'The Abrams Report' for September 7

Guests: Marlon Defillo, Jacques Thibodeaux, Pat Owens, Jim Judkins, Mark


DAN ABRAMS, HOST: Coming up, live in New Orleans where the mayor is instructing all residents to go, saying that if they are not willing to leave, they‘ll be taken out by force.  


ABRAMS (voice-over):  About 10,000 holdouts remain.  The question, how will police make them go? 

And just hours ago, I ride along with some of the law enforcement officials trying to stop looting.  They are doing difficult, heroic and dangerous work.  But some are frustrated as I watch them forced to release looters they had caught in the act.  I‘ll show you what happened.

And a look inside the makeshift jail where the looters and other alleged criminals are supposed to be sent.  Until last week, it was a bus station. 

The program about justice starts now.  


ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  Live from the heart of New Orleans where the mayor has told everyone, apart from one tiny area that they must leave.  Now there are about 10,000 people who are saying they will not leave and many of the law enforcement officials you talk to here will tell you that they are encountering people saying that they are simply not going to leave.  It is the most dreaded job someone in law enforcement, particularly a local could have and that is being asked to force another local resident to leave.  We‘ll talk to the authorities here about exactly how they intend to do that, when they intend to do that in a moment. 

But first, I just got back, literally in the last hour, from a ride along with some of the authorities doing that difficult work.  We encountered gunshots.  We encountered people who just needed help and these guys were doing everything they could to help at every level, from racing out of the car, to see where the gunshots were coming from, to helping an elderly woman get out of her home.  That‘s what these guys are doing day in and day out.  And we‘re going to show you tomorrow on the show a lot longer version of exactly how difficult and really heroic what these guys are doing is.

But first I want to show you something that happened when we were out with them.  These guys had caught a couple of looters in the act.  There was a van that had brought—there‘s a van that brings in inmates, but these guys had literally caught a couple of guys stealing jewelry from a house.  They brought them back to the station and here is what happened right after they were told that they had to release these guys.  I was with Colonel Anderson from Georgia and also with a sergeant from the New Orleans Police Department and here‘s exactly what they said occurred. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  There‘s a lack of cooperation amongst everybody that‘s here.  I mean you got agencies across the nation that are here and you‘ve got some really good officers with NOPD that are working their buts off and then you catch people looting and they don‘t have a system set up to deal with them.  They don‘t want you to bring them here.  They want you to just let them go, get their names (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  You know...

ABRAMS:  So you‘re actually catching people looting in the act...


ABRAMS:  ... and you‘re bringing them here and they‘re saying let them go.


ABRAMS:  That just happened, didn‘t it?  We just watched it happen. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, caught them coming out of a house.  They‘re not stealing water.  They‘re not stealing food.  They‘re stealing jewelry, glasses, you know stuff that, you know, it‘s just causing a loss and it‘s not anything they‘re trying to get to survive.  And you bring them up here and you got, you know, 30 people sitting around doing nothing.  And they won‘t...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... to the command center or anywhere else where they can do something with them.  They just cut them loose. 

ABRAMS:  So they‘re telling you the problem is that they can‘t move them anymore and so as a result, you‘ve got to let them go. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, they‘re telling us they won‘t deal with it. 

They won‘t deal with it.

ABRAMS:  Who‘s they? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Whoever‘s in charge here.  And I don‘t know who that is.  I tell you, you got a lot of folks from New Orleans P.D. that are really busting their butt trying to make things work and there‘s no communication from the top to the bottom.  You know, we watch the news before we left our O.P. to come up here today.  The mayor‘s on the news saying forcible evacuation.  Get everybody out, get everybody out.  There‘s hundreds of people down here where we‘re fixing to go.

They‘re not leaving.  And these guys in the precinct have no orders or instructions to make them leave.  So you know where‘s the communication breakdown?  I don‘t know.  It‘s a tragedy.  I‘m not trying to belittle what‘s going on.  This is a massive tragedy that nobody could prepare for.  They‘re doing the best they can.  This precinct has not received the first bit of supplies from NOPD. 

ABRAMS:  Really?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Everybody they‘ve got they‘ve gotten either through the Fraternal Order of Police or through other people bringing them stuff in. 

ABRAMS:  And so—and in addition to that, the problem is that you bring in people and unless there‘s a specific order to send them to a particular place, you‘re told...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If my team was not with sergeant—the sergeant here, we would be sitting at this precinct doing nothing. 

ABRAMS:  Sergeant, what do you think the problem has been?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  (UNINTELLIGIBLE) it‘s just a big—a very big operation and it‘s going to take time to get it in order, I think. 

ABRAMS:  But this has got to be so frustrating.  You guys are out here busting your humps to catch these guys looting.  You‘re catching them in the act and then they‘re being set free? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Kind of.  Yes, we‘ll get them sooner or later.


