Guest: John Copenhaver, Richard Wolffe, D. James Baker
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: New Orleans, Louisiana, day 14, 10 days since the president said this about FEMA director Michael Brown.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And Brownie, you‘re doing a heck of a job.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Yes, just not this one anymore. The embattled head of federal emergency efforts, already removed from supervision of the Katrina aftermath, today resigns his position.
And at first, the president says he doesn‘t know anything about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: No, I have not talked to Michael Brown or Mike Chertoff.
That‘s who I‘d talk to. As you know, I‘ve been working.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: The work today, a tour of New Orleans and Biloxi.
And there is good news tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, it‘s Mama!
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: An unlikely reunion.
And you don‘t have to worry about the 200 alligators let loose by the storm in Mississippi. The most, their owner says, that they will want from you is some food. A handout.
All that and more now on COUNTDOWN.
A lot of the millions of Americans directly or indirectly touched by Hurricane Katrina probably had the identical thought when FEMA director Michael Brown, Mr. Bush‘s Brownie, resigned his post this afternoon—namely, that he was no doubt already updating his padded resume as we speak.
But in our fifth story on the COUNTDOWN, if Brown‘s resignation was supposed to end the political controversy over FEMA and its response to Hurricane Katrina, it probably won‘t.
The man almost immediately appointed to succeed Brown, David Paulison, is the same FEMA official who, two and a half years ago, suggested that Americans stock up on duct tape to protect against a biological or chemical terrorist attack.
Paulison, then the government‘s the fire administrator, joined with the then (INAUDIBLE) of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, on that February 10 of 2003, to say that duct tape and plastic sheeting should be part of any home‘s survival kit in preparation for a terrorist attack, setting off a run on duct tape at stores and setting off widespread criticism of the administration.
And in light of the response to Katrina, another comment the new FEMA boss made at the time rings especially loudly, Paulison then saying that in the first 48 to 72 hours of an emergency, many Americans would likely have to look after themselves.
As to the exit of Mr. Brown, even it was not unattended by confusion. Brown announced his resignation this afternoon saying, quote, “As I told the president, it is important that I leave now.”
But the president, when first asked about it, said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: I have not talked to Michael Brown or Mike Chertoff. That‘s who I‘d talk to. As you know, I‘ve been working. And when I get on Air Force One, I will call back to Washington. But I‘ve been on the move.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our understanding is that he has resigned (INAUDIBLE)...
BUSH: I haven‘t, I haven‘t...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Would that be appropriate (INAUDIBLE)?
BUSH: I haven‘t talked to Mike Chertoff yet. And that‘s what I intend to do when I get on the plane. I, you know, I—you probably—maybe you know something I don‘t know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: Actually, according to his press secretary, he did already know about the resignation. He just did not know that it had already been made public.
Apparently, it‘s unclear if he ever actually spoke to Michael Brown or saw a resignation letter, or whether he was told about it by the Homeland Security secretary, Mr. Chertoff. Regardless, just 90 minutes later, the president had already decided on Brown‘s replacement, David Paulison.
To be fair, he is a lifetime first responder, past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. He is also Duct Tape Man.
More on him and the FEMA shakeup in a moment.
First, the death toll in Louisiana officially rising to 279 with the discovery of the bodies of 45 patients inside the Memorial Medical Hospital. It had been abandoned a week ago as floodwaters continued to rise.
Tonight, the waters are finally receding, in some places by about a foot a day. The estimate now is that half the city is still underwater. Military planes have started spraying the area with mosquito repellent to head off any outbreaks of disease. And authorities are beginning to let business owners back in to see the damage.
The president toured the city this morning in an open-topped Army truck, flanked by Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, while the man who took over command of hurricane relief from Michael Brown last week, Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen, helped move low-lying wires out of the way.
We will go live to David Shuster in New Orleans, and then Ron Blome in Biloxi for the news of the day‘s restoration efforts and perspective on the president‘s visit, in a few moments.
First, two guests on the change at FEMA, the resignation of Mr. Brown. John Copenhaver spent nearly four years as the regional director of FEMA in charge of Alabama, Mississippi, and other parts of the South. He‘s now president and CEO of DRI International, a nonprofit firm which educates and trains businesses in emergency preparedness.
Mr. Copenhaver, thank you for your time tonight.
JOHN COPENHAVER, FORMER FEMA OFFICIAL: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: Will Michael Brown‘s resignation change anything in the response to this crisis, or about FEMA as an institution?
COPENHAVER: I don‘t think it‘ll really change that much in terms of how FEMA is responding. I think that the changes that needed to be made have likely already been made, in terms of direction of the response effort. I think what it will change, though, is the ability of the agency to focus, to make certain that it is focused with absolute precision on getting the help to the people that need it.
OLBERMANN: Do you know his replacement, Mr. Paulison? This whole duct tape story from Homeland Security two and a half years ago might have been the first time that large numbers of people in this country wondered if the government would really be of any help in a time of crisis. If putting the man associated with the duct tape announcement in charge of FEMA the right move right now?
