Wednesday, August 31, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for August 31

Guest: Zac Mathews, Michael Brown

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: The drowned city. As families move the injured and the elderly along the new canals of New Orleans, the city's mayor says there are dead floating alongside, hundreds at least, thousands probably. Twenty-three thousand are to become refugees, those at the Super Dome to be moved to Houston.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They told us to go to the Super Dome. If you want to be rescued, go to the Super Dome. All of a sudden, now they're telling us, Go to the bridge. We have very few resources. What are we supposed to do?


OLBERMANN: Some answered that question themselves. Looting.

Cleaning up in aisle five.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I got me some shoes, couple of (INAUDIBLE).

Trying to make sure (INAUDIBLE).


OLBERMANN: The water pressure has equalized in the one levee break, but it'll be two or three days before the leak in the dam is plugged, two or three months before New Orleans is habitable.

And it is no better away from the big city.


SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: What I saw today is equivalent to what I saw flying over the tsunami in Indonesia.


OLBERMANN: Pass Christian, Mississippi.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... be dropped off at their cars. Let me know, and we'll drop them off.


OLBERMANN: St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thank God. I thank these guys too.


OLBERMANN: Mobile, Alabama.

This is Countdown.

Good evening.

The water continues to rise in New Orleans, and so does the pervading sense of sad menace. The mayor says there are dead bodies floating in the streets, minimum hundreds, he reveals, most likely thousands.

And the looting seemingly increases too, its own story, and its own irony, because most of the people doing it don't even realize that nearly all they are stealing, they will have to leave behind as their city is evacuated.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, Hurricane Katrina, day four. The living beginning to be evacuated, the dead beginning to be counted, Mayor Ray Nagin becoming the first to approximate the carnage hidden in the drowned city. We do know, he said in early afternoon, there is a significant number of dead bodies in the water, minimum hundreds, most likely thousands.

In at least parts of New Orleans, the water is no longer flowing into the city at this hour, only because the water level has equalized with Lake Pontchartrain. Should there be more water in days to come, it too would become citybound. Rain right now would be very bad news indeed for New Orleans.

The Army Corps of Engineers hoping to dam the breach with sandbags weighing 15,000 pounds. No one has ever attempted to drop a 15,000-pound bag of filler from a helicopter before. That, like so much of what is unfolding in the Gulf Coast, unprecedented.

As for what helicopters are doing now, the search and rescue effort far from over tonight. The mayor says there are 78,000 people in shelters in New Orleans, 50,000 to 100,000 others in the city. They can probably evacuate 15,000 per day, once, that is, they get them out of their own homes.

Some are not waiting, choosing to brave the dirty water, taking with them whatever and whomever they can, however they can. The goal, to reach the Super Dome, where nearly 500 buses are to take some 23,000 evacuees to Houston, to another dome, the Astrodome. More on that in a moment.

First, the almost medieval quality life in New Orleans has assumed. The narration is by a flabbergasted pilot from Helennet (ph) Aviation, named J.T. Alpett (ph).


J.T. ALPETT, HELENNET AVIATION: - that an extreme amount of looting of this market. And you can see the people and all the products out in front. Not sure if these people are currently looting, or if there's anything left inside this market. But people camped out in front of this marketplace, and with what appears to be groceries and diapers and whole bags of goods.

There seems to be money being exchanged in some (INAUDIBLE). And it's a chaotic scene down here just north of downtown. I'm going to pull out and just show you some of the other activity here in the area.

If you come this way, you can see people with inflatable mattresses and using them as boats taking around. This gentleman here is going to put his inflatable mattress down. And we've seen them wading through the waters and picking up whatever they can find that they can make use of.

This is possibly an elderly woman that's very ill being transported on this mattress on the waterway by family members, possibly. She's got a cover - her face is covered from the hot sun. She is moving, so she appears to be conscious. And they are moving her, obviously an elderly woman with a cane right next to her. And they're pulling them up to what is the island that this Win Dixie (ph) market is on.

And just - the desperation that these people are going through and trying to stay dry and comfortable and moving. They're realizing that help is probably not coming anytime soon, trying to make the best of a very bad situation.

We are seeing scenes like this one throughout the city. This is a family that's stuck on a balcony here, an elderly gentleman and what appears to be his family, waving desperately at us, that we can, we can't help them. We can only advise to rescue personnel what's happening here. We see a woman with a head bandage waving.

It's an extremely desperate situation that we can't help with. Families just wading through these waters filled with filth right now. And this family has got an actual person being floated inside one of these orange containers that we showed you earlier floating back and forth. Now, this woman looks ill, and they're waving at us, and we can't help them. But this woman looks very ill, holding her stomach. And I'm going to push in so you can see her face. That's good right there. And the desperation, and she does not look well, as you can see, the expression on her face, holding her stomach.

And this is - right now, this is their mode of transportation. This is their mode of an ambulance, if you will, transporting their sick family member from one point in the disaster to another, people coming to help them with her.

Just a complete scene of carnage and desperation here, a very, very sad scene for these people.


OLBERMANN: J.T. Alpett With the picture from above.

We have talked about getting to ground level, but as the hours pass, that term seems to be less and less appropriate. New Orleans looks more and more like Venice, Italy, and its story sounds more and more like Chicago after the Great Fire of 1871, or San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake.

So let's go to water level, where our correspondent Steve Handelsman is standing by. Good evening, Steve.


There's fire here on Canal Street too, maybe not as serious as the one in Chicago, but it just adds to the chaos and desperation here. We'll zoom in, and I'll tell you what you're seeing.

