Guest: John Gomez, Charles Bernell, Robert Eckels, Michael Appleton, John Timoney, Nora Tyson, Richard Carmona, Kelli Martin, Rochelle Martin, John Sweeney
ANNOUNCER: LIVE AND DIRECT from Houston, Texas, with the latest on Hurricane Katrina, here is Rita Cosby.
RITA COSBY, HOST: Good evening, everybody. Once again, I am here at the Houston Astrodome. It is being used as one big massive shelter for those who have lost everything. So big is this complex that it now has its own Zipcode for the 15,000 people inside.
But there is new hope amid the desperate and dying at the New Orleans Superdome and also the convention center there. A caravan of aid finally rolled into town today to deal with the dire situation. But horror in other parts of the city. Fires erupted in many parts, and there‘s hardly anyone around to help put them out.
Also, President Bush today saw New Orleans from the air before meeting survivors on the empty streets of Biloxi, Mississippi, many still questioning why it has taken so long, when the pictures have been so painfully obvious. Help was certainly needed days ago.
And we begin our wall-to-wall special coverage tonight with Don Teague in the crippled city of New Orleans.
DON TEAGUE, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For days, the government has promised these people help.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) other people evacuated. We don‘t have nowhere to go.
TEAGUE: Finally today, a massive convoy of National Guard troops, aid trucks and air-conditioned buses crept into the center of the city. The first priorities: ending the violence and evacuating the Superdome and convention center. Overhead, a constant flow of helicopters plucked survivors off rooftops and dropped them off five miles from downtown on the interstate.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) for the baby.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... cried himself to sleep last night! I wouldn‘t let my baby‘s head in this filth!
TEAGUE: Until last night, officials were busing refugees out of this freeway triage, but with buses now going downtown, the numbers here have swelled to the thousands.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘re in the shade, where it‘s cool.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they have a medical problem, we‘ll get them over here to some help. But as long as is they‘re walking and talking, we have other people we have to do first. Do you have babies?
TEAGUE: Aid is coming here, truckloads of food and water. Still, a state police officer tells NBC News 10 people died on the interstate yesterday alone.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I spent two days in a shelter trying to disperse aid, basic first aid, with nothing. I had nothing. Where is it?
TEAGUE: New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin strongly criticized the government‘s response last night on a local radio station.
MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: Don‘t tell me 40,000 people are coming here! They‘re not be here! It‘s too doggone late. And get off your [deleted] and let‘s do something, and let‘s fix the biggest [deleted] crisis in the history of this country!
TEAGUE: Because it‘s clear today this disaster area is far from secure, work crews are trying to restore water and electricity, even as fires burn across the city. Hospitals are unable to function at all, nurses and doctors who stayed to help victims now among the terrified thousands begging to be rescued.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It‘s totally crazy. We feel totally abandoned by the government.
TEAGUE: All of them asking the same question, How could this happen in America?
COSBY: Incredible pictures. And that was NBC‘s Don Teague reporting.
Well, it has been desperation to spare, anger, and boy, plenty of tears for the thousands camped out at the convention center in New Orleans since Katrina struck. But the big question is, are things getting any better?
NBC‘s Martin Savidge spent another day with those barely hanging on, and he joins us now live. Martin, what‘s the situation there?
MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Rita. Well, the first relief has rolled in at the convention center. They have food, they have water, and finally at night, they have security. But what they wanted most was a way out. They still don‘t have that.
(voice-over): It‘s our second day outside the New Orleans convention center, and they just started distributing food and water late this afternoon. But there are no buses here, and there‘s no sign they‘re coming soon. A woman rakes the garbage, believing if she doesn‘t, the buses won‘t come.
After four days of hell and no help, many believe the only explanation is they‘re being punished.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No buses no food, no water, no nothing.
SAVIDGE: This woman confesses she stole this fruit. So many here have chronic diseases, diabetes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, I‘m scared because my insulin‘s been off ice now for a pretty long time. I‘m scared to take it. It might make me worse.
SAVIDGE: This man needs dialysis.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need my treatment. I need to go to the hospital.
SAVIDGE: Even the healthy are breaking down.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to know why they don‘t bring these buses on and take these people out of here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can‘t stand it here anymore. I can‘t stand
it! I don‘t ever want to go back
SAVIDGE: Not all of these people are destitute. Many have jobs, kids in college, a mortgage. But after five days in the heat, everyone here feels the same.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘m hungry. I‘m thirsty. (INAUDIBLE)
SAVIDGE: Down the street, another man who ran out of time. In his Bible, Larry Johns (ph) reads of ancient times of famine, to which he now relates.
(on camera): These are biblical times.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s right. And you know, the only thing I can say, like, I‘ve been hearing about they‘re sending buses here and they‘re sending buses there. (INAUDIBLE) I seen about 50 buses yesterday. They could have sent 25 to the Superdome and 25 here and thinned this crowd out.
