Guest: Lorrie Beth Slonsky, Larry Bradshaw, Manuel Roig-Franzia, Eddie
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST: FEMA Director Michael Brown resigns. President Bush tours New Orleans. But what went wrong, so wrong that a beloved New Orleans now stands empty of people, deep in muck, dependent on the military, facing an unknown future.
I‘m Chris Matthews from New Orleans. Let‘s play HARDBALL.
Good evening. I‘m Chris Matthews. And welcome to a special edition of HARDBALL from New Orleans.
Tonight, New Orleans is a city under military occupation, the city that President Bush toured this morning is under the protection of American troops, some fresh from front-line duty in Iraq, who are locking down the streets, encouraging the last holdouts to join the two-week-old evacuation.
Late today, the mayor‘s office confirmed there has been another breach in a levee, but says the situation is under control. But the questions linger in this putrid air down here. What went wrong? What made this happen? FEMA Director Michael Brown has resigned, but does anyone listening right now believe that one sub-Cabinet official is alone responsible for the mess we see now here that only the military can manage?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It smells just like Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It smells like parts of Fallujah, I can tell you that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: It smells like Fallujah. But is this in fact a combat operation like we have going in Iraq?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: You‘re like on a patrol here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, that‘s what we are on, sir.
MATTHEWS: Yes, in an urban situation, in an American situation.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We‘re here to protect American lives and property, sir.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My attitude is, is that we need to learn everything we possibly can. We need to make sure that this country is knitted up as well as it can be in order to deal with significant problems and disasters. But, in the meantime, we have got to keep moving forward.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MATTHEWS: How did we get to a situation where an American city is under U.S. military occupation? We want to know those answers.
And even people that want to look ahead and have to look ahead now, those questions remain. Is the team in place right now up to the job of saving this part of the country? And what went wrong in the first place? Tonight, all of our MSNBC prime-time programs will look to answer those important questions.
We begin tonight with HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster.
David, let me ask you about Michael Brown‘s resignation. Certainly, the president and everyone else in the government made it clear they wanted the this guy to take the hit. Is he responsible for the slow response of FEMA, his organization, and the rest of the federal government when this crisis hit the city?
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, over the last week and-a-half or so, the folks in New Orleans have not held him directly responsible for that, but they do hold him responsible for being out of touch.
People here, as you know now, cannot forget the images on that fourth day when people were at the Convention Center, 15,000 people who had gone four days without food and water. And that night on television, Michael Brown didn‘t know anything about it. That is the reason why people here in New Orleans over the last week have said that Michael Brown deserves to be sacked and why people will be glad that he has—Chris.
MATTHEWS: The president toured here today. He‘s been down here, what, three times now. What is he getting done by these tours?
SHUSTER: Well, Chris, this time, the president went to an area called Chalmette, which is a little bit south and east of the city. It is in Saint Bernard‘s Parish, an area where they have had the body count go up to about 80.
This is an area that got very hard hit as far as the storm surge, the wind damage. The president met with first-responders. Again, the theme, at least from the White House perspective, seemed to be that the president is overseeing this. But, again, today, you could walk around New Orleans and find a lot of people simply didn‘t know that the president was in the area, that the task is so monumental, as you know, that a lot of folks say, well, it is fine that the president is concerned and that he is bringing some attention to this. But, as far as people in New Orleans, the firefighters, the police, the National Guard, they‘ve got a job to do.
And they‘re much more concerned with that than whatever political mileage the president is trying to get out of these photo-ops—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Tell me about the fire department story you‘ve developed.
SHUSTER: Yes, Chris.
Over the last couple of days, it has become apparent that there were a lot of problems as far as information getting out and also resources getting in. And after the storm went through and the levees broke, the New Orleans Fire Department put it out to us that they were without fire and rescue trucks because they were in the water or under the water. They didn‘t have any practical communications and they had access only to boats that they could commandeer.
At the very same time, out in California, urban search-and-rescue squads had already begun to mobilize and they were ready to fly to the area. But these very same teams told us that they were told that the FEMA, the federal government, would not pay for their airfare and, instead, these people would have to take a bus. They did, 2,000 miles. It cost them two-and-a-half days.
And, by the time they got here, the New Orleans Fire Department was on its third day without the proper equipment or basic communications, a third day of primitive efforts to help rescue thousands and thousands of people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH TRAINER, NEW ORLEANS FIRE CHIEF: The radios went down shortly after the storm. We tried individual cell phones and sporadically we could get through on the radios. But there was maybe two or three times a day that you had some type of communication with—other the group that we were operating in. But cell phones, even—cell phones were working, but all you could get was a busy signal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SHUSTER: And the irony, Chris, is that these search-and-rescue teams that were on a bus, they had the proper communications equipment that the firefighters here so desperately needed.
