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'Hardball with Chris Matthews' for Sept. 21st

Read the transcript to the Monday show

Guests: Peter Teahen, Wynton Marsalis, Don Riley, Bob Livingston, David Shuster, Lyda Ann Thomas, Mary Jo Naschke, Jimmy Weekley, Oscar Ortiz

CHRIS MATTHEWS, HOST:  Tonight, an unlovely Rita rages to Category 5 as it roars west across the Gulf of Mexico toward Texas.  But could Katrina‘s mean sister deliver a second punch to Louisiana? 

Let‘s play HARDBALL. 

Good evening.  I‘m Chris Matthews. 

Hurricane Rita is storming across the Gulf of Mexico.  Rita is now a Category 5 storm, packing a punch of 165 miles an hour and is expected to make landfall in Texas early Saturday morning.  With Rita threatening to make a mess out of Texas, Governor Rick Perry encouraged coastal residents to evacuate and President Bush declared a state of emergency in both Texas and Louisiana, which could also be hit. 

But as Rita rises, so do new questions about why New Orleans‘ flood walls failed.  Are decades of Huey Long, populist, corner-cutting politics behind the flooding of New Orleans?  Did the flood walls fail because the work was not up to standard? 

We begin with MSNBC‘s Rita Cosby, who is in Galveston. 

Rita, are people getting off of that barrier island? 

RITA COSBY, HOST, “RITA COSBY: LIVE & DIRECT”:  Indeed, they very much are, Chris. 

We just arrived here about an hour ago and it was wall-to-wall traffic leaving Galveston.  We were the only cars basically coming in towards Galveston.  But, from Galveston to Houston, which is about 70 or 80 miles, Chris, wall-to-wall traffic.  The good news, also, obviously, people are heeding the warning of Hurricane Katrina.  Also, we saw a lot of buses filled with a lot of elderly, also hospital patients.  And we also saw a lot of members of the military. 

Clearly, people here are taking the warning here.  And, Chris, this city is used to hurricanes.  Unfortunately, the worst natural disaster in U.S. history took place.  It was the Galveston hurricane September 1900, September 8.  Eight thousand to 12,000 people were killed.  They know this is a very vulnerable area, lots of tidal surge, very low-lying area, and this area could absolutely get wiped up. 

Residents are boarding up.  We have not seen too many residents here. 

In fact, Chris, we were going to check into our hotel when we came here.  The owner of the Hilton Hotel said, we are closed.  We won‘t even be able to sustain a Category 1, let alone now a Category 5. 

MATTHEWS:  Two hundred and sixty-thousand residents regularly in Galveston.  It‘s a barrier island.  Will that island be empty when the storm hits Saturday morning? 

COSBY:  It‘s going to be fairly empathy.  There‘s going to be one hotel open where we actually I think got one of the last rooms just a few minutes ago, as I was pointing out.  We are told that that is going to be the headquarters for emergency services. 

Again, this is something different that we didn‘t see in Hurricane Katrina.  Much of, of course, the criticism is that they didn‘t come quick enough.  Here, they seem to be coming ahead of time, which is obviously a good sign for residents here that there‘s going to be a command center set up at that hotel.  Incidentally, that hotel is a fortress.  It was actually a main fortress back in the late 1800s.

There‘s an actual bunker that the hotel is built on.  It‘s also up. 

It‘s 18 feet higher off ground than the average ground here in Galveston. 

And that‘s why it is probably the only hotel that is going to be standing. 

I think we are just going to see just that hotel and a few residents.  That‘s basically going to be it.  It‘s pretty much a deserted ghost town at this point. 

MATTHEWS:  I‘m hearing about a 19-foot storm surge.  Will the seawalls hold, Tina—Rita? 

COSBY:  No.  You know what?  We don‘t believe so. 

Most of those seawalls, Chris, are about 15 to 18 feet.  It depends how well they are built.  They are very nervous here.  In fact, I spoke to a number of the resort owners in this area.  I have talked to a number of folks.  They believe that they will have, at the very least, very significant flooding, if not much worse. 

And, you know, Chris, it‘s interesting.  When you drive around here, a lot of the hotels, a lot of some the resorts are built on stilts.  I mean, I don‘t think those things are going to be able to handle a Category 1, 2, or 3 hurricane, let alone a Category 5.  Everybody here, Chris, seems to be anticipating severe damage, at the very least.  It is going to be a rough one year. 

MATTHEWS:  How long are you going to stay there, Rita, in the face of Hurricane Rita? 

COSBY:  You know, we don‘t know much.  You know, our job is obviously to cover the hurricane.  We are hearing right now we‘re in the bullseye. 

You know, to get into Galveston, there‘s only one way in and one way out.  It‘s a big bridge.  It‘s also a low-lying bridge.  And something that I saw in New Orleans, Chris, you know, the bridges were basically one of the first areas that were washed out.  We may be stuck here, whether we like it or not, for probably a few days. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I hope you get off the island. 

Rita Cosby, thank you for that up-front report on Galveston, Texas. 


MATTHEWS:  It‘s a barrier island.  And many people think it is going to be completely swamped by this 19-foot surge. 

New Orleans is under a mandatory evacuation right now, as Hurricane Rita nears landfall.  And officials in New Orleans worry any significant storm could overwhelm the city‘s battered levee system. 

NBC‘s Michelle Hofland is in New Orleans with the latest. 

Michelle, will those weakened, weakened flood walls hold? 

MICHELLE HOFLAND, NBC CORRESPONDENT:  Well, that is a big concern. 

In fact, the Army Corps of Engineers today is saying that just three inches of rain from Hurricane Rita or any rain at all could swamp the already stressed-out sewer lines around here.  And then, just six inches of rain could push these levees out and overwhelm the levee system in here. 

