Guest: Asa Hutchinson, Joseph Suhayda
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: Good evening. I‘m Joe Scarborough. You‘re watching MSNBC‘s continuing coverage of Hurricane Rita.
You‘re looking right now, a map of Rita. What an ugly orange and dark red mass as it‘s heading towards the Texas-Louisiana border. Actually, maybe taking a tick a bit to the east, which would certainly spell problems for Lake Charles and other areas—other areas along the border.
Right here we‘re showing you images right now of Rita as it‘s blowing across Texas. These are images from Beaumont, Texas, which may be—and we‘re saying may be, still too early to tell, but may be on the better side of the storm.
And certainly, there is a better side of the storm, as everybody knows. You want to be on the west side of the eye if at all possible. That‘s not going to happen in southwest Louisiana tonight.
But let‘s bring in a pro here to talk about it and talk to NBC‘s Weather Plus Bill Karins. He‘s got the very latest on Hurricane Rita at this hour.
Bill, give us the latest update.
BILL KARINS, NBC METEOROLOGIST: Well, Joe, you have to give yourself a pat on the back, too, because you‘ve been saying for the past three days that these things tend to turn to the right when they go through the gulf, being the expert living down there.
And now for the first time the hurricane center is actually saying landfall is going to be in Louisiana instead of in Texas. Now, it‘s only a small shift just across the border here, but it makes a big difference for areas like Port Arthur.
Instead of getting that storm surge moving in through the entire region there, into the port, now it‘s like your winds will be stronger out of the north, blowing the water out of the port. So the flooding potential for the storm surge in Port Arthur is less.
But unfortunately for everyone there in Cameron Parish, Lake Charles southwards, it‘s much worse.
You can see the center of the storm. You can see this black line indicates the wiggles and wobbles it‘s been taking. We still expect areas like Port Arthur and Beaumont to go through the western eye wall. But it looks like the worst, the northeastern eye wall, will be moving inland over the top of Lake Charles. And it‘s kind of a swampy area so it really shouldn‘t weaken all that quickly.
It‘s at 120 miles per hour winds now. That‘s equal to Ivan. That‘s also equal to what Dennis was earlier this year, those storms both affecting the Florida Panhandle, especially around Pensacola.
You can clearly see where the eye is. And his is where the worst wind damage is. This is Cameron Parish, one of the most unpopulated areas of the gulf. There are still 10,000 people that live in that area. Hopefully, they‘re all out of this region.
And these are the towns that are going to get the worst storm surge, and when we see the pictures tomorrow afternoon. Towns like Holly Beach, the town of Cameron, 2,000 people live there, Grand Chenier (ph) and Pecan Island (ph), some small towns that populate this swampy area, but those are the towns that you‘ll probably see the storm surge going through houses, the wind damage and that.
So feel bad for these people tonight. It‘s an unpopulated area, but those people are evacuating. They‘re probably watching TV, and now they know that the worst of the storm is probably going to change their lives and their town forever.
As far as the projected forecast path, you can see it now for the first time. On the east side here of Port Arthur, in between Lake Charles and Port Arthur, crossing first through Louisiana then into areas of east Texas. We still think one of the biggest stories out of the storm, Joe, is going to be the rainfall over the next three to four days as the system stalls out around Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana.
That‘s the latest from the hurricane center and that‘s the latest from me, too.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Thanks so much, Bill Karins from NBC‘s Weather Plus.
And as Bill was talking about we have been saying it‘s going to take a slight tick to the right. It usually does. It has certainly over the past year. Ivan did it.
And I remember when I was reporting that night and Ivan took a tick to the right. I remember saying that that was going to be deadly for my hometown. Unfortunately it was. The same thing happened with Katrina. Same thing happened with Rita.
And friends, I‘m telling you, 45 miles, 50 miles, 100 miles, actually even a lot less than a hundred miles, 50 miles can make a huge difference. And again, in the case of a killer storm like this, it can make the difference between life and death.
And you‘re hearing tonight, and you‘ve been hearing tonight from people who don‘t know anything about hurricanes that it‘s only a Category 3.
Let me tell you, when you‘ve got a storm system that packs 120 mile an hour winds, the worst part of it is, again, the storm surge. The storm surge comes on shore. And unfortunately, a lot of those towns, low-lying towns along the Louisiana coastline just may not be there tomorrow morning.
Let‘s go to MSNBC‘s own Rita Cosby. She‘s live tonight in Galveston, Texas. Rita, talk about the conditions on the west storm of the eye.
RITA COSBY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: You know, we‘re supposed to be on the clean side of it, where it‘s not supposed to be so bad. But the gusts, Joe, are very, very strong here. In fact I‘m going to put up my little wind meter and just see what we get.