SAVIDGE (voice-over): And then the rumble of trucks. It‘s clear the rescuers feared the ones that came to help, at least initially.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What took so long, sir?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you saying (INAUDIBLE)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because it‘s hard. How long did it take to you get here?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘ve been here, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Really? You know the deal. It‘s hard to get here. It‘s hard to get food for 20,000 people.
SAVIDGE: Help has come. For some, just in time. For most, nowhere near soon enough.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You should have been here four days ago!
SAVIDGE: There was some hope that the first evacuees might get out of the convention center tonight. They would be the elderly and those most desperately ill. They were called together in a painful procession to wait for a helicopter to carry them away. Finally, after getting them all together, it was announced that it had taken too long. The helicopters couldn‘t fly when it starts to get dark. They were all told to go back to the convention center for another night—Rita.
COSBY: Martin, you know, this is amazing. As we look at these pictures of these folks of desperation, this is America! Have you gotten any sense at all from the military, all the folks you‘ve been dealing with today, as to when help is finally going to arrive, when they think everyone‘s going to be out? Are we talking days? Are we talking weeks?
SAVIDGE: Well, clearly, it clearly appears that it‘s going to be a process that will take a long time, certainly through the holiday weekend. While most Americans may enjoy it with their families, a lot of people here are separated from their families and still trying to get out of the city they once called home. It‘s a difficult process. There are about 20,000 people at the convention center alone. They are still trying to get people out of the Superdome.
So if you take that into measure, that‘s been going on now for nearly four days, and they haven‘t even started with the convention center, weeks may very well be the right phrase to use.
COSBY: Oh, incredible! Martin, thank you very much for bringing us those images.
And the Bush administration, of course, is no doubt taking a lot of heat for the way that the government is responding to this crisis. As we said, the president toured the disaster area today, and he promised that the government would do better.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The federal government‘s job is big and it‘s massive, and we‘re going to do it. Where it‘s not working right, we‘re going to make it right. Where it is working right, we‘re going to duplicate it elsewhere. And we have a responsibility in the federal level to help save life, and that‘s the primary focus right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: And joining me now on the phone is Colonel John Gomez. He‘s the director of mobility for the U.S. Air Force, part of the Task Force Katrina. Colonel, I got to ask you, why is everything taking so long?
COL. JOHN GOMEZ, USAF, DIR. OF MOBILITY, TASK FORCE KATRINA: Well, it
· it really is not taking as long as people think it is. Our military forces are moving as quickly as they can. With the shattered roads and electrical grid, it simply cannot move supplies in as close to the people as we‘d like it to. And we are working around the clock to expand that capability.
Our contingency response group in at the Louis Armstrong International Airport has made tremendous strides. Day before yesterday, we were only able to move 600 folks out of that airport. Today, we‘ve moved over 6,000, and we‘re projecting tomorrow we‘ll be able to do about 12,000 folks out of there. So we‘re advancing our capabilities as quickly as we can. We have seen...
COSBY: Sir—sir, I have to interrupt you because those are tremendous accomplishments, but on the flip side, everyone is asking—this is not a third world country. Why did it take so long, especially when there were plans in place? I mean, I‘ve seen so much information lately, particularly about New Orleans being a target of at least a category three hurricane. This was a category four. This was not a surprise.
GOMEZ: I don‘t know whether or not this was a surprise. I was not involved in that planning. I do know that the devastation to the infrastructure, the road structure, the communications is making it a very tough challenge for us to coordinate our effort. It took us quite a while to identify the people. You‘ve seen the helicopters going out and rescuing individuals from their homes and trying to bring them to collection centers, so that we can get them the food and water that they need.
COSBY: Yes. And fair enough, but don‘t you admit, sir, that things were very poorly organized? I mean, I‘m here in the Houston Astrodome. I‘m talking to people who slept on a highway bridge for a few days.
GOMEZ: I really don‘t know. I was not involved with that planning and how things were organized. I know that we‘re working hard with our FEMA partners, the state governors and the mayors, to identify what the priorities are and take care of, you know, the top priorities first.
COSBY: Absolutely. And it is a massive task, sir, and we do appreciate all the hard work of you and everybody who is out there. Of course, again, a lot of people saying, Why didn‘t we have this better planned? Thank you so much, sir.
Well, imagine having to decide who gets immediate help and also who doesn‘t in a crisis like this. For those who evacuated from places like the Superdome in New Orleans and also area hospitals, are they getting the care that they need?
Dr. Charles Bernell is a relief volunteer who has tended to some of the patients and is on the phone with us right now.
Dr. Bernell, you know, we were just talking to, you know, the head of
· one of the folks involved in the efforts. I‘m sure it is so frustrating for, as you‘re looking at these patients. How dire is the need that you‘re seeing firsthand?