That‘s a big concern.  The other big concern, Chris, is that, you know, yes, we have got blue skies, but many people may have no idea that a hurricane is on the way.  You have to remember that the phone lines are not working in many of the areas.  Many of the areas where people have returned or people never left, they don‘t have any electricity and no way to watch TV or listen to the radio to find out that the hurricane is on the way. 

So, what has been going on today is that some people have been driving through the neighborhoods with bullhorns and telling people about the mandatory evacuation and bringing some buses to try to get people to leave their homes today.  It has been sort of working.  What we heard is that, yesterday, about two busloads of people showed up at the Convention Center. 

But, Chris, today, only about a handful showed up at the Convention Center to get a ride out of town.  But one thing that we have seen all day today is a lot of barges and ships and tankers have been pulling out of—out of the harbor here and heading either out to the Gulf or up the Mississippi to get away from Rita. 

MATTHEWS:  Michelle, will the mayor or will he not enforce the evacuation order? 

HOFLAND:  Well, that‘s—we have not heard exactly how he is going to enforce the evacuation order. 

But what he did say at a press conference this afternoon is that, hey, we are not—we‘re all adults here, and he is not going to force anyone out of their homes at gunpoint.  So, he is not forcing them out at gunpoint, but it is a mandatory evacuation.  So, it‘s unclear exactly how he‘s going to enforce the mandatory evacuation. 

MATTHEWS:  God, there‘s still so much unclear down there about the way things are being run down there.

Anyway, thank you, NBC‘s Michelle Hofland, in New Orleans. 

Let‘s get the latest on Hurricane Rita and where it‘s headed and how big it is from NBC Weather Plus meteorologist Bill Karins. 

Bill, Category 5 now? 

BILL KARINS, NBC METEOROLOGIST:  Yes, a Category 5 storm.

We have had about 20 of them in the entire Atlantic Basin in about the last 50 years.  That‘s not unheard of.  Right now, though, it‘s getting up to that little classification of being in the top 10 of all time for winds and for the pressure, as it continues to strengthen.  We are waiting for it to finally peak and end its peak process.  And that has not happened quite yet. 

We still are going to see some effects.  And we have seen reporters some there in New Orleans.  The wind has been gusting all day long to about 30 to 40 miles per hour.  And then, from Port Arthur down to Galveston, FOX of course, this is the real area of concern. 

We will get the director to switch over to our computer source there, number 91.  I want to show you what we‘re dealing with exactly with the wind speeds and as far as the new track is going to be concerned, because we just got that in.  We have got hurricane watches that are now up from Port Mansfield all the way to Cameron, Louisiana. 

So, that is going to take us—Port Mansfield is located just north of Brownsville, Texas—that takes us along the entire Texas coastline and then all the way back up there into southern portions of Louisiana.  That‘s where we are going to be watching the worst of the storm.  The track has not changed much, Chris.  It still looks like it‘s going to be pretty much due south of Houston and the Galveston area.

And they are going to be in that right front area.  That‘s the area where the worst storm surge will be.  And, Chris, I think the numbers to watch is going to be the levee there.  Actually, it‘s called—what they want to call it is a wall that protects Galveston.  That‘s at 18 feet.  Right now, we need a storm surge lower than that or the whole island will get swamped. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we have been hearing about 19.  Is that appropriate? 

Do you think that is what is coming? 

KARINS:  Well, we do it on usual averages.  Katrina was the max ever.  That was between 20 to 30 feet.  With a Category 5, you expect a 18 or above.  We do expect the storm to weaken back down to a Category 4 by then.  It should be somewhere between 15 or 20 feet.  So, it is going to be a very close call for the island. 

MATTHEWS:  Last time, when we were going to Katrina, it went from a 5 to a 3.  How can you—how do you predict a 5 only coming only down to a 4?

KARINS:  Well, it is going to bounce you around. 

Right now, it‘s under very warm water.  The warmest water in the Gulf is what it‘s over right now.  As it moves into the western Gulf, the water is just slightly weaker.  Think of these hurricanes as like a fire.  As soon as they don‘t have that fuel, the wood to burn as much, they are not going to be as strong.  The fire won‘t be as strong. 

So, as it goes out here to the western portion of the Gulf, it may be able to maintain a Category 4, but it shouldn‘t be able to keep as a Category 5.  That‘s the thinking right now that I have and also the Hurricane Center.

MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you, is this unusual or are we just paying more attention to this thing?  But I can‘t remember a time that weather was such a big news issue.  Category 5‘s off the coast, becoming even 3‘s, how extraordinary is that, Bill? 

KARINS:  Chris, you mean to go from a 5 to a 3? 

MATTHEWS:  No, to be a 5. 

KARINS:  Oh, to be a 5.

I mean, we usually average about one every two years.  But to have them this close to land, two in a row within four weeks, is almost unheard of.  I think we only had one other year in the last 100 years where have we had two Category 4 or 5‘s make landfall in the same year.  We have to wait and see what this is when it makes landfall, but this will be one of the very few times in recorded U.S. history that we get two 4‘s in the same season making a landfall. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s assume the worst or near worst.  You get a Category 4 hitting the Texas beach, making landfall there at Galveston.  How long would that high surge of water stay there?  In other words, if it comes in at 19 feet, how long does the depth of the water remain that high? 

KARINS:  Well, not long. 

What we saw there in Bay St. Louis, we saw the pictures out of there, and also out of that whole Biloxi and Gulfport.  It was 10 or 12 hours after that, we saw the pictures.  And all we saw was the devastation.  A lot of people were not there to see the water surging in.  Luckily, for a lot of the Texas coastline, unlike New Orleans, they‘re above sea level.  So, once that water—it‘s going to rush in with the winds.  And, as the winds kind of switch directions, that water is going to rush back out. 

