Guest: Asa Hutchinson, Michael Brown, Mike Leavitt, Haley Barbour, Nora Tyson, David Vitter, Rick Perry
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: Tonight, under the direct command of President Bush, the full force of the federal government is mobilized. A superpower of resources, manpower and know-how heads on an historic rescue mission to the Gulf Coast.
Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
Today, the president returned to Washington and declared the entire Gulf Coast a public health emergency. In a Rose Garden address, the president pledged full force of the federal government.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are dealing with one of the worst natural disasters in our nation‘s history. And that‘s why I‘ve called the Cabinet together.
The people in the affected regions expect the federal government to work with the state government and local government with an effective response.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Tonight, we will hear the roles being played by the president, the Pentagon, HHS, FEMA and Homeland Security. We are going to see what a superpower was built to do, save its people, hurricane victims in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.
You could say that, while this hurricane came ashore in the Gulf, it was erased—it has erased all boundaries, wiping out politics. There are Democrats and Republicans in this safety and recovery effort. America is just one nation working together to face this challenge.
Tonight, the message from Washington: Help is on the way.
More on this major federal rescue and relief effort later.
But, first, the latest on the devastation in New Orleans from NBC News correspondent Martin Savidge—Martin.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Chris.
A frightening statement coming from the mayor of New Orleans, as he announced—when he was questioned on how many people may have died here, that, at a minimum, he said, hundreds, possibly thousands.
It has always been feared that there could be a high death toll, but no one had contemplated, at least on this point, on the street, that the death toll could possibly be that high. There is a glimmer of good news, though. Part of that has to do with the flooding that has been taking place. Remember that there has been leaking from several of the levees here for a number of days, continuously, water flowing in.
Had that not been stopped, all of New Orleans would have been flooded out. The Army Corps of Engineers says that situation has been stabilized, thanks to a lot of sandbags and a lot of concrete.
Meanwhile, the effort to try to rescue people continues around the clock. People are still being plucked from rooftops. They are still being precariously saved on the water, in many cases, right in the middle of New Orleans itself. All of this is happening as those that have survived are trying to find everything they need to continue surviving. That means food. That means water.
They have not seen any relief efforts inside the city of New Orleans. That‘s why there‘s looting, people foraging to find the basics to stay alive. Some people are stealing more than that. But most of them have been taking just what they need to feed their families.
And then trying to get the 20,000 people that are in that so-called shelter of last resort, the Superdome, out. A deal has been worked out between the governors of Louisiana and the governors of Texas. They will go from the Superdome to the Astrodome, 350 miles away, on 475 buses—
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Martin.
We have been watching those pictures of people waving desperately white sheets or pillow covers or whatever from their windows. What is the difficulty of getting ships or small boats even up to those buildings?
SAVIDGE: Well, part of it is that the waters have been shifting constantly within the city itself. Some areas that were dry last night, people woke up this morning and found that they had been surrounded by water. In other words, what was a bad situation, by sunrise, had become almost an untenable situation.
And then you have the small boats. There is no shortage of those.
Hundreds of people have come from all areas bringing their boats with them. The problem is, once you get a boat in the water, there‘s all sorts of obstacles there, including lots of bodies.
The brief last night, as people were preparing to go into some of these neighborhoods under the cover of darkness, they were taking crowbars; they were taking axes. They were planning to cut through roofs to find people trapped in attics. The last warning they were given, don‘t touch the bodies. Leave those. We‘re only after the living—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Martin Savidge.
Let‘s go now to HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster. He‘s in Biloxi, Mississippi.
David, thanks for joining us tonight. What‘s new there, the place hardest hit by Katrina?
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, the news is that some stuff, some supplies are finally starting to trickle in.
Now, they were actually delivering it today from this very spot in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods. And this is actually the parking lot of what used to be the Salvation Army, so I suppose appropriate in some case that this is where they would try to deliver things.
But while residents are still trying to grapple with the enormity of the catastrophe, at the moment, it seems that everybody is most concerned about the basics.
SHUSTER (voice-over): As the federal government began flying in relief supplies, the Biloxi Wal-Mart today opened its doors.
CHRISSY HOLLAND, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: I know I‘m not going to get water, but I‘m here to get what I can.
SHUSTER: The line was so long, it stretched from the front to the side to the back of the store.
Norma McMahon lost everything.
NORMA MCMAHON, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: They need—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, nothing. I know they don‘t have bread. And that‘s fine. But, I mean, people need essentials, other than food, too.
SHUSTER: Many of these residents told us they still have roofs on their homes. Most residents in Biloxi‘s poorest neighborhood do not. Nearly 4,000 mostly low-income people live here in an area called the Point. And the timing of Katrina could not have been worse.
