Guests: Trent Lott, James Lee Witt, Scott Bell, Jim Cobb
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: I will tell you what, we are here in Biloxi tonight, a long way off from rebuilding. And, certainly, spirits may be rising in some quarter of New Orleans, but there are still body bags piling up over there.
Meanwhile, national inattention at ground zero of Hurricane Katrina.
Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, “Katrina: Crisis and Recovery.”
ANNOUNCER: From Biloxi, Mississippi, here‘s Joe Scarborough.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, you know, Katrina is gone, but Hurricane Ophelia is knocking on Carolina‘s coastline, as torrential rains and hurricane, gale-force winds pound Carolina‘s coastlines. Meanwhile, more grim news out of the Big Easy today, as body bags keep piling up, while the corridor coroner conducts door-to-door searches.
Also tonight, we have shocking new video from inside that nursing home in Louisiana, where 34 souls perished after the levees broke.
But, first, let‘s go up the Carolina coastline, and make contact with NBC‘s Michelle Kosinski. She is in the path of Hurricane Ophelia.
Tonight, tell us, Michelle, what is the very latest?
MICHELLE KOSINSKI, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Joe, we were hoping we would get a break from this fierce wind, with the eye passing over. Well, it doesn‘t look like the eye is going to pass over us at this point, but we are getting the roughest part of the storm that is hitting land as we speak.
We are hoping that this is the roughest part, because,all day long, starting around 8:00 this morning, we were getting these high winds, rain bands, and just when you thought it was going to let up, it only intensified. So, since about 10:00 this morning, we were getting those gusts up to 50 miles an hour. Now they are possibly gusting up to 80, 90 miles an hour. And it‘s just dangerous to be out there in it.
Where we are standing right now, we are sheltered a little bit by a hotel balcony. But you will see some video later how tough it is to stand up out there. We are seeing flooding in this area. And that was starting around 4:00 this afternoon. When you get a storm like this, even a Category 1, that is what is so remarkable—that‘s what people are talking about right now—when it just hangs over you, pushing water further and further inland, you are just going to get flooding, and you are going to get wind damage.
And it just seems, Joe, like it is not going to stop. Right now, we may just be halfway through this, so we could be going on 24 hours of strong, strong winds over us—Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Michelle, every hurricane is different. I know that as well as anybody from my 30 years on the Gulf Coast.
SCARBOROUGH: Sometimes, you have gale-force winds that cause a lot of damage. Sometimes, you have got storm surges that usually come with Cat 3 or Cat 4 storms. But in a Category 1 storm that continues to hover there, I have got to believe Carolina officials are very concerned tonight about flooding. Tell us about it.
KOSINSKI: Yes, they are.
In fact, it‘s been so rough outside, they haven‘t been able to do any kind of an assessment. There has been no letup in these high winds since, like we said, about 10:00 this morning. That‘s when it got really rough. I mean, at noon, we were saying, oh, man, can it get any worse than this?
And it‘s just been getting worse and worse and worse.
We are not seeing a lot of damage around us. And we talked to officials earlier. And they were saying, luckily, they are not seeing heavy structural damage, but they are expecting what they called significant flooding. I mean, we could see it rolling in pretty early this afternoon, and we are told around the parts of Wrightsville Beach and Wilmington, the first areas to experience this hurricane.
They are also getting coastal flooding. We don‘t know how bad it is yet, but we know around here, where we are, it‘s several feet of standing water. And that was back around 5:00 in the evening. So, there‘s no telling how deep it‘s going to get. I mean, we might get lucky. It‘s just too rough out there and too dark at this point to make any kind of assessment.
SCARBOROUGH: Michelle, try to explain to people in middle America who have never been out in a storm like this what it was like for you standing out in the middle of the gale-force winds of Hurricane Ophelia.
KOSINSKI: Well, there are some hurricanes—you know, you go out into a Category 4, and you can‘t even attempt to set foot out in it.
In this storm, you can. You can stand up. You get pushed around. You get beat up a little bit, and you really have to look around and watch for falling poles. Light poles have been falling down. In fact, officials were telling us, early on in this storm, they were pretty stunned to see the kind of wind damage they were seeing that early. They didn‘t think that they were going to see poles falling down.
So, you go out in it and you really have to look around, make sure that nothing is in your path. And, even then, I mean, you are taking a risk. You don‘t know when and is going to fly off a roof and hit you in the back of the head. I have seen that happen to other reporters in storms like this.
The word out here is, if this is a Category 1, as rough as this is, what would it be like in this area to experience a Cat 3 or a Cat 4? Now, the difference is, when you are in a storm that fierce, you are not so close to the coast. I mean, we are right on the water. And the fact that we are able to be this close to the water tells you this storm is not as strong as we have seen with other systems. So, it‘s—it is rough out there.