And, finally, there are also claims from firefighters in Southern California that, when they got here to New Orleans, they were denied fuel for their fire trucks because FEMA said that, at that point, they had not received, they had not obtained the proper authorization. So, they had to wait with fire trucks for a day before FEMA would decide to go ahead and fuel their trucks. And that is going to be part of an investigation, at least according to these firefighters—Chris.
MATTHEWS: Thank you, David Shuster, for that.
Let‘s right now to go Ron Blome, who is in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Ron, what was the impact of the president‘s trip over there this morning?
RON BLOME, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, the president came in this morning and he said he wanted to try to continue to praise the spirit, the can-do attitude that‘s existing on the Gulf Coast here, where people are putting things back together.
But a little of that was distracted, because Michael Brown resigned while he was touring a faith-based outreach and while he was in an elementary school where Mexican marines are helping U.S. C.B.s, Navy C.B.s, put it back together. So, as the president emerged, he made a statement and then he looked at the national press corps following and he said, do we have to do question and answer again? We did it this morning. And, of course, they were asking the questions about Michael Brown.
And he said, I don‘t want to talk about that. He said, look, I haven‘t heard about Michael Brown‘s resignation. I‘m working. I‘m busy. By working, he meant that he was out thanking people, talking to people about that. And when they persisted, he said, don‘t ask me that question again. But he said, as he did in New Orleans, there will be plenty of time to look at what was done right and what was done wrong.
And we owe it to ourselves to make that investigation, so we do future disasters better. But, clearly, the president wanted to keep the focus today on the fact that his administration is responding, it was his third trip to the Gulf Coast, and that they are trying to get on with the job—
MATTHEWS: OK. So, he was separating himself from the whole, Ron, Brown hiring and firing, whatever, and lack of performance today.
MATTHEWS: OK, thank you very much, Ron Blome.
This hour and all night long here on MSNBC, we‘re focusing on what did go wrong in New Orleans. And the first question is, how seriously did the government take warnings—and they came—that a hurricane in New Orleans be catastrophic?
Here now is “Dateline NBC”‘s Stone Phillips.
STONE PHILLIPS, NBC ANCHOR (voice-over): When Katrina came ashore, Mississippi took a direct hit. And communities all along the Gulf Coast were wiped out. But it seemed New Orleans had been spared the worst. The city was not under water. It looked as if the levees had held.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By late this evening, onlookers were back in the French Quarter. In the words of one, the fact that the damage wasn‘t worse was pure New Orleans luck.
PHILLIPS: But that night, everything changed. The storm surge had reached the levees and flood walls. Hurricane expert Ivor Van Heerden got a frightening phone call.
IVOR VAN HEERDEN, LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY HURRICANE CENTER: At 8:00, the hammer dropped. Somebody came to us at the LSU desk and said, there‘s a nursing home and they‘ve just phoned in. The water was rising half-a-foot an hour at the nursing hour.
PHILLIPS (on camera): When you realized the levees had failed, what did you think?
VAN HEERDEN: My God. It‘s nighttime. The water is going to rise
slowly, quietly. And the next thing, they‘re going to climb out of their
beds and step in water. And the panic is going to go on. So, what did a
lot of them do? They were probably forced up to attics. You know, I just
I had the worst chills.
PHILLIPS: A slow, quiet...
VAN HEERDEN: Filling at night.
PHILLIPS: ... killer.
VAN HEERDEN: Imagine the chill that went through those people.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): The following morning, it became clear the city was rapidly filling with water.
MATT LAUER, NBC ANCHOR: Let‘s get the latest on the aftermath of Katrina. NBC‘s Brian William is in hard-hit New Orleans, with a story, Brian, I think out of the “just when you thought you were out of the woods” department.
BRIAN WILLIAMS, NBC ANCHOR: Matt, this is an absolute disaster. This was dry last night. This was dry just a few hours ago. We all...
PHILLIPS: Not just a couple of feet of water, where Brian Williams was standing, in the historic French Quarter, but up to 20 feet in other areas, submerging entire neighborhoods and threatening the survival of the city.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is one of many rescues that this crew is going to be doing today and probably throughout this week.
PHILLIPS: What has not been widely known until now is that over the years, many local, state, and federal government officials had been warned over and over again about this very scenario.
Walter Maestri, is the director of emergency management in Jefferson parish, just outside the city of New Orleans. He told us he couldn‘t help but remember the meeting he and other Louisiana officials had four years ago with the then director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA.