This is a mild gust that we‘re experiencing right now, and it‘s 40 miles an hour. So we‘ve seen some pretty strong gusts right here. In fact, I recorded a 55 mile an hour gust just a few seconds ago. Some of them are starting to knock me off my feet a little bit.
Lots of wind, lots of rain. And you talked about the storm surge. That‘s a big concern here in Galveston. As you know, Joe, because this is a very small, little island. It‘s only two to three miles wide. It‘s about 30 miles long. And if this took a direct hit, which was the original expectation, this whole place could have been wiped out. It would have been disastrous for it.
There‘s a seawall alongside, but it‘s not only protecting just really basically the part of the island, it‘s only protecting about half of the island or so.
And let me check my wind machine here real quick as I‘m with you live, Joe. This one is 48 miles an hour. So—and this is not one of the more severe ones that we‘ve experienced. Again, pretty—pretty dramatic stuff. And again, this is the clean side of the island.
They‘re expecting, at the very least, that there will be some severe flooding, not just on this part, but on the western side where the seawall is not necessarily in tact. It‘s very low at that part of the island.
I went by there, Joe, in fact, about six, seven hours ago before the storm really kicked up. There was already flooding taking place there.
A lot of the homes are on stilts. A lot of the businesses are close to the water. We‘re probably going to see some wind damage here. We‘re going to also see some flooding.
And the lights—some of the lights came back on. But before I was standing in a very well-lit parking lot. You can see behind me that the power‘s going to go out. They‘ll probably lose some communications and some power here, as well. And again, this is the good news, because they did not get a direct hit.
Joe, back to you.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, Rita, the thing is, though, even though you‘re on the so-called clean side of the eye, you‘re also on a barrier island, and because these islands are so vulnerable to hurricanes, really doesn‘t matter what side of the eye you‘re on there, it‘s a dangerous situation.
You‘ve been there all day. Talk about that community. How many people stayed behind, and are those people who stayed behind on edge tonight?
COSBY: Yes, they are definitely on edge. Because this place is not immune to hurricanes. This had the worst natural disaster in U.S. history in 1900, September 8, 1900. They had a horrible hurricane that took place here.
And at that point the hurricane just wiped out the entire island:
12,000 people, 12,000 people, which is a massive number, were wiped out September 8, 1900, because of that horrible, horrible hurricane that came through here.
So folks were not taking any chances. They were extraordinarily nervous, Joe, especially when we heard it was a Category 5, that it was heading directly to Galveston.
At that point folks were really, really worried. When they heard that it tapered down slightly and was also moving slightly, of course, to the east of us here, they were very happy to see that.
In terms of the population, there‘s about 60,000 people here on Galveston Island on this small barrier island. And right now tonight there are about—we‘re told about 2,000 or 3,000 people.
They also have a curfew in effect. Looks like a lot of people have heeded that curfew.
In addition, Joe, I also want to bring up, we just found out there was a fire at the post office. We‘ve seen some transformers blow. We‘ve seen a lot of fire trucks driving back and forth. So there‘s a lot of issues that are going to come, even though they did get spared for the most part. They‘re going to have a lot of after effects after the storm, as well.
SCARBOROUGH: Rita, talk about what it‘s like standing out in near right now hurricane gale force winds. As the night goes on you‘re going to be actually standing out in the middle of hurricane gale force winds.
Try to explain to people. You know, everybody always loves joking about when people like myself or you get out in the winds, but of course, the reason why you do it is you try to give people at home, whether it‘s in Kansas or whether it‘s in Iowa or many where in middle America that‘s never experienced this type of storm, you‘re trying to give them some sort of perspective about how intense the winds are. Try to explain it to people at home what you‘re going through right now.
COSBY: You know, it‘s an incredible feeling. I‘m only 5‘4”, so it doesn‘t take a lot, unfortunately, to knock me off my feet.
But you know, the winds here, it‘s important for folks at home to get a sense of what we‘re going through, because you know, we‘re the lucky ones. You know, we have a home to go back to. A lot of the folks here, Mother Nature can do just incredible, intense damage.
And that‘s why all the folks here, especially based on the history of what‘s happened here, batten down the hatches just to make sure that they are safe and sound.
But to feel this firsthand. You know, some of these gusts are really intense, Joe.
Let me just give you another wind meter, too, just to see what—this is not that severe. This is 35 miles an hour wind, and this is one of the lighter gusts.
But it‘s pretty incredible.
COSBY: You know, you try to keep your balance, you try to stand up, but it is an amazing feeling to feel Mother Nature. And again, this is the good news here. I can‘t imagine what the folks are feeling like on the other part of the island. And we understand about two, or three hours from now, as you point out, it‘s going to be gale force winds. I may be having to hold on to something at that point.