We can‘t believe that this is what a Category 1 can do this close to the coast. But if this was a 3 or a 4, we would be nowhere near the coastline, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, NBC‘s Michelle Kosinski, thank you so much for that report. We are going to be checking back with you in a little bit to get an update on the storm.
And, friends, I can just tell you, as somebody who has lived through these storms, but also somebody that has been stupid to go out in these storms as a reporter—and I will guarantee you anybody in Florida doesn‘t walk outside in the middle of a hurricane unless they are holding a microphone and working for a news agency.
But it is. It‘s very dangerous out there. You always have flying debris going past you. And in the case—again, even in a Category 1 storm, extremely dangerous to go out in that storm. Anybody in North Carolina that still has electricity, still has cable service and is watching this show, stay inside, very dangerous. And, also, you have got to worry. Once this comes onshore, you are going to probably have a dozen tornadoes spinning off of it.
And, of course, anybody that‘s lived through a tornado knows just what a hellish situation that can be.
Speaking of hellish situations, going back to New Orleans, Martin Savidge has a report on body bags continuing to rise in that troubled city, as the coroner actually starts going door to door, looking for victims of Katrina‘s savage blast.
Here‘s Martin Savidge.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Joe, body recovery teams continue to fan out across the area. Authorities say each of those teams is comprised of five members, one of which is a chaplain.
(voice-over): The death toll in Louisiana, 423 at last report, is nowhere near the 10,000 predicted. But all day, recovery teams have been pulling bodies out of attics, basements and mud. It‘s slow work, too slow, says state coroner Dr. Louis Cataldie.
DR. LOUIS CATALDIE, LOUISIANA STATE CORONER: Well, I have got to tell you, we are not doing enough. As long as there is one person out there, we have not done enough.
SAVIDGE: But Cataldie says the work must be done with care.
CATALDIE: You don‘t just go out and—quote—“pick up a body.” And I hate hearing that. We are recovering, you know, grandparents and parents and children and brothers and sisters. I don‘t want to hear that.
SAVIDGE: In some areas, floodwaters have slowed recovery. Here in St. Bernard Parish, it‘s the sheer magnitude of destruction getting in the way.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Those two haven‘t been checked yet.
SAVIDGE: And, as we are learning, some recovery sites are also crime scenes. At the St. Rita‘s Nursing Home in Violet, where 34 patients died during the storm, the husband and wife owners have been charged with negligent homicide for not evacuating them.
YOLANDA HUBERT, MOTHER DIED AT NURSING HOME: There was nobody to help her.
SAVIDGE: Yolanda Hubert‘s 72-year-old mother was among those who died. A nurse told her what her mother‘s last hours were like.
HUBERT: The windows were blowing out at that point in the rooms, and the water was coming in so fast.
SAVIDGE (on camera): It looks like, in desperation, somebody was trying to force this table up against the window, maybe to keep the wind or water out. It didn‘t work. The waterline here goes as high as the doorways, cutting off escape.
(voice-over): Authorities are investigating other cases, like the more than 40 bodies left behind in New Orleans Memorial Medical Center. The question for weeks ahead, was the disaster that killed the ones left behind natural or manmade?
(on camera): The husband and wife owners of St. Rita‘s nursing home say that, had they evacuated many of their elderly patients, they would have died during that process. They also say that they stayed with their patients through the hurricane and were able to save two dozen of them, even though 34 others died—Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Thanks so much, NBC‘s Martin Savidge, live from New Orleans.
Well, I spoke with the attorney of St. Rita‘s Nursing Home, who is now defending the two owners, a mom-and-pop operation, as he calls it, who are now responsible for those 34 deaths, according to the attorney general of the state of Louisiana. Their attorney claims that they did everything correct, and, in fact, if they had evacuated all the patients in the nursing home, even more would have died.
Let‘s go to that interview right now.
JIM COBB, ATTORNEY FOR ST. RITA‘S NURSING HOME OWNERS: They were outside. The storm had passed. The facility had passed the test. There was no water. The wind had changed. It wasn‘t even raining, and, all of a sudden, they are outside, trying to inspect for damage, and here comes this water. They ran back to the facility. They got the patients out of the chairs and put them on mattresses, and here comes the water.
It invaded the facility. I am told that it went from no water to 10 feet inside of 20 minutes. And, at that point in time, they are grabbing anybody they can to get them on the roof, to get them on a mattress, to get them out. It‘s a harrowing tale. By the way, Mr. Mangano is a very short man. He‘s 5‘2“, 5‘3“, something like that. Here‘s a guy in water twice his height saving people‘s life.