WALTER MAESTRI, DIRECTOR, JEFFERSON PARISH EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: And
he told us. He said, look, you guys are the number one community in the United States to be adversely affected by a land-falling hurricane.
PHILLIPS (on camera): Number one?
MAESTRI: Number one. And he knew it.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Others say it was known among emergency planners that the system of levees and flood walls built to protect the city might not even do what they were designed to do, protect New Orleans from a Category 3 hurricane.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The levee systems were built to withstand a Category 3 hurricane. And the federal officials had become nervous about the levee system that exists today, because it no longer will withstand a three. And they know that.
PHILLIPS (on camera): Wait a minute. I mean, generally, we have been hearing that this levee system could withstand a Category 3 hurricane. You‘re saying officials knew that it might not?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
PHILLIPS: A three, even a 2 could be a problem?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Even a 2 would be a problem for certain areas.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): That‘s partly because, over the years, New Orleans has sunk even further. And the wetlands that serves as a natural protective buffer has been diminished by commercial development and rising water levels. And what about those aging levees and flood walls?
If they were so deficient, why, you might wonder, didn‘t the federal government do more to improve them? In fact, over the last few years, the Army Corps of Engineers, which repairs and inspects the levees, asked for millions of dollars to improve flood protection. But Congress gave the corps much less than it asked for.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Black Hawk helicopters working feverishly to...
PHILLIPS: Al Naomi (ph) of the Corps of Engineers oversees levee projects near New Orleans. He says it could cost several billion dollars to build levees strong enough to withstand a storm like Katrina. And, he says, there wasn‘t time anyway.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It would have taken a good 20 years of preparation and construction to make the city storm-proof for a Category 5 storm. It would have been too late.
PHILLIPS: So, officials knew that, someday, the levees might fail. And it turns out, they were warned just last year how catastrophic a levee failure would be. In July 2004, FEMA sponsored what amounted to a hurricane war game. It anticipated what could happen if a hypothetical Category 3 storm named Pam hit New Orleans.
LSU hurricane expert helped plan the Pam exercise.
VAN HEERDEN: It showed that there was going to be potentially 300,000 people to be rescued, some pretty serious public health issues, and that we were going to have to find alternative housing for about 800,000 people.
PHILLIPS (on camera): So, a huge and public health and safety crisis on your hands.
VAN HEERDEN: Exactly.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Despite the dire predictions, Van Heerden says some federal officials didn‘t seem to take the drill seriously.
VAN HEERDEN: I definitely felt that some of them thought I was an academic geek and they scoffed at us. There was folks from the Corps of Engineers who were actually kind of laughing at this...
PHILLIPS (on camera): Laughing at—at—at what?
VAN HEERDEN: That this is—it‘s an impossibility. This isn‘t going to happen.
PHILLIPS: Dismissing it.
VAN HEERDEN: That‘s right.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): And he says a representative from FEMA even objected when Van Heerden, who was born in South Africa, recommended buying tents to shelter the hundreds of thousands of evacuees expected in a real hurricane.
VAN HEERDEN: Her response to me was, Americans don‘t live in tents.
PHILLIPS (on camera): This was a FEMA official?
VAN HEERDEN: That‘s right.
PHILLIPS: Americans don‘t live in tents?
VAN HEERDEN: Yes. Obviously, because I have an accent, she thought I didn‘t understand the American way of life. It hurts. I should have grabbed her and shook her by the shoulders and, you know, showed her some video of other refugee situations.
PHILLIPS: Do you think she regrets those words today?
VAN HEERDEN: I will bet she does.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Van Heerden told us he gave this C.D. containing his Hurricane Pam presentation warning of a potential catastrophe to local, state and federal officials from FEMA, the U.S. military and the White House. Emergency Management Director Walter Maestri participated in the same drill.
(on camera): Federal officials have suggested that this storm and all of this, all that‘s happened, just could not have been anticipated. What do you say to that?
MAESTRI: I tell them to read the report that they paid for from the exercise that they financed and managed and tell me that they couldn‘t anticipate, because, Stone, I can tell you right now, everything that has happened is in that report. Every detail is in that report.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): But that Hurricane Pam report was not widely distributed to the public. And few citizens heard about the catastrophic losses it foretold.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mayor Nagin, thank you so much for joining us.
PHILLIPS: Louisiana officials did make an effort to teach citizens what to do if the city ever flooded, appearing in this video obtained by “Dateline.”
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me thank you for watching this important 30-minute film.
PHILLIPS: But these important instructions never got to the citizens of New Orleans. In a cruel irony, the tape was supposed to be released this month.
RAY NAGIN, MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: Anything above a Category 2 hurricane, the possibility, the real possibility of us having significant flooding is real.