But that storm surge will actually come on shore beginning about four hours before the eye does. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

KARINS:  So, that is going to be the critical time period.  It will be

probably be about a six-hour storm surge, Chris, to answer your question. 

MATTHEWS:  So, you can‘t hold your breath, obviously.

KARINS:  No.  No.  I mean...

MATTHEWS:  If you go under, you‘re going to die? 

KARINS:  No.  The critical thing...

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

KARINS:  And that‘s an important point.


MATTHEWS:  That‘s why—I‘m trying to encourage people to get the hell out of there. 

KARINS:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  I mean, if that surge goes through Galveston, you‘re

telling me now—I know you‘re not the governor or the mayor of that town

you‘re telling me, if that storm surge goes through Galveston, people better not be there. 

KARINS:  Yes, the sick, the elderly, the people that can‘t get out with their own transportation.

MATTHEWS:  I mean, any—who can—well, who can—who can swim for six hours in 19 feet of water in a turbulent sea?  Not many people. 

KARINS:  Yes.  Right now, Chris,, we are just trying to minimize the number of lives that this storm is going to take.


MATTHEWS:  Well, it sounds like—it sounds like your life is going to be lost if you stay in Galveston.

Anyway, thank you very much, Bill Karins. 


MATTHEWS:  The Texas Gulf Coast is bracing for a direct hit, as we have been talking about it.

Coming up, we are going to talk to two Texas mayors about whether they‘re ready for Hurricane Rita.  It‘s not going to be a lovely Rita, you can tell now, 19 feet of water coming at you. 

You‘re watching HARDBALL, only on MSNBC.  


MATTHEWS:  Coming up, what are communities in Texas doing to prepare for Hurricane Rita and will it be enough to avoid a repeat of what happened in New Orleans?  We will ask two Texas mayors when HARDBALL returns. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Is the Texas Gulf Coast ready for Hurricane Rita, which is now a Category 5? 

I‘m joined on the phone by Mayor Oscar Ortiz of Port Arthur, Texas. 

Also with us is Mayor Jimmy Weekley of Key West, which escaped a direct hit

by Rita, but still remains partially flooded. 

Let me go to Mayor Ortiz. 

Sir, are you ready for this? 

OSCAR ORTIZ, MAYOR OF PORT ARTHUR, TEXAS:  Well, we are as ready as we can be.

You know, at 1:00 today, I declared a mandatory evacuation was being passed because they‘re telling me that the surge is going to be about 10-foot high, which would put all the houses under water.  My concern now, of course, is, is that that hurricane with 165 mile-an-hour winds, Category 5 flood, is it going to turn to the north and hit us in the kisser?  I don‘t know. 


ORTIZ:  And I have got a meeting that‘s going to start in about 15 minutes to tell me—give me some more answers. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I have heard from—becoming something of a weather person the last three weeks, that the right-hand side of the hurricane is the tough part, so you might get hit in the right, on the right of that hurricane eye. 

ORTIZ:  Yes, we‘re on the east side, which is the west—the worst side to be in on a hurricane. 


ORTIZ:  And, of course, with a Category 5-plus and the wind span that it has got, yes, it‘s going to—it‘s going to cause us some problems here in Port Arthur. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we are looking at some of these pictures of these coastal areas.  Is your town, your city empty now or are people still holding out in there?

ORTIZ:  No, people are still holding out. 

We are going to be evacuating Sabine Pass, as I said, at 6:00 tomorrow morning.  Hopefully, by 9:00 or 10:00, we will have them all out of Sabine Pass.  There‘s only about 400 or 500 people there.


MATTHEWS:  It‘s not my job, but maybe you should tell everybody, if they‘re not over 10 feet tall, they should leave. 


MATTHEWS:  Because I can do the math and you can do it. 


MATTHEWS:  Nobody is going to be able to tread water for—I hear the water stays at a level, just to get your imagination...

ORTIZ:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  ... long enough, so nobody is going to still be treading water there once the water comes in. 

ORTIZ:  You‘re absolutely right.  And that‘s why I have made it a mandatory evacuation.  Hopefully...


MATTHEWS:  What does mandatory mean?  Legally what does mandatory—what does it mean? 


ORTIZ:  Mandatory means they have to get out. 

MATTHEWS:  How so?

ORTIZ:  They have to get out.  Under state law, the power that I was given by the legislature this last year is that I can even go in there and get them and take them out of there, if I have to. 

I don‘t want to do that.  I would rather see them come out on their own. 


ORTIZ:  But it‘s mandatory.  And once we close that bridge off going into Sabine Pass, nobody is going to be allowed to go in there until after the storm is gone. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, how far are you willing to go, Mayor?  Are you willing to make sure they leave?

ORTIZ:  Yes, sir. 


ORTIZ:  I am going to be over there at that bridge Friday morning checking them. 

MATTHEWS:  Because I remember the conversation I had with the mayor of

Mayor Nagin of New Orleans beforehand.  There was a lot of bragging going on.  Hey, I got 90 percent of the people out.  Ninety percent, what a great percentage. 


MATTHEWS:  And then you find out that 10 percent is 50,000 people. 



MATTHEWS:  All of a sudden, that 10 percent looks a lot bigger when you see their faces. 

ORTIZ:  Well, I agree with you. 

But I hope not to make those mistakes that were made in New Orleans.  I think all of us can benefit from some of those mistakes over there.  And, no, we are going to be watching this closely.  We have a meeting now at 4:30.  We have a meeting tonight at 10:30.  We have another meeting tomorrow morning at 4:30, 10:30 (INAUDIBLE) around the clock.  And we are going to be tracking that hurricane very closely. 