And he then becomes a refugee, an evacuee for two days on buses with his family to Dallas and back, 13 hours a bus, sleeping in shelters, back here, back there. His reward? An arrest warrant by the attorney general of the state of Louisiana. It is out of bounds, shameful.
SCARBOROUGH: The attorney general said, the pathetic thing about this case was that your clients were warned repeatedly to evacuate with all patients, but they refused to do so. How do you respond?
COBB: That‘s inaccurate. That‘s what the attorney general believes the facts are and will be. That‘s not what we believe the facts are.
We believe that there was an opportunity for a voluntary evacuation, but voluntary evacuations are fraught with peril. For your information, multiple patients evacuated voluntarily in New Orleans in advance of Katrina died on buses, 20 patients from this nursing home, 12 from another.
In Baton Rouge‘s paper today, 11 patients died in Shreveport as a result of evacuation. So, it‘s a very difficult decision-making process. And the voluntary evacuation, given the history of this facility that never flooded, didn‘t flood in Hurricane Betsy, the worst flood of 40 years ago, this was a good decision. It was the right decision.
And the point is, not to prosecute folks criminally for alleged decisions that they make in an emergency and try to put somebody in jail who has never done anything wrong to anybody. It‘s an unwarranted abuse of prosecutorial discretion.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, you say they made a good decision, and, yet, as you know, 34 people died in that nursing home. The attorney general is also saying that they were warned repeatedly, and they refused offers to evacuate all of their patients. Is that also incorrect?
COBB: That is correct. My information is not that, Mr. Scarborough.
My information is that we certainly communicated with the coroner, and the coroner said voluntarily that there was some buses available. If they had gone to mandatory, which we submit they did not, then the coroner would not be on the telephone saying, hey...
SCARBOROUGH: At what time did they go mandatory?
COBB: That‘s a great question, Mr. Scarborough. Do you know the answer? Because I don‘t. I have looked at their Web site and I have been unable to determine from everybody whether and if St. Bernard went to mandatory on Sunday, the day before the storm.
What you need to understand is, if they go to mandatory too late and you can‘t get out, you need to stay where you are, because, otherwise, you will be on the roads exposed to the storm. It takes some folks 15 hours to go 90 miles. So, the timing of this is critical. I don‘t believe, if they issued one, that they issued it timely enough for these folks to get out.
And it‘s a very difficult decision to make. And my point is that this is a matter that should be for the civil jurisdiction, not the criminal jurisdiction.
SCARBOROUGH: How are they responding right now? Are they angry? Are they hurt? Are they in shock?
COBB: They are devastated. The hardest thing I have ever done as a lawyer was to sit down with Ms. Mable and tell her that I got a call from the attorney general‘s office, who canceled our meeting to go and talk to them, so that they, the attorney general, could hear our side before taking precipitous action. That was scheduled for Tuesday. They canceled it, instead called me and said, I have got an arrest warrant for your clients for 34 counts of negligent homicide.
Hardest thing I have ever done as a lawyer in 28 years was tell this nice lady that she was going to go to jail. Broke my heart and broke hers.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, James Cobb, thanks so much for being with us.
We are going to obviously be following this in the coming weeks and months.
I know it‘s a tough job. Good luck.
COBB: Thank you, sir.
SCARBOROUGH: And coming up, I am going to be talking to a man who I rode through quite a few hurricanes with when I was in Congress, James Lee Witt. He was the director of FEMA when a lot of people said it ran with ruthless efficiency. We are going to be talking to him.
Plus, I am going to give you my report from a place that America has seemingly forgotten.
SCARBOROUGH: You are looking at shots of Hurricane Ophelia, which is slamming into the Carolina coastline. It‘s only a Category 1. I say only a Category 1. But it‘s deadly.
We will get you up to date with the very latest when we return.
SCARBOROUGH: You are looking at images from a hurricane that my family, my community, my hometown knew all too well. That‘s the beginning of Hurricane Ivan. It crashed on—storm, one of the deadliest storms in Northwest Florida history. We are still recovering from it a year later, a just unbelievable impact on our community, Pensacola still trying to rebuild from that.
And here, I—look at this scene, and just look behind me, if you will, for a second. This really does look like a Hollywood horror set behind me here. Pan out a little bit, just to show the mass of devastation. I have had people calling in, saying, how long is it going to take for Biloxi to rebuild? I heard Rita in the last show talking to people in New Orleans saying how they were going to rebuild their community right away.
I have got very bad news for the people not only of New Orleans, but also of Mississippi and the entire Gulf Coast. This storm is going to take anywhere from five to 10 years to recover from. It is just a devastating sight here. I have seen a lot of hurricanes. But I have seen nothing like this before. And again, just the debris removal—friends, in Pensacola, Florida, it took us six to nine months just to get the debris off the roads.
