Guest: Bennie Thompson, William Jefferson, Bob Riley, Bobby Jindal, Charlie Melancon, Trent Lott
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: What took so long? Why wasn‘t somebody on top of this? Finally, a week after the warning, President Bush arrives in New Orleans. And Congress, the main body of which has yet to return to work, approves an emergency $10 billion for relief.
Tonight, let‘s hold them accountable. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews.
More than four days after Hurricane Katrina hit and a week after the dire warnings that preceded it, President Bush, facing harsh criticism from the federal response to Hurricane Katrina, visited the devastation today and promised to restore order in the regions hardest-hit.
Truckloads of relief supplies rolled into New Orleans. But with corpses in the streets, with thousands, including babies, sick and dehydrated, and no medical care, is the response too late?
We begin this Friday night with HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster, who is in Biloxi, Mississippi, where President Bush toured earlier today—
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Chris, the news today from Biloxi was grim. Law enforcement officials and medical technicians are telling us that they now expect the casualty count in this particular county will eventually soar above 1,000.
They are basing this on people who have come in for medical treatment who describe relatives that they saw going under the water. They are also basing this on interviews with some of the recovery team who have actually been searching under the debris, and they‘re also getting this based on the huge number of missing-person reports that have already been filed.
But, as the grim task goes forward of trying to recover some of these bodies, today, the focus was on the survivors.
(voice-over): Touring Biloxi today was an expression of solidarity from President Bush.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I‘m not only thinking about coastal Mississippi. I‘m thinking about rural Mississippi.
SHUSTER: But a few miles away from where the president spoke to reporters, this was day five at the Michel Grade School, one of Biloxi‘s largest shelters. And residents here said they have not seen a single government official or disaster representative.
KATHERINE ROBERT, BILOXI POLICE DEPARTMENT: I have not met with any or seen any at this particular site, other than yesterday with Red Cross. A couple of churches and private organizations and some private individuals from Florida made it over yesterday and dropped off a lot of stuff.
SHUSTER: Thanks to that private stuff, there‘s now food, water, even detergent to hand-wash clothes. But the anger at the government runs deep.
THERESA WALTON, RESIDENT OF BILOXI: That they‘re really slow and they don‘t act like they—they might be concerned, but they don‘t act like they‘re concerned.
BOB FREEMAN, RESIDENT OF BILOXI: They took everything. Everything is gone. Everything. I had any money—had money, had a car. It‘s gone. Furniture, everything is gone.
SHUSTER: Across Biloxi, there‘s no power, electricity, water, or communications. And the people we spoke with who don‘t have a car or a car radio had no idea the president was even here. Most do not hold him personally responsible for the relief delays, but they did have a message.
JAMES GIBSON, RESIDENT OF BILOXI: Not enough effort has taken against helping the poor people that really need help. They‘re not getting it like they should.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You guys checking that area over there?
SHUSTER: Meanwhile, volunteers today continue trying to make a dent at the debris. And recovery teams in Biloxi‘s poorest neighborhoods said they had discovered dozens of bodies. Many of them, now badly decomposing and unrecognizable, were found in the remnants of attics. Medical and law enforcement officials say they expect the death toll in this county to eventually reach well above 1,000.
Alvin Ellis saved his daughter and two of his neighbors.
ALVIN ELLIS, RESIDENT OF BILOXI: Say, I‘m OK.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m OK.
ELLIS: Don‘t worry.
SHUSTER: Ellis says, as soon as his family gets some money or a ticket out of here, they‘re going to leave.
ELLIS: I want to go back to New York, really. But I love the coast here. I love it. But, right now, we have nothing no more, nothing at all.
SHUSTER (on camera): Nothing at all. And, in fact, Chris, when you talk to some of these people at the shelters, they‘re now suggesting that one of the biggest challenges they have going forward is no longer about getting enough food or getting enough water. It is just getting their emotional state together, so that they can begin the process of trying to somehow rebuild their lives—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster.
We‘re joined now by phone by Senator Trent Lott, whose house was destroyed by Katrina. He joins us on the phone from Mississippi.
Senator, thank you.
SEN. TRENT LOTT ®, MISSISSIPPI: Yes.
Well, I thank you, Chris, for helping us tell the story about what‘s happening here. It‘s very, very difficult. And we have a lot of needs. A lot of people are pitching in, volunteers and charitable organizations, private businesses and, of course, the federal government.
But, right now, it—you know, it is hard to communicate, to get supplies distributed and to even secure some neighborhoods. But we‘re working on it. And I believe we are going to make progress.
MATTHEWS: Does the president, based upon your conversation with him, know how much heat he and the administration are taking for what seems to be a very slow response, especially to the situation in New Orleans?