At any point that I see that thing automatically or somehow is going to turn to the north, by whatever degrees, I‘m going to call for a mandatory evacuation of Port Arthur also. 


MATTHEWS:  Do you have a crime—do you have a crime threat there, Mayor?  I mean, if everybody leaves, they take their jewelry with them, obviously. 


ORTIZ:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  They take their small, their little electronics things people have all fallen in love with.

ORTIZ:  Yes. 

MATTHEWS:  Maybe they take a TV set in the back seat.  But you have got to leave behind the appliances.  You have got to leave behind maybe a car. 

ORTIZ:  That‘s right. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you tell people to take that risk?  How do you get them convinced that we are all right? 

ORTIZ:  Well, tomorrow, we‘re going to have buses working already to get the people out of Sabine Pass.  So, that—that hopefully is going to encourage all of them to get out of there. 

We are going to have four stations in Port Arthur that are going to be moving people in and out.  That was one of the reasons why I asked the school districts to close their schools for tomorrow and Friday, so we could have those buses free to be able to get these people out of here.  So, that‘s my plan right now.  And, so far, it‘s working.

MATTHEWS:  So, you are going to be able to take those buses in and out and keep using them up until the time the storm hits? 

ORTIZ:  Yes, sir.  We are going to evacuate to Lufkin, Texas.  And the command center for the city will be in Lumberton, Texas.  We are going to have two areas.

MATTHEWS:  Where are people going to stay once they are out of town?

ORTIZ:  Well, when they go to Lufkin, we have got some shelters over there already made up for them.  So, they can stay in.

MATTHEWS:  What percentage of your town have you got a place to stay? 

ORTIZ:  Well, I would think that, at those shelters, we could handle a few hundred people.  They‘re telling us 700 people.  So...

MATTHEWS:  And what is your town population? 

ORTIZ:  My town population is about a little over 60,000. 

MATTHEWS:  So, where are you going to put the other 59,000-plus? 



MATTHEWS:  I have done the math here.  You have got 100 houses for 60,000 people. 

ORTIZ:  Well, I am hoping a lot of them will catch a weekend trip to Las Vegas.  That‘s what I‘m really hoping for.


ORTIZ:  No, seriously...

MATTHEWS:  No, seriously, where do you take the people when you get them in the school buses and you start driving north or wherever?  Where do you dump—where do you—to be honest about it, Where do you dump the people and say, get out here; I have got to go back for another load? 

ORTIZ:  No.  We are going to take them right straight to Texas in Lufkin, Texas.  I think—I think, with the majority of the people are going to find their own transportation out of here.  A lot of them that I know that are my friends have already made reservations in out-of-town hotels. 

Some people are even going to Houston.  And I tell them, I don‘t why you‘re going to Houston.  It could be just as bad over there.  But that‘s where some of them are going. 

MATTHEWS:  Have we gotten over the macho notion that you stay behind and hang on to your house; you don‘t move out of town?  We got a lot of that in Mississippi and Alabama, where people were saying, we are staying here. 


ORTIZ:  Yes.  We have got a lot of that in Texas.  And I have got a lot of that over in Sabine Pass, because I got a lot of construction crews over there that build these oil rigs and everything. 

And I‘m hoping they get over that idea, because a 165 mile-an-hour hurricane isn‘t going to stand for one little person.  It will just bowl right over them.  So...

MATTHEWS:  Well said.  Thank you. 

ORTIZ:  ... I‘m hoping they listen.  I really am.

MATTHEWS:  Well, good luck with you in everything.

We will be right with you, Mayor, Mayor Oscar Ortiz or Port Arthur, Texas, which is, as we have just been talking about, in the direct path of a Category 5.

And Mayor Jimmy Weekley of Key West, parts of which remain under water after Rita blew by, we are going to be talking to him.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Hurricane Rita has reached Category 5 strength in the Gulf of Mexico.  It‘s a Category 5 hurricane now. 

We‘re back talking to mayors in Texas preparing for a direct hit, cities that are in direct line of that hurricane, as you can see it moving westward there. 

On the phone right now, we have got Mary Jo Naschke.  She‘s in the mayor‘s public information office.  She‘s the top person in Galveston,Texas, which is under a mandatory evacuation order.  Also with us, as before, is Key West Mayor Jimmy Weekley.  Key West saw heavy rain, winds and storm surge from Rita yesterday.

But let‘s start with Galveston, a city of 260,000 people, which is a barrier island and direct—a direct target now of a Category 5 hurricane. 

Mary Jo Naschke, is everybody out of town now?


We have managed to raise their level awareness to where they were concerned about staying due to high water and winds.  And we are still transporting people off. 

MATTHEWS:  How many people are left of your 260,000 residents? 

NASCHKE:  That, I don‘t know.  I can‘t...


MATTHEWS:  Does anybody know? 

NASCHKE:  We‘re not going door to door.  We are going to ask our peace officers to give us an estimate after they make their rounds this evening. 


Let me ask you, are you hearing what we‘re hearing, that it could surge to 19 feet and it could be up there—you could be under water in that depth for, like, half-a-day?


And, actually, from the beginning, we were preaching for a Category 5.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

NASCHKE:  And that‘s just our policy. 



NASCHKE:  And so, I know that you have the mayor of another city, and I would like—if I can hand off to the mayor of Galveston, she just walked up. 

MATTHEWS:  Oh, great.  Thank you very much.

NASCHKE:  And this is Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas, mayor of Galveston.

MATTHEWS:  Mayor Thomas, thank you for joining us, mayor of Galveston. 

Thank you very much for joining us, Madam Mayor.

Tell us about what your hopes are.  Do you hope to get everybody out of town off the island by the time that the hurricane hits landfall? 

LYDA ANN THOMAS, MAYOR OF GALVESTON, TEXAS:  We hope that‘s the case. 

