Guest: Cathy Flinchum, Richard Ashmore, Reverend Jesse Jackson, Richard Wagenaar, James Lee Witt, Dave, Richard Zuschlag, Anne Marie Tafoya
RITA COSBY, MSNBC ANCHOR (on camera): And good evening, everybody. I‘m Rita Cosby. Thank you for joining us this evening for a two-hour special on Hurricane Katrina, and there are a lot of developments today.
I‘m here live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which is the main sort of command center...
(voice-over): ... for everything, the brain trust: 600 people from 75 agencies, where all the big decisions, where a lot of the search and rescue missions, are coming out of, and we‘re going to get to them later on in the show.
Meantime, the death toll from Hurricane Katrina is expected to soar in the coming days and weeks as officials begin the gruesome task of counting the dead. They are warning the numbers will be in the thousands in New Orleans alone.
Meantime, the dramatic search for survivors is still going on at this hour, but the question now is: where will all of these people go? Texas says it is so overwhelmed by the tens of thousands of evacuees that it is now calling on other states to help out.
And there are new reports of gunfire and violence. We just got those reports in in the last few minutes. They‘re taking place in New Orleans. Even though the city is almost completely evacuated, we‘re hearing that police shot and killed a handful of people seen carrying guns around the city a short time ago.
Also today, I went up in a helicopter over the region. I witnessed firsthand the devastation, from above, and saw the incredible pictures and also saw the incredible view of the devastation from my naked eye. We‘ll show you those dramatic pictures in a few moments, later on in the show, and also some of the amazing rescue efforts that were taking place.
(on camera): We‘ve got an action-packed, wall-to-wall two-hour show for you tonight, but first let‘s go to Ron Blome, if we could, in Biloxi, Mississippi, where there‘s extensive damage from there as well.
RON BLOME, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Good evening, Rita. If this had been any other disaster site, without Louisiana, this would have been the main focus of people: Biloxi, Mississippi, and look what happened to the casinos. This is the Hard Rock Casino.
(voice-over): It was going to open in about five days. The wall of water came in. We wanted to walk around back here. Look at what the ocean power and the storm power did to those steel beams. This is rugged stuff. And as you pan across over here...
(on camera): ... we‘ll show you even more of what happened here, the casino. And this was the Hard Rock, filled with probably a million dollars‘ worth of memorabilia (INAUDIBLE), guitars, outfits from stars.
Look up here. This was the parking deck. That‘s eight-inch reinforced concrete, and it was just disintegrated by the force of the storm.
Let‘s go through a little bit of the numbers here. The official death toll now stands at 133, but it‘s set to climb. They just haven‘t gone through the process of the coroner identifying everybody. One state official told me that they had hand-clicked GPS markers on hundreds of bodies and locations.
The other thing is, is here in Biloxi, they‘ve decided to search again. They are re-searching, and a city spokesman said yesterday that they are finding new human remains in the debris.
You have the other situation here: thousands of people along...
(voice-over): ... the Gulf coast are homeless, there is a lot of aid, and we‘re seeing the military here today. In fact, the military is using these huge Navy hovercrafts. The kind of things that you would see launching troops into Iraq are now being used to bring supplies and relief equipment to the beaches of Biloxi.
Not a sight you would have anticipated on Labor Day weekend at what is one of America‘s most popular resort locations. Rita?
COSBY (voice-over): Ron, thank you very much. And meantime, some late word coming in...
(on camera): ... just a few moments ago about a shootout on the Danziger bridge, that basically embraces the canal from Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi River, and we‘re told that there was a shootout that took place.
We‘re told that eight people were involved, basically, in the shootout, police actually shot eight people; and we‘re also told that five to six of them may have been killed.
Let‘s go, if we could, to Michelle Hofland, who‘s in New Orleans, for the very latest from there...
(voice-over): ... and including some of the violence that‘s taking place right now. Michelle?
MICHELLE HOFLAND, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Rita, the information is still sketchy tonight. What we have heard is that there were eight people who were shot by police, that were on that bridge, that spans, as you said, the Mississippi with Lake Pontchartrain, and what we were told, that of those eight people that were shot, that either five or six were killed.
But now the Associated Press is reporting to us that those people may have been contractors. We still don‘t know if those people with the guns had pointed their guns, perhaps, at police or if there was any shootout. That stuff is still...
(voice-over): ... undetermined at this time.
We are also still getting new reports about all the hundreds of people who are being rescued—by air, by truck, by military people who are on jet skis and boats and flat-bottom boats. These rescues are continuing throughout the area.
We just spoke with a man by the name of Rue Malow (ph). He just got out of his mother‘s house, where he had been trapped for the past six days, on the second floor of his mother‘s house. He says that surprisingly there are a number of people that are refusing to leave their homes, that they are telling police that they don‘t want to go, including some women who are in their wheelchairs, that they were passing in the boats.
The military officer who was inside the boat went over to the woman and said, “You‘ve got to leave, you‘ve got to get out of here,” and she said, “No, I don‘t want to leave.” He described sometimes that there were some women that what they did is they went up to the second story, got an ax, broke into the house, went downstairs, and actually had to pull the woman out of the house.
But he said after the women were on the boat, there was also a mother with a number of children; there was also an elderly man on the boat. He said once they got on the boat and realized that this had—realized that this might be the best plan for them, they became relaxed and they began smiling.
Also, Rita, one of the people out on those rescue boats tonight is actor Sean Penn. We saw him here today. He spoke with one of our producers, Courtney Ford.
