrupting you but we have to end this. Bob Bea, thank you so much. And all the best.
And we‘re going to be back in a moment with some phone number of organizations you can donate to.
DANIELS: If you have a pen and pad, grab it, because if you want to make a donation to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina, here some of the organizations that you can call.
The Salvation Army 800-725-2769, the American Red Cross 1-800-HELP-NOW, Church World Service 1-800-297-1516, and America‘s Second Harvest 1-800-771-2303.
And remember, for all the numbers, just log onto our Web site MSNBC.com, for a list of more relief organizations.
That‘s going to do it for us tonight. Coming up next, “Hardball” with Chris Matthews and more of MSNBC‘s coverage of the hurricane. Goodnight.
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