And the debris here is piled up. I am looking over it. It‘s probably five times as high, a devastating scene. Again, never seen anything like it.
I want to bring on, though, somebody that lived through Hurricane Ivan and also whose nursing home went through Hurricane Katrina just a few weeks ago. He is Scott Bell.
Thank you for being with us, Scott.
Want to ask you about the situation that‘s going on right now. Obviously, over in Louisiana, you have got a lawyer for a nursing home. We just had him on here. He said that there wasn‘t a mandatory evacuation that he knew of. Therefore, his clients owed no duty to those people inside who died to evacuate them. Tell us about what you did in a similar situation just down the road here in Pass Christian.
SCOTT BELL, DELTA HEALTH GROUP: Well, Joe, we met—we have an active evacuation disaster plan. We met with civil defense on Saturday morning at 10:00 to start talking about, do we evacuate? When do we start preparing?
We agreed to think on the day, put our heads together. We got back together at 6:00 p.m. Saturday night, and determined that, if this storm is going to be a Category 4 or 5, Sunday morning at 10:00, we would begin our evacuation procedures, as per our policy. You know, we woke up at 7:00 on Sunday morning. We all put our heads together, said, 10:00, let‘s go. We had plenty of time in an orderly fashion to evacuate 138 patients. Our plan is to move those patients...
SCARBOROUGH: And, again, Scott, you were doing it in an orderly fashion. You knew a Category 4 or 5 was coming. And, in fact, you guys were in the actual direct path of the eye of this hurricane.
I have got to ask you just generally, is there really ever an excuse not to evacuate a nursing home or a health care facility if you are on the coastline and in the path of a Category 4 storm?
BELL: Absolutely never would there be that issue. You would always evacuate.
SCARBOROUGH: What about—I want to ask you about the standard of care. We have this horror story out of this nursing home, where 34 patients drowned to death, also, Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans, where people died there also. Is there a higher standard of care? And, again, you own nursing homes all across America. Do you owe a higher standard of care to your patients than other businesses?
BELL: Oh, absolutely, I think we do.
They are entrusted to our care. These are people who can‘t care for themselves. They can‘t make the decision for safety on their own. We are there to care for them. We have an obligation to look after them and to protect them from all types of harm, natural disaster being one of the greatest threats.
SCARBOROUGH: So, no excuse for what these people did in Louisiana?
BELL: I just think it‘s a bad decision.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Thank you so much, Scott Bell. I greatly appreciate you being with us tonight.
It is a bad decision. It‘s a bad decision that cost 34 lives. I just can‘t imagine if, you know, my grandmother or grandfather or parents, as they got older, went into a nursing home and died that way, with windows blowing out, and then floodwaters going to the ceiling and, you know, just, again, swallowing them up alive. What a nightmare scenario. I can‘t imagine it.
I want to bring in right now a guy that knows an awful lot about hurricanes, hurricane recovery and FEMA. He is James Lee Witt. And he is a guy that I got to tell you, I feel a close connection to.
But, James Lee, I think this is the first time we have talked where my area hasn‘t been hit by a hurricane. So, I am glad we get to talk tonight where Pensacola is not slammed.
But I want to ask you a couple of questions.
JAMES LEE WITT, FORMER FEMA DIRECTOR: OK, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: You have obviously seen the—go ahead, James Lee.
WITT: I said, OK. I‘m ready.
SCARBOROUGH: All right.
You obviously have been through a lot of these storms. Can you tell Americans tonight what FEMA does, and, more importantly, what FEMA does not do?
WITT: Well, you know, the FEMA—career employees at FEMA are really, really good people. They care about what they do.
But, you know, the thing that bothers me most about FEMA now is that a lot of parts of FEMA has been taken away from them. And, you know, FEMA needs to be an independent agency. And they need to be able to respond to tragedies across our country. And, you know, if you don‘t plan together, train together, and exercise together with state and local governments in a partnership and you do it consistently from all the regions, 10 regions, you know, it‘s going to be difficult to be able to respond together. And I think that‘s the biggest problem they had.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, James Lee, talking about that, I remember before every hurricane that hit Northwest Florida, we would get on conference calls. You would speak to every congressman, every senator, every governor, every sheriff. And we would be on a huge conference call, and you would walk us through it.
From what you have gathered so far, did that not happen leading up to Katrina?
WITT: I think they did some conference calls. I am not—you know, I wasn‘t there, so I am not sure. I understand they did.