CHAD PETTERSON, FURNITURE DEALER: On the 1st and the 3rd, a lot of people get their government checks. And, of course, the storm had to hit on the 29th. So nobody—it‘s the end of the month. Nobody has money.
SHUSTER: The Petterson family runs this rent-to-own furniture store. And most of their business came from the Biloxi Point neighborhood. Chad says he is haunted by the dozens of requests he got before the storm.
PETTERSON: Will you loan me $20 so I can get gas to get out of here?
And we didn‘t have $20 to give to anybody.
SHUSTER: City officials believe the number of Point residents who died here may be in the hundreds. But the debris is so extensive, the recovery of bodies could take months. Many of the cadavers that have been recovered had tears on the hands and feet, indications of a last desperate struggle to claw through the sharp nails of a roof.
Aside from the human toll, the economic cost is also becoming clear.
A third of the economy is driven by gambling.
(on camera): Biloxi‘s largest casino was the Grand Casino. It was attached on a barge to that structure that looks like a parking lot. But during the storm, it was carried from the water over what is normally the beach here and then it was picked up and carried across Highway 90. And that, that is the Grand Casino. Nearly 300 yards long, it employed more than 500 people. And now it is a complete and total loss.
(voice-over): It all means no jobs over the long term, on top of the more immediate challenges for tens of thousands of people who have no power, water, food or communications and are still in shock. We asked this survivor, Archie Heidelberg, if he had to swim.
ARCHIE HEIDELBERG, BILOXI RESIDENT: (INAUDIBLE)
SHUSTER: Chris, the stories here just heartbreaking. So many people said to their friends and family a couple days ago that they wanted to leave this impoverished neighborhood before the storm, if they could just afford it, but said that they couldn‘t. So they stayed. And many of them, Chris, are believed to have paid with their lives.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you very much, David Shuster in Biloxi.
Let‘s go back to New Orleans and NBC News anchor Brian Williams.
Brian, that‘s a terrible story of people we just heard, of people trying to climb through their roofs, through the nails, and not being able to make it even to daylight.
Brian, what‘s new in New Orleans?
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR: Chris, what we have to stress is, that is
· that is still happening. I mean, around the clock right now in places where we don‘t have cameras, guys are out in fan boats, those boats you see in the Everglades. And they fear that when they open school buildings in this city, they fear that, when they get to some of these apartments up here, that they‘re going to find folks dead.
That‘s why the mayor here made such news today when he said, hundreds, maybe thousands dead in just the city of New Orleans. And we keep hearing reports of a total evacuation of this city. And I‘m starting to believe that there may be no other choice. You see these cars going by us here. They‘re the lucky ones. They have automobiles from somewhere. There are tires that aren‘t flat because of the glass.
We‘re in one of the few dry streets in this part of the center part of the city in the old French Quarter. But, you know, that break in the levee that the Army Corps of Engineers has to fix and then make another controlled break, it is like firefighters setting fires. They have to make a controlled break to drain the city. We‘re talking about months. We have got interstate highways out. We have got, you know, babies with no diapers, times 10,000.
We have a refugee problem in the United States tonight.
MATTHEWS: Where are they going to take the people? I know they‘re going to take several thousand, a couple tens of thousands, to the Astrodome. But what about all the people we‘re watching in the streets sloshing through the water?
WILLIAMS: Well, Chris, you know, they‘ve all got word that, if you go down to the Astrodome, you‘ll get evacuated. And that caused just a human exodus today.
Remember—sorry, the Superdome. You‘ll get evacuated to the Astrodome. Remember, what you get at the Astrodome, it is a four-hour bus ride away. You get air conditioning for that four hours, which they haven‘t had. You get a better working restroom on that bus. You probably get a bottle of water and a meal ready to eat, a military meal.
At the Astrodome, they have all the conditions they haven‘t had at the Superdome. It was the governor of this state who finally went over there last night and said, people can‘t live this way. But the people walking around, we just saw some tourists go by us, dragging all their possessions, two dogs they had with them on vacation.
It breaks your heart. We have to have infrastructure to feed and house our folks. They stopped by and ask us. We share what we can. These are people who already didn‘t have a lot. They are left without basic human needs tonight.
MATTHEWS: People need water, first of all, when they‘re in dire straits. How are people getting—Christie Todd Whitman was on last night, and she said that‘s almost like a war logistics situation just to get water to people, bottles of water.
WILLIAMS: Yes, we haven‘t seen any yet.
