Guest: Geroge Haddow, Robert Eckels
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: New Orleans, Louisiana, day seven.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That‘s an industrial park, what looks like a bomb. It looks like maybe a little convention center? Again, completely unacceptable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The shock of the scenes has passed. The shock of the numbers, the shock of the fatalities, awaits.
The mayor of New Orleans.
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MAYOR RAY NAGIN, NEW ORLEANS: It wouldn‘t be unreasonable to have 10,000.
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OLBERMANN: And what of the others? The ones who are safe? What does “safe” mean when your home address is the Astrodome, Houston, Texas? And for how long can that be a home address? Are these evacuees, or displaced persons?
As the search to reconnect continues, we will do our tiny part.
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UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE), if you‘re looking, I‘m all right.
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OLBERMANN: And what did the administration know, and when did it know it? The director of the National Hurricane Center says he warned them, the head of FEMA, the head of Homeland Security, that the levees could break.
And that head of Homeland Security, did he sum up how well the government handled the crisis with eight words?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Louisiana is a city that is largely underwater.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Louisiana is a city.
This is COUNTDOWN.
The director of the National Hurricane Center has told the newspaper “The New Orleans Times-Picayune” that FEMA director Michael Brown and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff both listened to electronic briefings before Hurricane Katrina, during which the Hurricane Center warned that the storm could overtop the levees or even breach them.
It‘s not, said Dr. Max Mayfield, like this was a surprise.
Secretary Chertoff and President Bush both continue to insist it was.
Our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, as the sense of chaos begins to recede, just as slowly as the waters of New Orleans do, the second week of the crisis in the American Gulf Coast has begun.
Day seven after the storm, the rescue phase in New Orleans, far from over, the recovery, finally showing signs of progress. The residents of suburban Jefferson Parish allowed back into their homes today, but only to salvage what‘s left.
Across the city border, waters still running deep. The job of finding survivors there now infinitely tougher, many of those remaining often too weak to have made it to their own rooftops, others simply unwilling to leave. The estimate that fewer than 10,000 remain out of a population of 490,000 in the city, and 1.3 million in the metropolitan area.
The rest of the choppers circling that city steadily, dropping sandbags. The 17th Street canal breach, officially secured, closed earlier tonight. The mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, saying that, We‘re starting to make the kind of progress that I kind of expected earlier. The mayor also estimating that it would not be unreasonable to have 10,000 people dead in New Orleans.
President Bush back in the storm zone today, meeting with state officials in Baton Rouge and Poplarville, Mississippi, making an unscheduled stop at the Bethany World Prayer Center and “The Times-Picayune,” Louisiana‘s largest newspaper, publishing an open letter calling on the president to fire every official at FEMA.
Bush defending the emergency response, saying, quote, “All levels of government are doing the best they can.”
The new question, whether residents stuck in demolished communities along the Mississippi coast, are currently getting all the help that they need. Convoys of soldiers and supplies passing them by on their way to the now nearly-empty city of New Orleans.
And at this hour, crews trying to rescue a man holed up in a grocery store in New Orleans, apparently having text-messaged his wife that he was stuck. His wife actually contacted the company Helennet (ph) Aviation, which is flying the pool helicopter. And as you see, the rescue operation now having proceeded to banging on the door and trying to get in.
Pilot J.T. Alpaugh took the Coast Guard to the location, and, as you see, currently trying to contact the man said to be inside. We will stay on top of this story as it develops in the next few minutes.
In a moment, more of the extraordinary, almost unbelievable images captured from above New Orleans by Mr. Alpaugh and his crew, words that illustrate the remarks of the deputy police chief, Warren Ryan (ph), “There are no jobs, there are no homes to go to, no hotels to go to. There is absolutely nothing here. We advise people that this city has been destroyed. It has been completely destroyed.”
First to the scene on the ground, our first correspondent there. Michele Hofland. Michele, good evening. Is it better tonight, or worse, or are there just new problems?
MICHELE HOFLAND, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: It‘s a little of all of the above.
First of all, for the first time, we‘ve actually seen some people out here cleaning up. A lot of them are some of the people in the French Quarter who are staying here. We have also seen a lot more rescues and people being taken out of the house, but for seven days now, stuck behind.
But we have some new problems. First of all, the animals are returning, the rats, the pigeons, the bugs.
We‘re having other problems, such as the mayor. He said now today that he fears that there could be 10,000 people dead in this town alone.