But, Joe, if you remember, I always called the governors and the mayors directly, you know, days before a hurricane. I say, you know, what do you need? What can we do to help you? Are you—is there any resources that you do not have that we need to get down in there to help you? And, you know it was important to me, because I was a local elected official for 10 years. And, you know, and I just—I just felt like, if all of us are working together before a catastrophe happened, then we were going to save lives and protect property.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, I worked through four hurricanes with you, with you leading those hurricane efforts in Northwest Florida.
SCARBOROUGH: Last year, Jeb Bush helped direct four hurricane recovery efforts across the state of Florida, again, did it very, very well.
I want to ask you, what is the single biggest difference between when you were in FEMA and when Mike Brown was running FEMA during Katrina?
WITT: Well, you know, I don‘t put all the blame on Mike Brown at all.
He is a good person, and I like him. I know him well.
But when you take leadership out from under an agency and shift it to something else, then you minimize the effectiveness of the agency. And I think that‘s what happened. But I am hopeful that Congress and the president will relook at this and put FEMA back together, so they can be responsive to the American people in some very, very tough times.
SCARBOROUGH: James Lee, I understand you are working for the Louisiana governor, who I was critical of early on. I was also critical of Haley Barbour and the president. But it seems like she is starting to regain her footing a little bit. Do you feel like New Orleans is on the right path, Louisiana is on the right path right now?
WITT: I really do, you know.
And the president was down here, and I was with the governor, and had a chance to visit with him. And, you know, I think—I think they are really trying to pull this together in a partnership. And I was encouraged by it. And the admiral that‘s down here of the Coast Guard that is working on this, I talked to him tonight. And he wants to meet with me Friday.
And Governor Blanco, let me tell you something, Joe. She has worked her heart out. And her staff has worked as well, and the National Guard and emergency management professionals here and the firefighters. You should come down on the ground and just see what we have been able and she has been able to accomplish, everybody working together in the last week.
You know, today, they worked on a reentry plan for the city of New Orleans, working right now, planning for short-term, long-term housing, working right now, planning for the long-term reconstruction of all the parishes in Louisiana. So, a lot of work and effort has gone into this. And—but the governor wants to do it—she wants to build back better, safer, and minimize the risks to the communities across Louisiana. And you know and I know that‘s exactly what needs to be done.
SCARBOROUGH: No doubt about it, James Lee Witt. And if you are Louisiana helping the effort out, I know that things are looking up there.
Thanks for being with us tonight. I greatly appreciate it.
WITT: Mark Merritt said to tell you hello as well.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, very good. Thanks a lot.
Now, coming up, straight ahead, we are going to give you the latest update on Hurricane Ophelia as it crashes on the coastline of South Carolina, but also going to be talking to you about Mississippi, the land that apparently a lot of America has already forgotten about.
That‘s when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, “Katrina: Crisis and Recovery,” continues.
SCARBOROUGH: Hurricane Ophelia is crashing onto the Carolina coast as we speak. We are going to be going there live to the eye of the storm and NBC‘s Michelle Kosinski when we return.
But, first, here‘s the latest news you and your family need to know.
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, welcome back. We are live in Biloxi, Mississippi, a land that America has seemingly forgotten.
I told you last week when I was here, a lot of people complaining about the fact that they hadn‘t seen the feds. They hadn‘t seen the state officials. They hadn‘t seen local officials. They hadn‘t seen a lot of the larger private entities coming in and helping them out.
Well, we are going to be talking to an NBC reporter in a minute who is going to tell us that that situation may not be getting any better here, and some people feel abandoned by America.
But, first, let‘s go to North Carolina, actually along the Carolina coastline, where NBC‘s Michelle Kosinski is weathering the storm. Tonight, she is in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina.
Michelle, get us up to date with the very latest.
KOSINSKI: Well, you might be able to hear the storm roaring behind us.
The wind has not let up. It‘s only been getting stronger since about 8:00 this morning. So, we are thinking that this is the roughest part of it. After this, maybe given a half-an-hour or an hour or so, we may start to see some dissipation of these winds. But because this thing has hung over us all day long—I mean, this started last night—we are seeing flooding already. Early in the day, we were seeing that.
Low-lying areas are expecting significant flooding. Also, early in the day, power lines started dropping. We have lost power to our hotel, and we are seeing about 100,000 people now without power. Strangely enough, around here, power crews actually go out in the hurricane and start trying to repair those lines while the thing is raging around them. They have some luck with it, but not in this storm, because the winds just won‘t let up. There‘s no eye to pass over to give us a break.
They just can‘t keep up with those power lines that are dropping. And people are going to be in the dark maybe for another day or two—Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. NBC‘s Michelle Kosinski, stay safe out there.
Right now, again, we are live in Biloxi. And I want to talk to NBC reporter Ron Blome.