LOTT: Well, the situation in New Orleans is not a case of the hurricane and the disaster hitting three days ago. It is now.
Along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, you know, our houses are blown away and we have lost loved ones. But at least we can go to where they are or we can stand on our property and think about the magnificent memories we have there. We can begin the process, difficult and long as it may be. In New Orleans, the water has risen. It is up to the rooflines. You can‘t get fire equipment to the building that are burning in New Orleans because the streets are flooded.
I mean, it is a magnitude that we have just not seen before. And so, it takes a few days to get all your resources marshalled. Actually, I have been through a lot of hurricanes. I have dealt with these things up close and personal for 37 years, as you know, Chris. And compared to other hurricanes, we‘re actually, along with the Mississippi Gulf Coast, at least, we‘re a little bit ahead of where we ordinarily would be.
The disaster was declared earlier. The National Guard is getting in there. Yes, we want more and we want it as soon as possible. Yesterday, we were worried about getting just basics, like water and ice and generators and fuel. Fuel is a big problem. And I have made that point very clear to the president. Our biggest need right now—you know, you can‘t run the generators. You can‘t run the emergency equipment. You can‘t run the Bobcats and the backhoes until you get some fuel. So, that‘s what we are working on aggressively right now.
MATTHEWS: Give me a score of one to 10 of how well you think FEMA has performed.
LOTT: I don‘t know that I could rate them now. We‘re still in the immediate aftermath.
You know, Mike Brown was there today. We were asking questions, telling him where the problems were. I have already gotten a call from Elaine Chao, the secretary of labor, saying that she was releasing $60 billion for unemployment insurance for people that have lost their jobs. So, that‘s immediate help. I think we—you know, if a week or 10 days from now, you haven‘t seen a huge increase and influx of federal agencies and supplies and equipment and people, then I‘m going to have plenty to say.
But right—and if I were not happy, look, I‘m on the Gulf Coast. When our people down there suffer, I suffer. When they lose their houses, I lose my house.
MATTHEWS: Are you going to go back there, Senator, and build that house in that beautiful spot again?
LOTT: Well, I don‘t know. My wife and I stood there under the big oak tree that did survive, 250 years old, and hugged and it hugged each other and cried some tears.
But it‘s too early.
LOTT: I just—I haven‘t even picked through all the rubble yet. And that‘s looking for little mementos that represent a lifetime and my mother‘s lifetime, too.
I had about 90 years personal memories in that house. And that house
· again, my problems are nothing compared to others. But the point that I think people have to understand, this house was 150 years old, not a big, fancy house, but it was 150 years old. It had seen the best and the meanest Mother Nature could offer and survived. And this time, there ain‘t nothing there.
MATTHEWS: OK, good luck to you, Senator Trent Lott.
LOTT: Thank you, Chris.
And let me say, Chris, thank you to a lot of people that are helping, volunteering, sending contributions. We need all the help that anybody in this country can provide. And we‘re getting it from—in places, you know, Michigan and all over this country. People are coming in and sending things, and National Guardsmen coming in. We really appreciate it.
MATTHEWS: It‘s great to have you on, Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi.
LOTT: Thanks, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Now to New Orleans and NBC‘s Steve Handelsman.
Steve, the president came to New Orleans today. Did he connect with the people?
STEVE HANDELSMAN, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, only if they could look up and see him fly by in the chopper.
I talked to a couple of people, Chris, at the now notorious Convention Center. And they had a message for the president. They‘re not as fuming mad at they were at the Convention Center. We all saw that angry footage yesterday. They mellowed out and they‘re taking good care of one another there today.
But they said to the president, at least one guy did, look, Mr. President, it doesn‘t take a genius to figure out what we need here. You keep saying, we‘re coming. Relief is coming. We‘re coming. We‘re coming. We are coming. Well, you‘re not here. And we need you here.
And that‘s really the story of New Orleans, Chris. It‘s being told a lot of different ways by a lot of different people. But that‘s it. That Convention Center, let‘s remember, Chris, is a place where people who followed the rules, played by the rules, as we say, who did what the police told them, that‘s where they went, there and the Superdome. The Superdome was a nightmare, but at least it was a way out to the buses and out to Houston or wherever the rest of the people who won‘t get in the Astrodome will go.
But the Convention Center is a bottled-up nightmare. They‘re still there, Chris. And even though they were supposed to get fed and supposed to get some water tonight, finally, the police came back, finally the National Guard. It‘s been five days or the better part of it for a lot of those people at the Convention Center. There are dead bodies around, no doctors, not enough water, not enough food, no security, no National Guard and no police until just a few hours ago.