Another thing that‘s getting a little bit worse—it depends on your perspective—but, you know, we‘re getting tens of thousands of military people in this town. You have to remember, all these streetlights are out in this town. And the police, the military, nobody is stopping at these intersections. And it‘s frankly getting quite dangerous driving through town, wrong-way and one-way streets and everything else, because you have all these people with their lights on, driving through town, and nobody is stopping anywhere as they‘re driving around.
OLBERMANN: Michele, you just mentioned it again, Mayor Nagin‘s estimate that the death toll could be 10,000 now. There is a warehouse outside of the city of New Orleans that is being prepared as a morgue, and the work is being done with literally thousands of corpses in mind.
When is this bombshell, this—we hope, ultimate part of the nightmare—when is that information going to hit? When are we going to be dealing with a body count number and the reality of that giant morgue outside New Orleans?
HOFLAND: Well, right now, the body count stands at 59 tonight. But everyone here knows that is going to get much higher. What they‘re planning on doing up there is, they‘re going to begin identifying the bodies and determining the cause of death of these bodies. And that—they figure they can do about 140 a day.
And what they are anticipating is that they be able to handle 5,000 people, 5,000 bodies out of that site.
But, you know, they‘re just beginning to discover bodies in homes and flooded waters and rooftops and inside attics throughout this area. And the number just is expected to climb higher and higher.
OLBERMANN: Michele Hofland in New Orleans, great thanks. Good luck.
If you‘re wondering about the grocery store situation, and the man trapped there, unfortunately, we‘ve lost communications with the helicopter that was shooting those images for us. We don‘t know how that has turned out. We have not cut away from it to keep you guessing. We will advise as the information becomes available.
The visions from over the area from those helicopters continuing to astound. In American history, they may be paralleled only by their exact climatological opposite, the images of the Dust Bowl drought in the Southwest in the 1930s.
Again, we get the words out of the way of the pictures, turning it over to a voice that is becoming all too familiar in this story, that pilot, J.T. Alpaugh, of Helennet Aviation.
J.T. ALPAUGH, PILOT, HELENNET AVIATION: These waters are not going anywhere. They are not receding, they are not going to be out of here for a very long time. It almost looks from a wide shot here like they are boat docks, and this is a marina. But that—it‘s not. It‘s just—they‘re just homes. They‘re just completely decimated, covered in water.
(INAUDIBLE), everywhere you see, just lives completely destroyed. And this little island you see in the middle is a Wal-Mart, you know, a shopping mall that looks like it‘s been built in the middle of a lake.
We have Black Hawk helicopters circling around trying to find any survivors left behind that weren‘t pulled out within the past week. You can see this crew chief looking intently out the left window, much like what we‘ve been doing here as well, trying to find survivors left over here.
And you can see that all these homes, when we first came in here, there were people everywhere. So it—you didn‘t have to work very hard to find someone that needed to be rescued. But we know there are still people out here, we just—it‘s more difficult now to find them. They‘re not on the rooftops, there are not droves of areas. They‘re few and scattered and far between.
OK, we do have a rescue in progress here. This is an area about two miles northwest of the downtown area, (INAUDIBLE) four or five individuals on top of this rooftop here. This is a week later. So these two going up on this rescue into this Navy H-3, being hoisted to safety.
A rescue swimmer pulling out this woman, approximately a mile northwest of the French Quarter area of New Orleans.
Oh, gosh. There are still people wading around in those waters. And I don‘t know if they truly understand how dangerous it is to be in this water. It‘s—so they‘ve got—they‘ve picked up the water and the food that that rescue helicopter has thrown down to them and gathered it in to take it back into the house.
You can see the desperation. That man dove into that water to gather some of that water that was in there. And I just can‘t -- Oh, that water is just so -- He seems very happy that he‘s got water.
The Superdome, showing you the debris left behind off the left side of the screen. You can see the mounds of trash and belongings. Some of these belongings you see are all the belongings they have left—had left in the world, just left behind.
This is a makeshift camp here on the overpass of a railroad yard a few miles north of the downtown area. We‘ll push into this guy here that‘s probably made this his home for the past week. They‘re doing whatever they can to pass the time and hoping these waters recede.
This is the helicopter that crashed, the Super Puma (ph) helicopter.
The crew was pull out safely. We understand that they had minor injuries. They climbed out under their own power when we were here, with their luggage, and pulling it out. So we heard the original Mayday come out, and heard the helicopter requesting help, and help came immediately. The resources were here almost on top of it right away.
This pumping station working overtime, and it seems to be operating. We haven‘t seen these pumping stations working for the past week. And we believe they had possibly just come online. We haven‘t noticed this, and we‘ve been through this area several times over the past week looking for survivors, and had not noticed any of this working.