SCARBOROUGH: You may be. Stay with us, Rita. I‘ll tell you what we‘re going to go right now. We‘re going to go to our local affiliate. It‘s KPRC. Let‘s pick up their coverage live right now.
PHIL ARCHER, KPRC CORRESPONDENT: ... hurricane. Our friends over in Louisiana, Cameron Parish, are getting the real brunt of this storm with the storm surge, which we really feared down in Port Arthur. Looks like those levees just might hold if this continues.
ARCHER: My understanding was they were worried they were going to have a surge that came up to the top of the levees. You don‘t think that‘s going to happen?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don‘t think so because the surge is usually east of the center.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And that‘s over toward Cameron. So it looks like this north wind pushing that water out. It will keep it from going over the levees.
ARCHER: And if the wind here stays to about 100 miles per hour, that‘s probably—whatever damage is caused by that is damage we can live with.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly. Now the winds, believe it or not, are going to get stronger here in Beaumont. This is not the end of this. We‘re going to see even stronger wind. The eye of the hurricane should hit the coast around 2 a.m. and we should see the highest winds in Beaumont at 4 a.m. We have many, many hours yet to go.
ARCHER: OK. Well, listen. Thank you for talking to us. Stay safe.
Sorry you lost your station today.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I‘m here for you guys.
ARCHER: Thank you, Greg. Once again, Greg Bostwick (ph). He‘s a local broadcaster, a local meteorologist with a CBS affiliate. He doesn‘t have a station anymore. They were knocked off the air.
So far, though, as we were discussing, we haven‘t seen a lot of damage, and the hope here among the city officials and first responders is that we‘re not going to see anything too much worse, although the wind is going to pick up.
The big worry they had here was that storm surge. And the guessing now, the prediction now is it may not top the levees. And that‘s a big relief, because flooding was a major concern, major thing they were worried about.
And again, once this passes through, this town is totally prepared. Right now it‘s essentially a ghost town. Most of the people have been evacuated. They flew 10,000 people out of here in the last 36 hours.
As soon as this storm passes through, they‘ve got about 200 emergency response vehicles, ambulance, police cars, everything you can imagine, on two ships down in the harbor, in the Beaumont harbor. As soon as this passes through they‘re going to be back on the street getting things back in order—Dominique, Bill.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, Phil. Thank you very much. Again, Phil Archer reporting live in Beaumont tonight.
So the chief meteorologist from the CBS affiliate there. CBS, actually none of the affiliates are on the air in Beaumont.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have, what, three stations in Beaumont?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Three stations.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And two of them went off the air yesterday.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And CBS was the last one and that was today. We know that because we have two gals over here who used to work at Beaumont stations, so they‘re giving us the tips from the side of the news desk here.
But again, the chief meteorologist who was with Frank confirmed wind speeds 60 miles per hour. Gusts could easily be 90 to 100 miles per hour.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let‘s check it out where Stephen Dean is on the boardwalk in Kemah.
STEPHEN DEAN, KPRC CORRESPONDENT: We are getting some incredibly intense wind gusts here. We‘re in the 50 to 60 miles per hour range. And those are just really quick gusts. They come in here, and they make a low pitched howling noise. Very, very intense noise here.
Also another noise that just startled me right before I began speaking to you, that one of the waves just came in off the water here off of Galveston Bay and just slammed into the boardwalk behind me and rattled this railing and rattled the sign here, just like that. They just come up and surprise you.
Earlier in the evening we were able to see the swelling current just coming toward us, and then it would slam into the boardwalk. Now it‘s a bit of a surprise, because of nightfall.
I can tell you that we‘re getting some very vivid flashes of lightning here, a lightning show. But we‘re not hearing the thunder, because it is so loud here with the hurricane winds. But the lightning is flashing here.
Also we‘re getting flashes of transformers blowing up in the distance. Power is out in some neighborhoods. Also, we have seen tree limbs being snapped off of the trees and downed in yards and downed near homes. So there will be some damage to pick up.
But it could be that this sort of activity this, 50 to 60 miles an hour gusts down here, maybe that‘s all they see on the Kemah boardwalk and in the Kemah community because of where the storm headed. If so, they‘ll just have some minor cleanup to do.
We are live on the Kemah boardwalk, Galveston County. I‘m Stephen Dean, KPRC Local 2.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, Stephen, thank you very much. Chief meteorologist Frank Billingsly (ph) is setting up. And he has a very important interview coming up in roughly 30 seconds.
FRANK BILLINGSLY (ph), KPRC METEOROLOGIST: Yes. We‘ve been talking throughout this whole event with the National Hurricane Center, and we have Max Mayfield here shortly...
SCARBOROUGH: OK, we‘ve been watching local coverage from KPRC. And we‘ll be back with more extended coverage following Hurricane Rita. Stay with us.