ABRAMS:  All right.  Now I should tell you that about three minutes after that happened, we bumped into the same two guys who had just been released who had been told to go in one direction.  They had gone right back to the exact area where the alleged looting had occurred.  Now, this is just one of a number of issues that‘s going on here. 

I mean this is not—again remember, what these guys are saying is that a lot of people are doing a lot of really hard work and there is some level of confusion, but is that, you know is that a systemic problem.  Let me ask Captain Marlon DeFillo, who also serves as a spokesperson for the police department.  Thanks a lot for taking the time.


ABRAMS:  Now to be fair to you, I just laid this on you only a moment ago and I want my viewers...

DEFILLO:  That‘s correct.

ABRAMS:  ... to know that.  So I ask you this without you getting to know exactly what happened, but from what I saw, there does still appear to be a real communications problem in that you‘ve got people from Georgia and New Mexico and Michigan and all these other places working with the New Orleans P.D., but it sure sounded like what happened here was a real problem. 

DEFILLO:  Let me just say that up until Friday of last week, we had no communication.  Up until Sunday, this past Sunday, we had no jail.  So we‘re at the point now where we‘re have a stabilization in the city.  Will there be some lack of communication?  Absolutely.  I‘m not going to stand here and tell you that there won‘t.

But what I will tell you that since Sunday, we‘ve arrested over 185 individuals who are currently in jail, in a makeshift jail, that we‘re considering prosecuting on a federal level.  So there will be isolated cases that may slip through the crack.  But is it systemic?  No.

ABRAMS:  We‘re going to show that jail later in the program too and we took a walk through there, et cetera.  But it really did seem from what we saw that these guys were frustrated.  They were saying you know what, we arrest these guys and we‘re being told to take down some paperwork on them...

DEFILLO:  But you know what...

ABRAMS:  ... because it didn‘t seem they knew about the jail.  I mean that seems to be part of the problem, is that is there any way to let all the people who are working for you better know, hey, look, guys, we‘ve got this place now...

DEFILLO:  Right.

ABRAMS:  ... at the bus station to send people.

DEFILLO:  And I will assure the listening audience that everyone, after I get off this newscast will know about this makeshift jail that we have in place.  Prior to Sunday we had no jail, so we had—we couldn‘t arrest anyone.  We have a massive complex on the west side of New Orleans where we had to evacuate more than 6,000 inmates because of the hurricane. 

ABRAMS:  Right.

DEFILLO:  Now, we were struggling trying to find a makeshift jail and thanks to the federal government, thanks to the Department of Corrections, we now have a secure facility.  Now we have more than 1,750 police officers and we lost communication days before.  So now, we have a challenge of trying to regain that communication and I can assure the listening audience that that will be done. 

ABRAMS:  But that‘s what I was going to --  because not just the listening audience, it‘s your guys out there.

DEFILLO:  Absolutely.  Absolutely.

ABRAMS:  I mean because that‘s where I was all day today.  They were pulling their hair out.  They‘re like we are busting our humps here.  We catch these guys...


ABRAMS:  ... and we‘re getting instructions that...

DEFILLO:  Well...

ABRAMS:  ... we don‘t know where to send them. 

DEFILLO:  That‘s going to change. 

ABRAMS:  All right...

DEFILLO:  That‘s going to change.

ABRAMS:  I‘m going to let them know that. 

DEFILLO:  That‘s going to change.

ABRAMS:  Because I‘m going to go back out with them tomorrow and I‘m going to tell them we spoke to you and I told them that we were going to tell you and they weren‘t saying it to be critical, they were saying we want to get help. 

DEFILLO:  Well, rest assured, that‘s going to change. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Now let‘s talk about the evacuation issue.  That has got to be the last thing that someone like you and the people who work with you want to do.

DEFILLO:  Let me just say that the people of New Orleans are very smart people.  There are people out there, a very small segment who want to protect their homes, who want to stay with their pets.  The vast majority of the people that we‘re rescuing today and tomorrow and maybe Friday are people who have been stranded in their home for the past eight, nine days without food and water.  They‘re more than willing to get into that boat, get on the helicopter and fly away. 

There is a small segment out there that we have to approach them and tell them that there are no options.  That this is a compelling order.  That you must leave.  We can give you food and provisions right now, but I can‘t guarantee that in the week I can come back and give you...

ABRAMS:  Some of them are still going to say you know we‘re not going to leave and I would assume that you‘re going to need to do some special training...

DEFILLO:  Well let me just say...

ABRAMS:  ... to get --  because that‘s got to be a delicate job.

DEFILLO:  It‘s a very delicate job, but again I go back to that people in New Orleans are very smart people and once we lay the plan out to them I would venture to say that...


DEFILLO:  Well we‘ll deal with that when the time comes, but I think we‘re not going to go in and physically yank people out of the house, no.  We‘re going to...


ABRAMS:  No matter what happens?

DEFILLO:  We‘re going to appeal to their common sense...