COPENHAVER: Well, Keith, as you pointed out, Chief Paulison is a
lifetime first responder. He has been on the front lines for a
considerable amount of time and has been involved in everything including
Hurricane Andrew response. So he does have some qualification for the
But at this point in time, I‘d have to say that I would be interested in learning more about the thinking that went into the announcement coming so quickly.
OLBERMANN: To a layman, it looks like, in retrospect, folding FEMA into Homeland Security managed to put us into both the frying pan and the fire simultaneously. We have not or did not or can‘t handle disasters because maybe we prioritize only terrorism. But our reaction to this disaster would certainly have to make people doubt that we can handle terrorism too. Do you see it in that light?
COPENHAVER: I think that that‘s a pretty serious question that the American public‘s asking right now. I think that by putting FEMA under the Department of Homeland Security, we diluted some of its focus on preparedness. Clearly, in the event of an act of terrorism, you have to be able to be prepared to be respond—to be responsive. And I‘m not so sure that our preparedness capabilities haven‘t suffered because of our focus on prevention.
OLBERMANN: What can we do to fix this as quickly as possible? There are still more than 11 weeks left in the current hurricane season. If there‘s nothing this year, and there‘s nothing next year, we can count on their being something in 2007, almost statistically. Is there anything that can be done to improve FEMA‘s role in this in the short term?
COPENHAVER: It‘s going to be difficult in the short term. I think that right now, the men and women of FEMA need to be able to focus on the remainder of this hurricane season, on assisting the victim of Katrina, and just getting through next 11 weeks.
After that, I‘m hopeful that some things can be done to perhaps pull FEMA out of the Department of Homeland Security and begin the process of rebuilding the capabilities of the agency. But it‘s not going to be a short-term fix.
OLBERMANN: We can make all the jokes about short-term fixes and duct tape, but I‘ll skip them just for the moment. John Copenhaver, former FEMA regional director, now running his own emergency preparedness training company, DRI International, great thanks for your time tonight, sir.
COPENHAVER: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The president‘s role in the unsatisfactory—his word—response to the hurricane and its effects has been characterized in many different ways and with many different degrees of hostility or criticism, or both.
It will certainly be reevaluated in the light of handing FEMA over to the man behind the duct tape plan, plus the resignation of Michael Brown, which reminds one of the observation of the coroner in the movie “Chinatown.” In the middle of a drought, he says, and the water commissioner drowns.
But the title of the piece in the new issue of “Newsweek” certainly confirms that the gloves are off. The we‘re-at-war-give-him-the-benefit-of-the-doubt mentality is fully gone, that the post-9/11 approach of trust the government, even if only just a little bit, belongs completely, irrevocably to our history.
“How Bush Blew It,” written by Evan Thomas and 19 of his colleagues, the magazine piece gives a virtual play-by-play of what did and didn‘t happen in the traveling White House during the fateful five days that began two weeks ago.
One of the “Newsweek” 20 is its senior White House correspondent, Richard Wolffe, who joins us now.
Thank you for your time tonight, sir.
RICHARD WOLFFE, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, “NEWSWEEK” MAGAZINE:
Keith, good to be with you again.
OLBERMANN: Before getting to this morning‘s piece, the politics of the FEMA switch today. The first confusion over who knew what when, and when it was supposed to be announced, when Mr. Brown quit today, plus the promotion of the man who developed the duct tape plan of 2003, this just seem to be one political landmine after another for the administration.
WOLFFE: Well, you know, it‘s unfortunate that there was this apparent confusion about what the president knew and what he thought we knew. But as a reminder of the sort of bubble atmosphere that he had in the week of the hurricane, again, it‘s—you know, if you‘re going to push someone overboard, you should do it smoothly.
And I think this has been a faltering, halting sort of way of reforming FEMA right now.
OLBERMANN: And in terms of Mr. Paulison, obviously the idea that this is a man with experience as the fire chief of Miami-Dade County in Florida, which is a huge area that has many issues that are of varied origin and varied nature, those are all good things. But again, the—no pun intended, the duct tape business is going to stick to him.
Is this something—just guessing here, did the White House remember that this was the man who was associated with the duct tape stuff?
WOLFFE: Well, yes, I don‘t know. But one thing is for sure, they don‘t think the duct tape episode was their finest hour. And look, the—it‘s been an open secret in Washington that homeland security has been a mess. Its creation has been painful. And in fact, Chertoff, when he took over the whole department earlier this year, basically admitted as much, and said he was going to overhaul the whole thing again.
So a duct tape response to terrorism, Katrina, it has been a very, very difficult birth, and, you know, this is obviously a time when people expect things to run smoothly, not run in the way they have.
OLBERMANN: To that point, to the article, “How Bush Blew It,” there‘s so much new in there that it‘s like trying to ask questions about imagery in a Fellini film.