The only pallets of water I have seen were in the reports we aired
tonight on “NBC Nightly News.” But in the downtown sections of New Orleans
· and, granted, there aren‘t a lot of people who haven‘t moved out to get aid elsewhere in the city—we have not seen, I have not seen government-sponsored deliveries of the very same water we had to have trucked in to us to survive.
Everything is scarce. And it—you know, I think we‘re going to have to view this as a warlike effort, as the president almost in his remarks today.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, NBC‘s Brian Williams, who is in New Orleans.
As we have reported, thousands of refugees will be bussed out of the Superdome in New Orleans and into the Astrodome over in Houston.
Texas Governor Rick Perry joins us now from Austin.
Governor Perry, thank you for joining us.
MATTHEWS: Who took the initiative to offer this hospitality of the state of Texas?
GOV. RICK PERRY ®, TEXAS: Well, actually, yesterday, we were discussing how to use the Astrodome, the possibility of it, with Robert Eckels, the county judge in Harris County. This morning, I think the decision was made.
Governor Blanco gave me a call and asked if we would be gracious enough to accept those 23,000-plus Louisiana residents. And we said absolutely. We have been working towards that type of a relief effort. So the decision was made at approximately 8:00 this morning. And the wheels were already turning, though, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Will those people be free to leave the Astrodome or will they be under some sort of custody arrangement?
PERRY: Well, obviously, it is not a prison. They are going to be able to move in and out. We obviously will have security there for their benefit as well. And they‘re going to be able to move in and out.
But the fact of the matter is, just getting a little bit of fresh air and that, you said earlier, air conditioning and clean water and facilities to get the necessities in life. We have also made arrangements for the public schools to be open for the children that are going to be arriving there, some 6,000 to 8,000 of those, so that our public schools will be absorbing a number of those young Louisiana students and trying to get their lives back to some sense of normalcy that we can.
MATTHEWS: Where‘s Texas getting the money for this—for this effort?
PERRY: Well, you know, we will find the dollars. The fact of the matter is, this is—by the grace of God, this could have been Houston, Texas, that we were talking about today, instead of New Orleans. And our neighbors are in need and we will find the dollars to make it work.
MATTHEWS: A small point. I don‘t mean to be whimsical, but, at this time, it wouldn‘t hurt for a little whimsy. How did you get the Astros out of their ballpark?
PERRY: Well, they‘re playing at a place called Minute Maid now, not the Astrodome.
MATTHEWS: Oh, really? I‘m brought up to...
PERRY: Welcome—welcome to this year in baseball here, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Well, I haven‘t been follow them that closely. But I will in the future.
PERRY: You certainly haven‘t.
MATTHEWS: Thanks to your state‘s wonderful hospitality. It‘s great having you on. And congratulations to your state. It shows a great value system, that you‘re doing this.
PERRY: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Texas Governor Rick Perry.
When we come back, the full power of the federal government is mobilizing to help Americans whose lives have been upended by Hurricane Katrina. We will get the latest on that effort when we return.
But, first, many survivors we have met tell us they have been unable to reach loved ones to tell them they‘re OK. Here are messages from some of them in Biloxi, Mississippi.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, President Bush is back in Washington to oversee the federal government‘s hurricane relief efforts, as the White House puts aiding Katrina victims at the top of its agenda—when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s special coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
President Bush cut short his vacation and returned to Washington today, briefly flying over Katrina‘s devastation in New Orleans aboard Air Force One. White House aides say he may visit the hardest-hit areas by week‘s end. We will have much more on the president‘s response and the powerful response of the federal government in a moment.
But, first, joining me now on the phone from Baton Rouge is Senator David Vitter of Louisiana.
Senator Vitter, are you happy with what the president had to say from the Rose Garden late today?
SEN. DAVID VITTER ®, LOUISIANA: Yes, I‘m very happy with it. He made it clear that this will be an unprecedented federal response. And, unfortunately, it is completely appropriate and justified, because this is an unprecedented and ongoing disaster, at least in the New Orleans area.
MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense of what it is going to cost from the federal government to get to the state of Louisiana, your state, to cover the costs of fixing the levees, transporting the people back and forth, everything that goes into this recovery and relief effort?
VITTER: No, I don‘t. But everyone has said you can add the four hurricanes in Florida and that is just a starting point, that figure added together.
MATTHEWS: When do you think that you‘ll be able to fix the levees in New Orleans?
VITTER: Well, that is absolutely time-critical, so that‘s a top priority. And the Corps of Engineers, with a lot of other assets, is working on that now.