He told her he‘s here to do an article for a magazine, and also some friends of his are out on—in a house surrounded by water and can‘t get out, so he came here, he flagged down a rescue boat, he‘s out on the water showing the rescue people where his friends are.
One more thing. As we‘ve been telling you also, this is the first day that the people here are trying to recover the bodies, some of the perhaps thousands of people who have died here, in the streets and around the New Orleans area, because of the hurricanes and the floods. Now the governor says that there could be as many as thousands of people dead in her state.
Back to you.
COSBY (voice-over): Michelle, what is the sense in the city, have fears calmed, especially, you know, in light of—but now we‘re hearing about this new violence situation on the bridge. Is there a sense—is there some sense of calm or not?
HOFLAND (voice-over): You know, I‘ll tell you what, as you‘re driving around...
(on camera): ... here, it looks like there are more people who are military and police officers than the rest of us on the streets.
I would say—there are military people, police; they‘re driving around in trucks, with their guns pointed out the window. We‘ve seen them marching down the streets. But really the only people down here are a few hundred reporters from across the globe.
(voice-over): There are some people who live in the French Quarter, they have enough food, enough water; they say they‘re just fine.
What they did today, earlier today, was there were some buses, a caravan of buses, that went down the street; there was a man there with a bullhorn, telling the people, “You‘ve got to come now, you‘ve got to get out of the house,” and so they were telling the people to evacuate.
But the people who are here, some of the people say that they are not leaving, and the police tell me, “You know what, we really cannot force them out of their homes.” So they‘re staying here in their homes.
But driving around, I drove around last night, I did not feel in danger. And the people who are living in these areas, they say they don‘t feel in danger.
There are a lot of police officers, and these folks are just riding it out and waiting for the electricity to come back on and things to start getting cleaned up and start getting back to normal.
COSBY: All right, Cathy, thank you very much. In fact I just came from an aerial view over there. And, everybody, later on in the show I‘m going to show that to you.
(on camera): Joining us now are two assigned folks working in the big building behind here. We have Sergeant Kathy Flinchum, she is with Louisiana State Police; and we also have Captain Richard Ashmore, with the Georgia State Highway Patrol.
Let me start with you, Sergeant, if I could; first of all, situations in terms of downtown New Orleans. It still seems very hectic. There was a shooting that took place not too long ago.
CATHY FLINCHUM, SERGEANT, LOUISIANA STATE POLICE (on camera): Well, we do have our people in downtown. We are conducting patrols. We‘re still doing rescue missions...
(voice-over): ... also. We are working side by side with members of the New Orleans Police Department, other state, local, and federal agencies. We‘ve had an outpouring of support from law enforcement across the country.
COSBY (voice-over): How tough, though, does it make your job, when they‘re shooting at cops? There‘s these sort of random thugs that are out there. I just came back from an aerial view. You can see some of them just sort of walking and even doing looting before our eyes.
FLINCHUM: Well, our job is dangerous all the time. We always are taking precautions. Yes, it makes the job difficult. We know what our mission is, and that‘s to secure the city, to make the city safe again, and that‘s what we intend to do, and we‘re not going to stop until that‘s what‘s done.
COSBY: Sergeant, how complex of a job—I mean, right now, lots of floodwaters, so this sort of limited space; but once the waters recede, you‘ve got limited capabilities...
(on camera): ... for these people. I mean, they‘re going to be still roaming about. Do you worry what happens sort of in the next phase?
FLINCHUM: We have our contingency plans in place. We‘re waiting for the waters to go down, and when they do, we‘ll move in and, again, continue on our patrols and take back the city.
COSBY: Long-term project.
FLINCHUM: Yes. Yes. Not something that‘s going to be done tomorrow, but we‘re up for the mission. And, like I said, the help that we have here, and more help is coming to us, not a doubt that we are not going to fail at this mission.
COSBY (voice-over): And, Captain, it seems that you‘re getting lots of help from lots of different locations—where?
RICHARD ASHMORE, CAPTAIN, GEORGE STATE HIGHWAY PATROL (voice-over):
Well, Georgia‘s bringing in a multiagency unit from the George State Patrol, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Department of Corrections, and there are other state agencies that are sending in...
(on camera): ... units at the same time, from all over.
COSBY: How complex is this sort of organizational task? Because, you know, a lot of people are saying: “Why did it take so long?”
ASHMORE: Well, anytime that you‘re trying to put together a mission of this complexity, there‘s a lot of logistical things that have to be done and a lot of things that you‘d have to plan for, to prepare for, and the—we‘re going to get the job done; it‘s just going to take some time.
(voice-over): But we‘re here to help our friends with the Louisiana State Police.
COSBY: All right. Well, both of you, thank you very much. We appreciate what you‘re doing here, and keep up the good work that all of you are doing. I had the pleasure of meeting a lot of your folks today. Thank you so much.
(on camera): And everybody stick with us, because Reverend Jesse Jackson is coming up next. He‘s been touring the region.
(voice-over): What did he see? What‘s his perspective on all of it? Lots of fireworks coming up, everybody. And, again, we‘re going to show you some pictures, if we could, from the scene as we bump out, pictures of the devastation today.
We just toured the area, and we‘re told: what you don‘t see is probably thousands of bodies inside some of those homes, water up to the rooftops. It‘s going to take a long time to rebuild. We‘ll come back after the break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody‘s coming to get us. The secretary has promised, everybody‘s promised. They‘ve had press conferences. I‘m sick of the press conferences. For God sakes, shut up and send us somebody.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY (on camera): And some very emotional comments. Of course, tensions are certainly riding high, and you can imagine as particularly for those thousands upon thousands of evacuees, people who left everything behind and basically will come back to nothing because their homes are totally devastated.