But let me start with the thing that stuck with me. Thursday, September 1, more than two days after everybody knew the levees had broken, and the White House adviser, Dan Bartlett, had to burn a DVD of news broadcasts to show the president, in hopes of making him realize this was a lot worse than he thought it was. Extraordinary.
WOLFFE: Yes. And, you know, one of the things we tried to capture in this piece is what the military calls situational awareness. How come the president of the United States, with all the resources, all the information at his fingertips, could have less situational awareness, less knowledge of what‘s going on the ground, than the average TV viewer?
That‘s obviously something that is mystifying, perplexing, and deeply troubling. And in fact, he really only saw those news broadcasts on the morning, on Friday, as he flew down to the Gulf region.
OLBERMANN: Jumping back in time, 8:00 Monday night, August 29, that‘s two weeks ago right now, the magazine has Governor Blanco of Louisiana finally reaching the president by phone that night and saying, We need your help, we need everything you‘ve got.
But in the sort of postmortem of this, it‘s because she didn‘t specifically also say, We need the 82nd Airborne, that the president and those around him did not think to send the 82nd Airborne or any other particular response?
WOLFFE: Yes, you know, this is like ships passing in the night. And especially on that Monday, you know, anyone reading “The Times Picayune” Web site could have seen that the levees had broken, not just overtopped, but they had (INAUDIBLE) breaches there, at 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon.
But according to Governor Blanco, she didn‘t know about the levee breach when she spoke to the president. So also the president didn‘t know. And then, she says, Well, I expected him to move stuff. And the president, for his part, thought that things were already moving.
There‘s this huge disconnect here between the leaders, the governor and the president, in terms of what they thought was happening and what was really happening on the ground.
And, you know, one of the remarkable things, again, is that they took
they spoke Monday evening. They didn‘t even speak again for two days, until Wednesday. So the Tuesday was a lost day as well.
OLBERMANN: And all of this, and so many other examples, as I said, we don‘t have time go through nearly a small percentage of them, but all of this, according to the piece that you and your 19 colleague put together, owed to, as the headline—subheadline read, “A Failure of Imagination.” Was that committed by the people around the president, Mr. Bush himself, who? Justify that headline, “How Bush Blew It.”
WOLFFE: Yes, no, I think it‘s a collective failure here. You can say Monday, you know, the governor should have known. She should have spoken to President Bush and said, We‘ve got a very serious situation, whatever. But Tuesday morning, everybody knew the city was flooded. New Orleans was going to fill up like the bowl, as everybody knew. That meant at least 30,000, maybe 100,000 people will be stranded.
And the president‘s decision on that day was to shorten his vacation and to return to Washington, not that day, but the following day. You know, there was no sense of urgency there. There wasn‘t the imagination that would have led him to think, Well, New Orleans is going to be lost. There‘s going to be a crisis. Law and order would fail.
Now, maybe it‘s hindsight that allows us this perfect vision. But we expect a lot from the president of the United States. We expect a lot from the United States government, and the military, and the resources they have.
And in a situation as dire as this, it‘s hard not to have the highest standards and ask those difficult questions.
OLBERMANN: And now, as we move on, maybe we‘re going to wind up repairing New Orleans with duct tape. Richard Wolffe, senior White House correspondent and one of the authors of the, as they say, must-read in “Newsweek” this week, thank you for your time, sir.
WOLFFE: Any time.
OLBERMANN: The politics of Katrina overshadowing the headlines on the ground along the Gulf Coast today. Live reports still ahead on the progress and the problems still.
And MSNBC‘s continuing examination of what went wrong. Why did so many warnings about New Orleans over so many years go so unheeded?
You are watching COUNTDOWN on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: They saw something in New Orleans today that they have not seen in two weeks. They are still waiting to see something in Biloxi that they have not seen in these two weeks.
Our fourth story on the COUNTDOWN, the reports from the ground.
Biloxi, where there is still no FEMA center, in a moment.
First, New Orleans, where there was some traffic today. Business owners went back into parts of the city, mostly to retrieve necessities, with which they can run their operations remotely.
Our correspondent in New Orleans is David Shuster. Good evening, David.
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening.
OLBERMANN: The phrase nobody wants to hear popping up again this evening, the mayor‘s office confirming that there is a new small breach in a levee. What do we know about that?
SHUSTER: Keith, we know that they were trying to pump water through one of the canals to get it out of the city. Apparently they pumped more water than the canal could hold, and that caused some of the water to start going over the side. So what they had to do to simply shut it down, as they turned off the pipes, pumping the water into the canal, open some of the floodgates at the other end of the canal to lower the water, and they solved the problem.
But it was just one of those things that they hadn‘t foreseen.
OLBERMANN: So this is not a major issue.
SHUSTER: No, not a major issue. They‘ve got it under control. They just didn‘t correctly estimate how much water they could pump through that canal.