Ron, you have been out. Again, I saw you here last week. We were talking about...
RON BLOME, NBC CORRESPONDENT: For more than two weeks, actually.
SCARBOROUGH: Yes, more than two weeks here.
Last week, when I was here, we were talking about how a lot of these people were complaining that they hadn‘t seen FEMA or any agencies helping them out. The situation in some areas really hasn‘t...
BLOME: Unchanged. Unchanged.
SCARBOROUGH: Unchanged. Remarkable. Tell us about that.
BLOME: You know, what a lot of people in America don‘t realize is that, when you have a disaster, your first humanitarian response comes from private groups, like the Red Cross, the Salvation Army.
And then, generally, we see, within three or four days later, FEMA comes in and sets up. And they start handing out response checks and all that. This is so big, this hasn‘t happened. And, in fact, they feel forgotten. I was down tonight talking to people. They say they feel forgotten by the government. It is only these volunteer agencies, the volunteers, that are keeping them in mind.
And I want to share with you a little piece we did today, as we were out following the volunteers.
BLOME: Let‘s look.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have scrambled eggs and sausage this morning.
We have fried taters.
BLOME (voice-over): And they have plenty of customers. The Salvation Army is fueling the recovery, feeding the survivors, whether in walk-up kitchens or by driving the streets where dozens of vans find storm survivors standing by their battered homes. The Salvation Army is all about getting out every day, three times a day, without a lot of bureaucracy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you all have enough food yesterday, or did you run out?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Run out.
BLOME: The morning meeting at staging ground Biloxi. Volunteers drivers from across the country get their orders and find answers to difficult questions. Who gets food? How much? The answer is the same. Meet the need.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These are hot meals, all right? It‘s hard to hoard hot meals. They are just not going to keep, all right? So, we don‘t have to worry about people taking them and hoarding them, OK? So, they take five meals because they are worried they may not be able to catch it for the next five days. So what? We are still feeding them.
BLOME: Feeding them from compact, but high-energy kitchens, 7,000 meals out of each trailer a day, 20,000 just into this community. Meeting that need, the best reward for volunteers.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel so honored and blessed that I could actually be a part of helping these people.
BLOME: Blessings, too, just down the street at this Catholic Church serving the Vietnamese community, where the Red Cross hands out donations from California.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We Red Cross, we don‘t ask any questions. We are only here to help any need.
BLOME: And, Joe, we found volunteers from across the country, from Montana, from California.
A New Yorker, a stockbroker whose office was across from the World Trade Center, he said he had to come down. He had to give back. Now, FEMA is looking for space to put up a tent in Biloxi, but it‘s going to be nearly three weeks after the storm hit the city before they have a presence in Biloxi.
SCARBOROUGH: And, Ron, you look around here, Biloxi. And you have been following storms. You have connections with the Gulf Coast. I think we all agree, this is as bad as it gets. Have you talked to any FEMA officials or anybody that has an explanation of why it took them three weeks to come to a place that is really, by all practical purposes, ground zero of Katrina?
BLOME: I think they are overwhelmed by it. I don‘t think they can keep up with the breadth.
But, to give you an example, we have been visiting with this one family down the street, just a half-mile from here. He‘s called FEMA the day after the storm. He‘s called FEMA again two days ago. He called them today. And when I said, what did they tell you, he said, they gave him a hard time about getting his bank account number in. He wants the $2,000 aid he can get. They said, don‘t count it.
And he said he wanted to amend to add that his two vehicles were destroyed. He has no transportation. He has no power. He has no trail. And he said the FEMA operator refused to amend his report, because it had already been filed, to include that his vehicles were destroyed. So, how is this person going to get aid, except from the volunteers, like the Salvation Army and the Red Cross? They are desperate.
SCARBOROUGH: They are desperate.
Ron, thanks so much.
BLOME: Thank you, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: Greatly appreciate it.
You know, the most maddening thing about this is the fact that these people get paid our tax dollars to provide assistance to Americans in need. And I promise you, friends, again, as somebody that has seen a lot of these hurricanes before, no area has ever been any more needy than this area along this stretch of Mississippi‘s Gulf Coast. And, again, tragically tonight, almost three weeks later, it‘s still seems to be a land that America‘s government has forgotten, a disgrace.
And I am going to be talking next to U.S. Senator Trent Lott from Mississippi. And he is going to be talking about some of his frustrations.
Also, we are going to keep you updated throughout the hour with the very latest on Hurricane Ophelia, including live reports from our weather tracker.
That‘s when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.