PHILLIPS: Had New Orleans residents actually seen it prior to Katrina, they would have heard their mayor, Ray Nagin, say this.
NAGIN: The main thing is, everyone needs to have their own plans. Check with your neighbors. Check with your relatives. Carpool, and make sure that you have a way to go out.
PHILLIPS: But, when the storm hit, thousands of people had no plans and no way out.
MATTHEWS: When we come back, we will get some answers from the police chief of New Orleans about what we just saw.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: What went wrong here in New Orleans? Coming up, I will ask the chief of police—when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to New Orleans.
The city‘s police force has had a heavy burden to bear, obviously, in the wake of Katrina. They worked nonstop for the first 11 days after the storm, despite the fact that 70 percent of the force lost their own homes.
I caught up with the New Orleans police chief, Edwin Compass, today and asked him if the city was secure.
EDDIE COMPASS, SUPERINTENDENT, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT: The streets are very under control.
We have had very few calls for services over the last four days. We have made about 250 arrests. As the city dries out, we are bringing troops in. We are bringing police officers in doing patrols. We are catching a lot of individuals who are committing nefarious acts such as looting and...
COMPASS: ... trying to break into people‘s houses.
You know, we have been very aggressive (INAUDIBLE) going after these individuals. We‘re getting our command posts unified, whereas, if you go up to OEP right now, you would see about 100 people there. Before, it was just like six of us.
COMPASS: So, when you look at how we are coming—you know, I want to thank President Bush and the federal government for what they‘ve been doing so far. I mean, we‘re getting all the support we need right now. And it‘s really looking good.
MATTHEWS: Let‘s talk about coordination. We have been talking to the guys from the 82nd Airborne, talked to people back in Washington, down here. Does the presence of armed military guys intimidate the criminal?
COMPASS: Very much so. You know, the good people welcome a strong presence. The criminal fears a strong presence. And, you know, with my police officers and the 82nd airborne, we are doing a great job of securing this city and getting the criminal element out of here.
MATTHEWS: So, what is going to happen to these guys that make a living in stealing? Are they going to leave town and go somewhere else or what are they going to do?
COMPASS: Well, hopefully...
MATTHEWS: Where are they going to go? Where do you think? When you‘re thinking about the bad guys you have got to deal with, the ones who know what they‘re doing and they‘re planning to steal the good stuff, are there any stores left that haven‘t been hit?
COMPASS: Well, we have a lot have stores that haven‘t been hit, because we—our reactionary plan that we put in place prior to the storm took effect. We had officers continue to be rotated in the areas of the city that was traditionally looted by bad guys.
COMPASS: So, when those guys came, they met an armed resistance by the police department. One of my guys was shot in the head in a gun battle with looters, but he‘s going to be OK.
COMPASS: So, we were—we were prepared. We had a very good plan put in place to—if you go up and down Canal Street, you won‘t see a number of stores broken in. Most of the storms that have damage to the glass is from the storm, not from looting.
MATTHEWS: What were we watching on television two weeks ago, right after the aftermath, with all the looting going on? What was that?
COMPASS: Well, that was in areas of the city where individuals took advantage of a bad situation.
You know, but, for the most part, the looting was kept at a minimal.
COMPASS: Consider the battles we were fighting. Consider the responsibilities we had. Consider conditions we were working under. I think our police department did an excellent job.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about—we‘re looking at a Sacks Fifth Avenue. There would be a prize place to hit.
MATTHEWS: Are those being secured now?
COMPASS: Well, yes, they are. And if you look at Rubenstein‘s, that‘s the number clothing store—one of the number one clothing stores. Their windows are still intact.
MATTHEWS: Yes. So, there‘s a lot still to protect and you‘re doing it.
MATTHEWS: And how long do you think you‘ll need these fellows here in camo?
COMPASS: Well, you really can‘t give a definitive date until the job is done.
MATTHEWS: That‘s New Orleans Police Chief Edwin Compass. We talked to him today.
When we come back tonight, a big shift at FEMA. Will it make a difference?
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Back to New Orleans.
President Bush has named a top FEMA deputy to lead the agency after embattled Director Michael Brown resign today. David Paulison has been the head of FEMA‘s emergency preparedness force and has three decades of experience as a firefighter.
We‘re joined right now by Manuel Roig-Franzia of “The Washington Post,” who is up in Baton Rouge.
Manuel, was this a—this seemed a fairly unenlightened decision, to just promote somebody from below. Was there any talk of bringing in a big shot?
MANUEL ROIG-FRANZIA, “THE WASHINGTON POST”: Well, that on the ground here has not been the primary concern of people who are still trying to figure out whether they can get back into their houses or whether they‘re going to see their loved ones.