So, I‘m hoping that that is stabilized in the next day. There is no longer water rushing into the city, simply because the level in the city is now equalized with the level in Lake Pontchartrain and water is receding out from Lake Pontchartrain into the Gulf. So, that has stabilized. And so there isn‘t water rushing into the city. But, still, it is a very top priority, time-sensitive, to fix the levees. And they‘re working on that now.
MATTHEWS: Brian Williams just reported to us from New Orleans that there‘s an oddity to this, that the levees have to be breached again to get the water out. Can you explain that engineering, how that works, Senator?
VITTER: Well, I‘m not sure the levees are going to have to be breached.
But, certainly, right now, one of the things they‘re doing is closing up where the 17th Street canal...
VITTER: ... which is the canal going into the city, meets Lake Pontchartrain. They‘re closing that off, so water doesn‘t keep coming into the city. Now, at some point, we need water to go out and pump it out. So, they‘re going to have to open up what they‘re closing up now.
Let me ask you about the police situation. We‘re not under martial law. But, yet, the police are escorting people who are now in the Superdome on to buses, where they‘re being transferred, I guess rather happily, in air-conditioned buses with cold water to a much nicer place these days. That‘s the Astrodome in Houston, Texas.
But what about all the people in the streets? Are they going to be told to leave town?
VITTER: Everybody needs to get out.
I suppose, technically, you‘re right. We‘re not under martial law. But I have met and spoken with the governor and we‘re as close to that as we possibly can be. And state police and the Louisiana National Guard, with National Guard reinforcements from around the country, especially trained M.P. units, are going to New Orleans specifically to bring law and order to the streets.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the two largest moneymakers for your part of the world.
One is the petroleum industry, of course, and the second is the one I‘m more familiar with as typical American tourism. How likely is it you‘ll get those back into shape?
VITTER: Will over time. The big question is, what amount of time? And, of course, we‘re talking months to get any semblance of calm and pumping the water out. So, it‘s going to take quite a while.
MATTHEWS: How is the French Quarter?
VITTER: I haven‘t heard reports late today.
As you know, it had been dry originally. But the increasing water yesterday was threatening that. That stabilized, but I haven‘t heard exactly where it is today in terms of water.
MATTHEWS: Well, there‘s nothing like it in America. There may not be anything like it in the world. I mean, I have to say, I hope—I hope you folks get your—get back that treasure of the French Quarter. It is so fascinating to walk through the history of this country, going way back to when it was a French possession.
MATTHEWS: And to sense that history. And it‘s all there.
VITTER: It didn‘t blow away. There may be a couple feet of water there now, but it didn‘t blow away. So, it will be back.
MATTHEWS: What about getting the oil petroleum refineries back online and all the pumping offshore back online?
VITTER: Well, that‘s critical.
And I was just in a meeting about that. We have a big loop system that basically gets oil imports into the refineries. And we‘re trying to get that up and running as quickly as possible, because the refineries are shut down simply for lack of supplies of oil to refine. So, that‘s also a very top priority. As you know, the administration has taken very strong, really unprecedented action to relieve some oil supplies from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to try to temporarily stabilize prices or at least mitigate price rises.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much. Good luck, Senator. We are all wishing you well.
VITTER: Thank you, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Senator David Vitter of Louisiana.
And now to the unprecedented relief efforts by the federal government, and we begin at the White House. President Bush cut short his vacation today by a couple of days to oversee the massive aid operation.
Here now is NBC News White House correspondent Kelly O‘Donnell.
KELLY O‘DONNELL, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After 29 days away from Washington...
BUSH: Just received an update.
O‘DONNELL: ... President Bush was back in the Rose Garden, flanked by Cabinet officials, to preside over a crisis destined for history.
BUSH: This recovery will take a long time. This recovery will take years.
O‘DONNELL: The president listed by the truckload a massive government care package to the region, including more than five million meals, 13 million liters of water and 135,000 blankets.
BUSH: The challenge that we face on the ground are unprecedented.
O‘DONNELL: Earlier today, the route back from Texas to Washington included an Air Force One detour. Dropping to an altitude of just 2,500 feet, the president surveyed damage over Louisiana and Mississippi for 35 minutes.
(on camera): The president‘s simple priorities are difficult to achieve, saving lives, rebuilding communities. Mr. Bush will visit the region later this week.
Kelly O‘Donnell, NBC News, the White House.
MATTHEWS: Up next, the military is mobilizing by land, by air, and by sea. We will talk to the commanding officer of the USS Bataan, which is part of the massive search-and-rescue operation now under way in New Orleans.
You‘re watching HARDBALL‘s special edition on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL‘s special coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
The Pentagon has created a task force to assist with the rescue and relief mission in the devastated Gulf states. All five branches of the military are mobilizing by air, land and sea. And all are racing to get down there.