A lot of people have left already, and we have—I don‘t know how many are left in the city, but we‘re evacuating the whole county. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you advise people to leave? 

THOMAS:  I have been advising them to leave. 

But, as of 6:00, the entire county will mandate a mandatory evacuation, which simply means that, after 6:00 this evening, the inbound lane into Galveston over our causeway will be closed.  It also means that people who are still here during the storm will be here at their own risk, because we may not have power.  We may not have our 99 -- our 911 number working.  UTMB Hospitals will be unable to pick up people and get them to the hospital.  So people need to leave now. 

MATTHEWS:  Do you still have full electric power in Galveston?

THOMAS:  Oh, absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  So, everybody should have gotten the word by now that you‘re facing a serious danger to their lives if they stick around? 

THOMAS:  Yes.  We have been on this serious danger for at least four days, ever since we were advised that this is—this hurricane may enter the Gulf.  And now it is in the Gulf.  And it‘s headed our way. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Madam Mayor. 

That‘s Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas of Galveston, Texas, which is right on the target right now for a Category 5 storm, which could be a much stronger hurricane than the one that destroyed New Orleans.

Let‘s go right now quickly to Jimmy Weekley from Key West. 

Mayor, thank you for joining us. 

How are things going now that you‘re in the past of—the past path of Rita? 

JIMMY WEEKLEY, MAYOR OF KEY WEST, FLORIDA:  Everything is going real well. 

We didn‘t have a whole lot of damage.  We had some flooding that came in late last night, somewhere around midnight, on a number of the streets in some of the low-lying areas, got about three to four feet of water.  I know some of the houses there got one to two feet of water inside their houses. 

It looks like that we had somewhere in the neighborhood of about 100 to 150 homes that have a lot of water damage. 


WEEKLEY:  We‘re still—we are still assessing that—that damage. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, sir, thank you very much for your patience, Mayor Jimmy Weekley of Key West Florida. 

Up next, we will check in with the Weather Center for the latest on where Rita is expected to make landfall.  It still looks like Galveston.  Plus, how ready are levees in New Orleans if Rita returns?  Apparently, they can‘t take more than a few inches of rain and they‘re going to be in trouble again.

You‘re watching HARDBALL on MSNBC. 



MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL. 

Hurricane Rita has reached Category 5.  We will say it again, Category 5, the strongest possible.  And it‘s expected to make landfall somewhere in Texas by early Saturday morning. 

Let‘s check back with NBC Weather Plus meteorologist Bill Karins. 

Bill, is that still the way you‘re looking at it, Saturday, Texas, 5? 

KARINS:  Yes, everything except being landfall at 5.  We don‘t expect landfall to be at a 5. 

It is going to peak out in intensity here in the next 12 to 24 hours, and then it may weaken slightly down to a 4 at landfall.  Right now, we‘re calling for landfall as a category 4.  It could possibly be a 3 at landfall.  Maybe there‘s a slight chance it could remain a 5 at landfall, but, more or less, probably a 4.  We are going to hedge it right in the middle.

Clearly, the storm is taking up the whole eastern Gulf of Mexico.  Wind gusts up to 202 miles per hour, sustained winds in the middle of the storm at 165, the pressure down to 914.  And, in case you‘re wondering, just for the record books, the strongest that we have out there is Allen;

190 mile-per-hour winds, sustained, was the highest that we have ever had.  So, we have got a ways to go until it breaks the all-time record for strongest winds measured. 

That‘s in the latest recorded history, back to about ‘55, when the hurricane hunters started flying into those planes.  So, we expect at Category 4 somewhere on this white line.  Remember, we still got this cone of uncertainty here anywhere in the yellow.  But we‘re beginning to narrow this down.  We have excellent agreement with almost all of our weather computers that it‘s going to be somewhere between Corpus Christi and Houston. 

Corpus Christi, this would put you on the weaker side of this storm.  You would still see very strong winds and very heavy rain, but you would not get that storm surge.  Everywhere to the north, Galveston to Houston, that is where the worst of the storm surge would be.  That‘s also where the worst of all the winds would be.

I want to show you.  This is our wind field currently.  Each of these lines, Chris, represents one of our computer models.  And you notice, they are pretty tightly clustered.  None of them are taking it towards Louisiana.  None of them are taking it to Mexico.  Everything is now pinpointing here right on the coast of Texas. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, thank you very much, Bill Karins. 

The Hurricane Center at Louisiana State University is countering the claims from the Army Corps of Engineers that Katrina just overpowered the levee and flood wall system in New Orleans.  Engineers at LSU are reporting that it was either faulty design, inadequate construction or a variation of both that caused the catastrophic structural failure of flood walls that allowed the massive flooding of New Orleans.  That‘s a big story today. 

HARDBALL correspondent David Shuster has the report. 


DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over):  Was it an act of God or an act of graft?  Scientists and engineers in New Orleans are now convinced storm surges three weeks ago were far less than reported and did not come close to overtopping the city‘s flood walls.  They say it was a combination of faulty design and shoddy construction that caused the barriers to breach, flooding the city. 

The Army Corps of Engineers has not identified the contractors who built the floodgates, but has already promised an investigation. 

COL. RICHARD WAGENAAR, NEW ORLEANS CORPS OF ENGINEERS:  My people want to know as bad as everyone else, because they‘re locals.  They designed and they were built here.  And so, so they want to know what happened to these walls just as bad as everyone else. 

SHUSTER:  Louisiana has a long tradition of corruption and inefficiency.  And a former FBI agent earlier this week said everything that went wrong in New Orleans should be suspect. 