This Black Hawk helicopter continuing to shore up this levee with sandbags. And they‘ve made great progress. The sandbags have actually met up with the dirt road, and the bridge, almost, if you will, new levee that they‘ve put together. So they‘ve finally met, and they‘re starting to dam off the water here.
I can‘t even imagine how many sandbags are in there. We haven‘t been counting them, but they‘ve been going nonstop for the past three, four days, Alan? Just dropping these in here. That‘s got to be hundreds and hundreds of them just piled up to get to a point that they can actually curb the water flow here.
This is probably the first American flag that we‘ve seen that hasn‘t been blown away. The American flag‘s still flying, although it‘s tattered and torn, it‘s still flying.
OLBERMANN: The voice of the pilot J.T. Alpaugh, who is also still flying.
And, in fact, let‘s go back to that small slice of the drama of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans of these last few days. When we last left the situation, a gentleman is apparently stuck inside a grocery store in New Orleans and was contacted. The Helennet Aviation people were contacted by the man‘s wife. And they could not get in, as you saw, pounding on the door, trying to get in to rescue this man, who is supposedly trapped inside the grocery store.
The door was locked. They actually—the helicopter pilot, whose picture you are watching now, actually had to go back to meet the man‘s wife and get a key to this grocery store-slash-warehouse, and they are now preparing to return to the location and drop the key in a water bottle to the rescuers, who are trying to get in.
We are going to keep on top of this situation. It is not the great news of the day, but it does illustrate what is still going on, seven days and 13 hours and more, after Hurricane Katrina struck.
And what happens to those who got out? How long will they be gone? How many will go permanently? What will the cities they‘ve gone to do with them? The man in charge in Houston joins us.
And the president, meeting some of those evacuees in Baton Rouge, and meeting every level of state and local government for the feeble first response to the crisis. A FEMA director who used to run a horse show, a mayor who used to run a cable company.
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: None that we know of, sir. We‘re talking directly to his wife, and he—I don‘t know if he knows that we have his wife and that we can reunite him with his wife and his son and his daughter, who are at our command post.
OLBERMANN: A symbol of the evacuation effort still undergoing in New Orleans. The gentleman who was described by his wife to private aviation people, getting the Coast Guard rescuers involved then, as being trapped in a grocery facility in New Orleans has now been reached. That‘s him, I believe, talking with the man in the water. He does not want to leave. He does not want to leave.
They are convincing him that they will reunite him with his wife, attempting to talk him out of that area, a scenario that is being replayed time and time again in New Orleans.
And as this continues to play out, we will continue to bring it to you here on COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: We can call this slice of life in New Orleans post-Katrina a case of the reluctant rescue. The gentleman in the blue against—with his wall, his back against that wall, that home in New Orleans, does not want to be rescued. He does not want to leave that place, even though the Coast Guard has come to get him.
They are telling him that his wife not only wants to be reunited with him, but she‘s not feeling well, and she needs him to leave with the Coast Guard rescues. That is where we stand in New Orleans, more than, or nearly a week to the moment, that the storm came in and did this to this place and to these families. It is a small story, but it is, perhaps, symbolic of what we‘re seeing. We will keep you posted.
And then there are the survivors turned evacuees. And perhaps more appropriate to the condition in which they find themselves, they are the dispossessed. They are, at last, out of New Orleans, but in our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN tonight, now what?
Speaking at the Houston Astrodome today, the president‘s mother, Barbara Bush, said in a radio interview that things were “working very well” for the people in the sports stadium there. Quoting here, “Almost everyone I‘ve talked to wants to move to Houston. What I‘m hearing is, they all want to stay in Texas. Everyone is so overwhelmed with the hospitality. And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway. So this, this is working very well for them.”
Two hundred and thirty thousand people reported in shelters in Texas alone. Are they public wards? What of the half-million or more staying with relatives and friends? Will they be forced to live that Tennessee Williams line and rely on the kindness of strangers?
And for how long? Do they even realize that they won‘t be returning home anytime soon? Do we realize that?
Let‘s call in County Judge Robert Eckels. He‘s in charge of homeland security and emergency management for Harris County, Texas. He‘s coordinating the relief efforts for the survivors in the Houston Astrodome.
Judge Eckels, good evening. Thanks for your time tonight.
COUNTY JUDGE ROBERT ECKELS, HOMELAND SECURITY, HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS:
OLBERMANN: How long do you think those people in the Astrodome are going to be in your charge and in your arena there?