ABRAMS:  Look, some people don‘t have common sense.  You know that.  I know that. 


ABRAMS:  The vast majority of people do, but there are going to be some who are going to put you guys in the very difficult position of saying I‘ve got to get you out of here. 

DEFILLO:  But we have a high tolerance level.  We‘re willing to work with those people to tell them—I‘m prepared.  My people are prepared to stay there as long as it takes to convince them to leave and to pull—to physically go in and pull someone out that is an extremely last resort that we may go to. 

ABRAMS:  I want to ask you another question.  That is about some of the time off that some of your officers have gotten to take.  It makes sense considering the National Guard is now here.  There are a lot of other officials here and the New Orleans Police Department suffered personally and professionally as all this happened.  We got a couple of reports today that there are a bunch of people in Baton Rouge, for example, who are officers who haven‘t been able to really take time off, who haven‘t gotten as promised from the department.  Have you heard anything about that? 

DEFILLO:  No, I haven‘t.  No...


DEFILLO:  I haven‘t heard anything, no.

ABRAMS:  What is your understanding as to the status of the officers...


DEFILLO:  And again this is not a perfect plan.  We threw this together in less than 48 hours to try to move a massive number of police officers and not just police officers, but firefighters and EMS workers out of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) out, bringing in fresh people and giving those people time off to find their families.  I‘ve been doing this since last—I forgot what day it is today (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


DEFILLO:  So I haven‘t  -- I have left the city.  I have not seen my family.  I‘m homeless.  I‘m out of a home right now, but the vast majority of the police officers are homeless.  But the plan is to get them to Baton Rouge, to get a physical, to get a psychological evaluation and to give them time to find their family, to reunite themselves with the families and get back to work. 

ABRAMS:  Just make sure and again this is just—we‘re hearing

isolated reports from individual officers but you know, I think your office

a lot of people are critical of you guys for doing this.  I actually thought it made sense considering the National Guard...


ABRAMS:  Just make sure that they‘re getting what they were promised...

DEFILLO:  A police officer is not focused on his mission is useless...


DEFILLO:  ... and that‘s why it‘s important that we get them out, get to their families so they can clear their heads and get back to work. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Captain, you‘ve got a lot of work to do.

DEFILLO:  No problem.

ABRAMS:  Thank you very much. 

DEFILLO:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  We appreciate it.  And we‘re going to hold you to it on making sure...

DEFILLO:  My word is my bond...

ABRAMS:  ... that everyone knows about the jail. 

DEFILLO:  Absolutely.

ABRAMS:  Because when we get there we‘re going to go around to different places.  We‘re going to be asking them hey, you guys know you can send them to this jail. 

DEFILLO:  Absolutely.

ABRAMS:  All right, thank you.

DEFILLO:  Thank you.


DEFILLO:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  We are going to—we‘re going to take a break.  When we come back, those holdouts remain.  There are specific tactics that can be used.  Other cities have had to deal with this issue of forcing people out.  How exactly do you go about doing that?  We‘ll talk about that and we‘ll take a look inside the bus station that is now a jail.  The warden takes us for a behind-the-scenes look at exactly how they‘re doing the work there.  It‘s all coming up.



JEFF GORBIUM, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT:  This is where my home and business are and I have things that need to get done, so I‘m staying. 


ABRAMS:  That was a New Orleans resident talking about the fact that the mayor has now instructed that everyone must leave New Orleans, except for one particular area, which was not as impacted by the flooding, but everyone else, in all the rest of New Orleans has been told get out, please.  The please is for now.  The please they‘re going to lose later because they are going to start forcing people out in the next few days or possibly weeks. 

No date has been set yet.  Before we talk to some people who have had experience with this because I think the question everyone is asking is how do you go about literally taking people out of their homes?  Do you carry them out, et cetera?  How do you psychologically possibly manipulate them to get out?  We‘ll talk about that in a minute.  But first, there is an interesting story here from NBC‘s Carl Quintanilla on one New Orleans resident who simply refuses to leave. 


CARL QUINTANILLA NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Over Toca, Louisiana today rescue helicopters.  Down below, Donald Serpas, Sr. (ph) is hiding.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well I‘m hiding from the helicopters because I don‘t want them to know I‘m here.  One Marine helicopter come over, he just blew, I‘m telling you he blew leaves and everything, branches for 100 feet on each side.

QUINTANILLA:  He‘s what they call a holdout, unwilling to leave his home during Katrina and the ensuing flood. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well the water line was right here.

QUINTANILLA:  He‘s certainly not leaving now that his rural parish has begun to dry out from 10 feet of water. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Why leave?  You know I‘ve been through a lot of days and I know what I‘m going to come back to. 

QUINTANILLA:  This isn‘t like other times.  His town is deserted, littered with dead animals and household items that hang from tree like ornaments.  None of that fazes Mr. Serpas (ph), a former refrigerator repairman whose only visitors these days are lost cattle. 