In fact, I just came back from an aerial tour, where I could just see the rooftops of thousands upon thousands of homes. A lot of people are frustrated by that, including my next guest, Reverend Jesse Jackson, who joins me here on the scene.
First of all—you‘ve toured the area. First of all, the damage?
What do you make of it?
REVEREND JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW PUSH COALITION (on camera): First of all, stop calling citizens “refugees.”
COSBY: I just called them “evacuees.”
JACKSON: So that‘s my point.
COSBY: You saw that, OK.
JACKSON: I use that language, because these are citizens who are caught in our state of unpreparedness. We knew last Friday this storm was coming. We knew who could get out and who did get out and who could not get out. The poorest, the oldest, the sickest could not get out.
We had no plan of emergency preparedness for a massive evacuation or for massive relocation. We are now in a panic, and we are sending people to Utah, to Minnesota, to Detroit.
And we can use unused military bases and build tent cities here in Louisiana, because, after all, beyond the rescue is family reunification and rebuilding. And people...
COSBY (voice-over): What do you make, though, Reverend, of the fact that now we‘ve had a Louisiana State University professor on our air, came on our air for the first time yesterday, and he essentially said, “Look, I told them about this...
(on camera): ... doomsday scenario, and they told me Americans will not sleep in tent cities.”
JACKSON: We‘ve dismissed science for pseudoscience and for foolishness. We knew very well that the levees were at best at a Level 3 hurricane.
A Level 5 came, and when it came, the monies needed for making our levees stronger and bigger were shifted to Iraq. The soldiers needed—the National Guardsmen and helicopters were shipped to Iraq. So we ended up fortifying Baghdad and leaving New Orleans exposed.
COSBY (voice-over): Is this a race issue, though, or is it just ignoring, you know, a doomsday scenario? Because I just came back from the area, obviously, everybody knows, basically 99 percent African-American, poor neighborhoods that are flooded, those people who didn‘t have anything to begin with.
JACKSON: It may be some combination of racial insensitivity and—a combination of that and ineptness and indifference, but all are unacceptable. At the Katrina level, for example, whether you‘re in Gulfport or Biloxi...
(split screen): ... or Mobile or New Orleans, you were all hit. Fortunately, for New Orleans, if it had taken the hit that Biloxi took, there would be nothing to discuss today at all.
What is painful now, Rita, is that (A) perhaps thousands will die. We‘re shipping people away to these far-away places, when we in fact could use, to house these people, military installations, and substantially—
Iraq is a tent city. Tent cities may not be the worst thing, if the issue here is family reunification.
COSBY: What should happen, in your opinion, to Mike Brown, the FEMA director? There are some people who are calling for his resignation.
JACKSON: We must have hearings to be sure as to what has happened, because...
COSBY: Do you think he dropped the ball?
JACKSON: Well, he was a part of dropping it, but it was more than him. He didn‘t drop the ball on the underfunding of the strengthening of the levees. He didn‘t drop that ball. He didn‘t drop the ball alone, when we look—a hurricane coming in last Friday, we were not prepared, but he didn‘t drop the ball on massive relocation, and now it is hither and yon. So to use...
COSBY: Should he stay, do you think?
JACKSON: Well, to use one person as “the” whipping boy might misread the massive impact about lack of preparedness. Houston could be next, or Charleston, South Carolina, next, or Richmond, Virginia, next.
Our coastal regions are in jeopardy. And don‘t forget this time the impact of global warming. What used to be a big wave at 3 is now Level 5. And so you combine global warming and early warning, and we still missed the ball. This is huge, and we must—we will pay a price for it, but those who are in charge must pay a price as well.
COSBY: Someone, and obviously the top dog is President Bush. Do you believe that President Bush has been insensitive to African-Americans, as some have suggested?
JACKSON: Well, it‘s not just African-Americans. It‘s the region itself. You know, in two days he was embracing the police and the firemen in New York. He didn‘t do that for firemen and policemen in New Orleans, for example, he never quite—quite got there.
In two days we were dropping—in the tsunami—food and water. It never quite happened in New Orleans, for example. We have a victims‘ relief fund for the 9/11 victims, but none of the victims of New Orleans, of Katrina.
COSBY: Are you surprised by that?
JACKSON: Well, I don‘t feel good about it, and we all deserve some answers. As Americans, we all deserve some answers.
COSBY: What are you planning on doing?
JACKSON: We‘re going to keep trying to rescue people that can be spared. We‘re going to keep focused on having a relocation plan that makes sense, the better use of military bases, and the better use of building some temporary structures, for personal and family reunification, as well as the issue—now, why are we turning away good relief?
Do you realize that Hugo Chavez, our trade partner, offered us two mobile medical units, 50 tons of food, 20 tons of water, 18 generators, and we said no to that? Citizens, like Chicago, offered relief resources, and we did nothing about it?
COSBY: Did we say no to Chavez? In fact, I have the letter, actually. This was sent from Chavez to the governor here of Louisiana.
JACKSON: I gave it to the governor, in her hands, and the White House has it as well. Why would we say no to medical mobile units? Why would we say no to medical personnel? Why would we say no to 20 tons of water?
So people are mobilizing around the country. We don‘t have a relief issue; we have a rescue and relocation issue. We have more water than people can drink. Water, food, diapers are just coming. We don‘t know quite where to put that. The real issue is: where should we put families?
I submit to you again that the high and good use of these military installations would be a good place for temporary housing, so people who live here could have the first option on rebuilding and reconstruction where they live.