SCARBOROUGH: Looking right now at a live shot again of a map of the hurricane, Hurricane Rita as it moves towards shore. It‘s taken that right tick towards shore, as we said it would, as it does in most of these type of storms.
Heavy rains have started. And if you look, the eye is disintegrating a little bit already. That‘s good news. But it‘s not disintegrating the way Dennis did a few months ago in July when that storm came in over Pensacola. And when it did, there was practically no backside to the storm. And because of it, we were spared a lot of damage.
That doesn‘t look like that‘s going to be the case here. You‘re going to have killer winds. You‘re going to have a lot of problems.
But right now a convoy has already started. You‘re looking at an endless line of FEMA trucks. They are crossing into Texas and already pre-positioning themselves to provide relief to the people of that state that have been targeted by Hurricane Rita, at least by Hurricane Rita‘s western wall. That is—that is certainly a good sign.
To be quite blunt with you, I didn‘t see this scene in Mississippi or Louisiana for three or four days after Katrina crashed on shore.
But look at this. I‘ll tell you what it‘s reminiscent of. It‘s reminiscent of the way the local and the state and the federal government responded when Ivan hit Florida in September of 2004 a year ago.
But again, none of these scenes in Katrina. It looks like they‘re back on the ball. Let‘s just hope they don‘t run into FEMA bureaucrats that turn them around and send them to about 20 different places across the country, which of course, happened during Katrina.
Let‘s go right now to David Shuster. David is in Beaumont, Texas.
It‘s expected to take a pretty hard hit.
And David, from the last time we talked to you, now it looks like things are starting to pick up.
DAVID SHUSTER, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It‘s picking up a little bit. We‘re also a little bit farther away from the building.
The gusts, Joe, are maybe 45, 50 miles an hour now. The rain, sometimes it‘s coming down horizontally in sheets. And then, it‘s the strangest thing, Joe. Then it will just sort of let up. And it will die down for a few minutes and then it will pick right up again. But each time it picks up it seems to get a little bit more intense.
And we‘re starting to see a little more of sort of the standing water. In this particular complex, it‘s a hospital complex and the campus is above sea level, but there are a couple streets down the way, down the path where they were actually thinking that the street would get flooded out, and it appears to be—appears to be happening.
But again, the gusts are picking up. We‘ve seen the transformers blowing all night long now for the last two hours or so, and they‘re the green flashes that go off. And so throughout the Beaumont area we‘re pretty sure that they‘re losing power.
And we‘re also getting some reports of the same sort of thing in Port Arthur, where, of course, the great fear wasn‘t so much the storm surge, with the indications that this is going to go a little bit to the north and east of Port Arthur. The great concern was what would happen as far as the refineries there. Would they split up and cause an environmental catastrophe, never mind the economical cost? But in any case, it is starting to pick up—Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: All right. Thanks so much, David. Be safe out there.
We‘ll be getting back to you in a little bit.
I want—if we could one more time, just to give people perspective on what‘s going on right now, even what‘s going on with our satellite shots and where we‘re going, can you put up the map one more time? And I just want to explain this to people.
You look at the storm, the eye of the storm, again. It‘s going to be going in to the Louisiana side of the Texas-Louisiana border.
Now, it‘s no mistake that we‘re getting shots out of Beaumont and Galveston, Texas, because those are areas that are going to end up on the western side of the storm.
However, even though they‘re going to be fairly close to the eye of the storm, however, we‘re having trouble getting Carl Quintanilla‘s shot out of Lafayette, Louisiana, which is further away from the eye of the storm. But again, he is on the dirty side of the storm. The winds are picking up. The satellite truck‘s already down. And that‘s why what you‘re seeing is shots either almost directly in the eye of the storm, or to the western side of it.
But I‘ll tell you what: if you‘re on a barrier island like Galveston, it‘s blowing awfully hard.
I want to go back, though. We‘re going to be going to Rita Cosby in a minute. But first, let‘s go back to local coverage, our Houston affiliate, W—KPRC, actually Galveston, and let‘s get the latest there.
COURTNEY ZAVALA, KPRC CORRESPONDENT: They were out for probably about 30 seconds. We understand there is a fire on the east end. We don‘t know what kind of building that is. We sent one of our other photographers down there to go check it out before we went on the air. I called him. He‘s not able to get real close. We don‘t have a lot of information of what‘s going on.
I can tell you about a dozen emergency vehicles did head east on the seawall. We‘re trying to get that information as soon as we can get you pictures and more information we‘ll update that.
For now, though, this has really been a story of consistent wind, consistent pelting rain for about 4 ½ hours now.
We are just, you know, feet away from the seawall. We‘re not seeing any of the waves come up from the gulf over the road at this point. But I‘m going to tell you, with each gust of wind here getting a little bit harder, and each time—we‘re standing out here hour after hour, and—sorry, it‘s hurting my face, it really takes a toll on your body. I mean, it‘s just coming face first at me.