ECKELS: That‘s the $64,000 question. We do believe that this dome is well established and suitable for a short-term shelter. It is not a home. There‘s still, you know, 15,000 of your friends and neighbors. You‘re sharing your bedroom, your bathroom, your kitchen, your living room. You‘re sharing your life with a big crowd of people.
And that‘s not a healthy style, lifestyle for either sociological or psychological purposes. It‘s the kind of thing that will cause stress and lead to the problems that you had in the Superdome.
So this is a place that is designed and built as a shelter, purely for moving people in, getting a process, and getting them moved on to a smaller, more human scale, to apartments. We‘ve already moved about 150 or 200 folks into apartments so far, into elderly and senior housing. We‘ll be moving several hundred a day from now on. We‘ll be relocating folks to other shelters that are better suited for them than one that is this size.
OLBERMANN: Has the issue of the criteria for shutting down federal assistance, whenever that is, if that‘s five years from now or five months from now, has that been established yet? Has it been discussed? Or is it also an open question?
ECKELS: That has not been discussed on our level. For us, we have the ability to be reimbursed by the federal government for whatever it takes on this shelter period. Again, this is a shelter, not a home. Typically, FEMA comes in and provides emergency assistance for a period of time to allow people to be reestablished.
Many of the folks here, as you were discussing earlier, were from projects in New Orleans. Many of them will be eligible for HUD funding here. We don‘t have projects in Houston or even in most of Texas like you had in New Orleans. We use a voucher system to let people move into the homes of their choice.
And so we‘re working with other apartments in this community, with the eligible apartments for what we call section eight housing, to let folks that are eligible for those programs, whether they‘re—want to use them here or anyplace else in the country, transfer those vouchers in through our offices here at Houston and in Texas, so that we can then move them into, again, more suitable, more dignified housing.
OLBERMANN: Certainly large numbers of these people are going stay exactly where they are, that the realization that New Orleans is not going to be open for business anytime in the immediate future will become readily apparent to everybody in the immediate future. Is a city like Houston capable of absorbing a large number of new residents overnight?
ECKELS: Well, we would grow by, you know, maybe 100,000 people a year under any account. We‘re a fast-growing region. The Houston area has a population of 5 million people, about the same as New Orleans. So, yes, we will deal with it, and we‘ll be able to absorb them here in our market if it‘s necessary.
OLBERMANN: Judge Robert Eckels, head of homeland security and emergency management in Harris County in Texas. Great thanks for your time tonight, sir.
ECKELS: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Half of the city of New Orleans still underwater tonight. And it‘s not just because of broken levees. There are blocked waterways, beached boats, broken equipment, making for a navigational nightmare.
And the response by FEMA, homeland security, these are the men and these are the agencies that promised to protect us in the event of an attack? That‘s next.
This is COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: And we have an apparent end to the saga of the man who would not leave. This rescue in precis in New Orleans, despite the pleas of his wife related through the Coast Guard, the gentleman, stuck or staying in a grocery store in New Orleans, who had text-messaged her where he was, will not leave that grocery store. And the Coast Guard has decided it cannot force him.
And that is the story of New Orleans, seven days after Hurricane Katrina. The Coast Guard is moving on to the next attempted rescue.
COUNTDOWN will continue after this.
OLBERMANN: The secretary of homeland security used to be a lawyer in the Whitewater investigation. The director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency used to be its lawyer. Before that, he was the controversial enforcer of rules at the International Arabian Horse Association.
And the mayor of New Orleans used to be the general manager of the local cable TV company. He also used to be a Republican. He didn‘t change parties until right before he filed a run for his post three years ago.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, that sinking feeling you often get that the government is made up of people who could not get a job in your office gets stronger with each day that passes in our Gulf crisis. In a moment, a cry from the heart about how that feeling turned fatal.
First, from our correspondent in New Orleans, Carl Quintanilla, news that whatever good news there has been at the levees, it is still being counterbalanced by other logistical nightmares.
CARL QUINTANILLA, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the intercostal waterway, far from downtown, one reason why New Orleans is still flooded. These cranes, which normally would be filling levees, sit beached like whales.
(on camera): Do you think you‘ll get it out tonight?
DONNIE JOHNSON, CONSTRUCTION WORKER: No.
QUINTANILLA: Next week?
QUINTANILLA (voice-over): Wayne Pool works for Boh Brothers Construction. It is their crane. Normally, after hurricanes here, they can barely keep up with demand for repairs. But they‘re helpless this time to help move barges like this one, pushed by the storm up on to a railroad bridge.
(on camera): Do you feel like your hands are tied?
DUDLEY DAIGLE, TUGBOAT CAPTAIN: No, not quite, but they are—some places, we are tied down.