COSBY: Can they handle, though—and I‘ll just tell you, from going
· after, you know, coming back now, seeing an aerial view, it‘s going to take a long time, Reverend.
I mean, this is not—we‘re not talking about days or weeks. It‘s going to be months. Can they handle that for kind of housing for a few months?
JACKSON: Of course they can. And New Orleans must come back, Senator
· Congressman Hastert aside, because as long as it‘s not just gumbo and music, that‘s the vibrant—New Orleans is a port city. It‘s the transportation hub. It‘s the Dunlow (ph) sugar plantation. It‘s offshore oil drilling. It‘s the point of our national security, the Gulf of Mexico.
And so New Orleans will come back, but those who bring it back, who live here, must have the first option on being a part of that being effected. Just as blacks helped build the French Quarters, the first French Quarters, they must help rebuild the second French Quarters and rebuild New Orleans.
COSBY: Are you worried about sort of just this sea of individuals—
I know you don‘t want to use the word “refugees”—evacuees, who are, say, all over the place, I mean all over the city?
These people, at the end of the month, they didn‘t have a lot of money to begin with, if you look at their homes, clearly they didn‘t have insurance. Where do they go from here? How do they rebuild their lives?
JACKSON: And now they have been telling us to pay bills.
COSBY: Right. How...
JACKSON: They‘re now getting collections.
COSBY: Exactly. How do they rebuild?
JACKSON: And that‘s why we need the victims‘ relief fund for the persons of New Orleans as we had in New York. That‘s why we need the insurance companies to come together and work out some plan with our fellow government.
We can‘t just rebuild buildings. That—we must rebuild people. People are ready. But when you send people without a real plan—New Orleans—“You want some, Utah, take some,” “San Antonio, you take some,” “Minnesota, you take some.” That‘s no plan. We need a plan.
COSBY: How angry are some of the people that you‘ve talked to? Some of the people that we saw today were angry. I mean, they feel like the government‘s deserted them.
JACKSON: Of course, and it has, in some measure. How can you be a soldier in Iraq, and your parents back home and children are called “refugees”? That‘s painful.
You look at—they have the case in AP of a white—of a black person taking some foodstuffs, called “looting”; a white person taking foodstuff‘s called “finding food.”
This manipulative language by the media is a factor in this too. Let‘s cool down this divisive rhetoric and look for some common point of healing.
People who are desperate do desperate things. Would you be angry, six days without food or water, and you have on your wall your military credentials, having served our country? We deserve better, as Americans: more security and more readiness.
COSBY: And, finally, your personal view, going to see some of the damage. You‘ve been over the state, you‘ve seen a lot of it, been in New Orleans. I was stunned. I just got back, and I‘ll tell you, I basically almost cried.
JACKSON: Incomprehensible. What made me cry: We went into New Orleans on Wednesday night to get 450 students from Xavier University, and it was midnight, and we were not afraid of all these threats. The people responded, and people began to come from everywhere.
We loaded up the 10 buses of (INAUDIBLE), and those who could not get on the buses formed a human chain to stop the bus from moving. To leave them there was so hurtful. We could only promise them, “We‘ll be back.” We finally got back.
Then the next day, we went back into I-10 causeway, and there was 7,000 people in the belly of a—of a slave ship, there‘s 10,000, 7,000, screaming and crying, “We need water,” babies dying in mothers‘ arms. We saw that.
No buses. Where are the buses? Two miles down the road, because they had no place to take the people who were there.
So, again, the lack of preparedness, for an advanced warning, the lack of preparedness on rescue, on relief, on relocation, reunification of families, and on reconstruction has been abysmal.
We must fix it now. As I say, as Americans, we all deserve better, whether you‘re white, black, or brown, along that coast, we all deserve better.
COSBY: Absolutely. It‘s going to take time. Thank you very much, Reverend. I appreciate it. It was good to see you.
JACKSON (on camera): Thank you very much.
COSBY: Thank you very much.
(on camera): And, everybody, part of the rebuilding process is also the physical rebuilding of locations, including some of the levees, some of the bridges. We just came back, I mean, you saw the highways just completely under water at certain parts.
Let‘s go, if we could, to Colonel Richard Wagenaar. He‘s with the Army Corps of Engineers.
(voice-over): Colonel Wagner, I understand you‘ve had some progress with one of the levees. Tell us about that.
RICHARD WAGENAAR, COLONEL, ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS (voice-over):
Correct. We are about—we have about a 100-foot section left, remaining, in the 17th Street levy. It looks like—we are hoping to be done tomorrow.
We‘re also installing pumps right now to start draining the canal, which will allow the pump station at the end of the canal to be assessed and then start pumping water out of New Orleans.
COSBY: How long is that going to take, this whole process? I mean, I just went over some of the levees. It looks like they need just tremendous, tremendous work. We saw three of them, and it looked like barely a dent was in any of them. How time-consuming, Colonel?
WAGENAAR: Well, to drain all the water, it ranges anywhere approximately 75 days, 80 days, you know, it could be six months, but the water is receding in a lot of areas, so right now it looks like it‘s going to be earlier than that.
COSBY: It is. Tell me also just how you go about the process, just for folks at home watching, because I actually got to see some of the drops in action. Describe it for the folks at home watching.
WAGENAAR: Well, right now, because the site is so inaccessible, we load 10,000-pound sandbags and 1.5-ton sandbags and either use Blackhawk helicopters or Chinook helicopters to airlift those into a location, with a man onboard that precisely drops it about five feet above the water, to the spot where we want the sandbag.
COSBY: All right. Well, Colonel Wagenaar, we really appreciate you being with us. Keep up the great work.
Stick with us, everybody.