OLBERMANN: Big picture, the word, the man in charge of the federal relief efforts, Vice Admiral Allen, used was, about the area, was hope. But as we discussed last night, sometimes hope can consist of cleanup workers cleaning up the area that they themselves made a mess in.
Have things in general improved today in New Orleans?
SHUSTER: Well, they‘re improving, I would suggest. And that is, they
now on the radio, Keith, you can hear them advertising the telephone number for businesses that want to get a certain certificate so that they can come in, do some inventory, take a look at what they may be able to salvage.
The idea, clearly, now, is that they want the downtown to be revitalized. They want people to at least have a good look at the downtown, see that it‘s getting cleaned up, so that even if people cannot move back into the city for some time, at least businesses might be able to make some plans to setting up shop again here in downtown.
And that‘s why, for example, they‘re cleaning off the area near where the forward base is for some of these police forces and National Guard. It‘s also why the hotels, in a sense, are getting a run-through, by housing some of the out-of-town firefighters and police.
OLBERMANN: The death toll issue, David, there seems no doubt that the count is going to be, mercifully, a lot less than Mayor Nagin‘s high-end prediction of 10,000. But the 45 bodies that were found at one supposedly evacuated hospital, do we know anything else about those people and how they died there and happened to be left there?
SHUSTER: Well, Keith, there‘s every indication that these were people who were on critical life support to begin with when the Memorial Hospital lost power. So these were the people that doctors and nurses at the hospital feared would suffer the most, and they did.
It was unclear to many of them how many would survive, how many would die. The 45 figure was perhaps a little high, if you talk to some of the doctors, but nonetheless, they expected this. They thought that a hospital without power, and, again, it hasn‘t had power since the storm, that there were some people who were simply not going to survive without ventilators, without the proper equipment.
There‘s one other death toll figure, Keith, that we‘re starting to hear a little bit about. The fire chief who we spoke to today in New Orleans said that there may be dozens and dozens of people who are never part of that official count who are simply never found, especially the people who live in the New Orleans area but outside of the levee system.
The fire chief said he could cite a dozen examples of people who were outside of the levee system, their homes, their property simply got swept away. And those people will never be heard from again. So he said the official figure that you get, whenever you get it, he thinks, is going to undercount the total number of people that were lost.
OLBERMANN: It—as it was true in the Johnstown flood in 1889, it will be true for this in 2005. Extraordinary. David Shuster in New Orleans for us this evening. Many thanks, sir.
SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: The news is not all bleak in Biloxi. Power has been restored to homes and businesses left standing in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The problem, however, there, simply there are not many of those left standing.
Ron Blome continues to report for us from the Mississippi city. Good evening, Ron.
RON BLOME, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Keith.
I ran into a Mississippi power executive over covering the president today, and he said, We‘re really happy we got it back, but we‘re not happy that there are 25,000 structures in their service area alone on the coast that they can‘t hook up to or restore because that so much destroyed on the streets.
You know, we‘ve been talking about FEMA and the response, and let‘s differentiate it into two categories here. The urban search and rescue FEMA units, they came in, they did an outstanding job, got a lot of local applause.
The FEMA aftermath recovery people are getting mixed grades. I was speaking with one of the mayors here on the coast this evening and said—heard her talk a lot about frustrations, can‘t get trailers, can‘t get housing. You got 700 people who are still living with neighbors in tents. I said, Well, sum it up. She said, As far as FEMA is concerned, it‘s too little, too late, too vague.
Your producer was talking to me about the “Washington Post” story today that talked about the east end of Biloxi. There are no FEMA centers here. There are some in neighboring communities. They‘re close by, if you got a car. These people down here have destroyed cars in their yards. They can‘t get there.
So I drove in there tonight, spent an hour, went to some churches. And what I found is, they‘re surviving by the grace of God, literally. It is church groups that are keeping those people alive. They have the two Vietnamese churches, they have a lot of donations. They came from Vietnamese churches in California and in the Houston area.
And along the streets, I met families who were standing on the street waiting for the Salvation Army van to drive by so they could get their hot meals.
There is no power. They are living in these houses, many of them tilted and falling down to the side, with their children. They still reek of floodwaters. The yards are filled with debris.
And several of these people said, We called FEMA. We registered by phone, by cell phone, or through a neighbor‘s phone, right after the storm. We knew we had to get in first to get in the front of the line.
They have still not seen a FEMA adjuster or field survey person down there.
OLBERMANN: Nice to see the faith-based initiatives working, at least. But regarding contacting and calling FEMA, are the cities, are the mayors getting anywhere with this? Are any of these relocation facilities, or the long-term FEMA influence, going to be felt? Does FEMA know that it‘s not there?
BLOME: Well, you know, there are some very hard-working FEMA people. And we meet them at the daily EOC briefings. And they‘ve got a lot of good things to say. They‘ve done a wonderful job with the distribution, as we said, the search and rescue.
But FEMA has so much bureaucracy here. If you‘re going to set up these mobile home cities or travel trailer cities, you got to meet these engineering standards. They have to be X number of feet off the ground. They have ball fields, they have soccer fields. You could start trailers in now.