DR. CHARLES BERNELL, RELIEF VOLUNTEER: Well, the biggest problem that we had, Rita, was just getting people out of there. We had a problem, obviously, with supplies, with oxygen. We could not get basic medical supplies and we could not get personnel in. Initially, we were promised, you know, that we would have back-ups, relief back-ups to come in. And I had gone down—a friend, Toby Bazhon (ph), had actually told me that there was dire need for medical personnel down, but I didn‘t realize how bad it was.
When I had arrived down, I relieved two physicians who had been there for the prior two days and did not even realize that there was no one else coming with me. When we got down there, we set up a medical center in the Superdome that was running. And as soon as conditions got unsafe, with potential rioting and chaos in there, we had to move our medical center, which only consisted of, really, three physicians at the most and probably 10 medics and nurses to get out as many patients as we could through there.
And then eventually, I took over as medical incident commander to try to get those triaged and transported out onto the helicopters. We had plenty of helicopter support coming and going during the daytime, trying to move these patients. But it was a big organizational effort to get the different—FEMA and Homeland Security groups together because we had no communication down there.
We ran out of objection and had difficulty even getting a single oxygen bottle in, but we were able to get some of the most critical patients out. But again, the problem here was that we actually had more—not enough people supplies, not enough medical supplies and certainly not enough transportation out. They had closed down transportation at nighttime for helicopters, which was really the only way that we could get out of there with critical patients.
And again, you figure basically probably three doctors and maybe 30 to 40 medical personnel trying to get and treat 25,000 people.
COSBY: Wow. Well, Dr. Bernell, we really appreciate all the hard work you‘re doing. I can hear the phone ringing in the backgrounds, so I‘m sure you‘re extremely busy and we appreciate you being with us tonight, sir. Thank you very much.
And we‘re joined now by the man who‘s coordinating all the relief efforts here at the Astrodome in Houston, Judge Robert Eckels. Good to see you again. A lot of progress since we spoke last night. How many folks inside the massive building? Let‘s start with the Astrodome.
JUDGE ROBERT ECKELS, COORDINATING ASTRODOME RELIEF: The Astrodome, we have about 15,000 people now. We have about 3,000 people next door...
COSBY: Which is in the Reliance (ph) Center...
ECKELS: Well, it‘s actually the arena over here...
COSBY: Oh, the arena over here? OK.
ECKELS: We‘ve got an arena that‘s part of this facility, and then we‘ve got the Reliance Center‘s just now opening up, and we‘re taking—we‘ll have about 8,000 in that one by the time we‘re finished.
COSBY: So all told, we‘ve got a massive total.
ECKELS: There‘s 26,000 or so here. And then we‘ve got an overflow for another 8,000 at the city‘s convention center in downtown Houston. So we‘ll be able to handle a little over 30,000 people right here (INAUDIBLE)
COSBY: There was a lot of concern in the middle of the night that folks were stopped here, saying that this was enough (INAUDIBLE) capacity. Apparently, you‘re bringing in more, though, right?
ECKELS: We had expanded the dome. We had originally anticipated putting about 25,000 people, but when you have that many in such a tight crowd, it started creating problems, like we had at the Superdome, and we don‘t want that here. We‘re concerned about the safety for these folks.
We‘ve got the same medical conditions you‘re seeing on your previous segment. And so we wanted to make sure that our folks were better taken care of than that. And last night, we thought that everything was fine at 9:00 o‘clock. By about midnight, we had another 65 buses that we had not expected show up. That‘s really been the story of this, that there is no communication coming out of Louisiana, so people are just showing up.
But we‘re prepared now. We‘re triaging all of the buses for Texas.
COSBY: And real quick before we—we got to wrap up real quick. I want to ask about the Zipcode. I think this is amazing. You‘ve actually set up a Zipcode, right, for these folks?
ECKELS: The Post Office has come in. They‘ve been—they‘ve been great for us. They‘ve got their—I don‘t remember the...
COSBY: Your own Zipcode, right...
ECKELS: They got their own Zipcode...
COSBY: ... just for them.
ECKELS: ... (INAUDIBLE) for this box, so people can communicate more effectively with each other. It‘s a city. We‘ve got a city of 26,000 people right here in this (INAUDIBLE).
COSBY: And lots of good news from here, too. Thank you.
ECKELS: Thank you.
COSBY: Thank you very much. You‘ve done a great job here.
ECKELS: A lot of hard work.
COSBY: It sure is, by a lot of folks, and you especially, too.
ECKELS: A lot of folks. It‘s a flat (ph) organization. A lot of good folks.
COSBY: Thank you very much.
And still ahead, everybody, again, good news here, but is the worst yet to come elsewhere? The New Orleans airport takes on a whole new role, an infirmary. But is this just the beginning of a catastrophic health crisis? The surgeon general joins me LIVE AND DIRECT.