(on camera): You heard about the former FEMA director, James Lee Witt, coming back into play? Well, he‘s going to be playing a whole new role, and he‘s going to be joining us live after the break. Stick with us, everybody.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE DONALD RUMSFELD: ... to cope with and deal with over a—it will take many, many, many months, and into years, for this area to recover to the circumstance that it was—was in.
COSBY (on camera): And that was secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, who is in the region today, touring the area, getting a firsthand look at the devastation.
He‘s not the only high-ranking official who‘s here. Also the former director of FEMA, James Lee Witt, is becoming a new figure back on the scene.
You know, you had a tough job when you were head of FEMA; now here you are being recruited again. The governor of Louisiana asked you to step in. What did she ask you to do?
JAMES LEE WITT, FORMER DIRECTOR, FEMA (on camera): Governor Blanco called me and asked me would I come down and offer them some help because of my experience in the past with dealing with this kind of situation, and so we‘re advising her in what she needs to do and what they need to do in Louisiana, by start planning, not only in the response but also to start planning to put some temporary housing in place, the long-term reconstruction, which is...
(split screen): ... going to be critical.
COSBY (voice-over): When did you get the call, and when did you actually get involved? I‘m sure you were watching the hurricane anyway.
WITT: I was. I watched every station every day as I could. We got the call on a Thursday, and I flew down on Friday.
COSBY: And where—your role is essentially going to be a liaison, right, between --
WITT: Senior advisor to Governor Blanco.
COSBY: And also advising the head of FEMA, the current head of FEMA right now, Mike Brown?
WITT: I haven‘t seen Mike Brown. I haven‘t talked to him yet.
COSBY: How do you see your role playing? Do you see her saying essentially that maybe there‘s some issues with the current director of FEMA?
WITT: Well, you know, I don‘t have any issues with Mike Brown, I don‘t have any issues with FEMA, you know. I think FEMA‘s good employees are working their hearts out down here; I think they‘re trying their very best to do a good job.
I think that—you know, and I‘ve said this before, I said it in Congress, when I testified last year, the concern I had about taking FEMA apart and putting it under Homeland Security, taking it away from being an independent agency, reporting directly to the president.
And I said, you know, I‘ve talked to emergency managers across this country, and firefighters across this country, and they told me—this is what I testified to Congress about—and they told me, they said, “You know what,” they said, “what they have done to FEMA is like driving the heart (ph) in emergency management in this country.”
And, you know, you cannot—you cannot expect a federal agency, like FEMA, to be able to fulfill its role and its responsibility to the American people and you take away the resources and you take away a lot of the funding, for them to be able to do their job, and you have to work every day, every month, every week, to be able to make sure you partner with state and local emergency management, firefighters, to be able to respond together.
And if you don‘t plan, prepare, and exercise together, then you—it‘s difficult to respond together.
COSBY: Do you think that‘s what happened in this case, that there was no sort of cohesive planning? I mean, look, the city didn‘t even evacuate until it was a little too late. Do you think there‘s—there‘s certainly shared blame, I would think, to go around.
WITT: You know, you could point the finger at anybody and everybody.
COSBY: So what would you say to those frustrated...
WITT: Now is not the time—
COSBY: ... people? What would you say to all those angry and frustrated...
WITT: Well, you know...
COSBY: ... who now have no home?
WITT: Well, you know, I don‘t think FEMA or the governor or the president or anybody else could have stopped this hurricane, OK? I wished we had something to stop these hurricanes, or anything else.
But I think that the most important thing we can do is that we make sure that we have a federal agency that can respond to situations like this, to make sure people are OK.
And I want to tell you something else. The mitigation prevention program in FEMA was a strong program. When we reorganized FEMA, we put in a division for mitigation prevention, working with state and local government, to minimize risk.
It is almost null and void now. You know, you cannot—you cannot just let every day go by and not think about, plan, and plan for these type of scenarios.
COSBY: We talked to—there‘s a Louisiana State University professor who said he gave information not just to FEMA: the White House, a number of other individuals, and said, “I predicted exactly this. I foresaw these two doomsday scenarios as “perfect storm.”
WITT: This was our worst nightmare when I was director of FEMA.
COSBY: But do you believe that some turned a blind eye?
WITT: I don‘t—I‘m not going to say somebody turned a blind eye. I don‘t think the state did; I don‘t think the mayor did. I think they worked very hard, as fast as they could, to do what they had to do, and...
COSBY: But should they have listened to people like this LSU professor and others?
WITT: Well, you know, maybe—I think—I think that—you have to remember this, too: Governor Blanco—the National Guard, that had been planning, training, and exercised for this kind of scenario. 5,000 of her Guard are in Iraq, OK? You know. And so they had a lot of resources depleted.
But they were able to be able to respond, and they‘ve done a good job. But you know what, you could point the fingers at everything. Was there anyone listening? I think so.
I know the state was listening. I know the city of New Orleans was listening, and I know they planned and trained and exercised with us when we did it. And I think FEMA had an exercise last year.
You know, I don‘t know what their critique of the exercise was, because I‘m not there.
COSBY: Finally, you just came back from touring the site. You saw some of the hardest-hit areas.
COSBY: What was that like for you?
WITT: Well, Rita, you know, I‘ve seen a lot of disasters. You know, I was in the Oklahoma City bombing, and that was just really—it just really broke my heart. It always does.
Because, you know, I care deeply about people, and I think, you know, all of us do, and when you see something like this, it does break your heart.
And I saw and visited with a lot of people that I used to work with, like the emergency management director down in St. Bernard Parish, the fire chief down there. You know, he hugged my neck, and we just shared some tears together, you know.