People there are plenty mad, Chris.
MATTHEWS: When you cover this story, as you have down there, Steve, who do you talk to? Who is the face of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency?
HANDELSMAN: You know, Chris, I haven‘t seen anybody from FEMA except a couple of vans that go by.
You know, they‘ve got their headquarters. They‘ve got their public information officers. They‘re giving out their sound bites. But what we have got here, those of us who have been here for a few days, is just we go to the places where we know most of the people are, because it is the story of the people of New Orleans that has made this such an overwhelming worldwide story.
HANDELSMAN: It is not the water. They will get the water out of New Orleans. The houses will be ruined. The tourists will come back. They might even do Mardi Gras, some people are insisting.
But there‘s still tens of thousands of people, maybe more, Chris, who are not being properly taken care of in America, five days after the disaster. President Bush alluded to it, admitted things haven‘t worked well. And he says, things will improve. And we did see some improvement today, but they have got a long way to go here in New Orleans, Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Steve Handelsman, in New Orleans.
A reminder that, directly following HARDBALL tonight, the NBC networks will broadcast a live concert to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Harry Connick Jr., Aaron Neville, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and Leonardo DiCaprio will be part of the NBC Universal‘s “A Concert for Hurricane Relief,” hosted tonight by Matt Lauer.
When we return, four days and 12 hours since Katrina made landfall, and today is the first day we‘re seeing substantial relief reaching those who need it most. What took so long? We will try to get some answers.
You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, why has it taken so long for relief to arrive in New Orleans? I will ask two members of Congress from Louisiana why people couldn‘t be helped faster when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to this special edition of HARDBALL, continuing our coverage of Hurricane Katrina.
We‘re joined now by two U.S. congressmen from Louisiana, Republican Bobby Jindal and Democrat Charlie Melancon. Both join us on the phone from Baton Rouge this evening.
Let me go to Congressman Melancon.
Congress people have a responsibility to oversee federal agencies. How would you grade the efforts of the Federal Emergency Management Agency these last three or four days?
REP. CHARLIE MELANCON (D), LOUISIANA: I‘m not sure there‘s a grade low enough.
MATTHEWS: Not sure.
How about you, Congressman Jindal?
REP. BOBBY JINDAL ®, LOUISIANA: I‘m actually calling you all from New Orleans. The president just visited down here.
I have to agree with the frustrations of my colleague. Charlie and I both chair districts that have been devastated by this storm. I think there are some great people at FEMA people working very hard. But, clearly, we have got to learn from what happened this disaster and make sure this never happens again.
We need to be able to mobilize food and equipment much quicker than what happened this time. And, you know, it is not just limited to FEMA. I‘m sure there will be enough blame to go all the way around. Clearly, it‘s not acceptable to have people stranded in hospitals, stranded without food, stranded without water. Again, I know people have been working heroically and tirelessly to save people‘s lives. And I‘m not trying to take away from the first-responders.
But, clearly, we could have done a better job.
MATTHEWS: Well, here‘s the question I have. And I don‘t honestly know the answer. I‘m not going to push it any further the minute I get the answer. For three or four days this week, we saw people standing out in front of the Convention Center, mostly African-American, maybe all African-Americans, poor people, standing out in front of the Convention Center in New Orleans.
All that time, that was on national television on this network and every other network. The people in the White House watched those picture as we put them on all day long. Day and night, they saw those pictures. Why didn‘t somebody in the White House, like Andy Card or Karl Rove, one of the sharp fellows there say, Mr. President, let‘s order some helicopters down there with some food and water right now? How come that never happened?
MELANCON: That‘s an excellent question that I have been asking.
When I go down to Chalmette, Louisiana, which is just south of New Orleans and inundated, just like the New Orleans metropolitan area is, they‘re in there. They‘re doing the best they can. The first-responders just need equipment. They need food. They need water. They need to give these people some hope. They‘re tired. They need backup., you know, military backup. There‘s—most of the gun shooting and things you see on New Orleans TV is not necessarily going on in all the areas.
But it is affecting all the efforts that need to be carried out throughout the region, whether it is Louisiana in the parishes or over on the coast. And it is not happening. It has not been responded like it should. FEMA is not responding.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you, Congressman Jindal, we have in this government a series of governments. Under our federal system, we have local government, the mayor in that city of New Orleans.
We have got the governor. We have got the members of Congress in Washington. We have the president heading up the executive branch of government. Has any level of government done their job in the past week, Congressman Jindal?
MELANCON: We must have lost him.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me go to you, Congressman Melancon.
MATTHEWS: Has anybody—I‘m looking at the mayor and I‘m wondering, has he really been in charge of the looting down there?