But could you put them in to the FEMA bureaucratic standards? The answer, apparently, is no.
OLBERMANN: And I‘ll join you with that distinction between the bureaucracy as opposed to the field workers. The field workers deserve nothing but our applause. The bureaucracy might deserve something else.
Ron Blome at Biloxi, Mississippi, as usual, great reporting, great thanks.
OLBERMANN: When the whole story is written here, historians will be hard-pressed to explain how all the warnings, for days, for months, for decades, had been ignored, especially as it relates to New Orleans. Even more jaw-dropping details of how much we really did know in advance. That‘s next.
This is COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: MSNBC continues its comprehensive look at what went wrong in the response to Hurricane Katrina.
The predictions were out there for years. Hundreds of thousands of residents would be in dire straits if New Orleans got a direct hurricane hit. Who‘s responsible for ignoring those warnings?
Hundreds of kids are reported missing in the post-Katrina chaos.
Tonight, a happy ending for one family torn apart.
And later, the John Roberts confirmation hearings. They wanted a process to select—confirm, rather, the next chief justice of the United States.
All of it ahead here on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Two weeks now since Hurricane Katrina began to erase much of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, to say nothing of erasing the Johnstown flood and the destruction of Galveston as this nation‘s worst waterborne disasters.
And just when you think you‘ve heard the whole story, it proves there are big and small tales to give you goose bumps still to be told.
Our third story on the COUNTDOWN, the small one first, from Moss Point, Mississippi, the news from owner Alan Adams (ph) that his Gulf Coast gator ranch and tourist farm there was almost totally destroyed; 200 alligators escaped into a nearby swamp. They are not considered threats to people, but, because they were fed by people, Mr. Adams worries that the gators may approach humans for handouts, he says. He adds, only one of his animals rode out the storm.
And that‘s the point of mentioning all this first, because it will give you the creeps. Still left in the gift shop after the hurricane passed through was a 9-foot-long boa constrictor named Katrina.
And the big chiller, the unheeded warnings from the message sent urgently early in the morning of Sunday August 28 by a forecaster with the National Weather Service in New Orleans, Robert Ricks: “Devastating damage expected. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks, perhaps longer. At least half of well-constructed homes will have roof and wall failure. Power outages will last for weeks. Water shortages will make human suffering incredible by modern standards.”
That warning far from the only indication that the big one bearing down on the Big Easy could prove to be disastrous. Even before Katrina was lurking in the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 5 storm, Louisiana officials did make an effort to teach citizens what to do if the city ever flooded. The important instructions in a 30-minute emergency video never made it to the people of New Orleans, because, in a cruel irony, the tape was supposed to be released later this month.
And, in July of 2004, FEMA sponsoring what amounted to a hurricane war game, anticipating what could happen in only a hypothetical Category 3 storm named Pam were to hit New Orleans directly. The estimated death toll in that exercise was 61,290 people, six times the worst estimate for Katrina.
Time now to bring in someone who was well aware of the risks, uniquely qualified to speak to what went wrong, D. James Baker, former undersecretary of NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, now president and CEO of the Academy of Natural Sciences.
Mr. Baker, thank you for your time tonight.
D. JAMES BAKER, FORMER NOAA OFFICIAL: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: You have stated in the past that the U.S. needed to be prepared for a massive hurricane to strike the city of New Orleans. And you were certainly not alone in saying something like that. But why is it, do you think, that your warning and the others were not heeded?
BAKER: I think it is a question of simply underfunding for FEMA.
One of the problems has been, over the years, that we just haven‘t taken seriously the possibility of such a major disaster. And the smaller ones have been handled. For example, last year, we had four hurricanes crossing over Florida. Most of those were handled pretty well. But, here, we had dual disasters.
You got a big storm surge hitting southern Mississippi and the breaking of the levees in New Orleans, simply overwhelmed the system.
OLBERMANN: How important is the role of practice, familiarity, if you will, in reacting on to a storm like this? There was Hurricane Andrew in 1992. And then there was not another hurricane of that magnitude until two weeks ago.
BAKER: I think there‘s no underestimating the importance of trying to simulate what happens here.
We do this a lot in wartime. We try to do defense war games. We need to do that for natural disasters. It‘s something that is absolutely critical. But, once again, we don‘t have the funding. FEMA has been traditionally underfunded to do what-if studies, which is the thing they really need to have happen.
OLBERMANN: Are we talking about a basic mind-set that—again, I‘m going to make my third reference, arcane reference in many people‘s minds, to the Johnstown flood of 1889, which was a—for those who don‘t know the details, was an artificial lake up in a mountain over the city of Johnstown, Pennsylvania.
And it was there for the hunting and fishing club. It was just an earthen damp that they gradually allowed to deteriorate over the years. But, basically, nobody anticipated that the wall would one day break after bad weather, the dam would collapse and that this water would come rushing down into the city at a high rate of speed, primarily because it had never happened before.