But again, Galveston, it looks like, escaped the brunt of the storm. This is still pretty bad. I‘d imagine tomorrow morning when we go take a look at the west end we‘re going to see some beach erosion down there, but I think we‘ll take that, considering what was expected out here at Galveston.
Again, we‘re going to update that breaking situation, some kind of fire on the east end, as soon as we get it to you. We‘ll make sure we get it to you guys.
We‘re live in Galveston. I‘m Courtney Zavala, KPRC Local 2.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, Courtney, hang in there. She mentioned she felt like the wind was gusting at about 60 miles per hour, and she‘s pretty close.
SCARBOROUGH: Courtney was out there reporting again. She was reporting from KPRC, the—our Houston affiliate. But she was actually in Beaumont, Texas.
And she was talking about the impact that the storm has when you‘re standing out there. Now she appeared to be much smaller than myself.
You know, I‘ve got people that always come up to me when they see me in airports or other places and say, “You‘re a lot taller than you look on TV.” I‘m not exactly sure how tall you‘re supposed to look on TV. But I‘m about 6‘4,” won‘t reveal my weight, a big guy. And I stood out in the middle of one of these storms a year ago in Hurricane Jeanne.
For those of us from Florida, when a hurricane comes, we stay inside unless we‘re reporters. But you stand outside. The rain, the wind, the gusts, I mean, it pelts you in the face. It wipes you out. And I‘ll give you a good example.
Let‘s go to Rita Cosby right now. Rita‘s not 6‘4”. Rita‘s 5‘4” so it‘s much more difficult.
Rita, tell us how‘s it going? Looks like things are heating up down there.
COSBY: Yes. The wind is really, really strong right now, Joe. And it seems to be a little more consistent. The rain is still pounding down here. And again, this is supposed to be the good side of the island on Galveston Island.
Also in the background, as you can see behind me, the lights just came on, which is kind of incredible, because a few minutes ago, the lights were totally off in this area. And it seems like the power kind of keeps going in and out. This Academy Sports sign was all lit up a few hours ago. Now you can see all the lights are out on that.
And you can see the wind is really whipping on top of these palm trees right now. I clocked a wind gust a few minutes ago, and it was about 58 miles per hour. So it seems that the wind has definitely picked up in the last little bit.
The big concern here is storm surge, because you can‘t see exactly over here, but what it is is a sea wall. And it is a 15-foot sea wall, because after the hurricane that hit us in 1900 here, they built the whole city up 15 feet. And that‘s the good news, because the city is much more protected. It would be incredibly vulnerable if there was no seawall to build up.
But because of the seawall that was built up in the early 1900s we‘re seeing a little bit of wave action crashing on that. And the prediction was that the waves were going to come up maybe five, 10 feet over the seawall if we got a pretty strong hit. Right now that has not happened, but it looks like it‘s sort of fast approaching.
And indeed, Joe, it looks like the weather has indeed deteriorated, at least particularly in the last half hour or so. Back to you.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, Rita, thanks so much. Stay safe out there.
We‘re going to be back to you.
But Rita‘s exactly right, the situation is deteriorating, not only in Galveston but also points east of there, going all the way across, obviously, southwest Louisiana, going to be bearing the brunt of this storm, where obviously the situation‘s deteriorated so much we‘re not even able to get live shots out of there because the winds are whipping up. The storm surges are going to be massive. And we‘re not going to be able to bring you a full report until later on this evening.
But we‘re going to continue with our special, extended coverage of Hurricane Rita. It‘s a Category 3, a dangerous Category 3, ready to slam on shore in Louisiana. We‘ll bring you more when SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY returns.
SCARBOROUGH: Welcome back to this extended version of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
You‘re looking at images from Texas right now as Rita, a dangerous category three storm, crashes on shore in a few hours. It‘s going to be—it‘s going to be crashing, actually going to be crashing on shore in southwest Louisiana.
Right now it seems fairly safe to say, though we never know, that Galveston, Houston, Beaumont have been spared the worst of this storm. Southwest Louisiana is going to take the brunt of it.
But right now let‘s go to our Houston affiliate KPRC and get the very latest update from the ground.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...that sort of thing—back to you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, Phil, and speaking of lack of electricity we just got word now there are 90,000 power outages being reported in Galveston. That‘s according to Center Point Energy, also hearing that League City could actually have winds of up to 80 miles per hour coming up in the next four hours.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It‘s almost a moot point because there is no one in Galveston, so these 90,000 outages...
SCARBOROUGH: All right, again, we‘re going to be going back and forth into the coverage of our Houston affiliate.
But right now I want to go on the phone and talk to a former colleague of mine, Asa Hutchinson, former Congressman and also more importantly tonight he was a former undersecretary in the Homeland Security Department.