SCARBOROUGH: You are looking at images out of New Orleans. I will tell you what. That is some nasty, dirty water that‘s being pumped out of the city and back into Pontchartrain. A lot of people questioning how long before Pontchartrain returns to normal. Again, I think it will be close to a decade. That is some nasty, nasty brew coming out of that city.
And, again, we have been seeing images like this out of New Orleans, and they have been broadcast across America and the world. And most of the world‘s attention has been focused on the Crescent City. But, unfortunately, not enough attention has been focused where I am standing right now, and that is live in Biloxi, Mississippi, and along the Mississippi coastline.
Again, remember, friends, when this storm hit, this was ground zero of Hurricane Katrina. In fact, many people were reporting out of New Orleans after the storm blew through that that city had actually missed the worst of the storm. And it had. In fact, we wouldn‘t have even been reporting about New Orleans, but for the fact that the levees broke. And, of course, that caused just tremendous heart ache and disaster over there.
But, again, here in Mississippi, things have been very bad. And, unfortunately, as Ron Blome just reported in the last segment, the feds still aren‘t here. FEMA still isn‘t here, again, with any real presence. The first day I came to Mississippi, I was expecting to see aid workers. I was expecting to see the National Guard. I was expecting to see FEMA all across this region.
They still aren‘t out in full force. And, again, all I can do is compare it to what I saw in my hometown of Pensacola, Florida, where there were troops and boots on the ground almost immediately after Hurricane Ivan passed through our region this time last year.
Well, another person that is very concerned, upset, almost angry, about what has been going on in Mississippi over the past several weeks is Mississippi Senator Trent Lott.
And I asked Senator Lott earlier today in an interview how he and his fellow Mississippi citizens were handling the crisis.
SEN. TRENT LOTT ®, MISSISSIPPI: Well, first of all, we are doing OK. But, more importantly, we are concerned about the people there in Biloxi and Pascagoula and all along the Gulf Coast.
In fact, as you go further and further west, Joe, as you know, it gets really bad. But that point in Biloxi where you have been good enough to come—and we appreciate the fact that you have come and made sure that the country understands that Mississippi is hurting and needs help, and we need it quickly. And it‘s helped us. And you have worked with us, working with church groups. And they have gotten a lot of good things to the people.
SCARBOROUGH: Senator, it‘s not—it‘s not time to play the blame game right now.
SCARBOROUGH: I agree with that.
SCARBOROUGH: A lot of people have said that.
At the same time, what bothers me is that we have seen, by getting supplies over here from our group from Florida, the best way to do it is not through governmental groups or huge bureaucracies. It‘s through faith-based groups.
SCARBOROUGH: I talked to your wife on the phone.
LOTT: Oh, yes.
SCARBOROUGH: She is a real trooper.
SCARBOROUGH: But this group that she is working in has a rule. It doesn‘t stay on the floor more than three hours.
SCARBOROUGH: Why is it that church groups can do this so much more effectively than our federal or state or local governments?
LOTT: Because that‘s the uniqueness of America.
The first-responders really are always the American people. They will rise to the occasion, any occasion. There are trucks headed from Ohio and Illinois today to help the people there. And, basically, they are coming through church groups, to church groups, where they are quickly moved to the people that need it. I don‘t know why the federal government can‘t do the same thing.
But it is a problem. And we have learned over the past, certainly the last week, we are going to try to find where the problems are by talking to the mayors, the supervisors, individuals. Then we are going to find the solution to getting it direct to the people. And we are going around a lot of the bureaucracy.
But the federal government is going to have to come to terms with doing a better job. One other point. Last night, I want to a reception to thank a group called Diageo. It‘s an international company from London. They moved a giant generator into Pass Christian, Mississippi, within 24 hours after the hurricane winds died down. And they have been running the water system in Pass Christian ever since, private company. Nobody told them where to go. They came. They did the job.
And when I asked the chairman of the country—company, how can you do that, but the government hasn‘t been able to do it, his response was, I can‘t answer that, because it would incriminate too many people. But it can be done. And we are learning. We are getting the bureaucracy, the wheels turning a little bit. We made a little progress on the mobile home issue. But we still need a lot more, and we need to get them to the people.
SCARBOROUGH: Let me ask you about the president.
SCARBOROUGH: I was really pleased to see yesterday he stepped up. He said, the buck stops here. He is going to be talking tomorrow night to America. What do you want to hear from President Bush?
LOTT: I want him to, you know, show the kind of compassion that I know he feels. I want him to reassure the people that the big part of this fight is ahead of us, and he is going to make sure that the federal government does a better job, does its part. Look, we are all to blame to a degree. Part of the problem, we found out, is the laws on the books that Congress passed. We should never have put FEMA in the Department of Homeland Security.