MATTHEWS: Has he really gotten a handle on it from the beginning?
MATTHEWS: Has anybody been distributing water from the national government? Has anybody been complaining to the national government effectively? Has anybody served the people well this past week in New Orleans?
MELANCON: I think the answer is yes across the board.
If you go back to the fact that the declaration of emergency was—or the declaration of disaster was issued before the storm even made landfall., that tells you the magnitude of what‘s going on. FEMA has been told by that declaration to move. The governor then responds and asks the president to bring in 40,000 troops and whatever else that they normally bring in by FEMA.
FEMA is not—this is not their first rodeo. They have delivered after disasters time and time and time again. But, for some reason, they‘ve stumbled on this one. They‘re not bringing in unless—and I heard someone make the statement from one of the federal agencies—I guess it was a FEMA person—that they didn‘t specifically ask us for what they wanted.
MELANCON: They shouldn‘t to have make a list of, I need a gun or I need a generator or I need a bottle of water. It should be a matter of,, you‘ve been through disasters. You know what to bring. And we can tell you what you haven‘t brought that needs to come in.
Now, we‘re sitting here on Friday. And, last night, we finally got some satellite phones , so that we can start hopefully having communications with all these OEPs in each one of these parishes, because we haven‘t had them all. The communications systems have been down. and when you have got a cell phone that works, chances are the lines are congested and you can‘t talk to anybody.
It has just been physically impossible to communicate and get the things accomplished. And yet, you can see the military and—and when they set up a military action, they‘ve got communications systems and such as it is. But they weren‘t here. They were not directed to be here. I even had a group, I‘m told, of special forces that were assigned down to Belle Chasse Air Base that were sitting at the air base on Thursday morning waiting for somebody to give them a mission, while, across the river in New Orleans, they‘re reporting that people are shooting.
Congressman, thank you for coming on the show, Congressman Charlie Melancon of Louisiana.
Thank you for joining us as well, Congressman Bobby Jindal.
We had him on just a moment ago.
Up next, kids from the damaged areas are left with no schools to go to. And 200,000 may not be in school for months. We will hear from the secretary of education, Margaret Spellings.
And MSNBC is trying to help loved ones reconnect with each other. If you or someone you know has been affected by Hurricane Katrina, take part in our reconnect project on our Web site, MSNBC.com. You can tell us who you‘re looking for or let others know that you are safe. It‘s our way of helping lost loved ones find each other.
We‘ll be right back. You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These are my three children, Lamont (ph), Devon (ph) and Seangro (ph). They were sleeping in the Marriott, either of these two Marriott hotels with my husband. I just wanted to let them know that I‘m alive. And I am living in filth, but I am alive. And if they could get into contact with me any kind of way. Would you all please try to help me find my kids?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
One of the many problems to be addressed in the Gulf states is what to do with the hundreds of thousands of children who have been displace and have no schools to go to.
MSNBC‘s chief Washington correspondent, Norah O‘Donnell, sat down with the secretary of education today—Norah.
NORAH O‘DONNELL, NBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Chris, you know, some of the stories this week that have been the most gruesome and the most gripping have involved children.
In Pascagoula, Mississippi, there were children going through the trash to get something to eat. Today, in New Orleans, there was a baby that died of dehydration. A 2-year-old died in a stampede of people trying to get relief supplies. That‘s the present. But there are here in Washington finally some policy-makers starting to think about the future and how to help more than 200,000 children find some stability.
O‘DONNELL (voice-over): After touring Louisiana today, the first lady issued a special plea for the children.
LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: It‘s really important for parents to keep their—let their kids keep going to school, get them in school, don‘t let them get behind, and also give them a sense of normalcy for their day.
O‘DONNELL: But many children are homeless. And for 200,000 children, there are no schools left.
MARGARET SPELLINGS, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: I think we‘re going to have a national issue. These children will end up in nearly every school district, certainly in every state in the country.
O‘DONNELL: Margaret Spellings is the secretary of education and one of the president‘s closest advisers.
(on camera): How long do you think children in New Orleans will be out of school?
SPELLING: Oh, clearly, it will be months. I mean, we have to assess. As I said, it looks like about half the facilities are unavailable. Are they going to be building a school district for 70,000 kids? Are any of those families going to leave permanently? We don‘t even know that yet.
O‘DONNELL: You‘re a mom. What has been your personal reaction to the pictures we have seen?
SPELLING: Just shock and to think about what I would feel like—I can‘t even say this—you know, if I ended up in the Astrodome with my kids. OK. Stop. No.
O‘DONNELL: No, that‘s—it‘s important.
SPELLING: You know, I really have a feeling for them. I‘m from Houston.