Is that what we‘re dealing with in New Orleans? It‘s just that it hadn‘t happened really before, so it would never happen?
BAKER: That‘s exactly what‘s happening here.
It doesn‘t happen often enough for us to really think about it. We‘re pretty used to getting winter storms or summer heat waves, and we know how to respond to that. But these big natural disasters, in the trade, we call them natural hazards that turn into natural disasters. We‘re just not used to dealing with it.
And now, with this disaster, with the problem we have with terrorism, it‘s a teachable moment, I think, for public officials, where we can learn to really start to deal with these problems.
OLBERMANN: Is it fair to focus primarily on the federal response at the—at exclusion of the local and state levels? I mean, we made so much today about Mr. Brown resigning from FEMA and the man who came one with the duct tape concept, Mr. Paulison, being named to replace him. Is that really the focus of this or is it more widespread than just the national response?
BAKER: I think this has to be a federal response.
The states really don‘t have the resources to deal with anything more than the natural fluctuations in climate and weather. When we have a big natural disaster, it happens in one state. It happens in another state. This is a truly federal responsibility and we have got to have the funding.
But Congress and administration after administration has not really provided the kind of support that the emergency management agencies need.
OLBERMANN: D. James Baker, the former undersecretary of NOAA. Those forecasts and what we did not do with them will be, unfortunately, stitched into the history written about these times.
Thank you for joining us, sir.
BAKER: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: A lack of pre-storm planning does not appear to be a problem with what other—the other would-be hurricane still on the horizon here, Ophelia, downgraded to a tropical storm this morning. But Ophelia could easily restrengthen into a Category 1 hurricane before it makes landfall. When that might be, still a ways off, Ophelia moving at the snail‘s pace of three miles per hour.
It is still about 160 miles away from Charleston, South Carolina. Officials getting the warnings out and often. North Carolina Governor Mike Easley saying today that residents will have to deal with tropical winds for up to three days, enough rain to flood the Carolina‘s many low-lying areas and a storm surge of up to six feet.
Also tonight, the one storm is enough for one family, a remarkable connection between 9/11 and the devastation of Hurricane Katrina.
And with the opposition seemingly fired up over the Katrina controversy, a little more fireworks than expected on the first perfunctory day of the John Roberts confirmation hearings. That‘s ahead.
But, first, time for COUNTDOWN‘s list of todays‘ three Katrina-related nominees for the title of worst person in the world.
At the bronze level, Julia Bozburg (ph) of New Orleans. When the—
With “The New York Times” accompanying her, she and her boyfriend donned medical scrubs, so they could get past military checkpoints to get back home to the house in the Lakeview neighborhood of New Orleans. She is a drug company sales rep, so there were antibiotics samples in her house, which she says she has taken and will donate to a hospital. But the first thing she retrieved was her mink coat.
That‘s fine. Just don‘t have “The New York Times” come and photograph you doing it.
Also nominated, Congressman Richard Baker of New Orleans, quoting by “The Wall Street Journal” as having told lobbyists: “We finally cleaned up public housing in New Orleans. We couldn‘t do it, but God did.” He says that he recalls the remark as: “We have been trying for decades to clean up New Orleans public housing, to provide decent housing for residents. And now it looks like God is finally making us do it.” Uh-huh.
But the winner, the generic drug version of Rush Limbaugh, radio host Glenn Beck, who, on his talk show Friday, announced that, of all the survivors in New Orleans—quote—“The only ones we‘re seeing on television are the scumbags. It is exactly like the 9/11 victims‘ families. There‘s about 10 of them that are spoiling it for everybody”—unquote.
Yes, you just hate when it people spoil a good terrorist attack or a natural disaster. Idiot. Glenn Beck, today‘s worst person in the world.
OLBERMANN: It seems at once unbelievable and inevitable. The ripples of 9/11 are still being felt freshly. Just last Thursday, the slim remains of another New York City firefighter, Jerald Baptist (ph), were buried after a funeral at St. Patrick‘s Cathedral.
So, as Monica Novotny reports in our number two story on the COUNTDOWN, why shouldn‘t the stories of the terrorist attacks and the devastation of our Gulf Coast converge?
Good evening, Monica.
MONICA NOVOTNY, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Keith, good evening.
It would be comforting to think that those directly impacted by September 11 would be somehow immune to additional misfortune. And yet, as we learn now in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, for one family, at least, that is simply not the case.
CHRISTOPHER SAUCEDO, HURRICANE VICTIM: We‘re a family that has had a September 11 tragedy and we are a family that‘s been displaced by this hurricane and ensuing flood.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): At the interception of two national tragedies, one family faces an uncertain future. For Christopher Saucedo, his wife and two children, the losses already immeasurable.
SAUCEDO: My baby brother, Gregory, was a firefighter at Ladder 5 in Manhattan and he responded to the very first alarm with all the men from Ladder 5. And none of them came home.