And next, shocking pictures from the war zone that is New Orleans. The photographer who captured the brutal scene—imagine this—he‘s coming up next.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: Don‘t tell me 40,000 people are coming here. They‘re not here! It‘s too doggone late. Now, get off your [deleted] and let‘s do something, and let‘s fix the biggest [deleted] crisis in the history of this country!
(END AUDIO CLIP)
COSBY: And that was the mayor of New Orleans, who actually was on a tour today with President Bush. That was during a radio interview. Obviously, tensions are really escalating at this time.
And those were some of the most painful images from the streets of New Orleans. They could only be described as horrifying. Days after Hurricane Katrina, people are desperate for relief and they‘re just simply pleading for help. Michael Appleton is a photographer with “The New York Daily News.” He has captured some of the most disturbing images over the past few days, and he‘s live with us from New Orleans.
Michael, I want to show this picture, if we could. This is of the guy who just looks—he was brutally, brutally beaten. We showed it right before we came up to you in the break. There‘s his picture. I mean, Michael, this is stunning. Did this man survive? Do we know?
MICHAEL APPLETON, “NEW YORK DAILY NEWS” PHOTOGRAPHER: I‘m not sure about that. When he was taken out of the crowd, he was carried out and brought beyond a line of National Guardsmen. The scary thing about that situation was there was no medics that I saw. People were calling out for medics. He wasn‘t the only one. There was a lot of people passing out, elderly people. And there was no medics, as far as I could see in the area. So they were bringing him, lying him down and just, you know, friends or people that were nearby were, you know, putting—giving him water and giving him whatever first aid they could muster, you know? So it was—you know, it was complete chaos.
COSBY: That‘s what I wanted to ask you, Mike. I mean, when you see scenes like this, you know, you almost think of LA riots or some other things. Is this sort of a scene of anarchy at this time, you know, just where everybody is so desperate?
APPLETON: Yes. I mean, I think—well, what happened there was there was a bottleneck. Those people had been stewing, you know, for days, three days in the Superdome. And they finally said, you know, We‘re going to get out of here. And they brought him outside, and so there‘s thousands of people bottlenecking at this one point. And you know, it was just—there was no authority there, except for a line of National Guardsman at the end.
So yes, it was completely chaotic, just trash everywhere, people passing out, tempers flaring, obviously. And you know, that man was beaten with a lead pipe, we heard, and—for asking for a cigarette. So you know, people are very frustrated, obviously, and...
COSBY: It‘s so sad. Absolutely. And Michael...
APPLETON: Epic. Epic proportions.
COSBY: Michael, does it look like things are getting better? Does it look like things—as you know, as you‘re looking—you‘ve been there now for a bit of time. Does it look like things are improving at all?
APPLETON: Today there was some improvement. I mean, there‘s some progress being made in terms of getting people out. But you know, the buses are lining up. The lines are smaller today. But you know, it‘s hard to be optimistic in a situation like this because it‘s been so slow. It‘s, like, just trickling. I mean, it‘s a real failure of services here. And just today, you know, there was noticeably a difference, but you know, it‘s very slow. Very slow.
COSBY: Michael, hold on, if you could, because I want to bring in now
· joining us is Miami police chief John Timoney into the conversation.
Chief, you know, as you look at these pictures that Michael captured and the scenes that we see, are you just astounded that things don‘t seem to be under control sooner?
JOHN TIMONEY, MIAMI POLICE CHIEF: Yes, well, listen, this is a difficult situation from the get-go. Once the levees broke, you know, the entire city was enveloped. So it wasn‘t that there was a disturbance in a certain part of the city or in a neighborhood that could be confined or controlled, it was the entire city. And clearly, the New Orleans Police Department—it‘s a relatively small department compared to the NYPD or some other departments. They were overwhelmed early on.
And then, of course, assistance, in terms of—from the state and the federal government really was slow in coming. And I think even the president, while he was thankful for the response, thought it wasn‘t enough.
COSBY: And Chief Timoney, are you astounded? I mean, you‘re—you know, Miami can be a tough city. There‘s some tough parts there.
COSBY: But when you look at these scenes—this is America. Are you just astounded at some of the images coming out of New Orleans?
TIMONEY: I was astounded and also embarrassed. And you know, in every situation, not just here but in every city in America, any time you have a crisis, civil unrest, there will always be a small segment who look to take advantage of these situations. And we saw it here in New Orleans with some of the more brazen looters, and then in this case here, where they actually engaged in assaultive behavior, and in some cases rape and then shooting. You know, never underestimate the capacity of human beings to, you know, commit evil acts. You know, a small group—it‘s almost like a “Lord of the Flies” mentality that takes over.
Not everybody. The vast majority of the people at the dome and at the convention center are good, God-fearing people. But there‘s a small, small minority that are looking to take advantage of this situation.