Asa, thank you for being with us tonight, what are your thoughts as you watch the second killer storm in one month crash onshore? Does our government have the type of resources it needs? Does your former department have the resources it needs to handle these type of back-to-back disasters?
ASA HUTCHINSON, FMR. HOMELAND SECURITY UNDERSECRETARY (by telephone):
Well, clearly, they‘re strained to the maximum and also, as you know Joe, Congress has developed this habit of funding emergencies after the fact and so these aren‘t built into the budget. They occur. We spend what is necessary and then Congress deals with it on an emergency fashion.
And so, they‘re just going at it full bore, never having a circumstance like this. As I see what‘s happening across the Gulf Coast I think you cannot duplicate this in exercises.
No matter how much you tabletop it, no matter how much you work on this, nothing can compare to the massive scale of these evacuations and the problems that come up that you can‘t anticipate.
And so, the good thing is that we learn from each one of them. What we see in Texas is better than what we saw in New Orleans obviously because they learned from it and they‘re responding very quickly. We will learn from this tremendously and I think that what we see happening in Texas will even give us greater experience in the future.
SCARBOROUGH: But, you know Asa, just like you said, another way to put it you can‘t war game these type of storms because every storm is different. You had four storms that we had to endure in Florida that you had to—that you had to plan and prepare for but even all of that preparation doesn‘t prepare you for a Katrina or a Rita because, like I said, every one is different isn‘t it?
HUTCHINSON: Well, no question about it and no matter how much you see and are aware that the levees in New Orleans aren‘t sufficient for a category four or five, it‘s still unknown as to exactly the consequence of that.
Clearly, in hindsight much of that could have been known. But here in Texas the massive evacuation of these high urban areas, you know, we‘re going to have to construct differently. We‘re going to have to make infrastructure that can allow for evacuation of major cities.
As we build infrastructure we don‘t think about evacuation routes. We think about getting people to work. There has to be a new equation that comes in even in our urban planners, even in all of the construction of our infrastructure in this country.
SCARBOROUGH: Asa, what‘s your biggest concern tonight as somebody that again prepared for these storms for years? What‘s your biggest concern?
HUTCHINSON: Well, I think the biggest concern is the unexpected. You know, you‘ve got the assets that are pre-deployed now in Texas that have been moved from Florida and other places. We have to remember that there‘s 2,500 FEMA employees. They‘re stretched to the maximum and so you got to worry about, you know, the storm taking a different track.
You‘ve got to worry about another one arising that stretches us even to a greater extent and you‘ve got to worry about people that don‘t fit into an evacuation scheme that, just like in New Orleans, did not have the capacity to move and those vulnerable is who you have to worry about the greatest. And, I think that‘s what the homeland security and most importantly the state officials are worrying about.
SCARBOROUGH: And unfortunately all the planning, all the preparation, all the precautions sometimes even ends tragically, as we saw with the bus of the senior citizens who were evacuating explode. It looked like—it looked like a bombing in Israel when some oxygen tanks ignited earlier today. Unfortunately, some of these—some of these deadly storms tragedy is just a natural byproduct isn‘t it?
HUTCHINSON: That‘s true but it also points out the challenge of it. You know whenever you look at vulnerable patients do you move them, do you keep them in place? Is it safe enough? If you evacuate them, can they physically withstand that?
These are tough, tough calls and so that has to be figured into evacuation plans as well. There‘s the human element and, as you said, that‘s exactly why they call these disasters. Things don‘t go smoothly.
SCARBOROUGH: No doubt about it. Thank you—oh, I‘m sorry, go ahead Asa finish.
HUTCHINSON: Well, they‘re doing the best they can out there and I think they‘re doing an extraordinary job. I‘m really praying for our former colleagues and our state and local officials.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, thank you so much, Asa. I really appreciate your insights tonight as one that‘s been there planning and preparing for them. We greatly appreciate it.
Right now, I want to go to the phone live, going to be going down to Galveston and talk to Janet Shamlian. She‘s on the line in Texas. Janet, get us up to date with the very latest down there.
JANET SHAMLIAN, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT (by telephone): Well, Joe, I‘m at the San Luis (ph) Hotel which is the emergency operations center for this entire area and the hotel is completely filled with emergency personnel, fire, police, city manager, the mayor.
We‘ve been told that we could stay in our rooms. Just a short time ago they summoned everyone from the hotel down to the second floor saying the place is no longer safe. They thought the windows were going to be blowing out shortly. I don‘t know if that‘s going to happen but they said with winds in excess of 100 miles an hour, which we have here now, they felt it was not safe for people to stay in their rooms.