We went along with that. And I guess we will have to go back and try to rewrite the history, but that should be an independent agency reporting only to the president of the United States. We let it kind of slip off the edge of the board there, so—and he needs to also make sure that we understand he is going to help us in the short term, the mid term, and we are going to do some really important things to make this not just reconstruction, but renaissance, and how he is going to make sure that happens.
I think that would buoy the spirits of the people of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, and America.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, Senator Trent Lott, thanks so much.
And I want to thank also some people in your office that have been instrumental in hooking us up with relief agencies, private relief agencies, across Mississippi. People in this area have no idea how much you and your staff have helped people coordinate this. And I want to thank you for it. And I know your people want to thank you for it, too.
LOTT: Thank you.
SCARBOROUGH: God bless you.
LOTT: Thanks a lot, Joe. Look forward to seeing you.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, and I just want to make, again, a quick comment about an organization that Chip Pickering‘s wife and Trent Lott‘s wife have been working through in Jackson, Mississippi. Again, they have got this great rule. I joked. The guy is named Ron (ph), and it‘s Robin (ph). I call him the man from Winn-Dixie. He took over an abandoned Winn-Dixie.
They have got a rule. They keep supplies on the floor for three to five hours tops, and then they get them out and get them to the people out there. It‘s ruthlessly efficient. And, again, the lesson learned from this storm is, faith-based organizations and other smaller, private entities are able to deliver goods faster, more efficiently to these affected areas, unfortunately, than huge, clunking bureaucracies like FEMA. I guess that‘s not a surprise to millions of Americans tonight.
Now, when we come back, we are going to take you from the Mississippi Gulf Coast up to the Carolina coastline and get the latest update on Hurricane Ophelia. It‘s crashing onto the shore right now, as the eye passes over land.
That‘s when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns in a minute.
SCARBOROUGH: A short time ago, North Carolina Governor Mike Easley warned residents of that state that Ophelia is a dangerous storm and for people to evacuate immediately that are living in flood-prone areas.
I find it shocking that, three weeks after Katrina, we still have people refusing to evacuate. But that‘s the situation tonight.
Let‘s go to NBC‘s Michelle Kosinski right now with her report on the storm—Michelle.
KOSINSKI: Why should you never, ever underestimate the power of a Category 1 storm? Well, look at this thing. I mean, it‘s 80-mile-an-hour winds, certainly much, much weaker than a Category 4 or a 5. But, when you are out in it, you can feel the rain bands. You can feel that wind nearly knocking you over.
You can see just how much power these things can pack and, accordingly, how much damage they can do. Driving around here, we saw a lot of flooding early on in the game. That‘s what happens when you get a storm that just hangs over an area like this. I mean, 80-mile-an-hour winds, 90- or 100-mile-an-hour gusts are one thing. But when you are getting something hanging over—and this stuff is lasting 12 hours, 24 hours, as we are going to see in Ophelia—you really know that the flooding is going to be there.
I mean, we were seeing flooding by about 4:00 in the afternoon. We were experiencing high wind gusts of at least 40 to 50 miles an hour by 10:00 in the morning. Here it is, after 10:00 at night, and this is the worst of the storm. It took 12 hours just to get to this point. And it is not over yet. We still have double that amount of time to go. And the Outer Banks, the most delicate parts of North Carolina, are going to be feeling this starting at 6:00 a.m.
And they are expecting hurricane-force winds to last at least 10 hours. This kind of weather, even though it‘s a Category 1, can be treacherous—back to you.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Thanks a lot.
Now let‘s go to Jeff Ranier—he‘s with the Weather Plus—for the latest of the tracking of the storm.
Jeff, get us up to date.
JEFF RANIERI, NBC METEOROLOGIST: Well, right now, where Michelle Kosinski is, in Atlantic Beach, we are certainly seeing a good pounding, as the eye wall is right over where she is. And, as she mentioned, as we have been talking about, the very slow movement of the storm system and the rainfall continuing will pound the coastline relentlessly with the rain and the wind for several hours at a time.
You can see all of this rainfall offshore. That‘s going to be swinging into Cape Lookout, also Atlantic Beach, and eventually Cape Hatteras, as we head through the next 10 to possibly 13 to 15 hours. So, that is why this Category 1 storm could do Category 2 damage. Right now, wind gusts between—anywhere between 30 to close to 70 miles per hour. So, the latest update, 85-mile-per-hour winds and still moving rather slowly, so, certainly going to leave a mark across the coastline of North Carolina—Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: A dangerous storm. Thanks so much, Jeff Ranieri with Weather Plus.
We will be right back in a minute.
SCARBOROUGH: That‘s all the time we have tonight from Biloxi.
Tucker Carlson is next.
Tucker, what is “THE SITUATION”?
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