QUINTANILLA: It is part of the painful reality about fixing anything along these waterways. To do it, you need tools. And the tools, you can‘t get to.
(voice-over): So, they tug, three tugboats, while the crane digs itself out, each bucket carrying 10,000 pounds of dirt.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The faster they can take it where we can get it now, well, the faster we can do our job.
QUINTANILLA: But, tonight, it is not to be. The workers will spend the night on the boat and try again tomorrow, frustrated they can‘t rescue the city, the way paramedics and police are.
JOHNSON: I wish I could be doing what they doing. I guess, if I would be working straight on to that levee right now, I guess I would feel that way.
QUINTANILLA: They‘re heroes of a different breed, trying to undo what Katrina did to New Orleans and to them.
Carl Quintanilla, NBC News, New Orleans.
OLBERMANN: The question of the government‘s response or nonresponse is a delicate one. It strays from being a question of emotion to a question of context to a question that can easily be hijacked into politics.
But, ultimately, it is a question of life and death. And we learned that raw and unguarded and unanticipated when Tim Russert interviewed the head of Jefferson Parish—that‘s Kenner and Metairie—on “Meet the Press.”
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, “MEET THE PRESS”)
AARON BROUSSARD, JEFFERSON PARISH PRESIDENT: The guy who runs this building I‘m in, emergency management, he‘s responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming? And he said, Yeah, Mama, somebody‘s coming to get you. Somebody‘s coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody‘s coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody‘s coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody‘s coming to get you on Friday. And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night.
TIM RUSSERT, HOST: Mr. President...
BROUSSARD: Nobody‘s coming to get us. 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)
OLBERMANN: Remarkably, the disconnect between local and national response continued today.
The office of Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco did not know President Bush was returning to her state today until it was informed by a reporter from the Associated Press. Blanco had earlier asked the former chief of FEMA under President Clinton to help coordinate relief efforts in Louisiana.
As to whether or not there is going to be another former chief of FEMA, Michael Brown tells NBC News today he has not considered resigning.
Who is Mr. Brown? Our correspondent Lisa Myers introduces us.
LISA MYERS, NBC CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):
Embattled FEMA Director Michael Brown and his boss both under fire for the chaotic relief effort. But Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says, for now, the focus must be on saving lives, not recrimination.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: In due course, if people want to go in and chop heads off, there will be an opportunity to do it.
MYERS: That amid new questions about whether Brown is qualified to run the largest relief effort in history. This was his biggest job before joining FEMA, supervising the conduct of judges and stewards as commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association.
Though Brown held that job for nine years, it is not listed in his official biography.
(on camera): Association officials tell NBC News that Brown resigned under pressure from the horse show job and that many who worked with him were stunned when he became director of FEMA.
CHUCK MANGAN, ARABIAN HORSE ASSOCIATION: Certainly, what he did with the Arabian Horse Association was nothing what he does with FEMA.
MYERS (voice-over): Brown was brought into FEMA by his college roommate, Joe Allbaugh, President Bush‘s first campaign manager and FEMA director. Brown‘s only prior experience in emergency services was in a suburb of Oklahoma City in the ‘70s.
JOHN COPENHAVER, FORMER CLINTON FEMA OFFICIAL: I have a hard time understanding how experience with an Arabian Horse Association would translate into the capability to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
MYERS: This former FEMA manager says Brown failed to act decisively.
COPENHAVER: His lack of experience in emergency management may have played a role.
MYERS: The day after widespread television reports of thousands stranded at the Convention Center, Brown said this.
MICHAEL BROWN, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: The federal government just learned about those people today.
MYERS: Still, the man who matters most has praised Brown.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Brownie, you‘re doing a heck of a job. The FEMA director is working 24...
MYERS: An administration official says Brown‘s public role is being diminished, as other, more reassuring figures take a more visible role, hoping to build confidence and quell the outrage.
Lisa Myers, NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: From 1998 to 2000, my next guest was the deputy chief of staff for a previous head of FEMA, James Lee Witt. George Haddow has literally written the book on this stuff, two textbooks, “Introduction to Emergency Management” and “Introduction to Homeland Security.”
Mr. Haddow joins us from Washington.
Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
GEORGE HADDOW, FORMER FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY DEPUTY CHIEF
OF STAFF: You‘re welcome.
OLBERMANN: Do they have enough copies of your books at FEMA now or is the problem not within that organization, but rather in FEMA‘s role within the government?
HADDOW: It‘s really the problem of its role within the government and the priority that is placed by this administration on having an adequate national response system.