JIM BERNAZZANI, FBI SPECIAL AGENT:  What we do have here, unfortunately, is a target-rich environment relative to select individuals who would abuse their office for personal profit.  Within the FBI, New Orleans ranks 19th in size, but we are third in public corruption convictions. 

SHUSTER:  When it comes to flood control projects, Congress determines the priorities in spending and the Corps oversees design and construction. 

For years, engineers argued the New Orleans levees were not strong enough to withstand a powerful hurricane, and some political analysts say that, regardless of any graft or design flaws, Louisiana‘s former representatives in Congress, like Bob Livingston, former chair of the House Appropriations committee, deserve some of the blame. 

CHARLIE COOK, EDITOR & PUBLISHER, “THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT”:  This was a matter of corruption so much, as just misplaced priorities and a congressional delegation that was answering to what their constituents wanted, rather than what their constituents really needed. 

SHUSTER:  Now, with the levees in horrible shape, engineers in New Orleans say the city need every hurricane over the rest of the season to stay far away.  Otherwise, the city could be swamped again.  The marshes that provided a natural barrier to the south and east have largely been erased.  And while engineers are scrambling to repair the New Orleans flood walls, even a minor storm, they say, could put those manmade barriers in jeopardy. 

WAGENAAR:  The biggest concern is the surge.  We can handle about six inches of rainfall and we think the pumps can generally keep up with that, but it is the surge. 

SHUSTER (on camera):  Just in case Hurricane Rita suddenly turns north, officials in New Orleans are trying to get everybody out of the city again. 

But, as they retreat, the question that still hangs in the air is whether the levees there are now more vulnerable because of Mother Nature or because of manmade corruption. 

I‘m David Shuster for HARDBALL in Washington. 


MATTHEWS:  Thank you, David Shuster. 

Major General Don Riley is the director of civil works with the Army Corps of Engineers.  He‘s in Baton Rouge this evening.  And joining us is Bob Livingston, the former Louisiana congressman who chaired the House Appropriations Committee and spearheaded flood projects in this state. 

You were very tough in the paper today, Congressman.  You went after this whole question.  Were these flood walls below specification?  Were they designed improperly?  Were the contractors who had the jobs cheating in some way, not putting up the kind of strong flood wall we need or something lesser?  Or was the issue bad design from the beginning? 

BOB LIVINGSTON, FORMER U.S. CONGRESSMAN:  Chris, I have no idea.  I‘m not an engineer. 

I can tell you that the levees on the river held up.  The levees on the lake held up.  What gave way were the Industrial Canal and the 17th Street Canal. 

And 17th Street Canal construction site was finished only about three or four years ago.  They spent about four years working on it.  Now, why it gave way, I just can‘t say.  Maybe it wasn‘t...


MATTHEWS:  Well, it looks right.  The question is, is it an engineering mistake to think that that wall can protect against the ocean? 


LIVINGSTON:  I don‘t know why it broke.  It did break.  And we ought to—have to find out. 

We just really need to find out.  But I thought it was—interested in that cite.  I was the only congressman cited in that last spot.  We funded the Corps of Engineers to as great a degree as we possibly could fund it. 


LIVINGSTON:  And so I—I take a little umbrage at the way that guy put that. 


MATTHEWS:  Let me ask you about two questions.  Did the Army—did anybody get shorted here, in terms of materials, in terms of design?  Was there somebody who said, you need a stronger wall, and you didn‘t put it up?  Did the Army Corps push for a stronger, more higher-category capability? 

LIVINGSTON:  The Army Corps of Engineers said that they would design to a Category 3.  There was never anybody that I know of that said it should be less.  The problem is, this was a Category 4 or 5.  Now, 30 years ago...


MATTHEWS:  Not when it hit the wall, it wasn‘t a 4.  It was a 3 when it hit the wall. 

LIVINGSTON:  Well, last I heard...


LIVINGSTON:  ... was a 4.                 

MATTHEWS:  I heard that it met the design standard.

And the question that is out there now—and you were interviewed in the paper, Mr. Livingston—was that, if it—if it—if it was designed to handle a Category 3 and it was hit by a Category 3, why did it fall?  Why did it smash up?

LIVINGSTON:  Look, they are legitimate questions. 

But I can tell you that there was always a give and take between those who didn‘t think they wanted to spend money on levee control and people who had other priorities in Congress. 

MATTHEWS:  Right.  OK.

LIVINGSTON:  And those who wanted to spend.

MATTHEWS:  If we had this conversation a month ago, would people be fighting for more money for the levees or trying to save money? 

LIVINGSTON:  Oh, the Louisiana delegation...


MATTHEWS:  You would be.  But everybody else in the country would be saying no, right?

LIVINGSTON:  Well, everybody on the Mississippi River Valley was ready to support it.  We always had a majority in Congress to support higher levees.


Do you think we should investigate the contractors and see if they did the right job, what they were told to do?


LIVINGSTON:  Absolutely. 

MATTHEWS:  That they met specs?

LIVINGSTON:  I think we ought to take a look at who—why these things broke. 

MATTHEWS:  Because you were the one that said, we got to—that contractor has got a problem.  You said that in the paper today. 

LIVINGSTON:  I said that in the paper today.

MATTHEWS:  So, why do they have a problem, the contractor? 

LIVINGSTON:  Because the wall on the 17th Street Canal broke.  Why it broke, I can‘t—have no idea. 

MATTHEWS:  But they had the money to do the job.

LIVINGSTON:  Whether it was design or engineering.


LIVINGSTON:  I certainly wouldn‘t say it was graft or corruption.  I  just wanted to say, it may have been a design flaw.

MATTHEWS:  Well, it could have graft, too.

LIVINGSTON:  It could have been anything. 

MATTHEWS:  OK, let me ask you.

Or let me bring in General Riley. 