(on camera):  Even after surviving the worst of the storm and evading choppers like that, he still has little idea just how serious Katrina was. 

What would you say, though, if I told you that the death toll could be 10,000, 20,000 people. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Oh, I‘d be shocked. 

QUINTANILLA (voice-over):  If forced to leave by military, he will, but not before begging to stay in the town he loves and has lost. 

Carl Quintanilla, NBC News, Toca, Louisiana.


ABRAMS:  All right.  So the question remains, how exactly can you do it?  How do you go about literally taking people in this community and forcing them out of their homes? 

Let‘s check in with Jacques Thibodeaux from the Louisiana National Guard.  They‘ve been dealing with a lot of the law enforcement issues here in New Orleans.  Pat Owens is the former mayor of Grand Forks, North Dakota.  They had to deal with this issue during the 1997 floods.  And Captain Jim Judkins from the Virginia Department of Fire & Rescue in Suffolk has also had some experience with trying to get people to leave. 

All right.  First let talk about exactly how it‘s expected to happen here.  Mr. Thibodeaux, do you have a sense of strategically, practically, logistically, how people are going to go about getting people out of their homes? 

LT. COL. JACQUES THIBODEAUX, LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD:  Well, first off, the Louisiana National Guard has not been tasked with that mission.  Right now, our focus is on saving lives on the people that will evacuate.  So we‘ve not been tasked with that mission and we‘re primarily right now just trying to get people that want to leave, evacuated.  But if we do get tasked with that mission by the governor we have the capability and the capacity to do that.  But right now, our focus is on saving the lives of the people that want to leave this city. 

ABRAMS:  Yes and I should say, I‘ve watched National Guard members, I‘ve watched law enforcement from various jurisdictions do it and you know they‘re doing their best.  They‘re going out there.  They‘re encouraging people.  They‘re trying to tell them about the dangers, et cetera.  But Mayor Owens, when that doesn‘t work, what do you have to do next? 

PAT OWENS, FORMER GRAND FORKS, ND MAYOR:  Well I—that is a really tough question to answer.  In our city, we gave the evacuation notice by National Guard and fire and police going through the neighborhoods.  Of course it was a city of 50,000 people and—with bullhorns, telling them to get out immediately.  They also—the National Guard and fire also assisted and police with those that could not get out. 

The one thing I think is we gave the mandatory evacuation to the people.  There were a few that did not leave.  We did not force them to leave.  However, we did tell them that one of the greatest dangers during a flooding like that is electrocution and you know that the fires that may start and they may be in the home that‘s surrounded by water.  That at that point, they are not only hurting their own lives.  They‘re endangering their own lives.  They‘re endangering the lives...


OWENS:  ... of those that have to come out and get them. 

ABRAMS:  And Captain Judkins, I read you talking about sometimes you have to use psychological manipulation. 

CAPT. JIM JUDKINS, SUFFOLK, VA FIRE & RESCUE DEPT.:  That is correct.  You have to get real creative sometimes and the method it seems that worked most popular is if a person refuses to leave on their own will, then you offer them a magic marker to write their contact information on a body part and most of the time reasonable people that will scare them into thinking you know this is a serious situation.  Maybe I need to make a decision to get out and get out now. 

ABRAMS:  So you would literally say, OK, you can stay but you need to write your Social Security number or something on your ankle? 

JUDKINS:  Ankle, body part or something like that.  That‘s correct.  And Hopefully, the response that they‘ll realize that the situation is more critical than they might realize.  You‘ve got to realize as emergency managers, you know, in the case of a hurricane, we do have the privilege or the opportunity to have an extended period of time to get the warning information out, unlike a flash flood that they experience in some other parts of the country.

We have you know up to 72 hours that warning prior to a hurricane‘s landfall, so that way we can get the information out.  The declarations can be made by the governor, the local officials.  The media puts the information out and both written and print and the last resort to the holdout is actually going door-to-door with bullhorns or going door-to-door, knocking and passing this information along to them if they‘re definitely in harm‘s way. 

ABRAMS:  Lieutenant Colonel Thibodeaux, have you been given a sense as to timing as to what point people have to be out by? 

THIBODEAUX:  Well one of the first things I‘d like to comment on is that we conducted a evacuation of the Morial Convention Center where we evacuated 19,000 people voluntarily in a 30-hour timeframe.  We believe that a voluntary evacuation can be achieved, and we believe that we‘re residents...

ABRAMS:  Really?

THIBODEAUX:  ... of this community—we believe that we‘re residents of this community.  We‘ve experienced this.  We rode this out.  The majority of the police officers that are here have lost the same thing that these people have lost. 


THIBODEAUX:  We evacuated the Superdome, approximately 40,000 people...


THIBODEAUX:  ... in a span of two days. 

ABRAMS:  Yes...

THIBODEAUX:  So we believe...