But what I can tell you is that in many circles south of the Mason-Dixon Line, Michael Brown was the least popular guy since Abraham Lincoln.
MATTHEWS: Was there a sense that he was in over his head? Did they blame the president for putting him there or blaming him for being who he is?
ROIG-FRANZIA: Well, there certainly was some wash-over on President Bush.
But Michael Brown was a person who was clearly in the crosshairs of the anger that came out of New Orleans. Anyone who walked down by the Convention Center on the days directly after the flooding came and in the Superdome saw what was a chaotic situation. And the first finger of blame from the people on the ground was pointed squarely at Michael Brown. And so, in many respects, it is no surprise that he would be the first one to suffer the fallout.
MATTHEWS: Hey, thank you very much for that report. Thank you very much, Manuel Roig-Franzia of “The Washington Post.”
Our search for answers into what went wrong here in New Orleans continues. We will examine the response by the state and local governments as the disaster unfolded.
You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to this HARDBALL special report.
While there‘s been plenty of complaints out there about how the federal officials handled the Katrina crisis, there have also been complaints about the state and local branches of government.
Here again is “Dateline”‘s Stone Phillips.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Katrina continues to cause more problems with fresh flooding this morning right there in New Orleans.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): Hours after the city started filling with water, the nation watched in astonishment as New Orleans began to drown.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Floodwaters are still rising in New Orleans, following several breaches in the city‘s levee system.
PHILLIPS: People who did not leave or couldn‘t leave were on their own as they struggled to survive.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All of us, very little water, very little food.
What are we supposed to do?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The United States Coast Guard just pulled this man off the roof.
PHILLIPS: There were heroic rescues. But there was little food, no clean water.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That‘s all I have got right here in this (INAUDIBLE)
PHILLIPS: No sanitation. No electricity. No phone service.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Please help us. We‘re dying. Please come help us.
PHILLIPS: The city was rapidly sinking into chaos. Order had broken down. Looters roamed freely, some to survive, some to steal.
Everyone was watching in disbelief as one nightmarish scene played out after another. And soon, everyone was asking, how could it possibly have come to this? How could the most powerful nation on Earth fail so badly in protecting and rescuing its own people?
NAGIN: A mandatory evacuation order is hereby called for all of the Parish of Orleans.
PHILLIPS: Perhaps the first sign that the management of this disaster was about to become a disaster of its own came even before Katrina hit. There was an evacuation plan posted on the city Web site, promising that the city of New Orleans will utilize all available resources to quickly and safely evacuate threatened areas.
But the plan apparently existed only on paper. The city itself said it would take at least 72 hours to get everyone out of New Orleans. But Mayor Ray Nagin did not call for a mandatory evacuation until Sunday, less than 24 hours before Katrina barreled into the coastline. And, once he did, there was a mad scramble to get out of town, bumper-to-bumper traffic reported for up to 180 miles.
It was slow going, but 80 percent of the city‘s residents did get out. Still, just as the city‘s own plan anticipated, up to 100,000 residents were left behind. The city planned to bus as many as possible to a shelter of last resort, the Superdome. But, when the time came, many of them couldn‘t get there.
One picture makes you wonder how much more the city might have done, dozens and dozens of buses underwater. Had they been moved to higher ground, perhaps they could have gotten people out and supplies in. Those who did make it to the Superdome would soon find themselves living in shockingly squalid conditions.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They got babies up here. It‘s unsanitized up here. It is bad up here.
PHILLIPS: The situation might not have spiraled out of control if the state and federal governments had moved more quickly and efficiently.
Jefferson Parish Emergency Director Walter Maestri.
MAESTRI: The state is supposed to be a principal coordinating agency between the locals and the feds. And there was a tremendous breakdown there. It didn‘t happen.
PHILLIPS: The state has also been criticized for not moving enough National Guardsmen in soon enough to evacuate more people who so desperately needed help.
Louisiana‘s Republican Senator David Vitter has been critical of the state‘s Democratic governor, Kathleen Blanco.
SEN. DAVID VITTER ®, LOUISIANA: Now, that was the governor‘s call in terms of the National Guard and getting National Guard troops in. Personally, I think that took too long.
PHILLIPS: But many independent experts say the greatest failures were at the federal level.
JANE BULLOCK, FORMER FEMA SENIOR OFFICIAL: I don‘t believe this disaster is about failed evacuation. I think this disaster is about a failed system and failed leadership at the federal level.
PHILLIPS: Jane Bullock is a former senior official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA. She was a career civil servant, promoted to her senior position by the Clinton administration. She says the miscalculations began before Katrina made landfall and were made not just by the city and state. Though FEMA says it prepared for the storm, Bullock said federal efforts fell short.