And one of Mike Brown‘s problem is, is that his position as FEMA director has been diminished, to the point that he has gone from working as a Cabinet-level director of an agency to an office director in the new organizational chart of the Department of Homeland Security.
OLBERMANN: Give me a concrete example of what that means. What could Mr. Witt have done in 1995, relative to an event of this scope, that Mr. Brown cannot do in 2005?
HADDOW: From where I sit, what I see is that I don‘t believe the FEMA director now has the authority to direct and manage the resources of other federal agencies.
In 1995, as part of the then federal response plan, Mr. Witt had the authority and the full support of the president to direct 28 federal agencies and departments and the Red Cross to bring the full resources of the federal government to bear and to support state and local emergency managers in state and local governments that are in a crisis.
OLBERMANN: There are an internal Homeland Security analysis document, a pretty grim piece of work, that we have gotten ahold of that ranks potential disasters from number one to number 15. A nuclear terrorist attack is number one. Biological attacks are two through four. Chemical attacks are five through eight. Number nine is an earthquake. Number 10 is a major hurricane.
Did our government screw up number 10 this past week because it rated it too low? Or does the fact that it did screw it up mean we really need to worry about numbers one through nine?
HADDOW: I think we need to worry about number one through nine and numbers 11 through 15 and everything after that.
I think that this administration has compromised the capability of the federal system, of the state system, and of the local systems to respond to disaster events and, in that case, also terrorist incidents.
OLBERMANN: Lastly, I think we all have an idea of what needs to be done in New Orleans. And it‘s beginning to get done.
But what needs to be done in FEMA right now? Because it seems like the only thing that would be in worse shape than the Gulf Coast would be the country‘s confidence in its own government‘s emergency response ability.
HADDOW: I agree.
I think that one of the major questions and the reoccurring question that I have in this whole disaster is, who is in charge? And I think that‘s a difficult question that needs to be addressed. And the next great step in this disaster is the recovery period. And I believe that someone is going to have to be designated who has the authority and the confidence of the president, so that person can make multimillion-dollar investments and decisions about the recovery of New Orleans and all those folks that have been hurt on the Gulf Coast.
OLBERMANN: George Haddow, the former deputy chief of staff at FEMA and New Orleans native, thanks for your perspective tonight, sir.
HADDOW: Thank you.
OLBERMANN: Also on this point, this is not typically a newscast of commentary. I can recall only twice previously offering such perspectives.
But something that Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff said at his news conference Saturday made this necessary.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Louisiana is a city that is largely underwater.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Well, there‘s your problem right there. If ever a slip of the tongue defined a government‘s response to a crisis.
Forget the history of slashed federal budgets for projects that might have saved the levees. Drop the imagery of the government watching “Monty Python‘s Flying Circus” while New Orleans drowned. Ignore the symbol of bureaucrats like Mr. Chertoff using only the future tense in terms of relief that they could have supplied Monday and Tuesday.
We no longer need the president sounding like he‘s on some sort of five-day tape delay to summarize this debacle. We now have Mr. Chertoff‘s indelible announcement that Louisiana is a city. Politician after politician, Republican and Democrat alike, has paraded before us, unwilling or unable to shut off the I/me switch in their heads, condescendingly telling us about how moved they were or how devastated they were, congenitally incapable of telling the difference between the destruction of a city and the opening of a new supermarket somewhere.
And as that sorry recital of self-absorption dragged on, I have resisted editorial comment. The focus needed to be on the efforts to save the stranded. Even television‘s meager powers were correctly devoted to telling the stories of the twin disasters, natural and government-made.
But now, at last, it has stopped getting exponentially worse in Mississippi and Alabama and New Orleans and Louisiana, the state, not the city. And having given our leaders what we now know is the week or so they need to get their acts together, that period of editorial silence I mentioned should come to an end.
No one is suggesting that mayors or governors in the afflicted areas, nor the federal government, should be able to stop hurricanes. Lord knows, no one is suggesting that we should ever prioritize levee improvement for a below-sea-level city ahead of $454 million worth of trophy bridges for the politicians of Alaska.
But, nationally, these are leaders who won reelection last year largely by portraying their opponents as incapable of keeping this country safe. These are leaders who regularly pressure the news media in this country to report the reopening of a school or a power station in Iraq and which regularly defies its citizens not to stand up and cheer when something like that is accomplished.