I‘m down here with the mayor of Galveston and she just told us about a fire which has consumed and burned to the ground three historic homes in this community. There are also reports of flooding on the city‘s west end, some significant erosion damage on the west end and pumps and power is out at a treatment sewage plant near here. They‘ve got some generators but they‘re not going to turn them on right now. And, of course, most of the island is without power at this time—Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: Well, Janet, it sounds like even though you all are on the western side of this wall of Rita‘s storm wall it sounds like it‘s still packing a powerful punch and a little too early to say that the people of Galveston and the community is out of the dark, right, still a very dangerous situation on the ground it sounds like?
SHAMLIAN: Very dangerous. In fact, I think everyone here is surprised that they‘ve been summoned, you know, downstairs and out of their rooms and, you know, we you talked to a crew from the Galveston Daily News that responded to that fire and tried to take pictures. They said they got about halfway there and turned around because they feared for their lives. They just weren‘t willing to chance it. So, everyone here is still on alert. Just because that storm is not coming here directly, there‘s significant danger in Galveston right now.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, thanks so much, Janet Shamlian. Stay safe down there and we‘ll be getting back to you throughout the hour and obviously throughout the evening as developments arise.
We‘re looking at the latest video that‘s been coming into MSNBC of Hurricane Rita crashing on shore.
We‘re going to have more continuing coverage on this extended version of SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY, stay with us because we‘re going to be right back.
SCARBOROUGH: You‘re looking, right now looking at live images of a fire that—actually this is taped, taped images of a fire. That‘s actually the Galveston Post Office consumed right now, fires breaking out across the city. We‘ll get you up to date with the latest on those stories in a minute.
Right now I want to go to hurricane expert Mark Levitan, Mark thank you for being with us. Talk about Hurricane Rita, tell us about its size, its dimensions, anything we need to know about it.
MARK LEVITAN: Yes, well this storm is still an extremely powerful category three, even though its maximum wind speeds have decreased a little bit in the recent hours. That still doesn‘t really actually affect the surge.
As the storm is coming in, it pushes all that water ahead of it and even if the wind speeds decrease a little bit, it doesn‘t really decrease the surge. It is good news from the standpoint of wind damage there will be. Even a small reduction in the wind speed significantly helps reduce the wind damage.
SCARBOROUGH: It makes a big difference. But I remember in Hurricane Ivan, again, it was reduced at the last minute to a hurricane three but we had some of the deadliest storm surges anybody could ever remember in northwest Florida. Do you think the same may be happening tonight in southwest Louisiana?
LEVITAN: Yes, I‘m afraid that we‘ll be picking up some very large storm surges. Hopefully, we heard earlier I think that Cameron Parish has been very well evacuated and I guess the question is going to be a little bit more, particularly probably in the Lake Charles area and how many of those people were able to get out because there will be significant floodings extending up into Calcasieu Parish.
SCARBOROUGH: What about—what about the possibility of this storm stalling over land? It appears to be breaking up. They eye is not as defined as it was obviously when it was a cat five or even a cat four. Is there a possibility that when it comes on land it slows down, it stalls and dumps massive amounts of rain in the Louisiana area?
LEVITAN: Yes, that‘s—that‘s certainly a great fear here because this storm has the potential to dump rainfall in amounts somewhat similar perhaps to Tropical Storm Allison (ph) several years ago that did tremendous flooding, rainfall flooding in Houston, in Baton Rouge and throughout the Texas/Louisiana area.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, thanks so much Mark, really appreciate you coming in and providing your expert insights into this storm.
Right now we want to dip back into local coverage and go back to our Houston affiliate who is obviously covering Hurricane Rita from the ground.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ...there had to be moved away. Now, here‘s an interesting note. One of the buildings that caught fire was apparently build in 1905 just after the hurricane that destroyed most of Galveston and killed at least 6,000 people, so a remarkable piece of history there has caught fire.
And, as you know, Galveston was initially the center point, the focus of Hurricane Rita. All eyes have now shifted to Louisiana when it comes to the hurricane and where it‘s making landfall. But eyes are now shifting back to Galveston as the story changes and it‘s really a fire, an intense fire that‘s being put out, three buildings on fire according to this video that you can see.
Now this was shot earlier, not that long ago. The fire is now out, firefighters having to work perilously dealing with these high winds. As you know, Courtney Zevala (ph) was on the island and still is at the San Luis Hotel. She‘s clocking winds at 60 miles per hour.
Now, imagine being a firefighter and having to battle this situation with 60 mile-per-hour winds and not only are you trying to put out the flames but you‘re also trying to water down and hose down anything that could potentially be in the line of this fire as well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, three buildings just south of the historic Strand (ph) district burned down and the firefighters you see walking around in the pictures here were able to contain it before it spread any further. Can you imagine what could have happened when you have 60 mile-an-hour winds fanning the flames of a fire like this and anything that was nearby could have caught fire had they not...