BULLOCK: My biggest surprise is the fact that they hadn‘t predeployed more assets, military assets, food, water, supplies, medical, before the hurricane struck, because they knew it was coming. And I think, if they had predeployed those assets, lives would have been saved.
PHILLIPS (on camera): You order an evacuation.
PHILLIPS: But what was mobilized? I mean, were National Guard troops in position? Were helicopters standing by? Were buses ready to take people away?
NAGIN: No, none of that.
PHILLIPS: None of that?
NAGIN: None of that.
PHILLIPS: Why is that?
NAGIN: You know, I don‘t know. That‘s a question for somebody else. All I can do is, I was dealing with as a mayor, how do I prepare my city for an incredibly powerful storm? So, immediately, we tried to get as many people out as possible.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Yesterday, I signed a disaster declaration.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): By declaring a state of emergency in Louisiana and Mississippi two days before the levees failed and flooding began, the president had given FEMA the green light to move in.
BULLOCK: Once the president declares the disaster, FEMA is in charge, working in coordination with state and local governments.
PHILLIPS: The day before the storm hit, FEMA Director Michael Brown, whose lack of experience would later come into question, promised that the federal government would be there to help.
MICHAEL BROWN, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: FEMA is
not going to hesitate that all in this storm. We‘re not going to sit back and make this a bureaucratic process. We‘re going to move fast. We‘re going to move quick and we‘re going to do whatever it takes to help disaster victims.
PHILLIPS: But we know now, federal aid did not come quickly.
Sometimes, it didn‘t come at all.
BULLOCK: Nobody pulled the trigger on the resources. The director of FEMA didn‘t pull the trigger. The Department of Homeland Security didn‘t pull the trigger. The resources simply did not get there.
PHILLIPS: And it wasn‘t always clear whether it was the state or federal government that was to blame. Is it possible state officials bear some of the responsibility because they didn‘t know how to get the help they needed?
(on camera): Governor Blanco‘s office said, we wanted troops and we wanted choppers and we wanted food and water, and FEMA wanted an organizational chart. Did this deteriorate into a turf battle?
NAGIN: Yes, in my opinion, absolutely. Who is responsible? Who has the ultimate call? How do things move quickly? And, at the end of the day, it may be a struggle over money. And I think it is a doggone shame, people suffered. And they didn‘t have to suffer.
PHILLIPS (voice-over): And maybe they did not have to die.
JACK STEPHENS, SAINT BERNARD PARISH SHERIFF: We have seen people die in front of our eyes because they didn‘t have adequate water and medicine. It was like a scene from “Exodus.”
PHILLIPS: Jack Stephens is the sheriff of Saint Bernard Parish, from across the Mississippi from the city of New Orleans.
STEPHENS: No one can blame somebody else for an act of God. But the federal response to this disaster cost people lives. They had delinquency in getting just the fundamental things that it takes to stay alive. Just water and medicine, and just a little bit of food down here cost people their lives.
PHILLIPS: An unintended consequence of the war on terror also slowed the relief effort. Because of new anti-terror safeguards put in place after 9/11, volunteers from other states who wanted to bring help and supplies into the Gulf region say they first had to be cleared into the hurricane zone by FEMA.
DENNIS RANDLE, CARROLL COUNTY SHERIFF: We had to fax off all the officers that was coming down here their names, what they did for the department.
PHILLIPS: Sheriff Dennis Randle from Carroll County, Indiana, says he had men ready to roll south, but they were told to wait.
RANDLE: We had to get our people through our state FEMA. Indiana hadn‘t gotten any requests for help yet. That‘s what we were being told.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just see the desperation.
RANDLE: Watching the news and watching the mayor, it was pretty clear that he needed help.
PHILLIPS: Even this Animal Rescue League worker was forced to get FEMA‘s OK to come in and save stranded pets.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is really frustrating, because we have got the resources. We have got the people. And it is frustrating not to be able to be put to work.
PHILLIPS: And there have been many reports that help was actually turned away by FEMA because the agency had not approved the delivery.
And then there was this story that we found equally hard to fathom. A medical assessment team, capable of treating hundreds of patients a day, was sent by FEMA from Alabama to Mississippi and then on to Texas. Over 11 days, they say they ended up treating one person for a small cut.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We joined the team to help people who need it.
And we are not helping anybody.
MATTHEWS: When we come back, two San Francisco paramedics who were stranded in New Orleans for five days, they saw things in a different light.
HARDBALL will be right back.
MATTHEWS: Coming up, two San Francisco paramedics trapped in New Orleans for five days, what they saw and heard may surprise this—when HARDBALL returns.
MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL.