Captain Nora Tyson is the commanding officer of the USS Bataan, which is off the coast of Louisiana. She joins us by phone.
Captain Tyson, this is quite a mission. How is it going?
CAPT. NORA TYSON, COMMANDER OFFICER, USS BATAAN: Well, Chris, we‘re doing everything that we can out here.
We have got helos flying off the deck pretty much around the clock. We have sent landing craft up the river with water, fuel, supplies. I have got a couple more air cushion landing craft that are in the well deck of the ship right now. And they‘re loaded up with supplies and we‘re trying to get them in to help out also.
MATTHEWS: Is this something the men have been trained for?
TYSON: Well, it‘s one of our missions. And we kind of train to do a lot of things. And humanitarian relief is one of those things that we‘re ready to go do at a moment‘s notice.
This ship is known as being a multipurpose amphibious assault ship. But we do a lot of humanitarian relief, as some of our sister ships did last year over off of Indonesia with the tsunami relief. And, unfortunately, that‘s part of what we do.
MATTHEWS: Is this like an LST or an LSD?
TYSON: No, it is LHD.
TYSON: It‘s one of the big-deck amphibs. It looks like a small aircraft carrier.
MATTHEWS: Yes, my brother was on an LST about 20, 30 years ago. And I was more familiar with that particular model.
Let me ask you about the range of your copters and how they operate.
What are they capable of doing on a mission when—when they head off?
TYSON: OK. Right now, I have got four MH-53s on board. They‘re out of Corpus Christi. And they are primarily heavy lift. And, right now, they‘re moving people. They‘re moving supplies, any way that they can help out with whatever the efforts are going on in New Orleans.
MATTHEWS: How many passengers can they take?
TYSON: They can take about 30 at a time or so.
We have got MH-60s also that are our search-and-rescue birds. And they‘re in there picking people off of rooftops and moving people wherever they need to.
MATTHEWS: What‘s the range of those—those copters?
TYSON: The 53s are much longer-range than the 60s. The 60s can go—well, it depends on gas. But they can go about, oh, 250 miles or so. And the 53s have a lot longer range.
MATTHEWS: Great. Well, congratulations to your crew and to you, Captain. It‘s a great—it must be a great service. You must feel so good about being able to do something so well for your country. Thank you very much as well for joining us tonight on MSNBC.
TYSON: Thanks, Chris. We appreciate you guys‘ support.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Nora Tyson. She‘s the captain of the USS Bataan.
When we return, the impending health crisis in New Orleans. Michael
Leavitt, secretary of health and human services, will tell us about the
major health and sanitation concerns. And they‘re big ones. All that
water is going to get stinky. It‘s already mosquito-ridden. Imagine the
diseases being carried already through that swampy—it looks like
Plus, the latest from Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
There‘s a mounting health crisis in the Gulf states in Hurricane Katrina‘s wake. And, in a moment, we will find out what the federal government is going to do about it.
But, first, I‘m joined on the phone by the governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour.
Governor Barbour, what has happened in the last 24 hours?
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR ®, MISSISSIPPI: Well, Chris, I feel like, in the last 48 hours, we have kind of turned a corner twice. We made some real progress yesterday. And we made progress today.
The problem is, we got a whole bunch of corners in front of us. But I spent most of my day inland in the areas as far as 100 miles away, where we had 110-, 120-mile-an-hour gusts. And there‘s tremendous damage up there. It is not the utter destruction that you see on the coast. But people are without water. They‘re without power. Many, many houses are badly damaged or destroyed.
So, I remind people, this is not just a calamity for the Gulf Coast.
It is a—it‘s a—much of our state has taken a terrible blow.
MATTHEWS: Well, it‘s been said that the walk of 1,000 days begins with a single step. I wonder, when you look at that damage, Governor, what is the first step in going into those towns that have been rampaged?
BARBOUR: Well, if you‘re on the coast, the first step is still search-and-rescue. And, in some rural area, we have got some search-and-rescue.
But we‘re focused right now in most areas, and also on the coast, getting water, ice, food, shelter. I will give you an example. We have 5,000 people that the power company have brought in to help, line men, people who cut down trees, clear up, blah, blah, blah. We don‘t have any place for them to stay. Usually, they stay in the local hotels. Well, all the hotels have been blown away.
So, we‘re dealing with a level of devastation that has almost overwhelmed the infrastructure physically, but it‘s also overwhelmed our plans. And so, we‘re just having to dig out one step at a time. We‘re making progress. And we are going to keep making progress. But we‘re not where we want to be. And it is going to take time.