SPELLING: And so, to see all those pictures in the Astrodome and know how big it is. I have been in the Astrodome 100 times.
O‘DONNELL: And now the Astrodome says it is full.
SPELLING: And it is full. So, when I hear of the Astrodome is full, you think, my God, the Astrodome is full.
O‘DONNELL: Given that, adults can be tough. They can weather this stuff. But for children, this is much harder.
SPELLING: They are resilient. I think this is why starting school is so important, is that grownups are going to have to try to get their lives back in order. And what we can do is help get school started, so they can have some normalcy, some structure.
O‘DONNELL: So, given that, Chris, though, we‘re talking about over 200,000 children not in school for months, possibly even a year, and, as the secretary of education said, in school districts across this country, opening their doors, saying they‘ll let these children in. But, of course, that means relocating all these families as well—Chris.
MATTHEWS: That‘s right. Thank you very much, Norah O‘Donnell.
And a reminder. At the top of the hour, it‘s your turn to help. The networks of NBC will air the “Concert for Hurricane Relief” on NBC, MSNBC, CNBC and streaming live on NBC.com.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
It‘s been four-and-a-half days since Hurricane Katrina tore through the Gulf Coast. And today relief began to arrive to desperate residents of New Orleans.
NBC‘s Andrea Mitchell has been following that story of why it‘s taken so long to get much-needed supplies to thousands of refugees—Andrea.
ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC CHIEF FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, the evacuation, which was so incomplete. They basically ignored the needs of thousands and thousands of New Orleans who were too poor to get out.
And because of that, they became really a rescue operation. And the rescue operation, of course, created further bottlenecks in any effort to send in helicopters to drop relief supplies. The other thing is, no one can quite explain why local and state governments are still, four years after 9/11, not really talking to one another.
MITCHELL (voice-over): Day five, and trucks carrying relief supplies finally plow through the waves, lapping the streets of New Orleans, while, in Baltimore, the Navy Hospital Ship Comfort will sail tonight for the Gulf Coast. But it won‘t get there until next Thursday, almost two weeks after Katrina hit. The Navy says that was the plan.
BRIAN BADURA, NAVY SPOKESMAN: Just sending people and trying to rush a mass exodus of helping doesn‘t necessarily do the best good.
MITCHELL: But many Americans are asking, why is it taking so long? First the evacuation, which largely excluded the city‘s poorest residents, critics say that created a domino effect. They had to rescue people before they could try to feed them.
JOHN HARRALD, FORMER COAST GUARD CAPTAIN: I‘m sure that people will be looking at the timing of the evacuation orders and the effectiveness of the evacuation orders for years to come.
MITCHELL: Then there were bottlenecks in the delivery of relief, because the unexpectedly enormous search-and-rescue mission tied up helicopters and boats.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pack it on like sardines.
MITCHELL: Why weren‘t more National Guard troops sent in sooner to provide aid and security? Thirty percent of the U.S. troops in Iraq are in the National Guard, 2,700, including these, from Louisiana.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why are they halfway around the world when they could be here?
MITCHELL: But, today, the president rejected any suggestion that the war has depleted resources needed at home.
BUSH: We have got plenty of resources to do both.
MITCHELL: Finally, communications. Four years after 9/11, local officials still don‘t get answers from Washington.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are just waiting for their call.
MITCHELL: Chicago‘s Mayor Daly says he offered FEMA hundreds of emergency workers for the hurricane zone, but was only asked to send a single truck.
MITCHELL: So, tonight, people in New Orleans in the hurricane zone and, of course, around the country are still wondering why this nation cannot respond more quickly to a disaster, even one as catastrophic as Katrina—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, Andrea Mitchell.
I‘m joined right now by Governor Bob Riley of Alabama. He met with President Bush today as he toured Mobile, Alabama. And U.S. Congressman William Jefferson, who is at the National Guard center in New Orleans and was with the president today as well.
Let me to go Governor Riley.
What was the president‘s mood today? Did he sense that he was on top of this, Governor?
GOV. BOB RILEY ®, ALABAMA: You know, I think he—he was somber,
but he was deadly serious about taking care of the problems that exist in -
· all across the Gulf Coast, not just in—in New Orleans.
MATTHEWS: Did you get the sense that he had been watching this on television right through starting last Sunday?
When he first got off the plane, the first thing he wanted to know is, what can we do to help? Is there anything that we need to be doing? I told him, I said Mr. President, FEMA has been great in Alabama. I don‘t know of a request that we have made that has not been handled promptly.