Lorrie Slonsky and Larry Bradshaw are paramedics from San Francisco, California, who were attending an EMS conference in New Orleans at the time that Hurricane Katrina hit town.
Larry, tell us. You start. You and Lorrie tell us what happened to you as people who were in this area at that time.
LARRY BRADSHAW, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: Hi, Chris.
We were caught up with tens of thousands of people that couldn‘t get out of New Orleans before the hurricane hit. Our flight was canceled. We were unable to reschedule. And we couldn‘t find a rental car anywhere. So, we hunkered down to ride out the hurricane. And we knew it would be bad for the first couple days.
And we thought, after the second or third day, things would start to improve. But each day deteriorated. It got worse, as opposed to improving. By the fourth day, on Thursday, we were really low on water, food. And sanitary conditions were pretty bad in the hotels in the French Quarter. So, the hotels had to close their doors and they told us we would be relocated to the Convention Center.
So, on Thursday morning, about 200 set out from our hotel to the Convention Center. And, en route to the Convention Center, we encountered the National Guard for the first time and later the police. And they told us, we wouldn‘t be allowed into the Superdome, that it had turned into a humanitarian and health cesspool and that the Convention Center was also closed. They didn‘t want any more people going there.
So, our natural reaction was, well, if the two major shelters, we couldn‘t go to the Superdome or the Convention Center, what do we do? And, essentially, we were told that was our problem, that there was nothing they could do.
So, 200 or so of us decided, not having any real option, that we would camp in front of the police command post across from Harrah‘s and just sort of ride it out for a few days to see what would develop. We were told we couldn‘t stay there, but, again, we didn‘t have any other options. We kind of set up camp and tried to stay out of the way as best we could.
And, after about an hour, a gentleman came out and identified himself as a commander from the police command post and said, I have a solution for you. I have some buses for you across the bridge. All you need to do is walk up on Highway 90, cross the bridge, and I have buses waiting to take you away. And a big cheer went up among our crowd and people started to move.
And Lorrie Beth and I were a little bit wary. And we asked the commander two or three different times, are you sure there are buses? There have been so much bad information and wrong information. Are you sure there are buses waiting for us across the bridge? He looked at the crowd of 200 and he told us, I swear to you there are buses there.
So, we were pretty jubilant by then. So, we set out, probably grinning ear to ear, pulling our luggage behind us, heading up to the bridge. It‘s about a two- to three-mile walk. And we had to walk past the Convention Center. And here we are, a group of very determined-looking tourists, who looked like we knew where we were going and people were asking us, where are you going? What‘s going on?
We told them the good news, that there were buses waiting for us. So, people were grabbing their meager belongings and families were joining us and our numbers kept just swelling and getting bigger and bigger.
LORRIE BETH SLONSKY, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: And this is where we had—this group had doubled, like Larry said, like, probably 400, 500, 600 people.
And we were making our way up the on-ramp when it started pouring down rain. And here we are, a group of people just about reaching the crest of the on-ramp when shots were fired, which wasn‘t unusual, because we had been hearing shots and sirens and helicopters all day long. But what was frightening was that they were so close to us.
And when the shots went off, our group just scattered. And we came down to just a—probably a few—a handful of people. And this is the point where Larry had approached the sheriffs, sheriff department. I believe they‘re called deputies there with his badge and his hands up and asked if we could approach. And they still had their guns pointed directly at Larry and me and our group of folks.
And they allowed us to approach. And Larry explained that we were told to come across the bridge, so that we could get on tows to have these buses. And we were turned back. We were told we absolutely could not come on to the bridge, that the deputy had told us, we are not going to have another New Orleans, and we‘re not going to have another Superdome on the other side of the bridge, which is Gretna.
So, pretty discouraged, we did turn around and started to go back down, where we discovered a, what—it‘s an embankment area on—I think it is called the Pontchartrain Expressway. And we—group of about 50, 60 70 people found an area that was protected. It was concrete this way and this way. And we made ourselves inside of it.
MATTHEWS: What happened then, Larry?
BRADSHAW: Right at dusk, as we were sort of settling in, feeling like we could ride this out for three or four days, five days, until enough buses came to transport us all out.
BRADSHAW: All of a sudden, a Gretna sheriff‘s patrol car showed up and an officer jumped out with his shotgun aimed at us, screaming and yelling and cursing at us to get off the F-ing freeway and just—was just unapproachable, just would not let us talk, would not let us say anything, was waving the gun in the face of the families and children, and just—just chased us out of the camp. It is now dark. It‘s martial law.
SLONSKY: Shoot-to-kill policy.
MATTHEWS: Well, was this a race—was this a race thing, Larry and Lorrie Beth? I want to bottom-line this. Was this a racial incident, where there was prejudice against people? Was your group largely African-American or mixed or what?