MATTHEWS: Well, I have got one of the people in Washington you may want to be talking to. And you—feel free to do so right now, Governor Barbour. Stay with us.
The health issues facing the Gulf states are huge. Health and Human Services Secretary Leavitt, a former governor of Utah, met with the president today to discuss relief strategies. He‘s with us now.
What was the president‘s message to you folks today on the Cabinet task force?
MIKE LEAVITT, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: Well, first, my
· our prayers are with those in Mississippi, as well as our thoughts and now our actions.
And I say to Governor Barbour and all his citizens that we‘re doing all we can to be helpful. Today, I declared a public health emergency, which will allow to us expedite our activities, cut through any red tape and deliver services and goods to that whole region.
I have also begun on behalf of the president to deploy 10,000 beds and 40 -- and a network of 40 different medical shelters. We will roll those out over the next week or so, week-and-a-half. It is a—we‘re beginning to worry about disease and to make certain that people are—those who did come through it safe stay safe.
MATTHEWS: What about hospitals?
Governor Barbour, do you have hospitals still standing down there?
In the coast counties, all of our hospitals sustained major damage.
But none of them had a catastrophic failure. But they all lost power. They all lost water. All of them had only limited operation ability. One of them now, we have closed and we have transferred all the patients. We may have to do that with another.
But it‘s—in a disaster of this magnitude, those kind of things happen. And the things that Mike Leavitt is talking about doing become essential.
And we appreciate it, Mr. Secretary.
MATTHEWS: Mr. Secretary, let me ask you about the three-state area down there, especially Louisiana, which is underwater now in New Orleans, because of the flooding by the levees—through the levees.
What are you going to do about that? I mean, it seems to me, you have got the obvious mosquitoes, which people can live with, although they hate, snakes, things like that. Is there some threat of a serious problem in terms of filthy water?
LEAVITT: There‘s always a threat for disease after a disaster.
And we have deployed teams from the Centers for Disease Control and the Food and Drug Administration. We have begun to spread education and information to people on how they can take care of themselves, warning them that drinking water that could be contaminated could cause them to get sick and their circumstances could get only worse.
We‘re talking about the food they eat and not to eat food that would be contaminated. They could be hungry and sick. We‘re talking with them about mosquitoes and mosquito abatement. One of the things we‘re concerned about are accidents. If we have accidents, there‘s not adequate medical personnel to treat them. A lot of chain saws, a lot of carbon monoxide poisoning, those are the things we‘re worried about, as people begin to use camp stoves and other things to substitute for the electric power they have.
MATTHEWS: What about the people that were in the Superdome all those days, three or four days now? And they‘re headed off to the Astrodome, living together, cramped together, a lot of people who may have health problems they‘re bringing into that situation.
LEAVITT: We will have epidemiologists there for that very reason. Any time you put people in cramped quarters and particularly when they‘re under stress and in this kind of exigent conditions, that‘s a worry.
MATTHEWS: I have got to go back to Governor Barbour.
I feel for you, sir, down there. Have you been able to get to those outlying community in the battery islands?
Really, on our barrier islands, there‘s nobody that lives. It‘s a little different from Alabama, where they have people that live on Dauphin Island.
MATTHEWS: I see.
BARBOUR: Nobody lives on our barrier islands.
But we have isolated areas and rural areas where we haven‘t been able to get to. And, to be candid with you, the devastation along the coast itself, we have neighborhoods that we haven‘t been able to actually go through the debris. We have got places, Chris, where houses once were and today it‘s nothing but debris. But it may be as tall as a man, four, five, six feet tall. And we have to literally go through there and dig through it to look for survivors or people who weren‘t—who didn‘t survive.
MATTHEWS: What do you have for equipment to do that, Governor?
BARBOUR: Well, we have great search-and-rescue people from our state, but also from Florida and Ohio and other states and from the military. And they have equipment.
They do a lot of it with their hands. They cut through it with chain saws. They have things that—different equipment to pull things apart. But you—unless you‘ve seen it, it is really indescribable that you have blocks and blocks and blocks and blocks of just debris, lumber, shingles, furniture, clothes, all the things of human life that have just been ripped apart and strewn in blocks and blocks of piles as tall as you and me, Chris.
Governor, thank you very much for joining us again tonight, Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi.
Governor Leavitt, HHS Secretary Leavitt now, let me ask you—let me ask you about this question. Declaring an area like that, those three states, Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama, to be a health care—or health emergency areas, where does that get them?
LEAVITT: It actually allows us to speed response, so that we‘re able to cut through any regulatory burden. One of the things, for example, as they reopen hospitals, there may be regulatory things that would simply inhibit their capacity to treat people. We want to waive those.