ABRAMS:  But Colonel, I‘ve got to tell you, and I am not a resident and I accept what you were saying and what the captain was saying when I was just talking to you from the police department here, that the vast majority of people will eventually agree, but I can also tell you that I‘ve been driving on the streets today with some law enforcement officials have been trying to convince people who are basically saying in no uncertain terms, I‘m not leaving.  I get it.  I hear you.  You told me how dangerous it was.  I‘m not going anywhere. 

THIBODEAUX:  Well we certainly understand that.  And one of the things

you know I did hear Captain Defillo talk about it, is New Orleans is one of the greatest cities in this country and we‘re preaching a message of hope.  This will get better.  We will make the city back where it was.

And right now, all that is important is saving lives.  And we believe if we have the opportunity to talk to these people, just as we did in the Superdome and in the Convention Center, we evacuated over 60,000 people with no incidents. 


THIBODEAUX:  And we believe that we can achieve...

ABRAMS:  Yes...

THIBODEAUX:  ... the same thing in the city. 

ABRAMS:  And have I to tell you, I don‘t envy those who are going to have to do that job, particularly locals on locals, basically being forced to get their people out, but I see no other way.  From what I‘ve seen, it seems very clear to me that you are going to have people who are going to refuse and that there‘s going to have to be special training, et cetera as to how to get these people out. 

I know that you don‘t want to deal with that issue yet and I understand it.  And I wish you the best of luck.  I‘ve got to tell you I congratulate you and your colleagues on what I‘ve been watching you all do on the streets and how you‘ve been doing it.  I salute you.  I thank you.  And let me also thank Mayor Owens and Captain Judkins for coming on the program.  We appreciate it. 

OWENS:  Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Thank you.  It‘s my pleasure. 

ABRAMS:  We are going to take a quick break here.  When we come back, we were just at what used to be a bus station.  It is now the local jail in New Orleans.  Anyone arrested in this city for looting, for rape, for shooting at helicopters, is going to a bus station that has been transformed into a jail.  I was there today.  We‘ll show you in a moment. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘m at the South Park Church of Christ in Beaumont, Texas.  I have all my immediate family here.  We contacted just about everybody, but I‘m trying to find Tunisia and Josh (ph).  I heard they were in Corpus Christi, Texas.  Tunisia (ph), if you see this message, give me a call at the South Park Church of Christ in Beaumont, Texas and we‘ll come and get you. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Michelle, it‘s your mama.  I‘m in Beaumont, Texas and I‘m at the Salvation Army.  Call me. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Good evening.  My name is Randy Shelby (ph).  To my immediate siblings, Billy Wesley Shelby, Jr., Rene Lugar (ph), Wendell Shelby and Glenda Perkins (ph), I‘m in Beaumont, Texas.



MILISSA REHBERGER, MSNBC ANCHOR:  OK.  Hi.  Once again everybody, I‘m Milissa Rehberger back at MSNBC World Headquarters.  We‘re having some difficulties with Dan Abrams‘ live shot out of New Orleans.  But I believe that we do have him on the telephone and we will continue to show that way for now while we sort out our technical difficulties. 

Dan, can you hear me?

ABRAMS:  Yes, I can Milissa.  So we, you know we are in New Orleans and when you‘re in New Orleans at a time like this problems can occur including when it comes to power.  There are limits here and so we have lost power in our truck here in New Orleans.  But that will not stop this program from going on.  In a moment, I‘ll be showing you videotape that I took a couple of hours ago where I went to a bus station that is now...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Hey Cory, where Dan was now we‘re seeing a shot down the street. 

ABRAMS:  So let me first go to Mark Chait, who is the special agent in charge with the ATF and I can now hear out of my ear and—oh I think I—

I think they --  OK.  All right, Mark Chait is special agent in charge with the ATF and I apologize to you Special Agent.  We are having some technical problems.  But I want to talk to you about this issue of sniper fire and the fact that the ATF has been brought in to deal with that issue here in New Orleans. 

MARK CHAIT, ATF SPECIAL AGENT IN CHARGE:  Yes.  Well, about two nights ago, our special response teams, which we have on the ground in New Orleans, self-contained teams that are fully effective and efficient to handle the tactical environment received information from a radio station about an individual shooting in the fourth district in New Orleans.  A part of this team moved into the area and actually visually saw a sniper shooting at a helicopter overhead.  The team moved in and was able to take the perpetrator into custody without incident, and this was the first federal arrest since the hurricane has passed.

ABRAMS:  And I can tell you that person was actually brought to the

jail that I was mentioning a moment ago.  How did you all go about finding

is this someone who had actually shot at helicopters on a previous occasion? 


CHAIT:  We really don‘t have any information whether the individual shot prior.  But we were able to actually have an agent visually see the sniping two nights ago and quick action by the special response team shows us that what we‘re doing on the ground in New Orleans is effective and we‘re going to continue to move in on our patrols and also move on information very quickly to try to suppress any violent crime or individuals with firearms or those that are shooting throughout the city. 