Yet, they couldn‘t even keep one school or power station from being devastated by infrastructure collapse in New Orleans, even though the government had heard all the chatter from the scientists and city planners and hurricane centers and some group whose purposes the government couldn‘t quite discern, a group called the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Most chillingly of all, this is the law and order and terror government. It promised protection, or at least amelioration, against all threats, conventional, radiological or biological. It has just proved that it cannot save its citizens from a biological weapon called standing water.
Mr. Bush has now twice insisted that—quote—“We are not satisfied”—unquote—with the response to the manifold tragedies along the Gulf Coast. I wonder which “we” he thinks he is speaking for on this point. Perhaps it is the administration, although we still don‘t know where some of them are. Anybody seen the vice president lately, the man whose message this time last year was, I will protect you; the other guy might let you die? I don‘t know which “we” Mr. Bush meant.
For many of this country‘s citizens, the mantra has been, as we were taught in social studies it should always be, whether or not I voted for this president, he is still my president. I suspect anybody who had to give him that benefit of the doubt stopped doing so last week. I suspect, also, a lot of his supporters, looking ahead to ‘08, are wondering how they can distance themselves from the two words which will define his government, our government: New Orleans.
For him, it is a shame, in all senses of the word. A few changes of pronouns in there and he might not have looked so much like a 21st century Marie Antoinette. All that was needed was just a quick, “I‘m not satisfied with my government‘s response,” instead of hiding behind phrases like “no one could have foreseen.”
Had he only remembered Churchill‘s quote from the 1930s. “The responsibility of government for the public safety,” Churchill said, “is absolute and requires no mandate. It is in fact the prime object for which governments come into existence.”
In forgetting that, the current administration did not merely damage itself. It damaged our confidence in our ability to rely on whoever is in the White House.
As we emphasized to you here all last week, the realities of the region are such that New Orleans is going to be largely uninhabitable for a lot longer than anybody is yet willing to recognize. Lord knows when the last body will be found or the last artifact of the levee break dug up. Could be next March. Could be the year 2100.
By then, in the muck and toxic mire of New Orleans, they may even find our government‘s credibility, somewhere in the city of Louisiana.
Untold numbers of survivors still stuck in their flooded neighborhoods, as we saw earlier in this news hour, thousands of others scattered to all quarters of the country. We will try to help at least some of them reconnect.
But, first, how could the hurricane impact the Supreme Court? When will it be appropriate to conduct hearings for the man the president wants to succeed the late Chief Justice Rehnquist?
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: The ramifications of Hurricane Katrina felt across the nation, at emergency shelters, at gas pumps, and now, perhaps, even at the Supreme Court. That‘s next.
This is COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: On the political calendars, all the tomorrows were circled. That was when the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee John Roberts were to start. But events, some foreseeable, some allegedly not, may have changed all that.
Our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, Hurricane Katrina felt even by our leaders in Washington. The hearings could be delayed, possibly out of consideration for the Gulf Coast crisis and, as our correspondent Pete Williams now reports, possibly because the nominee has already been offered a promotion, a promotion he certainly did not want.
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the Supreme Court prepared for the public to pay its respects to William Rehnquist tomorrow, the president moved with record speed to nominate John Roberts to take over as chief justice.
BUSH: The Senate is well along in the process of considering Judge Roberts‘ qualifications. They know his record and his fidelity to the law.
WILLIAMS: It was a bittersweet for moment for Roberts, a Rehnquist friend and former law clerk.
JOHN G. ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE NOMINEE: If I am confirmed, I would succeed a man I deeply respect and admire, a man who has been very kind to me for 25 years.
WILLIAMS: His hearings, scheduled to start tomorrow, have now been delayed, a week at most, in deference to the Rehnquist funeral services.
While some liberal groups today said a nomination to chief justice should subject Roberts to even greater scrutiny, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee would not go that far.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: I think you still ask the same basic questions. Will this person protect your rights, my rights and everybody else‘s rights?
WILLIAMS: The president must now name someone else to succeed Sandra Day O‘Connor, the seat Roberts was originally nominated for. Administration officials say no decision has been made about whether to make that next choice while the Senate is still considering the Roberts‘ nomination.
In announcing her plans in July, O‘Connor said she‘d stay on the court until her successor is concerned. But with her replacement likely to come soon after the term starts, O‘Connor‘s return would be largely symbolic.
THOMAS GOLDSTEIN, SUPREME COURT EXPERT: When she sits on cases, her vote doesn‘t count unless she‘s actually a member of the court when it rules several months later, so that, if she‘s replaced in two months, her vote really doesn‘t count.
WILLIAMS (on camera): If confirmed, John Roberts would be the youngest chief justice in nearly 200 years and would come from, as most have, from outside the court.