There may be aspects of state government or local government where we will waive requirements. We just need to get services to people as rapidly as we can and work out the details later.
MATTHEWS: The president today, he seems very much like the old Harvard Business School kind of guy that he is, the president of the United States, today, because he delegated very clearly.
In his statement tonight, the president from the Rose Garden said that the homeland security secretary is going to be the leader of the interagency effort in Washington and FEMA is going to be head of the operations in the field. Is that going to work?
LEAVITT: We had a Cabinet meeting today, nearly an hour-and-a-half. And it was a working meeting, the president saying to the secretary of energy, give me a report on energy. What are we going to do to get it back on track? What effect is this going to have on the airlines?
And he would go to the secretary of defense. How many troops have you got deployed? What can we do to get it there more quickly? He would ask about help. He asked about education. He asked about the entire gamut of packages, services. It was a very interesting and complex meeting.
MATTHEWS: Have you ever seen a Cabinet meeting like it?
LEAVITT: I have not.
MATTHEWS: It‘s a real operations meeting, wasn‘t it?
LEAVITT: It was a working meeting.
MATTHEWS: It wasn‘t philosophical. It was operational.
LEAVITT: This was about helping people.
LEAVITT: And it was—he said over and over, we have got to help those people who are poor, who are without homes. We are going to have to find places for them to live.
MATTHEWS: Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, former governor of Utah. So, you know the situation these governors are in.
When we return, how can you help the victims of Hurricane Katrina? Plus, what FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, is doing to bring relief to those who need it most. We were just talking about them and the president‘s concern for them. FEMA Director Michael Brown is going to join us in just a moment, when this special edition of HARDBALL comes back.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to this special edition of HARDBALL and the federal government‘s massive response to Hurricane Katrina.
Officials now predict that the cleanup could be the longest and costliest relief effort in U.S. history.
For the latest on where that effort stands, we turn to the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Michael Brown.
Mr. Secretary, the president gave you field command of this whole operation. I was thinking, you know, we had the San Francisco earthquake in 1906. We had the Chicago fire. It seems like it is in that league.
MICHAEL BROWN, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: It is in that league.
When you think about this, you know, I went with Governor Bush and Secretary Powell to the tsunami area last January. And I remember being amazed at how widespread the devastation was and thinking to myself, you know, this is going to take so long to rebuild these areas and get these people‘s lives back to normal. Never did I really believe that, in this country, I would face a situation that is very similar to that.
I mean, just imagine, wherever you‘re watching this program right now, your hometown being literally destroyed and you being told that you can‘t come back into your community for maybe a month in some areas. And even, once you come back, there‘s not going to be anything there. Or whatever is there, it‘s going to be so water-damaged, it will have to be destroyed and totally replaced.
So, what we have to understand is that the magnitude of this operation is huge and it is going to take a long time. It is going to take patience and it is going to take the absolute intense effort of the federal government, working closely with the state governments and down to the local governments, to take care of individual by individual by individual.
MATTHEWS: You know, I was wondering. You know, we have a national debt. We have a national budget deficit. Where does the money come from to deal with something like this?
BROWN: Chris, it comes from the American taxpayers.
You know, in this country, we have a great system that says, when something like this happens to one part of the country, the rest of the country is going to come together and help. So, just like I know that, when the president said today, when President Bush stood in the Rose Garden and said, give cash to your favorite charity, did I know that the American taxpayers also say, we‘re willing for our tax dollars to go to help this, because it happen in, like you said, San Francisco. It happened in New York on 9/11.
It is that kind of compassion that says, we‘re going to help wherever this takes place.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me help you with that effort. If you want to give to—and you should, I suppose—it seems like the reasonable thing to do, as the secretary just said—to give to Red Cross, here‘s the number for giving that money, 1-800-HELP, 1-800-HELP. You can‘t get that one wrong. And—HELP-NOW, actually -- 1-800-HELP-NOW, that‘s the phone number, or by logging on to redcross.org—that‘s easy—redcross.org.
I want to thank you, Undersecretary Michael Brown, the director of
When we return, we will take a look at the overall response by the federal government. How ready are we to face these acts of God or future acts of terror?
And now we want to play some of the messages, as we promised before, from some of the survivors we met in Biloxi who have been unable to get through to their families to tell them they‘re OK.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: James Larou (ph), we‘re fine down here, the (INAUDIBLE) area. And the whole group is great down here. She‘s with me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Alger Reese (ph), Houston, Texas, we‘re fine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Tammy Tompkins (ph), the people out in California, family and friends, we‘re fine. Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: New Albany, Mississippi, we‘re all fine.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My mom and three sisters in Wisconsin, I‘m OK. My dad in Seattle, I‘m OK.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have family in Jones County. I haven‘t heard from anyone. I would just like to know how they doing. And we are OK.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to this special edition of HARDBALL.