These guys and women are just—you know, they‘re trying to save their town, and they‘re trying to help their people. And we took a list of a lot of things they needed, and when we got back here, Colonel Smith and the adjutant general and FEMA, we all sat down together and said, you know, “Here is what we‘ve got to do right now for St. Bernard Parish.”
We were in Jefferson Parish last night, talking to Mr. Broussard. I had a great visit with him, you know, and he said, “This is what I want to do, and this is how I want to do it.” So we came back here last night, we sat down, and we put that in motion for him.
COSBY: It‘s going to be a long time, though, for those areas.
WITT (on camera): Well, you know, the problem you‘ve got is that there‘s an awful lot of contamination out there, you know, and EPA and everybody else is going to have go in there, and they‘re going to have to start doing some testing, air quality monitoring, they‘re going to have—you‘re going to have mold, you‘ll have contamination, that some buildings may not make it.
COSBY: How long do you think it will be until people get back into New Orleans?
WITT: You know, I don‘t know.
COSBY: Until life gets back to normal.
WITT: I think the most important thing now that people—you know, most of the people are out of there, there‘s still a few stragglers in there that, you know, probably won‘t want to leave.
I think that the first thing is the Corps of Engineers working hard to fix those levees. The next thing is to get that water out of there, you know, so that you can get in there and you can really assess, you know, how much contamination you‘ve got, what else needs to be done.
I think it would be—and I told the governor this. I think that they need to notify the National Historic Preservation organization, they need to get a historic preservation team in here so that they can go in there and see, because New Orleans is a wonderful city, and, you know, New Orleans will be rebuilt, and it will still be a great city.
So there‘s hope, and I was—we was flying back from St. Bernard Parish today, and I was pretty depressed after seeing my friends, you know, and I looked out the window, and here flew an eagle. You know what? There‘s hope.
And the people that‘s been affected so much, they‘re in our prayers and our thoughts, and I‘ll guarantee you, they‘re going to have the best help that they can get.
COSBY: Thank you. James Lee Witt.
WITT: Thank you.
COSBY: It‘s good to see you back onboard too.
WITT: You too.
COSBY (on camera): You were doing a great job when you were with the administration. Thanks so much.
WITT: Thank you.
COSBY: James Lee Witt, the former FEMA director, who is now going to be helping the Louisiana governor, serving as a liaison and advising her. Obviously very, very critical at this time.
And you heard from Mr. Witt about his tour, his bird‘s-eye view of what was happening in New Orleans. I myself just came back from there, and I want to show you...
(voice-over): ... a couple pictures of what I saw. You could just see sort of the—him getting choked up, talking about his reflections, of going to St. Bernard‘s Parish, and I can tell you, when I went there—you can just see some of the pictures. I—I‘m still very choked up, looking at what we just saw.
You could just see just the top of rooftops. It was incredible, even much more devastating than I even imagined. Here I‘ve been covering this storm for the last week or so, but to actually go out there and see it firsthand, and then you could see dead bodies floating in the water.
We could see it, way up, up, you know, in the helicopter. Just the damage was incredible. But still there were a few people out there, just cheering as we drove by.
Spirits still remained high, but you could tell there‘s still a lot of desperation, a lot of people just begging for water. We were throwing water out, throwing food out, doing whatever we could to help these people, who have been out there now in the heat, with dehydration and heat, for more than a week.
And we joined also the Texas National Guard, the Austin Wing. You can see us there. This is the Blackhawk that we actually got onboard. And these people getting aboard, these are some of the evacuees. We were actually part of a search and rescue mission, and we saw a number of them get onto our Blackhawk.
We actually brought them from the Convention Center, where they were able to walk to. Some of them just walked there in the last few minutes, and then from there, they were taken to a whole separate location, basically sort of a feeding point, and then they will be going to a whole bunch of other different locations.
But for all of those people, they have no home to go back to. It is really incredible. And tomorrow night, at 9:00 Eastern, we‘re going to give you much more of the tour, some other perspectives, and also show you those amazing rescues in progress.
(on camera): Of course, New Orleans isn‘t the only part of the state that is tremendously damaged; much of the state is in tatters. And let‘s go to another part of the state, if we could. Let‘s go to Jennifer London, who‘s just a few miles away from here. Jennifer.
JENNIFER LONDON, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Hi, good evening, Rita. We are in Oak Harbor, which is a canal community in Slidell. The entire neighborhood here is built along an intricate waterway system that feeds into Lake Pontchartrain.
And don‘t be fooled by the homes you see behind me.
(voice-over): Although it appears they have suffered only minor damage in the hurricane, parts of this neighborhood have been devastated. In fact, if our cameras could get you to the other side of the street, behind these homes, you would see areas that have been completely flattened.
What we did is we took a tour of that neighborhood earlier today, and we met up with one homeowner who was returning to find that his home was nearly ruined.
DAVE (voice-over): These cars was in the garage. They floated out.
We had about, I guess...
(on camera): ... six or eight feet in the street. We had about four feet in the house. One of the problems in the house is the mud that we‘re traipsing through.
We sure need some cell phone connections down here. We got no way of communicating with anybody. We‘ve just got total devastation. That‘s all I can say.
LONDON: You just mentioned the cell phone communication. Is that one of your biggest frustrations in what‘s been happening in the past six days with regard to the rescue and relief...
DAVE: That and gasoline. That‘s—both of them‘s been a big issue, is finding gas and finding people that could pump the gas, because of the trips that we‘ve made in and out, up to Memphis and back.
LONDON: Are you finding that you‘re getting other supplies and help that you need?