COSBY: Yes, unfortunately. And Michael, are you taking any extra steps, being there in the heart of New Orleans and also capturing these images, I would imagine?
APPLETON: Well, for safety, you mean?
COSBY: Yes, absolutely.
APPLETON: Say it again?
COSBY: Yes, absolutely. For safety.
APPLETON: Right. You know, we—at night, we try to stay near a police presence. But you know, you have to take chances. You know, you‘re not going to cover the story unless you take some chances. You have to go out to get these stories, you know? The Superdome and over at the convention center, they‘re bad situations. But that‘s our job. So...
COSBY: Well, you‘ve done a great job. And thank you for sharing albeit some painful images with the rest of us. We appreciate it. And Chief, thank you also for being with us. I‘m sure we‘re going to be talking to you very soon.
And just off the shore from those tragic scenes, the Navy amphibious ship the USS Bataan is handling relief operations from the Gulf of Mexico. The ship‘s helicopters have already saved more than 500 survivors from New Orleans.
On the phone with us right now is Captain Nora Tyson. She‘s the commanding officer of the U.S. Bataan. Captain, let me start with you in terms of the sense you‘re getting. Is there an optimism there, or does this seem like it‘s just so overwhelming, the task at hand for you?
CAPT. NORA TYSON, USS BATAAN: Well, I think there is optimism as we get further into this, you know, disaster relief effort because we are seeing progress. We are saving people every day. The folks from flying off of the ship today rescued almost 400 folks from the University of New Orleans and downtown. And it was children. It was people in wheelchairs. It was folks with no shoes, you name it, the whole gamut. And we‘re just getting people out of there and we have to because New Orleans, as we all know, is uninhabitable, and we just got to get the people out. And everybody is making every effort that they can to do that.
COSBY: And Captain, you talked about women, children, the university. Any really incredible rescues? I mean, you rescued 400 people. We‘ve heard of some folks being on top of rooftops with signs. Anything just really dramatic that you heard about today?
TYSON: Well, I personally have not talked to our crews today, but I know that they‘re coming back to the ship and we‘re debriefing them every night when they get back. And they have just seen some things that they never dreamed they would see in their lifetime. They‘re plucking people off of roofs and hanging out of windows, and you know, families and elderly and children, like I said. And it‘s just something that none of us ever dreamed that we would be doing right here in our own country.
COSBY: Well, Captain Nora Tyson, our best to and you all the good folks on board your ship. Keep up the great work. Thank you very much for being with us.
And still ahead tonight, a shocking prediction from Mississippi. The death toll—get this—may be 10 times what they once thought -- 10 times. We‘ve got the latest live from Biloxi.
And what about the hospital patients evacuated after surviving a harrowing ordeal in New Orleans? Their amazing stories are coming up next.
ANNOUNCER: LIVE & DIRECT from Houston, Texas, here again, Rita Cosby.
COSBY: In Mississippi, the numbers look grim. The death toll is rising fast, and it may be much more than anticipated. Meantime, there are reports that the going rate for a bag of ice is about $10.
MSNBC‘s David Shuster, who is live now in Biloxi, David, what are you seeing there tonight?
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rita, the destruction, of course, is everywhere. And where they have tried to move some of the debris, it‘s only really just a dent in the devastation here.
But the big news, of course, is the latest sort of casualty expectations now for the Biloxi area. Police and medical staff who are helping with the recovery are telling us they expect that, when all is said and done, the number of dead will eventually total more than 1,000.
This is based on cadaver recovery teams and what they have described. It‘s also based on missing person reports, and also, just hundreds of reports from people who said that they saw their loved ones, their friends, their family members actually going under water and never coming back up.
The official public coroner‘s figure is much lower than that, perhaps about 150 by now. But officials say the reason that figure is as low as that is, is because simply the coroner‘s office is overwhelmed, but also because many of the bodies that have been recovered or the body parts simply are in such horrible condition that they cannot be identified.
There‘s also every indication that the huge casualty figure that they‘re expecting here in Biloxi is largely the result of the timing of the storm, the fact that it was the end of the month.
The storm hit the hardest in Biloxi Point, the most impoverished area in the city. This is an area with about 4,000 -- that had about 4,000 people, who lived check-to-check. It was the end of the month. And according to a number of people who do business in that area, or who did business in that area, they said that there were dozens of people who said, “I don‘t have any more money. It‘s the end of the month. Can you loan me $20 or $30 so I can fill up a tank of gas and leave?”
The businesses, of course, didn‘t have the money. And when we talked to one of those business owners, he broke down and cried as he said, you know, “Most of those people that live in Biloxi Point, they lived check-to-check, they didn‘t have the money to get out, and they probably paid with their lives as a result.” So just an awful, awful tragedy.
As far as the focus on the survivors, Rita, there is food, there is water that is going to some of these shelters, but it does appear to be coming not from any government agencies, but simply from private entities, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, a number of churches in the area.