NOVOTNY: Thirty-one-year-old Gregory Saucedo was last seen making his way up the north tower. His body was never found. Now, four years hear, forced out of their New Orleans home by Hurricane Katrina, the Saucedos return to New York to honor Gregory‘s memory a little earlier than usual. And they‘ll be staying a lot longer, Michael (ph) and Felicia (ph) already enrolled in a nearby school.
SAUCEDO: Ready to roll?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
NOVOTNY (on camera): What do you know about your house back in New Orleans right now?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is under 10 feet of water.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): Saucedo, a professor of sculpture at the University of New Orleans, packed up his family the day before Katrina hit for what they thought would be a quick trip to Houston while the storm passed over. When they realized returning was not an option, they drove their pickup 1,800 miles to the family home in Brooklyn, where they‘ve spent the last two weeks rebuilding.
(on camera): What has been the most challenging for you?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My friends are not here.
NOVOTNY (voice-over): And remembering.
SAUCEDO: This is kind of a little trophy case, a shrine to some things from my brother Gregory‘s firefighting career.
NOVOTNY: While his children started at their new schools last week, Christopher traveled to Washington to receive the Medal of Valor in his brother‘s honor.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We lost brave rescue workers who gave their lives so that others could live.
NOVOTNY: Returning in time to be with his family on the 11th.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gregory Thomas Saucedo.
NOVOTNY: And while their home remains underwater and their future unclear, in the midst of crisis, there comes, if nothing else, perspective.
SAUCEDO: My problems in New Orleans are minor. Greg is dead, and that‘s tragic. My house is under water, and that‘s a major inconvenience.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don‘t like to think about poor old me kind of stuff. So, I really focus on the fact that we‘re lucky. There are people who are way more worse off than we are, who are still there and got stuck there. So, I think we‘re lucky.
NOVOTNY: The family plans to stay in the New York area at least through end of the school year. Christopher, however, will return to New Orleans as soon as possible, he says, to salvage what he can and hopefully to begin the rebuilding of their home and their lives.
OLBERMANN: We saw yesterday the firefighters from New York being greeted by President Bush in New Orleans.
OLBERMANN: That context, that interaction has already—between the two tragedies has already been established.
Is there anything between the Saucedos and these New York firefighters in New Orleans?
NOVOTNY: Yes. Actually, Christopher was saying that he was able to get word to some of them, some of his brother‘s colleagues, actually, who are down there. And he‘s given them his—their—his former address, the home that is now under water. And they have said, as soon as we get some time, we are going to head down there and we will give you an update and do what we can to help. So...
OLBERMANN: Extraordinary, the intersections of these stories.
COUNTDOWN‘s Monica Novotny, great thanks.
OLBERMANN: There‘s another bit of Katrina convergence, if you‘ll permit that phrase. Whether they will follow rhetoric with actual opposition remains to be seen.
But as the Senate Judiciary Committee today took up the nomination of John Roberts to become chief justice of the United States, it sure looked like its Democratic minority was animated by some sort of post-Katrina fire.
Our justice correspondent is Pete Williams.
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): John Roberts introduced his wife and two young children...
JOHN G. ROBERTS, SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE NOMINEE: You‘ll see she has a very tight grasp on Jack.
WILLIAMS: ... gamely listened for three hours to Judiciary Committee members, then spoke just six minutes, saying a Supreme Court justice should not make the law, but must have serve as an umpire.
ROBERTS: I will remember that it is my job to call balls and strikes and not to pitch or bat.
WILLIAMS: After studying his record for two months, committee Democrats today said they want to Roberts is committed to protecting civil rights, especially after Hurricane Katrina‘s reminder that many Americans have yet to share in the nation‘s prosperity.
SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: As one nation under God, we cannot continue to ignore the injustice, the inequality and the gross disparities that exist in our society.
WILLIAMS: The committee‘s only woman said a key issue for her would be Roberts‘ views on constitutionality of abortion.
SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: It would be very difficult—and I said this to you privately and I have said it publicly—for me to vote to confirm someone whom I knew would overturn Roe v. Wade.
But committee Republicans said Roberts should not to have say how he would decide any question.
SEN. JOHN CORNYN ®, TEXAS: If you pledge today to rule a certain way on an issue, how can parties to future cases possibly feel that they would ever have a fair day in court?
WILLIAMS: At day‘s end, it was his turn.
ROBERTS: I do.
WILLIAMS: One of the nation‘s most gifted lawyers, with himself for a client now, spoke briefly and without notes, promising to keep an open mind if confirmed.
ROBERTS: Mr. Chairman, I come before the committee with no agenda. I have no platform. Judges are not politicians who can promise to do certain things in exchange for votes.
WILLIAMS (on camera): Roberts‘ supporters predict a strict party-line vote of approval in the committee, 10-8. And unless the next two day bring a surprise, even Democrats say he‘ll be confirmed.
Pete Williams, NBC News, Washington.