Pete Williams, NBC News, at the Supreme Court.
OLBERMANN: And it‘s now a full week since the hurricane hit, thousands of Gulf Coast residents still searching for missing loved ones and trying to let other family and friends know they are safe. We will try and help get the message across from some of them next.
OLBERMANN: We introduced the proposition last week. It was a simple one, communications in disarray, the population of New Orleans in flight, and, in many cases, in despair, and the place and the places the people went to filled with reporters and television cameras.
A small contribution, then. Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, every night until further notice, point the cameras at the people, let them tell their loved ones, “I‘m OK,” or let them ask if anybody has seen their loved ones.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who are you looking for?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My two daughters (INAUDIBLE) I left them in the Superdome, got separated after all the shooting and all the craziness went on. I‘m in Houston at the Reliant Arena in exhibit hall A. They can get me there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m Jill Otum, Park Forest (ph), Illinois. Chris (ph), my son, I love you. I will be home soon. My family, friends, we will see you. We‘re OK.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My daughter. We was from New Orleans, too. And we got separated. My name is Penny Holmes (ph).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘m looking for Shirley Johnson (ph), Terrell Hawthorne (ph) and—I mean, Kenny Hawthorne (ph). I‘m out here in Texas. Mom, I‘m all right. If you see this here, please call or contact the people out here, so I could talk to you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m looking for my family. I‘m from New Orleans, Westwego, Louisiana. And we have been separated. And I‘m here in Houston. I don‘t know what to do. I don‘t know how to contact them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And my son is still in Slidell. And we can‘t get in touch with them at all. Call if you see this. Call the Claritin in Tennessee. Call us, Paul (ph). Let me know you‘re alive, please.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Listen, my sister Denise (ph), if anyone know where you‘re at—or, Denise, if you see us on the TV or hear us on the news, please call mom and let us know that you are all right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cornell Matthews (ph). I want to let my family know I‘m OK, that I‘m trying to get out of here. And I‘m sorry that I didn‘t take their advice, and let them know. I‘m trying to make it out of here and I will see them as soon as possible.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Chara Dechila (ph). I‘m trying to let you know that me, mom and Sean (ph) are OK. We‘re praying that the children are all right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let them know that me and Patricia (ph) and Laron (ph) is all right. Tell (INAUDIBLE) (ph) that his mother is all right, and she is wishing that she—some kind of to come get you all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just want to let them know that everyone down here is OK. We all survived. And we were just wondering about them, if they made it through OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Bob Freeman (ph). I‘m from Dickson, Tennessee, living currently in Biloxi, Mississippi. And I am OK. And I got out with my pants on.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘m (INAUDIBLE) Benemy (ph). I want to say hello to my sister and brother, tell them I‘m doing fine. I hope to see them soon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Erna Tine (ph). I just want my sisters and (INAUDIBLE) and all the people from Atlanta to let us know we‘re all right. We are in Harrison. We‘re trying to get out of New Orleans.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I‘m Jeannette Michelson (ph). Catherine (ph) and Burt (ph), I‘m OK. We have been in the water and on the bridge for days.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Melvin Lebrinks (ph). My wife‘s name is Anna Lebrinks (ph). And I have been looking for her for some days now. And I‘m in New Orleans. I don‘t know where she is. She was airlifted. I was boat-lifted. So, I don‘t know what to do so.
So, if you hear me darling, I love you all.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Cheryl (ph), if you‘re looking, I‘m in Texas.
And you should have let me take the babies. Where are you with my kids?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Sheila Anderson (ph). If anybody saw my daddy, Milton Anderson (ph), Milton Anderson (ph) -- Ruby (ph), if you hear me, please look for my daddy and see what—and make sure he all right, please.
OLBERMANN: The entire MSNBC network and MSNBC.com now working together to try to reconnect hurricane survivors and their loved ones. You can log on to our Web site for information and message boards on finding evacuees. That‘s at COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com.
Let‘s recount the headlines from day seven after Katrina. Mayor Nagin says the number of dead in New Orleans could be 10,000 -- 10,000. The 200-foot wide 17th Street canal breach has been sealed, water pumped, but water being pumped out of the city in its entirety could still be an 80-day job.
Then a chilling quote from the deputy police chief of New Orleans, Warren Riley, telling those who have left not to come back. There are no jobs, he says. There are no homes to go to, no hotels to go to. There is absolutely nothing here, he says. We advise people that this city has been destroyed. It has been completely destroyed.
That‘s COUNTDOWN. I‘m Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.
Our coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina continues now with “RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT” from New Orleans.
Good evening, Rita.
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