And our mission is not only the safety of those from violent crime, but it‘s also some rescue efforts.  A couple of nights ago, our special response team on a mission coming back saw 10 individuals on rooftops and were able to take them to safety.  So we‘re doing everything we can really to save lives and I think that‘s the mission of ATF in New Orleans.

ABRAMS:  All right.  Mark Chait, special agent in charge, keep up the good work.  Everyone here is counting on people like you.  We appreciate it. 

CHAIT:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  We‘re going to—all right.  So earlier today, as I mentioned, I got an opportunity to se what was a bus station, which is now the only place in town, in this city where alleged criminals are brought and we got a very unique behind-the-scenes look.  Here‘s what we found. 


ABRAMS:  It looks like a bus station. It feels like a bus station.  It is the Greyhound Bus Station in New Orleans.  But for now, there are no buses here.  This has been transformed into a jail for the city.  This is the place where looters, alleged rapists, anyone at this point who is accused of a crime, taken into custody, for example, by the National Guard or by the policemen.  They‘re brought here to be detained and then sent up north, eventually for processing.  But they have had to transform what was a bus station into a temporary jail. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Yes, these are our computers.  This processes (UNINTELLIGIBLE) into the system and we can see if they‘ve got past criminal records.  You know here‘s our telephone (UNINTELLIGIBLE).  This is right here where we fingerprint (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

ABRAMS:  This seems like a very old-fashioned system.  You‘re going back to the basics here, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You got to do what you got to do where you are. 


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  You know but the point is get the criminals off the street and that was not happening because the wonderful police department and FBI and state police would arrest them, but what are they going to do?  Carry them around in their car?  No, so they had to let them go.  And so until we got this built, now we have a place to keep them.

ABRAMS:  So this is the entrance to a cell and this little lock...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s a little lock, but the tact team—look over there.  See that man with that shotgun.  You don‘t need a big lock.  We got—but this is a big lock.  But we have security here all night long lined up here.  And when we transport out, they‘ll be someone on the roof. 

ABRAMS:  I would assume for a man that‘s been working at a high security prison for many years, this is your line of defense wouldn‘t be exactly optimal. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, absolutely not.  I‘d be scared to death if this were in Angola because I wouldn‘t have a guard in front of the door all the time...

ABRAMS:  Right.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... but here I do you see.

ABRAMS:  So this is effectively a holing cell. 


ABRAMS:  How many people can you put in here at once?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I could probably—I have—don‘t have the need to, but I can probably put 50.  This is a pretty cute little jail, isn‘t it?  See the razor wire.  I mean you can‘t get out of here.  You could (UNINTELLIGIBLE) but we‘re going to see you and stop you.

ABRAMS:  So you have people from FBI, National Guard, New Orleans police, Louisiana state police, all bringing people here. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Bureau of prisons, well they don‘t arrest people -

yes, every arresting agency brings people to us and we‘re their jail.  If we did not have this, they couldn‘t arrest anybody.  Where would they put them? 

ABRAMS:  How are you dealing with the fact that a lot of the records have been lost because of the flooding? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well we took them out.  One of them said, I‘m just in here for speeding.  I‘m a speeder.  We‘re sorry.  We don‘t know that.  We wish we could get his records and let him go...

ABRAMS:  So that guy has...


ABRAMS:  So he‘s been sent to a maximum-security prison...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  He‘s been sent to one of our prisons in Louisiana because we don‘t know he‘s a speeder.  And his records are wet.  They‘re underwater.  Three-fourths of them are underwater.  We‘re trying to retrieve them.  Even today, I have three boats in there to try to get out any more we can get out.  Those kind of people don‘t need to be taking up our space.

ABRAMS:  But all the people who were in prisons in New Orleans are now being sent to maximum security...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Well they‘re sent to prison throughout Louisiana.  Some of them are minimum.  Some of them are maximum.  And some of them are other jails...

ABRAMS:  And you got people who were just there...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  We got people we don‘t need...

ABRAMS:  ... probably for a day or two who are now sitting in maximum-security prison. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s right.  And we need to get those records and get them out of there...

ABRAMS:  How—what if you can‘t get them? 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  I‘ve got to get them.  I ain‘t got any choice.  Even if they‘re wet we‘ve got to them.  We decided—we all decided this would make an excellent jail... 

ABRAMS:  What was it about it?  What is it about the Greyhound terminal that would make it a good jail. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  It‘s in the city.  It‘s got this big building.  We thought we could—that‘s our generator from the penitentiary right out back.  It will generate as well as a locomotive.  We knew we could take where those buses dock and we could put that razor wire, we needed that.  We didn‘t have to build a roof, made a perfect jail temporarily. 