BRADSHAW: It was predominantly African-American. And the only two explanations we ever got...
MATTHEWS: Was that what this is about?
BRADSHAW: That—well, I saw the Gretna sheriff quoted in “The Independent” on Sunday and he said, we couldn‘t let these people—quote, unquote -- cross the bridge or Gretna would have looked like New Orleans, burned, looted and pillaged. So, I believe it was about race.
MATTHEWS: Lorrie Beth, is that your assessment?
SLONSKY: It is absolutely my assessment. It had to do with a group of predominantly African-American folks and maybe—I can count on one hand how many white people. And he said it clearly himself, the sheriff, in newspaper accounts.
MATTHEWS: OK. Thank you.
SLONSKY: He is not denying that.
MATTHEWS: OK. Well, thank you very much for joining us with this bad story, Larry Bradshaw and Lorrie Beth Slonsky.
Up next, I will show you some of what I found here in New Orleans here in the last couple days and the extent of the damage this city needs to repair. What a story, what damage you won‘t believe.
HARDBALL will be right back.
MATTHEWS: The devastation here in New Orleans is unimaginable until you get here. And you don‘t get a real sense of it until you do and look around.
I arrived here yesterday. And here‘s some of what I saw.
MATTHEWS: There‘s a big part of this story you can‘t pick up on television alone. And when you come here, you get that part of the story.
The smell, first of all. I‘m trying to remember what this smell is. It‘s something to do with sewage, a smell associated with underground sewage and the smell you can imagine. And the other thing you notice is the absolute desolation. We have been driving in here from for 20 miles from the outskirts of the city and there‘s no one here. You drive over a major interstate, like 10, and there‘s no one on the highway.
I guess the best reference is to imagine someone at a viewing when they‘ve died and they seem like they‘re OK because they‘ve been made up by the undertaker, but they‘re dead. They‘re gone.
You know, there‘s a real American reality to this whole hell down here. And because so much of this is familiar looking to us. You know, there‘s a strip in every city, outside every city, a number of them, that have a McDonald‘s. It‘s what we‘re used to. It‘s sort of the way we mark our trail.
You see a McDonald‘s and, at the first sight, you think, well, I‘m home. And then you look and realize, it‘s all rubble around. It‘s dead. It‘s like seeing a cadaver.
That‘s another thing, besides the smell, down here that hits you, is the immensity of the damage and the depth of the water. And you can even see the water level and see that the water level has come down. But a good, interesting way of marking when the disaster struck here, it‘s almost like a clock that broke when the storm hit.
If you come over here to this “USA Today” stand—and there it is, August 26-28. It‘s the weekend edition, the Friday-Saturday-Sunday edition of two weeks ago. And you get a sense of when this all came to—came apart here, this whole way of life here in New Orleans.
Before this hurricane hit here two weeks ago, the biggest story in the country—and it will be again—is the fact that we‘re at war in Iraq. And it‘s pretty powerful to meet young guys serving their country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It smells just like Iraq.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It smells like certain parts of Fallujah. I can tell you that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
MATTHEWS: This must be so strange, to come back to your own country and see it look like a Third World country.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is something...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s not right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The destruction here is amazing. It really is.
MATTHEWS: How do you see your mission? What is it?
MAJ. ROB CAMPBELL, 82ND AIRBORNE: I think we‘re facilitating the effort of the local authorities, really.
They don‘t have to worry about an outer cordon type of security. We can facilitate them having to do their jobs. They are the ones that have to go in and get any kind of a looters, any kind of—anybody breaking the law.
CAMPBELL: That‘s their job.
And we provide the presence, I think, in this area, just with the manpower we bring here, to cover down on all the houses and all the areas that we really need to get out and spread out and check out. I think that‘s what we can bring to the area.
MATTHEWS: There‘s no electricity, certainly no sewage.
There‘s no water running. There‘s no people around. It reminds you probably, if you have seen those movies like “The Morning After”—“The Day After” or “28 Days” about, after a major catastrophe in the world. And so, you‘re not used to that 360-degree-look at a place, where you can look all around and see the same thing that you can only see on your TV set right now.
But imagine in every direction seeing desolation and silence.
Certainly, now it looks like Venice, but a pretty ugly Venice right now. And the interesting thing is that everything is around you. Like, if you look at the ground over here, you can see, you know, the residue of life, you know, everything, everything, shoes, old boots, like this old boot here.
And, you know, it‘s a catastrophe.
MATTHEWS: Join us again tomorrow night for more of this and more of HARDBALL here in New Orleans.
Right now, Keith Olbermann.
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