We‘re having an argument here.  And I want if you know or do you have to have an investigation.  Was it the quality of the construction or the specifications for the materials and the design that are at fault that explains why this wall went down, General? 

MAJ. GEN. DON RILEY, ARMY CORPS OF ENGINEERS:  Well, Chris, it is certainly too early to tell.  And we are working diligently to find out. 

I mean, we will investigate more than anybody in this case and find out, independent investigators, as well as Corps investigators, to find out the cause of this. 

But let me tell you, the enormity of this storm was just tremendous.  And Plaquemines Parish down the river, it went six and seven feet over the river.  There are large fishing vessels sitting on top of the levee down there.  And that‘s the Mississippi River levee.  In Saint Bernard Parish, just to the east of New Orleans...


RILEY:  ... it came in from multiple sides.

And the—the winds were much greater than Category 3 when it—surge came into the lake and then pushed it down in those canals.  So, this was a horribly destructive storm. 

MATTHEWS:  OK.  Thank you very much, General, General Riley of the Corps.

Thank you very much, Former Congressman Bob Livingston and Major General, as I said, General Riley. 

Up next, we are going to find out what the American Red Cross is doing in Texas to prepare for Hurricane Rita, now a powerful Category 5. 

And, tomorrow on HARDBALL, Texas Governor Rick Perry will join us.



MATTHEWS:  Still ahead, Texas prepares for Hurricane Rita, and jazz legend Wynton Marsalis on how to rebuild his native New Orleans.

HARDBALL returns after this.


MATTHEWS:  Another big crisis for the American Red Cross, as volunteers scramble to aid Hurricane Katrina victims in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, and potentially even more from Hurricane Katrina as it heads towards—Hurricane Rita, as it heads towards Texas. 

Is the Red Cross ready for all this challenge? 

Peter Teahen is the national spokesman for the American Red Cross. 

Peter, how are you going to deal with all the people rushing away again from New Orleans up to Baton Rouge, which is already packed, rushing away from Galveston to Houston, which is already packed?  Where are people going to go now?  Where are you taking them? 

PETER TEAHEN, AMERICAN RED CROSS:  Well, the Red Cross is opening up shelters now, as we did with Katrina.  We are opening up more shelters, inviting people to seek safe haven outside of the flood zone or the surge zone area.

And I was coming down here today, traffic jams of people moving north.  So, they‘re learning from Katrina.  We hope we don‘t duplicate what we saw there, where people didn‘t leave.  Red Cross is really encouraging people right now to call family members, tell them where you‘re going and when you arrive and making sure that communication is established now, as people are displaced, because we have over 245,000 individuals in hotels and in rooms all over the United States in 46 states. 

And we want people to stay in touch, because that is going to help reduce the stress load of these families.  But Red Cross is opening up shelters.  We are getting ready to provide meals when need to.  That‘s our two biggest missions, is feeding and shelter.  And we are not going to let the American public down. 

MATTHEWS:  How do you get people to leave areas like the one you‘re standing in right now?

TEAHEN:  Well, it‘s frustrating. 

I picked up two individuals who were walking down the street.  And I said, are you evacuating?  And they said, no, we have two kittens we won‘t leave at home.  And I said, but your life is more important.  And they said, well, we‘re not going to leave. 

You can coax.  You can talk to them.  Some people won‘t leave.  And then you just hope that they‘re prepared.  These folks had two days of water and food and that was it.  And I said, it may be several days before help gets to you.  You have got be better prepared. 

But we are looking at families sometimes who just don‘t have the financial means.  And that‘s why we advocate for families to look at how to get people out of here working with the local government. 


Peter, good work.  Keep it up.  Good work down there.  Everybody roots for the Red Cross.  Thank you, Peter Teahen, who is down in Galveston with the American Red Cross. 

When we return, jazz trumpeter and New Orleans native Wynton Marsalis

what a guy—on how to rebuild that town and make some money for New Orleans in the future with music. 

This is HARDBALL, only on MSNBC. 


MATTHEWS:  Welcome back to HARDBALL.

As New Orleans braces for another hurricane, many people are trying to figure out what comes next for that city.  Today, I spoke with jazz legend, trumpeter and New Orleans legend Wynton Marsalis about his role in rebuilding that city. 


MATTHEWS:  Wynton, thank you for joining us on HARDBALL.

You‘ve been given a big job of co-chairing this effort to rebuild the culture.


MATTHEWS:  The economic culture of New Orleans.  What kind of challenge is that?   

MARSALIS:  Right. 

Well, it‘s a challenge, but we have a great basis.  You know, we can just go into our history and find so many successful things.  I think we‘re the only city in the world with a really full culture.  And I don‘t—I suspect there will be some difficulties, but we‘re ready to do it. 

MATTHEWS:  I remember reading about Louis Armstrong back in the ‘30s and even before that, when he was a poor guy working at these dives down there, breaking his lips, just playing hours and hours and hours.  Is that when it really flowered down there, when New Orleans got to be what it is today?

MARSALIS:  Well, I think, before that, before the turn of the century, there were so many different types of people.  There were a lot of instruments, a lot of opera music, a lot of church music, a lot of blues, a lot of different styles. 

And they were all synthesized by a man Buddy Bolden and his band.  And that was actually one generation of musicians before Louis Armstrong.  Pops came up kind of in the late teens.  And, in the ‘20s, he left New Orleans and went to Chicago.  So, the stew was already in place. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MARSALIS:  You know, everybody already knew kind of what they were going to do. 

MATTHEWS:  How does the Preservation Hall Jazz group fit into all that?

MARSALIS:  Well, I think Preservation Hall came much later. 

You know, it‘s a club that was established on Bourbon Street.  I don‘t

they weren‘t around way back then.  Then, there were bands like Buddy Bolden and the Eagle Brass Band.  And, a lot of times, there were a lot of organized brass bands that didn‘t improvise at all.