They have all now come into Biloxi and are delivering food and water. But, again, officials say that it could be some time until some of these people get anything more than just the basic necessities—Rita?
COSBY: All right, David, thank you very much.
And let‘s turn now, if we could, to a small town where people have been suffering for days without food and also clean water. NBC‘s Ron Blome is in Waveland, Mississippi. And he joins me live from there.
I see a lot of damage behind you, Ron.
RON BLOME, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Oh, it‘s tremendous. We‘re probably another 45, 50 miles closer to New Orleans than David. And as you approach the city and the interstate, you can tell this is where the right-hand side of that eyewall came in. Even along the interstate, there‘s tremendous force that was put on the trees.
But what happened here is between the ocean front, between Mississippi Sound and the railroad tracks. All of the houses, like the ones behind me, block after block, were just leveled. And that looks like a house back there. It is just the shell of a house.
We‘re also hearing some of the same things about casualty numbers climbing up dramatically here. The urban search-and-rescue team that came in here from Boston is still working this neighborhood, an area they said they haven‘t cleared at all out. So they‘re stilly trying to find out and recover people who were missing there.
In fact, the director of this team said his group was the first federal search-and-rescue team into the World Trade Center site. And he said this was the same kind take-your-breath-away tragedy. He said it was of biblical proportions, because it went block-after-block.
Now, we saw some military people in here three days ago, a small group of National Guardsmen from North Mississippi with earth-moving equipment. And they were clearing out the streets.
But today, we‘re finally starting to see the big military presence, the large Sea Hawk helicopters that the Navy uses, and some other large Navy helicopters and Chinooks from the Army. Relief is beginning to arrive here now on Friday after a Monday landfall.
But some residents aren‘t happy. For instance, Byrd Cassibry, she was 15 when Hurricane Camille came in here 36 years ago. Her father was deputy director of civil defense.
And she said that 48 hours after Camille made landfall, President Nixon had the Third Infantry in here. And she calls today‘s response pathetic by comparison to that, and she just can‘t understand why the government didn‘t understand a disaster was coming. Let‘s listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BYRD CASSIBRY, HOME FLOODED: If the National Weather Service knew it was coming, why couldn‘t our government have been here the next day, you know, to help our sheriff‘s department, our local city governments? Why couldn‘t they have had communications open in some way for the people who were here to contact relatives?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLOME: Now, the residents here aren‘t trapped by levees, and high water, and swamp, like the New Orleans residents are, but they‘re trapped by something else: They have no cars. All of the vehicles that were in the storm surge were destroyed. And they have no way out.
So a lot of people say they‘ve been contacting friends and family and hope they‘ll be in no later than the end of the weekend to rescue them and take them away from this terrible spot on the Gulf Coast—Rita?
COSBY: Let‘s hope that they do connect. Ron, thank you very much.
And we now know that it will take months, not weeks, to pump all the flood water out of New Orleans. It could also take—get this—another year for the city to get back on its feet. Add all this on top of unsanitary conditions, and you have a recipe for a health disaster.
Vice Admiral Richard Carmona is the U.S. surgeon general. And he joins me now LIVE & DIRECT.
Admiral Carmona, how concerned are you about a health catastrophe?
VICE ADMIRAL RICHARD CARMONA, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, I‘m concerned about the health problems that come after any catastrophe, as in this one, with people not having shelter, with a lot of sewage, contaminated water, living in close conditions, mosquitoes multiplying. All of those things are of concern to us, but we‘re taking action on them already.
We have public health teams from the United States Public Health Service down there and more en route. We‘re setting up field shelters to shelter people, working with other agencies to bring in the important goods we need to help to mitigate some of these problems.
But we are concerned about the long-term public health consequences. And those are right now almost overshadowed by the acute response to save lives. But in the long run, the public health problems are going to be one that we have to work on for a very long time.
COSBY: Let‘s first talk about prioritizing, because I would imagine, as you just point out, that‘s the key right now. What is the immediate issue? What do you see as sort of the urgent needs, and then you move onto the long term?
CARMONA: The immediate needs are, we need to evacuate New Orleans, for instance, if we talk about one city. The amount of water, the sewage, the contamination, it really would be very difficult to try and sustain anybody there.
So the best thing that we can do is to make sure that we give everybody the emergency care that they need to sustain them. Those who are just dehydrated or hungry, get them food, get them water, get them quick shelter, and start with an evacuation plan, and move them to appropriate shelters and those that are ill to places where they can receive more definitive care.
COSBY: How concerned are you going to be for long term? Because I would imagine, with the waters there, I mean, you‘ve got a major city. You‘ve got major health issues. We‘ve seen, unfortunately, some horrible pictures of dead bodies floating in the water. That‘s a massive long-term ordeal, right?