RILEY: So, we had an opportunity to visit a little about the number of people that we homeless here, talk about an operation that we set up in Alabama called Operation Golden Rule, where we‘re trying to house as many of these evacuees as we can possibly take out of Mississippi. We‘re in—going on that. So, essentially, that‘s what we were talking about.
MATTHEWS: Let me go to Congressman Jefferson.
Congressman Jefferson, we have been covering this all week all around the clock. And there‘s a clear distinction visible in the way these two communities are being dealt with. You see Alabama and Mississippi, you‘re seeing direct aid there. Everybody is getting the cars unloaded with all the supplies, the water, etcetera. Then, for days, we saw New Orleans, the folks around the Convention Center, desperately crying to the cameras for help. What happened?
REP. WILLIAM JEFFERSON (D), LOUISIANA: It‘s been a failure, the organization and communication early on.
And it‘s been a breakdown, which is totally unacceptable. I‘m at the Superdome now. Actually, I‘m in an (INAUDIBLE) Army vehicle, and one of the big ones that drive above the water. So, we‘re watching people now who are so strong. Really, out here, on the edge of the Superdome, it is a terrible scene.
Today, on the plane, however, and throughout the day, we got a chance to really have the president get an eyeful and an earful from everybody down here about what needs to be done. And I think we have made tremendous progress. I think the president expressed a real commitment to have—move the process along. And I think, even he, I believe, was surprised at the lack of adequate pace of things. And he pushed people real hard today to get things moving and get things done.
MATTHEWS: Wait a minute.
MATTHEWS: Wait a minute, Congressman.
JEFFERSON: And I think we have made some progress.
MATTHEWS: Congressman, are you saying the president of the United States was surprised by what he saw when he got to New Orleans?
MATTHEWS: This has been on television now all week.
JEFFERSON: ... little bit.
MATTHEWS: Congressman Jefferson, did you say the president was surprised by what he saw in New Orleans?
I think he was—I think—I think the president was moved by what he saw in New Orleans. I think—what I said was that he got an eyeful and an earful from all of us down here...
JEFFERSON: .. on what needed to be done. And I think he took it all in very well.
I don‘t know that—he had to be shocked at some of the things he saw, because he hadn‘t seen them that close up before. He had seen them from Air Force One. Now he was able to seen them from a helicopter and on the ground. So, obviously, it‘s quite a different thing when you‘re close down looking at all this devastation than it is from way up high in Air Force One.
MATTHEWS: Yes. But it‘s been on TV all week. That‘s what I‘m amazed
Let me go right now to Congressman Bennie Thompson in Mississippi.
He‘s also with us tonight by phone.
Congressman, tell me about the situation in Mississippi—in Alabama, rather.
REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D), MISSISSIPPI: Well, I think what we have here in Mississippi is a twofold problem, the devastation on the Gulf Coast and how do we accommodate so many of the evacuees in the rest of the state?
We‘re working on it, but this is a tremendous problem, a problem that will only grow in time.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the difficulty those people had in getting out of harm‘s way. How would you explain to somebody who lives up north in a big city, for example, why these people got stuck in the middle of that horror this weekend—last weekend?
JEFFERSON: ... of course, it‘s the poorest people who got left in town, principally.
And it is the same (INAUDIBLE) tough choices poor folks make every day, you know, choose between medicine and food,. Now they had to choose between their own safety and whether they could afford to get out of town. And many of them couldn‘t. And there was planning made to kind of get them out of town.
And so, consequently, they took the chance, many of them, of just trying to get through it. And it‘s been a horrific outcome for a lot of people. But the poorest people always get the toughest end of it. And they have—they couldn‘t—they did not have a way out. And they got stuck here. And it is just awfully, awfully, awfully hard.
MATTHEWS: Is that right, Congressman Thompson? Same question.
THOMPSON: Well, that‘s right.
But I think the other piece is that the Department of Homeland Security has a responsibility for responding to those disasters in the appropriate manner. What we have is a four-and-a-half-day late response to a situation that‘s catastrophic.
The Department of Homeland Security has the ultimate responsibility to move with dispatch in a disaster situation. The president did not have to assume personal responsibility of this situation if his officials had been in charge of the situation.
Let me to Governor Riley.
It seem like Alabama got a better deal from FEMA. Does it look that way to you?
RILEY: You know, there‘s no way I can comment on what went on in Mississippi or Louisiana.
But I can tell you this. The president called me almost every day. Secretary Chertoff would call once or twice a day. I probably talk to Mike Brown three or four times every day. And the response was always the same. Tell us what we need to do. And, again, every request we ever made was responded to.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you all about FEMA as an organization, starting with you, Governor Riley.
FEMA, of course, is going to be responsible if we get hit by some sort of terrorist attack. Do you think it is up to the challenge?