SCARBOROUGH: OK, we‘re going to get back out of the coverage from KPRC, our Houston affiliate, and some remarkable images out of there. Can you imagine again being a firefighter, it‘s dangerous enough on a calm day but being a firefighter with those type of flames coming out of the building and you having to fight not only the fire but 60 mile-an-hour winds, certainly dangerous.
Let‘s go right now to Tucker Carlson. He‘s going to be taking over coverage in a few minutes, Tucker, what do you got for us?
CARLSON: Well, Joe, I was just sitting here thinking about a conversation you and I had about three and a half weeks ago when Katrina hit. You said something I‘ve been thinking about ever since that when something like this happens you really have no control.
We live under the illusion of control. We‘re the most powerful country on earth and all of a sudden there‘s literally nothing we can do as we watch cities on the coast washed away and people killed and there‘s really no response we can have in the midst of a category three hurricane.
We‘re going to be taking you across the region tonight. We have, as you‘ve been showing our viewers, reporters just about everywhere. We‘re going to show you live pictures of the landfall itself. It‘s going to come, I think, sometimes before daybreak this morning and we‘re going to show you the immense, the awesome and in the end the tragic fury of this storm.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, Tucker, looking forward to seeing it. Thanks a lot for that update.
And we‘ll be right back with more special coverage of Hurricane Rita in just a minute.
SCARBOROUGH: You‘re looking at live shots of Galveston, Texas as Hurricane Rita crashes on shore, fires erupting across that city. You‘re looking right now at an image of the post office, old Galveston Post Office. And there are also three other old buildings that—historic buildings in Galveston, according to local reports from our NBC affiliate in Houston that have also ignited in flames.
Firefighters, again, not only having to fight the extremely dangerous situation with those fires in there but also the winds, the rain, 60 mile-an-hour gusts that they‘re having to deal with.
And think about the possibility of that fire possibly being able to obviously spread to other buildings. It has, again according to reports of our NBC affiliate this particular fire has been contained, so certainly the area around the post office safe at this time.
There are massive rainstorms also. If you look at the—you‘re looking at the image in the lower right hand side of your screen there of the satellite as it tracks going north by northeast, actually starting to tip northeast a little bit. You‘re going to see a band of just massive rainstorms. They‘re going to cause flooding across the southern part of Louisiana and that causes a lot of dangers.
It‘s going to go all the way over. You see Salt Point on there, not only causing problems, flooding problems in Salt Point and also up in Lafayette but all the way to New Orleans where earlier today the levee systems once again were breached. The only question is are we going to have similar problems spreading going west from New Orleans all the way over to the Louisiana line?
To get the answer on that, let‘s go to Joseph Suhayda. He‘s an expert dealing and talking about levees. Joseph, thank you so much for being with us. Not a good day for the levee system in New Orleans. What‘s the extent of the damage and is there a possibility we may be seeing similar damage to levees across the state of Louisiana tomorrow?
JOSEPH SUHAYDA, FMR. DIRECTOR, LSU WATER RESESARCH INSTITUTE: Well, the levees, there were two aspects of the over topping and flooding through the breaches. One was along the Industrial Canal where it actually eroded away the temporary structure that was put in there and that‘s the one that‘s been photographed and is flooding St. Bernard Parish. The other breaches that were closed are leaking and it‘s really not the same extent of flooding that occurred in the Industrial Canal.
SCARBOROUGH: So, what about outside of New Orleans? We obviously have levee systems across Louisiana and some parts of Texas. Any fears tonight that some of those levees may be compromised by the massive flooding that could occur when this storm surge comes on shore?
SUHAYDA: Well, it may be ironic or kind of unexplainable but we really don‘t have levees in the Cameron Parish area. That is, the levee system is really concentrated around the New Orleans metropolitan area and along the Mississippi River. So, by the time you get to the central part of the state and go westward from there, the traditional levee system really doesn‘t exist.
SCARBOROUGH: What about over in parts of Texas?
SUHAYDA: There is a levee system around Port Arthur associated with the Sabine (ph) Lake and there are some ridges along the coast of Louisiana that in effect act like a levee. They‘re called shineers (ph) and it‘s what people actually live on but they‘re not really the continuous and manmade feature that we have around New Orleans.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, thank you so much Joe Suhayda, appreciate your insights.
And I want to go back right now to—now let‘s go back to Galveston, Texas, get the latest video that‘s coming in, again, a lot of fires sweeping through the town right now. The AP is reporting that as many as three historic buildings have been burned, as many as three buildings have been destroyed in this storm, the firemen doing just absolutely heroic work there.
And stay with us. We‘re going to continue on this story and also continuing coverage throughout the night.
But coming up next we‘re going to be taking it over to Tucker Carlson.
Stay with us.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.