CARMONA: This is going to be a very, very long-term project. Acutely, moving everybody to where we can make sure that they are safe, that they are getting the health care needs they need, and then dealing with the infrastructure problems.
You know, pretty much the infrastructure of the community is gone, social services, the religious services, faith-based organizations, so that we have to work with the community to help them rebuild that, while we shelter the refugees from this disaster in other locations.
And we are providing for that now, with federal medical shelters that are being distributed around the area to provide the care for those people who need it.
COSBY: Thank you very much, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona.
Thanks, Admiral, for being with us. Best of luck to you.
And still ahead, I visited a hospital here in Houston where some of the sick and injured are getting the help they need. For some, the trip was as dangerous as anything they have been through so far.
And coordinating the relief effort is a huge task. Who‘s up for the challenge? They are already some calls for Rudy Giuliani to take over. Find out if he‘s interested. Stay tuned.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She needs her insulin. My momma, she‘s in the water. And I can‘t get to her. I can‘t do nothing for nobody, because I can‘t help myself.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi, my name‘s Cynthia Field. And my family, my kids, I‘m still alive. And I love you all. And I hope you all get back together one day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is E.J. Williams. I want to tell my wife in Texas to come pick me up, tell my family in Alabama, I‘m OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Ron Belemy (ph). I want to say hello to my sisters and brothers, tell them I‘m doing fine. Hope to see them soon.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is (INAUDIBLE) I just want my sisters out in Baton Rouge and all the people (INAUDIBLE) let us know we‘re all right, we (INAUDIBLE) we‘re trying to get out of New Orleans.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY: Those are just some of the sounds of people who are letting their loved ones know that they‘re doing OK. We‘re calling it “MSNBC Reconnect.” And our crews in the field are taping different messages to stranded victims.
There are thousands upon thousands of them. Visit our web site at MSNBC.com. Make sure you post the name of those people who are missing and also indicate those who have been found.
It‘s a wonderful process. And I hope all of you can participate in it.
Meantime, a lot of folks had been evacuated to here, Houston, including the sick. Among the places that they‘ve been taking in patients is Texas Children‘s Hospital, where I visited one young patient just a few hours ago.
Sixteen-year-old Kelli Martin was one of those who rode out Katrina in a New Orleans hospital. She and her mom told me about their amazing story of survival.
COSBY: Kelli, you happen to be in New Orleans for back surgery.
KELLI MARTIN, STUCK IN HOSPITAL DURING HURRICANE: Yes, I was.
COSBY: What was it like? You were there in the middle of the storm?
K. MARTIN: It was horrible. I was scared, because my momma wasn‘t with me. And the winds was just blowing, and the hospital started shaking during the hurricane.
COSBY: You talked about the helicopters. At one point, the helicopters were going to airlift you out, but what happened?
K. MARTIN: They was shooting at the helicopters Tuesday night.
COSBY: And then what happened? You were supposed to be taken out.
And what happened when the helicopters were being shot at?
K. MARTIN: Oh, we had to run up to the sixth floor on stairs.
COSBY: So you ran up six floors of stairs?
K. MARTIN: Yes. Yes, ma‘am.
COSBY: How scared were you?
K. MARTIN: Real scared.
COSBY: Then how did you finally get out?
K. MARTIN: Well, the helicopters came to get us Wednesday morning. And we went to Houma. And after we stayed awhile in Houma, they came and get us from Houston and took us back to Houston. Then we rode that ambulance to the hospital, and then we came here.
COSBY: And you finally had successful back surgery...
K. MARTIN: Yes, ma‘am.
COSBY: ... yesterday. How are you feeling?
K. MARTIN: Good.
COSBY: Happy to be alive, too?
K. MARTIN: Yes, yes, ma‘am.
COSBY: Now, during this whole thing, Rochelle, you‘re the mom.
ROCHELLE MARTIN, DAUGHTER STUCK IN HOSPITAL DURING STORM: Yes.
COSBY: You couldn‘t get a hold of her for how long?
R. MARTIN: Oh, for like about two days, I couldn‘t find her. We searched the Internet, me and my family. And I had everybody calling places and searching the Internet. We called Red Cross, and, you know, and trying to call the hospital, checking on her in her room, and the nurses‘ station and stuff. And everything was just shut down.
COSBY: How worried were you? Here‘s your daughter in surgery, you know, she‘s in the thick of the storm.
R. MARTIN: Oh, I was going crazy. I was going crazy.
COSBY: And then you got here last night.
R. MARTIN: Yes.
COSBY: How does it finally feel to see her beautiful face?
R. MARTIN: Oh, relief, relief. I was just so happy to her. And when I got here, she had just—she was sleeping with the surgery. And I was just totally relieved.
COSBY: Now, you‘re going to have your 17th birthday in a few days?
K. MARTIN: Uh-huh.
COSBY: What‘s the best birthday gift you‘ve gotten so far?