DAVE: We brought what we need in the way of water and—and some extra fuel tanks. I know this is a humongous undertaking for anybody to have to clean up...
(voice-over): ... and it is—it is a real mess, and it‘s just going to take some time, but we --- we have salvageable stuff, if we can just get it—get some vehicles in here and some manpower in here to pick it out and load it for us.
LONDON: But that‘s in fact what you what were saying with the communication...
DAVE: No communications, right.
LONDON: ... you don‘t have any way to reach anyone.
LONDON: Were you able to get in touch with your family and your friends and let them know that you‘re OK and...
DAVE (on camera): Yes, I‘ve been able to do that, mostly because we left during the storm and—we left Sunday before the storm, so we was fortunate enough. I have a daughter who lives in Memphis, and I stayed with her.
This whole area is just pretty much wiped out. There‘s yachts up in the street. The marina across there is shot.
LONDON (on camera): You mentioned that currently you and your wife are living on your boat, which is in the back of your house, and you‘re going around town to get the supplies that you do need, whatever you‘re running out of.
Are you finding that services are in place, are they available, or are you running out of supplies?
DAVE: Nothing‘s open. Nobody‘s got any electricity, so you can‘t find anything. I know they‘re handing out ice and water.
I‘m very fortunate in that we do have a generator on the boat and the boat‘s still floating, so we have some creature comforts that a lot of people don‘t have; they have to go somewhere else, you know.
So in that regard, we‘re real lucky. Man, I don‘t know. This is just unbelievable. Unbelievable.
LONDON: And we are hearing so many stories like Dave‘s. Yet, in many ways, he was one of the lucky ones, he evacuated. The sheriff‘s department are going door to door, looking for those who didn‘t, looking for survivors who may still be trapped in their homes, the search and rescue operations still under way in the community and city of Slidell.
And over my shoulder here you can see a couple sheriff boats from St. Tammany Parish. What they‘re doing is they are patrolling these waterways at night.
They are not only looking for survivors, but they also want to make sure this area is safe. They are looking for looters. They say they have had a few occurrences of looting, and they want to make sure everyone knows there is a strong police presence here and looting will not be tolerated.
Meantime, as you heard Dave mentioned, it is hard to find any supplies here. A few stores have opened, a few gas stations have also opened, but the lines are very long, and some of the gas stations are running out.
COSBY (voice-over): Jennifer, thank you, reporting from Oak Harbor, Louisiana.
And stick with us, everybody. After the break we‘re going to have a lot more scenes of the devastation, but also scenes of hope today, and in fact, as you can see there, more rescues taking place in the city of New Orleans, still some people there, still some people left behind, still some people being saved by the U.S. military, and lots of others.
Some amazing sights that we‘ve been able to witness firsthand. We‘ll talk about them when we come back after the break.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can‘t think of anything more encouraging for someone who has endured the tragedy of a storm than to have a loving soul say, “I‘m here to help you, and I want”—
“I want you to know a lot of people care for you,” and that‘s—that‘s the spirit of the Red Cross and its volunteers.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COSBY (on camera): And that was President Bush earlier today, making a lot of comments. He, of course, has been following the developments...
(voice-over): ... from Hurricane Katrina very closely. In fact, we‘re told that he‘s going to be coming back to the area possibly in a day or so to do another tour, just to get a sense of it all.
And, of course, some new developments coming in at this point. We‘re just hearing that indeed...
(on camera): ... there has been some violence that has been taking place just in the last little bit, on Danziger bridge.
That is a bridge that spans from Lake Pontchartrain to the Mississippi River, and we are told that actually gunmen were opening fire on the Army Corps of Engineers—who of course are in town to build up that levee, put the sandbags on the levee, and we‘re told that police engaged them in a shootout.
We‘re told that eight people were actually fired upon, were shot at, and that five to six of them actually may have been killed.
Again, some bad guys all of a sudden opening fire on the Army Corps of Engineers, who are here just to do some great work, try to build up that levee, so they can finally start pumping the water out, so eventually people could get back in their homes.
And, again, authorities firing back on these people, and we‘re told that five to six of them may have been killed. We will indeed keep you posted. This is one of the main bridges in New Orleans. Actually, we were just looking at it not too long ago.
Now, if we could, let‘s move on to another thing, let‘s move on to the folks who are trying to go in there and also bring the help, not just the Army Corps of Engineers...
(voice-over): ... but also the folks running the ambulances. They actually stopped for a few days because things were really bad, particularly at nighttime.
But we understand we‘ve got Richard Zuschlag, who‘s with Arcadian Ambulance Company.
And, Richard, when you and I spoke a couple days ago, you had actually stopped the delivery of your ambulances in the city of New Orleans, but you‘ve resumed. Why? You feel it‘s safe?
RICHARD ZUSCHLAG, AMBULANCE RESCUER (voice-over): Yes, it‘s much safer in downtown New Orleans. And, Rita, I want to tell you, the last couple days, things have gotten a whole lot better, but today has been the best day so far.
The military is doing an excellent job of going all across that whole New Orleans region, and they‘re evacuating people by every means you can imagine. We‘re not so much involved right now in the rescue effort as we are of transporting the patients from New Orleans to other hospitals in the state that need it.
But I just want to say that people down there at the Bell Chase Naval Reserve, at the naval base, and the Army, particularly Colonel Jenkins, over at the Superdome, when we call them because we have found people stranded or have been forgotten about because they live 40 or 50 miles out of New Orleans, they are Johnny-on-the-spot.