OLBERMANN: The major political news of the day, of course, at FEMA, Brown out.
And the major other news event of the day, in Los Angeles, brownout. Around 1:00 Pacific time, utility workers installing an automatic transition system screwed up. Suddenly, the automated system transmitted surges and outages and shutoff signal to two substations, the cascade effect like a fuse blowing. Apparently somebody cut literally through a major line and the power went off from downtown L.A. in the east to the ocean in the west to the valley in the north, as many as two million people without power. They were reporting heavy traffic and occasional accidents at the intersections in Los Angeles, if that were news.
Much of the power, though, was restored within two hours. And, fortunately, it was only about 72 degrees in L.A. today. The timing, though, a day after a self-described al Qaeda operative from Orange County warned of an attack on Los Angeles was nothing more than an unnerving coincidence.
And then there‘s the power of a mother‘s touch, a great wrap-up story tonight on a heartbreaking post-Katrina separation that had a very, very happy ending next on COUNTDOWN.
OLBERMANN: Since shortly after the magnitude of the disaster became nationally self-evident, we have turned part of each of these newscasts into a kind of missing poster of the air, trying to help those separated by the storm reconnect.
Our number one story on the COUNTDOWN, we will do that again in a moment. First, another occasion on which contact has been reestablished.
Our correspondent Michael Okwu on the proverbial mother and child reunion.
MICHAEL OKWU, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Two-year-old Miracle
Thomas (ph) has already had a difficult life, inflammation in her brain, 12
12 -- operations, and then Katrina.
As the levees gave way, Miracle and 32 other young patients were airlifted from their hospital in New Orleans, the Texas Children‘s Hospital in Houston, separated from her parents and older brother, who rode out the storm in their hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi.
PATRICK TAYLOR, FATHER: I was scared, man. I have never been that scared in my life.
OKWU: They lost everything but their lives. With no power, no telephone service, they had no way to know just where was Miracle. Was she alive? Through the long, anxious days, medical staff say she missed them, too.
HYDEE DESIDIER, TEXAS CHILDREN‘S HOSPITAL: You would walk by Miracle‘s room. You would stop in and talk to her. And one of the first things she says is, “Mommy?”
OKWU: Finally, hospital workers tracked down the family. And a local businessman volunteered to fly his own plane to reunite mom and dad with their little girl.
HELENE TAYLOR, MOTHER: Now we‘re going to ride this one. (INAUDIBLE)
OKWU: We caught up with them on the way. After nearly a month‘s separation, the 90-minute journey seemed endless.
H. TAYLOR: Your daughter is here and you‘re there. And you can‘t do nothing for her. So, it‘s just—I can‘t explain it. She was two pounds at birth, a miracle baby. She‘s a miracle of this world for me.
TAYLOR: She‘s going to smile. And she‘s going to say, daddy and momma. She is going to so happy to see us.
OKWU: And then relief.
H. TAYLOR: Hey. It‘s mama.
OKWU: By this time, surgeons had inserted a shunt to drain fluid from Miracle‘s head. Doctors say her fatigued immune system had been working overtime. But, to her dad, she had never looked better.
P. TAYLOR: She looks great, got a cool haircut, you know? She‘s happy. She‘s with her family. And so, I don‘t think she could be better, you know?
OKWU: Powerful and miraculous, such joy after so much loss, a family home again.
For “Today,” Michael Okwu, NBC News, Los Angeles.
OLBERMANN: Which brings us back to our own video message board, people who are looking for their loved ones or, until then, at least want to know or want them to know, I‘m OK.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Kerry Zule (ph). I‘m looking for my brother, Roy Vanderhoff (ph), and his wife, Ladonna Vanderhoff (ph). Any information, they can contact us at 251-867-0806.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Elizabeth Boye (ph). I‘m looking for my four kids and my grandkids. My kids are Kwesha Boye (ph) and Kevin Boye (ph), Quintella Boye and Cameron Boye (ph). Right now, I‘m in Charlotte, North Carolina, staying at the Red Cross.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: All of MSNBC also trying to help reconnect hurricane survivors and their loved ones through an online database. The Web site will explain. Go to COUNTDOWN.MSNBC.com.
Let‘s recap the headlines of this 14th day of the crisis in the American Gulf Coast. Controversial FEMA Director Michael Brown has resigned three days after he was removed from oversight of the recovery efforts.
But the president may actually have found a still more controversial successor. The new acting head of FEMA is David Paulison, a career first-responder, a former—or a FEMA understudy and the past head of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. More famously, or perhaps infamously, he‘s also the man who, in February 2003, advised Americans to stock up on duct tape to protect themselves from a biological or chemical terrorist attack. Same man.
He also warned, victims of a disaster might be on their own for 48 to 72 hours. The duct tape saga caused considerable criticism of the Bush administration.
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.
RITA COSBY, HOST, “RITA COSBY: LIVE & DIRECT”: Good evening, Keith.
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