K. MARTIN: Being with my mom.
COSBY: And being alive, right?
K. MARTIN: Yes, ma‘am.
R. MARTIN: Yes.
K. MARTIN: Yes, being alive.
COSBY: Nice to see a good news story.
And up next, Rudy Giuliani managed the recovery after the 9/11 attacks. Is he the man to coordinate this enormous disaster? That‘s next, LIVE & DIRECT.
COSBY: Now that desperately needed aid is finally getting to some victims of Hurricane Katrina, one congressman says President Bush needs to appoint someone who is tough and organized enough to run all relief efforts along the Gulf Coast.
LIVE & DIRECT tonight is Representative John Sweeney. He‘s a Republican from New York.
Now, Congressman Sweeney, I understand you‘re suggesting Rudy Giuliani. Why is he the best man for the job?
REP. JOHN SWEENEY ®, NEW YORK: Well, Rita, nice to join you. First of all, let me say to the people of the Gulf states that all New Yorkers and, really all the citizens of this country, send out our best. And they are in our thoughts and our prayers.
I think Rudy Giuliani has real experience. And we owe it to the people of the Gulf states, in particular the people of New Orleans, to have the best, the brightest and real leaders on the ground.
In my opinion, the real dysfunctions that have occurred thus far this week—and they‘ve been tragic and incredible—have really related to the failure on the ground to have a credible plan and/or execute a credible plan and really assess the damages there.
And command and control are essential. And that‘s especially so in an urban area like New Orleans.
Now, you know, you can compare New Orleans to New York. And there may not be necessarily great comparisons, but they were great disasters. Rudy Giuliani‘s proven that he can manage that.
Secondly, you can compare New Orleans to what‘s happened in Mississippi, and the command and control of Governor Barbour, or in Alabama, with Governor Riley, have been significantly better than what we‘ve seen in New Orleans.
Finally, I just think that, whether it‘s Rudy Giuliani, or General Franks, or former Secretary of State Colin Powell, we really owe it to these people to get the best out there.
COSBY: Now, you may have done some other good suggestions.
First off, let‘s go to your first one, Rudy Giuliani. Have you talked with him? Have you gotten any gauge if he‘s interested in the job? And have you heard anything if such a job will be created?
SWEENEY: Well, it was a suggestion I made to the president today, as a result of watching with great frustration, as I think most of America has, with the failures, really, on the ground, and really the devolvement of the rule of law on the ground, and a recognition that, having been a representative from New York, and having dealt with something of similar consequence, although it is distinctly different...
COSBY: So Congressman Sweeney, got to answer my question.
SWEENEY: ... that there is an individual out there with experience.
COSBY: So what did he say? What did the president say?
SWEENEY: Well, I haven‘t heard a response yet, but this is something we‘ve put out there.
COSBY: OK. Well, thank you very much. And I think a lot of other people would back your suggestion.
Thank you, Congressman. We appreciate it.
And still ahead tonight, everybody, the pictures from the disaster areas keep coming, each one more heartbreaking than the last. The week of incredible images, right after the break.
COSBY: And this week, we have witnessed one of the worst natural disasters during our lifetimes. Here are some of the sights and sounds which will be etched in our minds for a long time to come.
RAY NAGIN, MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: Every person is hereby ordered to immediately evacuate the city of New Orleans. We are facing a storm that most of us have feared.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, the strongest part of Katrina barreling through Biloxi, Mississippi, as the eye of the storm is completely over us right now, with winds gusting in excess of 90 miles per hour.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See, the water gets sucked out, and then it comes right back in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In some cases, the houses are not just under water. They have actually floated off their foundation and banged into other houses.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you say you don‘t (INAUDIBLE) with everybody else, you feel bad for them. And then when it hits your own home, too, it‘s like you don‘t know what to say then.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was Highway 90. It‘s pretty much destroyed.
One of the casinos was dropped literally on top of the Holiday Inn.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look at the signs they‘re holding up for us. It says there‘s just not enough resources to get to them all right away.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The vast majority of New Orleans, Louisiana, is under water. This recovery will take years.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Who told you, you could come in?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The police. They said we could come in and get the necessities. I don‘t have any clothes or nothing. I‘m just getting food.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No food, no water, no nothing. Whatever we have, we‘ve been taking it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It‘s not about low income. It‘s not about rich people, poor people. It‘s about people.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have over 3,000 people out here with no home, no shelter. What are they going to do? What are we going to do?
BUSH: A lot of people working hard to help those who‘ve been affected. The results are not acceptable.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The human suffering in the areas hit by Katrina is real. And it will get worse before it gets better. Now is the time to act.
COSBY: And we‘re going to be LIVE & DIRECT covering this disaster all weekend, as I head closer to the scenes of the disaster. On Saturday, I‘m going to be in Baton Rouge. MSNBC‘s special coverage continues now.
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