RILEY: You know, Chris, I can‘t comment on whether or not they can take care of a catastrophe that happens with a biological or a nuclear weapon or something like that.
The only thing that I can say is that all the FEMA people who were sent to Alabama were professional. They were with us all the way through. There was a strike team that came in early. They helped us in everything that we tried to do.
I think the magnitude of this—of this crisis probably did overwhelm some of the state‘s resources. Alabama wasn‘t hit nearly as hard as Mississippi or Louisiana. but I can tell you, from the president to Secretary Chertoff to Mike Brown, I can‘t ask for anyone to be more concerned or caring than they‘ve been in the last four or five days.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Senator—Governor, rather—
Governor Bob Riley of Alabama, Congressman Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, and U.S. Congressman William Jefferson of New Orleans, Louisiana.
Up next, some of the stories you haven‘t heard from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. We are going to give them to you from our reporters, right out of their notebooks.
This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, stories of survival and horror that you might not have heard, when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Coming up at the top of the hour, the networks of NBC invites you to watch the “Concert For Hurricane Relief,” a telethon featuring Harry Connick Jr., Aaron Neville, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, and Leonardo DiCaprio and hosted by NBC‘s Matt Lauer. That‘s at the top of this hour at 8:00 Eastern on NBC, MSNBC, CNBC and streaming live on NBC.com.
Now I want to bring to you some of the stories you might not have heard this week from three journalists out there in the field this week, NBC‘s Carl Quintanilla, who has been in New Orleans, MSNBC‘s David Shuster, who has been in Biloxi, and “The Washington Post”‘s Ann Gerhart, who is right now in Baton Rouge and was in New Orleans.
Let me go to Carl.
Carl, when your family asks you about this week and your friends ask you for the war stories, what are you going to come to your mind with?
CARL QUINTANILLA, NBC CORRESPONDENT: It is going to come down to one kid. He‘s about 7 years old. He was sweating in 95-degree heat. He was walking on the interstate. He had walked about, I would say two or three miles to a bus that he did not know whether it would be there or not. And he was carrying his baby brother. We saw that and we realized that this—
I think that was the turning point where we realized, this was no longer a hurricane aftermath story.
This was no longer a weather story, a devastation story. It was a human, almost a civil rights violation story.
MATTHEWS: Do you have a sense that this is going to go down—I know you have to be an objective journalist. We all do. But, in analyzing this story, from the reactions of the people in New Orleans, especially, do you have a sense that people feel that not only are they poor and they‘re a minority group, African-American, mostly, but that they were dissed, as we say in the big cities; they were disrespected by their own government this week?
QUINTANILLA: I think it is going to be a really interesting question, Chris, to look at over the coming years.
What does it mean when you do not—when you fear your own populace, a populace that you have seen with your own eyes is hurting and you are afraid to get to get in the car, to get in an ambulance and come into a city that has been covered from the beginning by the media?
We have had photographers, Chris, go out outside the city limits to ambulances and buses, standing, running with the air conditioning on, and drivers saying, I can‘t go in there. I told my wife I would not go in there. It is a powder keg. That‘s—it was an interesting dynamic and something we had—I have never seen before.
MATTHEWS: Why were the ambulance drivers, rationally or irrationally, afraid to go in the city?
QUINTANILLA: Well, you did have reports of shots being fired at helicopters. And there was a natural fear that, if these people were denied resources long enough, that they would become desperate enough to do unique things.
The line here was, they‘ve lost everything, but they still have guns. And that could change things rather quickly. But once we—once we got to the Convention Center and once those pictures got out, it was clear. These were not troublemakers. These were simply people from poor neighborhoods and, in some cases, not even that poor, but just black neighborhoods, who were standing waiting for someone to pick them up.
MATTHEWS: Thank you very much, Carl Quintanilla, who has been in New Orleans all this week.
Let me go right now to Ann Gerhart, who is a great reporter and writer for “The Washington Post.”
Ann, everybody talks about your column here, your featured piece in “The Washington Post” about, I think you would have to call it “Dante‘s Inferno” up there in those—up there in the galleries of what we used to think was a nice place, the Superdome.
ANN GERHART, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Yes. It was an amazing place. I mean, I think it continues to be an amazing place. It has taken a really long time to evacuate it.
I was in there on Tuesday just to see the conditions, because people kept talking about how bad it was. But nobody really had been in there to talk to people. And it was surreal, very dark, very hot, dank.
MATTHEWS: Scary, huh?
GERHART: Well, yes. I mean, I think it was very scary for the people who were living there.