For more on America‘s preparedness to handle a major catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina, we turn to Asa Hutchinson, former deputy secretary for homeland security.
Asa, thank you, Congressman.
You know, we have been trying to retrofit our civil defense in this country to deal with a possible terrorist attack. And the Congress and the American people, thanks to Joe Lieberman, I think, essentially, has created the Homeland Security Department. Is it equipped to deal with natural disaster?
ASA HUTCHINSON, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY FOR HOMELAND SECURITY: Well, it
has to be.
I mean, Homeland Security, whether it‘s a terrorist incident or whether it‘s a natural disaster, has to be capable of prevention, preparation and response. This tests that department to an extraordinary degree, because this is a disaster of massive proportions.
But, if you look at the comparisons here with what might happen in a terrorist incident, the response has to be the same. You have to have a clear chain of command, communications systems, response capability, coordination with state and local authorities. That‘s what is required under this incident. That‘s what has to happen also if it was a terrorist incident.
MATTHEWS: We have been watching especially Mississippi. And it does
look like it was hit by, as the governor put it down there, rather roughly,
Hiroshima. Everything is flat. Is this the kind of capability, but yet we
are not—you know, we‘re getting in there slowly. There are people we
haven‘t gotten to yet. Can you imagine, sir—and I mean this seriously -
· the calamity that we would be facing if it was a bomb that went off, rather than a thunderclap of God‘s will, basically?
HUTCHINSON: No matter how much you prepare for a disaster, it is always worse than what you expect. I mean, this is—whenever you look at this hurricane coming in, they downgraded the level of it. No one expected this kind of...
MATTHEWS: Sure. It went from 5 to 4 to 3 to 2, and then boom.
HUTCHINSON: Within hours of when it hit the shore...
MATTHEWS: Yes. Yes.
HUTCHINSON: ... no one expected this kind of outcome.
HUTCHINSON: And if we would have planned on 10,000 troops going in there, everybody would have said, well, this is overdoing it.
And now we‘re saying, obviously, we need that capacity. So, it is hard to plan for the unexpected, the disasters that you hope will never occur. But this—what‘s happening in Mississippi, whenever you—as the governor said, you don‘t even have any place to house the emergency workers when you get them in there.
MATTHEWS: We don‘t have machinery to pump water out of the city of New Orleans. It is going to be underwater for weeks, or months, right? There‘s no such equipment, is there...
MATTHEWS: ... to really get the water out of there?
HUTCHINSON: Not to that scale.
But let me say, though, that I think the department has done an extraordinary job of coordinating the response capability. Whenever you have—it has to be tied with NORTHCOM, with the defense capabilities supporting it, with the Coast Guard, with military, with what‘s happening onshore, a clear chain of command from the president through Homeland Security to what‘s happening in the field.
MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense that this is a drill for what‘s to come in the future?
HUTCHINSON: Well, I certainly hope what happens in the future is not of this magnitude. But if...
MATTHEWS: But we know, in the long term, as you said, we have to be prepared in advance for bad situations to be worse than we think they‘re going to be. If we‘re talking about a war on terrorism, don‘t we have to be ready for the use of FEMA and Homeland Security for the real thing?
And whether it‘s a biological attack or whether it‘s a nuclear attack, you have got to be able to respond. And Secretary Chertoff is correct, that we have got to concentrate on the massive, the massive casualty potential of an attack and not simply on singular incidents. And our focus has got to be based upon risk, based upon the threat.
And whenever we see what‘s happening here, I think this is what the American public wants us to focus on.
MATTHEWS: Nobody could have predicted this, nobody. Regular people, anyway, civilians like me, never saw this coming, obviously.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Asa Hutchinson, former U.S. congressman, former top guy, number two, at Homeland Security.
Join us again tomorrow night at 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL.
And a programming note. The NBC Universal Networks will air a concert for hurricane relief, a benefit telethon to aid victims of Hurricane Katrina. The live benefit will air this coming Friday—that‘s this Friday—on September 2 at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC. One of the participants in the telethon will be singer Aaron Neville. Three of us—three of his nieces are missing since Katrina blew through New Orleans. And he‘ll be with—he‘ll be Rita Cosby‘s guest tonight at 9:00 Eastern.
Right now, MSNBC‘s live coverage of Hurricane Katrina continues on “COUNTDOWN” with Keith.
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