And it just was a natural.  It just worked beautifully, quick and fast so when people talk about all the failures, they‘ve got to look at one little positive.  That this one worked and we got a jail quick.  But we partnered with Amtrak.  That‘s why we named it Greyhound South.  Camp Greyhound, that‘s the name of our jail. 


ABRAMS:  It‘s—they‘ve certainly done the best they can, with very little here in New Orleans. 

When we come back, all right so you hear the president, people in Congress saying we need commissions.  We need to figure out exactly what went wrong.  We do, but the question is will these various commissions come up with results that will end up being political?  Talk about that in a moment. 



SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK:  The federal government said it would take the lead in coordinating a response to this catastrophe and for whatever combination of reasons, it just didn‘t work.  I don‘t think the government can investigate itself.  That‘s why I‘ve called on an independent investigation. 


ABRAMS:  Is this really going to become political?  I mean and it‘s not just Hillary Clinton.  We heard the president saying that they are going to lead an investigation.  You hear members of Congress talking about we need an investigation.  We need an investigation. 

The question that I have is, is this going to turn into another situation like the 9/11 commission where you had an independent investigation and yet depending on your political beliefs and depending on who was blamed, that determined how you reacted to it. 

Norah O‘Donnell, chief Washington correspondent for MSNBC joins us.  Norah, that‘s what I‘m afraid of.  I‘m afraid we are going to end up with whatever kind of commission happens, with whoever does the investigation that when we get the result, if it blames the president, the president‘s defenders are going to say (UNINTELLIGIBLE) it‘s a bunch of hooey and if it doesn‘t blame the president, it blames local officials, the people that support them are going to say don‘t believe it.

NORAH O‘DONNELL, MSNBC CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT:  That‘s right.  Washington is pledging and even the president is trying to get to the bottom of what went wrong, but the big news today certainly here in Washington was that Republican leaders up on Capitol Hill announce that they plan to hold a bipartisan, bicameral investigation of what went wrong.  Important, it‘s the Senate and the House are going to investigate.  They don‘t want an independent commission according to the Republicans like some of the Democrats are calling for. 

So when the Republicans made this big announcement today, the Democrats said we weren‘t even consulted about this.  This is not what we want.  We want an independent commission like the 9/11 commission.  So already the Republicans and Democrats have split on just about how this investigation should move forward.

Also on Capitol Hill, there‘s also a lot of finger pointing going on about why it took so long to get aid to many of the people at the New Orleans Convention Center there.  And House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, today went the furthest any Democrat has gone and she said that she had a conversation with the president yesterday, in which she told the president that he should personally fire FEMA Director Michael Brown and that the president said to her—this is according to Nancy Pelosi—that he said, why should I fire her?  What went wrong?  Well Pelosi today charged that the president is obviously in denial. 


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D), CALIFORNIA:  I say that there were two disasters last week.  First, the natural disaster and secondly, the man-made disaster.  The disaster made by mistakes made by FEMA.  I‘ve called for the resignation of the head of FEMA.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency I think should be called the Federal Emergency Mismanagement Agency. 

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  The president‘s in charge of that, not me.  I serve totally at the will of the president of the United States.


O‘DONNELL:  Now, the Democratic leader in the Senate, Harry Reid, also added to what Pelosi said.  He‘s asking whether the president‘s five-week vacation in Crawford may have added to the slow response by FEMA.  Well today for the first time, the Republican National Committee responded to some of the charges being made by the Democrats and the chairman of the RNC, Ken Mehlman, put out a statement saying—quote—“While countless Americans are pulling together to lend a helping hand, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are pointing fingers in a shameless effort to tear us apart.”

So Republicans claiming today that they think Democrats are launching a witch-hunt, so the Republicans have closed ranks.  They say they‘re going to have this commission up on Capitol Hill where Republicans will be in charge of investigating this Republican president—Dan. 

ABRAMS:  This is the advantage, Norah, of not being in Washington, is I can just sort of look at this from New Orleans and say this is unbelievable that the politicizing of this has already begun.  But I understand that there was a little bit of the blame game issue coming up at the White House today as well.

O‘DONNELL:  Well that‘s right.  That‘s what they‘re doing in Washington here.  They‘re asking what went wrong.  They‘re doing some finger pointing and it got pretty hot at the White House briefing today.  Here take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  If you want to continue to engage in finger pointing and blame gaming, that‘s fine.  We‘re going to engage...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  That‘s ridiculous...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No, it‘s not ridiculous. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  I‘m not engaging in any of that.  Don‘t try to accuse me of that.  I‘m asking a direct question and you should answer it.  Does he retain complete confidence in his—

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Exactly is what you‘re engaging in. 

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  Yes or no?  I‘m not engaging in anything.  I‘m asking you a direct question and you should answer it.  Does he retain complete confidence in his...



UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  ... exactly is what you‘re engaging in...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  ... yes or no—I‘m not engaging in anything. 