And people do manage to organize themselves into some sort of social structure. And the families were on the ground level lying on the Astroturf. And they had staked out their personal space and were keeping it neat and trying to maintain some order in these chaotic new lives that they‘re—the toys would be in one pile. And the diapers would be carefully bundled on another corner of the blanket.
On the second level, where all the bathrooms were, which had overflowed almost immediately—the Superdome, the vaunted shelter of last resort, lost electricity very early on. The roof tore off. The water pressure could not be maintained. And so, indoor plumbing went within less than 24 hours of the storm moving through, or actually earlier than that.
So, you could not really use the bath rooms. And people were just
finding a place to relieve themselves wherever they could. And what I have
been struck by with this whole story—and we were just talking about this
· in the absence of communication, that vacuum is filled with all kind of negative, frightening rumors, past tales.
And what has really been lost throughout this whole process, it seem to me, is an entire communications system. People said to me over and over again in the Superdome, what do you know? What can you tell me? Is this true? I heard that. And there was no effort to sort of stand there on the floor of that facility every morning just for a few minutes with a battery-powered or a generator microphone and say, OK, people, here‘s what‘s happening today.
And I think that‘s been the case throughout the city. We have seen a complete breakdown. I mean, we were talking—I was at FEMA headquarters today talking to the chief operational officer for the entire effort here. And he talked about how nobody can talk to each other. And yet, what really worked was the old-line system of AM radio on a battery-powered radio.
I can‘t tell you how many people I talked to who were trapped in there homes for days and days waiting for rescue. And they had their radio.
GERHART: But we don‘t have that system anymore.
MATTHEWS: Well, we‘re reverting to old times. There‘s a lot of reverse evolution going on in our civilization this last week. And we have seen what happens when you don‘t have money, you don‘t have food and you don‘t have water, you don‘t have transportation, you don‘t have communications. People revert.
Anyway, thank you very much, Ann Gerhart of “The Washington Post.”
We will be right back with more on the stories you haven‘t heard from the reporters yet on the ground covering the devastation left behind by Hurricane Katrina.
HARDBALL will be right back.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s get to David Shuster now.
Tell us what‘s in your notebook that you‘re going to remember from months and years ahead.
SHUSTER: Well, Chris, it was so clear this week that the storm hurt the elderly and the poor the most. And today, we ran into a gentleman who was a perfect example.
He is living now out of the biggest shelter in Biloxi. Ironically, it sits right across from Keesler Air Force Base. This is a man in his mid-70s. He served in the Air Force for 17 years. He lost everything. He broke his hip several months ago. He walks around with a cane. No government officials have been to talk to him.
He has no idea how to establish—essentially establish his identity, get his veterans benefits. And what has happened now is that, today, we went with him to his house to see what had happened. And, in fact, you see this small sort of trailer where he lived. It was total destruction. And yet, there was one miracle, because our photographer actually found this muddy briefcase filled with water that actually had some documents in it.
And the last time we saw him, Mr. Rockwell (ph) -- that was him—walking off with a big smile on his face, not because he had finally eaten today, after four days, or had finally gotten some water, but because he finally had some documents to prove he was a veteran. And that meant it would be a little easier for him in the future to get veterans benefits.
And, Chris, this is somebody who gave 24 years of his life to the U.S. military. I mean, it was just remarkable.
MATTHEWS: What I‘m going to remember this week is watching Carl Quintanilla and the other NBC reporters describe and show us what‘s going on in New Orleans. It was an amazing sight, not a happy sight for American history, powerful stuff.
I also was impressed so much by your report this afternoon, David, where you showed us, almost like in a 360-degree panorama, the devastation in Biloxi, where you could—you showed us in every direction. There was nothing there. It looked like—it looked worse than those scenes of Berlin in 1945 after the bombing. At least in Berlin, there were buildings left. What you were showing us today was just extraordinary.
It looked like one of those scenes after a nuclear war. And that‘s, of course, where the right-hand punch of the hurricane hit with all its strength from the eye early this week.
But then we learned, hurricanes aren‘t the worst thing that could happen. The worst thing that could happen is when your city is flooded for what looks like about six months.
Carl Quintanilla, when is that flood going to go down? Do you know yet?
We don‘t know. Well, we will find out next week, because everybody is going to be wondering, when is New Orleans going to come back?
David, thank you very much for that great report and all week, that report.
MATTHEWS: And, Ann Gerhart, a great piece in “The Washington Post.”
Up next, Faith Hill, Harry Connick Jr., Tim McGraw, Aaron Neville, Hilary Swank, Leonardo DiCaprio and many, many more, and your chance—that‘s the big thing—to help victims of the Gulf Coast.
Please stay tuned for “A Concert For Hurricane Relief” right here, right now, on MSNBC.
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