The military has taken over the whole process. We have stepped back, and we are in a supportive role. But I am so proud to see the military working so well together, to make sure that they find every possible sick person, every possible person that‘s stranded. I think 24 hours from now, our mission will be complete.
We‘re going to be a couple days late, but at least we‘re going to get the job done.
COSBY: Yes, and I‘ll tell you, I just came back from surveying the area, and there were not a lot of people there, which is a good scene, of course, meaning that most folks got out.
But of course the bigger concern is—and it‘s not going to be for ambulances; it‘s unfortunately going to be for the funeral homes, because they‘re expecting there‘s going to be a lot of people inside those houses, that just didn‘t get out in time, Richard.
From your perspective, you‘re telling me that things are getting better, yet on the flip side, we‘re just hearing, on the Danziger bridge, there was a shootout and some gangster hoodlum types, these sort of guys who are running around, some of them maybe possibly former fugitives, kind of a combination of bad-type people, these folks are now firing on the Army Corps of Engineers.
This just happened—I don‘t know if you know about it—in the last few minutes. Are you worried now for your drivers?
ZUSCHLAG: Well, those kind of things are always a concern of us, and we‘re going to be very careful of that. I mean, we‘re out of the main danger zone right now, and we‘re taking our instructions from the military.
You know, you hear a lot of rumors, you don‘t know what to believe and what not to believe. Those people that were apparently involved with that, those are a few isolated pockets. There‘s not very many people like that.
There may have been some prisoners that escaped one of the jails, that could be doing that. I hope it‘s a small, isolated case. But I know one thing: the military certainly will take care of it.
COSBY: Now, you talk about the transportation of individuals. What kind of condition are a lot of them in? Do you still see that flow keep coming, or do you think it‘s receded? Do you think they‘ve gotten most of the folks?
ZUSCHLAG: I think we‘ve had a great success today. Overnight, last night, and today, the patients keep diminishing.
Here‘s what I see, what happens, though: those that were stranded the longest, that were healthy five days ago, are now unhealthy. Yes, they‘re stretcher cases, but they‘re not critical. I mean, as soon as we get them to a hospital, usually the doctors can bring them back, unless they‘re real elderly.
But, yes, we do have a lot more patients because it‘s taking us a long time to accomplish the mission. So I hope that the Army and the Navy, the Coast Guard, continue their diligence to get to every home, to every institution, to every hotel, and make sure they‘ve rescued as many people as possible.
I think we‘re on a road to success, even though we‘re late.
COSBY: All right. Richard, thank you very much. We appreciate it.
And now let‘s turn to the American Red Cross. This is the LA branch of it.
(on camera): Anne Marie Tafoya joins us.
Anne Marie, talk about the efforts of the Red Cross. Are you just getting an overpouring of support?
ANNE MARIE TAFOYA (voice-over): Oh, we are. It‘s just—it‘s really heartwarming to see what‘s going on. We have over $170 million that‘s been donated by the American public so far. The only thing is that we‘re estimating a need of $900 million before this is all over.
COSBY (voice-over): And that is -- $900 million total. That is incredible.
COSBY: Do you still need a lot more, though?
TAFOYA: Oh, we do. We‘re going to keep needing more help, not only financially but from the American public as volunteers, to help us out in this relief effort.
COSBY: How frustrating is it for some of your folks, who are trying to get in there, get help to these individuals? I just came back from a chopper ride with the Texas National Guard, and part of it was: actually getting to these individuals, to even throw them water, throw them “meals ready to eat.”
These are the things that, obviously, Army officials use, Army officers use, when they go out, Army, Navy, all the different branches use, to put water in, so it‘s sort of life-sustaining food, but just to get even something like that, it was very difficult to reach these people.
TAFOYA: Right. It is frustrating, but we are serving over half a million hot meals every day to people that we have in shelters. Last night we had 361 shelters open, and we provided care for over 96,000 residents in our shelters alone last night.
COSBY: What kind of signs of dehydration are you seeing? A lot of folks that we just actually pulled into the chopper a few minutes ago, a lot of them were just exhausted, Anne Marie.
I mean, it‘s been six days. The sun is just beating down here, scorching hot, no water, no food. I would imagine some of them are in pretty bad shape.
TAFOYA: Yes, they are in pretty bad shape, but we do have our nurses and medical personnel in the shelters, along with mental health personnel, and I think that‘s something that‘s really important for everyone to know, that we are giving them mental health help as well.
COSBY: You brought up the mental health issue. What is the—what‘s sort of the sense of the spirits of these people? You know, some of them are frustrated, some of them are angry, some of them just feel, you know, they have nowhere to turn, they‘ve lost everything and they don‘t know where they‘re going next.
How do you give those people comfort?
TAFOYA: Wow. We just do the best we can. We‘re here for them, we let them tell their story. And speaking of that, we do have here in Los Angeles the first six families from Hurricane Katrina, who arrived in Los Angeles last night, and these families include seven adults and three children.
We are giving them disaster assistance right now, here in Los Angeles, to determine their immediate emergency needs.
COSBY: Anne Marie, thank you very much. Sorry we‘ve got to cut you off, but unfortunately we‘ve got to go out to a break, but we do appreciate all the work that you and everybody else...
(on camera): ... with the Red Cross and all the different agencies here are doing.
And everybody stick with us. We‘ve got another continuing hour. We‘ve got a lot of other big guests, some new developments, and some amazing new pictures coming in, from Hurricane Katrina.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
Copy: Content and programming copyright 2005 MSNBC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2005 Voxant, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material other than for research. User may not reproduce or redistribute the material except for user‘s personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon MSNBC and Voxant, Inc.‘s copyright or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.