And there was a movement of segregation, a movement of segregation.  At one time, New Orleans was integrated.  Then, in the late 1800s, it s became segregated.  And when it became segregated, Creole musicians were forced to work with the darker-skinned black musicians.  And the darker-skinned musicians were improvising.  And the Creoles also had to learn how to improvise to compete for jobs.  And then jazz started to coalesce. 

MATTHEWS:  Where do you see the future if you look down the road of New Orleans of Bourbon Street and the Quarter? 

MARSALIS:  Well, I hope that it will get much better.  It had already sunk down in a kind of frat party, Disneyland type of place.  So, we need to start again and deal with the substance of our culture. 

MATTHEWS:  Are there serious jazz joints there now? 

MARSALIS:  There are some places, like Snug Harbor, Donna‘s, the Funky Butt, Vaughan‘s.  There are enough clubs where musicians have a chance to play.

But the music has never been taken seriously enough by the city to have it be a part of educational curriculum, for us to really concentrate on developing first-class musicianship, so that, when you come to New Orleans, you‘ll hear the same type of jazz on the same quality that when, you go to Vienna, you hear the Vienna Philharmonic. 

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

You know, Mel Brooks, the comedian, once said funny is money.  Is music money for New Orleans? 

MARSALIS:  Music is money for New Orleans in terms of the reputation, but, for the musicians, no.  None of that money ever trickles down to them.  I guarantee you that. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, how are you going to get good musicians to stick it out there in the next 20, 50 years?

MARSALIS:  Well, you know, the musicians love being from New Orleans. 

I mean, it‘s just—it‘s where we are from, even those of who leave, like my brother, myself, Harry Connick.  When we get together, we are always at heart New Orleans musicians.  And it‘s because of our love of our home, of our hometown.  And the musicians who stay in New Orleans, they love being from there.  They love the culture.  It‘s what we are. 

But we had a lot of things we need to correct and make better.  And, hopefully, this will give us the impetus to step into the 21st century. 

MATTHEWS:  Let‘s put it all together.  You watched television, like everybody else, I assume, the last three weeks.  You saw those people begging for help.  They were out of water.  They were at the Convention Center, sort of marooned.  Slow reaction by the federal government, not the greatest reaction by the local governments, the state governments. 

Put it all together.  What is going to be the image, the word Katrina? 

What is it going to mean 10, 20 years from now?

MARSALIS:   Well, I think, if we don‘t forget, if we don‘t forget it, I feel like it‘s an opportunity for us to come together as a nation and correct a lot of things that we haven‘t corrected about our way of life since the Reconstruction era. 

I really can‘t say what it will mean in 10 to 20 years.  It depends on what we do with it.  If we forget about it and we go back to business as usual, it will be another forgotten chapter in our history, where Americans came together, where they were apart.  If we do something with it and we deal with what it has laid out for us, then it will be a moment of pain and tragedy, but with a glorious ending.  It‘s up to what we do. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, we dropped the ball in this country in 1876 on Reconstruction, as you probably know.  The history was an awful deal by the Republican and Democratic Party just to end it, no chance, no 40 acres and a mule, no opportunities for black Americans, nothing, just dropped it.  Do you think we will drop it again down there? 

MARSALIS:  Well, our history and tradition is of dropping the ball. 

We did it with the Hayes-Tilden compromise, which you‘re talking about.

MATTHEWS:  Right. 

MARSALIS:  We did it again when—in the so-called Republican reclamation, when they recruited the Dixiecrats.

We do it all—we have done it.  But I‘m hopeful that, in our time, because we are now, after the civil rights movement, that some of that elevated consciousness will kick in and that the younger leadership will step forward and people will say, OK.  We‘re not really like this.  We want to take our country in this direction. 


MATTHEWS:  The Democratic Party has claimed to be the champion of civil rights.  Are they doing the job on opportunity down there?  Or have they been?



MATTHEWS:  The Democratic senators down there for years—I think the Republican ever elected just got elected.  The Republicans are Republicans.  But how are the Democrats doing on this? 

MARSALIS:  Well, you know, for me, I don‘t view it as Republican or Democrats.  I use that term to talk about what we called it. 

I think we have a dearth of leadership in general.  Now, I can‘t talk about the senators.  I actually was in eighth grade with David Vitter, who is the Republican senator from Louisiana.  And we were talking the other day.  So, I can‘t talk about people or parties. 

My personal feeling, as a citizen of the United States, is that both parties have let us down in a tragic way.  We have a dearth of culture-sophisticated leadership.  And, like I‘m saying, hopefully, the younger leadership will step forward.  hand there‘s so much polarizing of people and exploitation and taking people‘s money and using race and all these other things as tools...


MARSALIS:  ... to get in and exploit everybody.  So, I just feel we need a much—leadership with greater integrity, intelligence, nuance, skill.  I‘m just very disappointed by the leadership I see across the board. 

MATTHEWS:  Well, I hope you keep speaking out, sir.  Thank you very much. 


MATTHEWS:  Wynton Marsalis, who is co-chairing the cultural redevelopment and relief of New Orleans. 

MARSALIS:  Thank you. 


MATTHEWS:  Well, he‘s one of the legendary figures of our time.  I know, if you‘re not into jazz, you may not know this, but the name Wynton Marsalis is big time. 

Join us again tomorrow night at 5:00 and 7:00 Eastern for more HARDBALL with Texas Governor Rick Perry.  He‘s going to be with us.

And the National Hurricane Center now says that Hurricane Rita is now the fifth most intense storm in history. 

And, right now, our coverage of Rita continues on “THE ABRAMS REPORT” with Dan Abrams—Dan.


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