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  I‘m asking you a question about what the president...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Absolutely.  We appreciate...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  ... a pretty substantial criticism of members of the administration.  OK and you know that and everybody watching knows that...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  No.  No, everybody that watches this knows, David, that you‘re trying to engage in the blame game...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  I am trying to engage...


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  I am trying to engage...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  That‘s correct.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER:  That‘s a dodge.  I have a follow-up question since you dodged that one.


O‘DONNELL:  Dan, you may recognize that voice, of course, questioning White House press secretary Scott McClellan.  That was our own David Gregory, but the White House obviously on the defensive end.  The White House refusing to answer questions today about whether the president still has confidence in the FEMA director, Michael Brown—Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Wow.  Go David.  Norah O‘Donnell, thanks very much. 

Appreciate it. 

O‘DONNELL:  You‘re welcome.

ABRAMS:  When we come back, I was in Biloxi, Mississippi earlier this week.  Ron Blome is there.  Look, this is not just a New Orleans story.  Talk to him in a minute. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hi, my name is Gwen Oliver (ph).  I‘m 33.  I‘m from the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Mississippi area.  I‘m looking for my brother.  His name is Frederick Thornton (ph).  He‘s in Slidell, Louisiana.



ABRAMS:  This is the scene in Biloxi, Mississippi, where I was on Monday.  In terms of pure storm damage, Biloxi may have been hit as hard as any city.  The damage when you are there is devastating. 

Ron Blome is there.  I saw Ron while I was there.  Ron, how are they doing in terms of finding everyone?  Are they continuing with the rescue efforts? 

RON BLOME, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  They are continuing with that.  That‘s the grim news.  They‘re doing what they call the selected sifting of those heavily damaged areas, and they turned up five more bodies yesterday.  So the death count, 148. 

Learning a little more about the storm, Dan.  You remember that street we were on?  We‘re told now that had a 10 to 15-foot storm surge on it as it pushed in from the southeast.  But now we‘re hearing witness descriptions that on top of that storm surge came a 10-foot high rogue wave, one big wave that just slapped through the city and knocked so much more down. 

Now they have some numbers on that.  Twenty percent, about 5,000 buildings and homes in Biloxi were completely leveled by that surge and that wave and the wind.  And there may be another 10 or 15 percent more that will have to be demolished as all of this is assessed.  Big problem at the post office too.  People are waiting for their Social Security checks and other checks to come in.

Eleven of the post offices on the Gulf Coast, two of the sorting facilities on the Gulf Coast damaged or destroyed by the storm.  They‘re trying to put that back together.  You know we‘ve got the Hard Rock Casino behind us, casino and hotel.  It was to open tomorrow and that complex costs $253 million to build.  It will not open tomorrow. 

And 2,000 people gave up jobs in other casino towns in America and in this casino town to come to work for it.  They‘re going to get paid 90 days pay, but their future beyond that is uncertain.  So while they‘re cleaning up here, Dan, and there‘s more troops coming in.  All of the Navy Seabees are here.  It‘s still a very grim situation.  They‘ve still got a lot of work to do. 

ABRAMS:  Hey Ron, real quick.  There was when I was there one hotel, a huge hotel.  I think it was called the Beau Rivage or something like that...


ABRAMS:  ... was entirely intact.  Is there an explanation for why that enormous building, which is right near where so many other buildings were completely leveled, seem to have almost no windows broken? 

BLOME:  Well, the Beau Rivage is just down the beach a little bit and yes, it was built to international building standards, so it was more solidly built.  And it‘s a Steve Wynn casino and everybody knows Steve Wynn doesn‘t cheap out on construction.  But it was built to different standards.

But the casino from the Beau Rivage...


BLOME:  ... did break away and it did go in to shore.  So there was damage.  And just as the Hard Rock, the hotel sustained some damage, a good part of it survived.  But the floating casino idea in Mississippi is going to have to go by the wayside.  Because some of these casinos...


BLOME:  ... are a half a block or to a half-mile inland.  They were just picked up and tossed in. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Well...

BLOME:  Dan.

ABRAMS:  But it does show you how important building to code is and why there is a code.  All right, Ron Blome, thanks very much.  We appreciate it. 

BLOME:  Certainly.

ABRAMS:  We‘re going to take a break.  Be back in a moment.  I‘ll tell you about the ride along we did...


ABRAMS:  More live shots from New Orleans where we continue our coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  Let me tell what you we‘re going to do tomorrow.  There—we took a ride along today with a few members of law enforcement here who are going around trying to loot out looters.  Now it may look like I‘m small in this video.  These guys are big.  They are big. 

They are bad.  They are ready to do justice in New Orleans.  We encountered gunfire.  And we encountered just an old lady who needed some help and these guys were there.  We‘ll show you everything that occurred tomorrow on the show. 

Thanks for watching.  Live from New Orleans, we‘ll be back here tomorrow.  Chris Matthews and “HARDBALL” up next.  See you then.