This is that famous avenue that runs just west of the French Quarter in New Orleans. Straight north from here, the whole thing is flooded. And you can see the smoke that's still coming out of that looted store that somehow caught on fire about four or five hours ago here on Canal Street. Police and fire units were unable to put it out. It would have been a 10-minute job just to hose it down in most American cities. But they've got power, New Orleans doesn't. And so the pumps have stopped. The hydrants are dry. The hoses are empty.

They had to figure out some way to siphon the floodwaters off the street and blast it into the store, and it took a long time. The good news is, the fire didn't spread. God knows what would have happened down here if that had occurred.

And there's other good news to report, Keith, amid all the bad and dismal news here in the Crescent City, and that is that at least the water's not rising. And that's not because man triumphed, it's just Mother Nature. They couldn't patch the dikes. They couldn't fix the levees, although they tried. And the flood pumping didn't do any good as long as the levee was breached, because this bathtub that's New Orleans was filling with water. They'd pump it out, it would just go right around and right in the broken dikes.

But now, they say, as the floodwaters of Lake Pontchartrain subsided some, and the water went back out to sea, where it had come from, being pushed ahead by Hurricane Katrina, that at least now, the water level of Lake Pontchartrain and the water level in New Orleans is the same. So no more rising floodwaters.

But Keith, the floodwaters here are so high that you've still got about 80 percent of New Orleans underwater. The mayor said he now figures at least hundreds of people in New Orleans have died in this disaster, and he figures as many as thousands may have died.

And so, as you've no doubt been reporting, the plan is, everybody leaves. Everybody. And they hope to try to get it underway in a major way tonight, though their planning has not proved to be, you know, effective in pretty much anything else they've done, Keith. But they say they've got hundreds of buses. They'll start with the Super Dome, that's got about 15,000 very unhappy, albeit safe, people, and try to get them to the Astrodome in Houston as soon as possible, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Steve, the levee breaks. As you mentioned, they have not been pinched off, but the pressure equalized, so at least it's not getting worse, unless it rains.

But the mayor said something about people messing up yesterday, that the 'copters that were going to drop the sandbags on the break in the 17th Street canal had been diverted for rescue efforts, and that, in his mind, that has stretched out the city's recovery time from at least two months to maybe three or more.

Is there - is that frustration speaking, or is there any indication that he's got that story correct?

HANDELSMAN: You know, you don't want to ask people here on the streets of New Orleans what they think of the mayor, Keith. You can just imagine what they say. We have no way to verify what the hydrologists will say about the mayor's theory that it could have been plugged at a certain time in a certain way by certain aircraft that weren't around because somebody else said they should go someplace else.

I can tell you this. It was a lot of fanfare that was attached to building of that levee system. It's the most recently built, multimillion-dollar system in an area that was thought to be vulnerable right on the northwest corner of New Orleans as it (INAUDIBLE), as it meets Medering, Louisiana, and Jefferson Parish right up by Lake Pontchartrain. Doesn't matter those names.

The important thing is, that's the place that was thought most vulnerable to overflow by Lake Pontchartrain. Everybody here called it the new hurricane levee, and it didn't work, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Steve Handelsman, who, along with the rest of our MSNBC and NBC News team in New Orleans, has been doing such good work under adverse conditions. Great thanks again, Steve.

Moving from the Super Dome in New Orleans to the Astrodome in Houston sounds like a sports franchise shift from the 1980s or 1990s. In fact, it is the first big step of something virtually unprecedented in American history, probably, too, in recent world history, declaring a major city, this nation's 35th-largest, officially uninhabitable, perhaps for months.

To get a sense of proportion and history, and what's going to happen, I'd like to call in the director of Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, Michael Brown.

Thank you for your time tonight, sir.


OLBERMANN: Is this evacuation process indeed unprecedented? I mentioned San Francisco and the '06 earthquake and Chicago and the 1871 fire. Neither of those cities was actually evacuated. Is this the first, to your knowledge?

BROWN: It is as far as I know, because, think about it, you know, the San Francisco earthquake and the Chicago fire, all of those things, were long before we had the kind of population density that we have now. And so when you think about 80 percent of New Orleans being underwater, it is an unprecedented event that we're undertaking right now.

And I think that everyone is looking at New Orleans, but from my perspective, remember, we still have Waverly, Mississippi. We still have Hancock County, Mississippi. We still have some effects in Alabama. We still have other places in Louisiana. This is one huge disaster of proportions not only geographically but proportionally, economically, socially, every possible way, this disaster has affected this country.

It's going to be a mammoth project to undertake.

OLBERMANN: To that point, do you have a proportion in your mind? You hate to reduce these things to numbers, but it helps people understand. Is it one New Orleans for one rest of the region? Or is it one New Orleans for two rest of the regions? Or do you have any idea, in terms of the overall damage and the overall disruption of life?

BROWN: I don't. But I can tell you it's is beyond anything I've seen in this country. Now, I traveled with Secretary Powell and Governor Bush last January to the tsunami region. And I remember thinking as the FEMA director then, how massive that was, and how overwhelming that was.

Little did I realize that I would find myself, you know, eight, nine months later, facing almost the same kind of thing here, but in a highly dense, populated area with critical infrastructure, things like power grids, you know, the grain system that goes up and down the Mississippi or the refineries, the entire socioeconomic problems that we're going to have just in New Orleans.

Plus, everything that I'm now facing in, you know, again, Mississippi and Alabama.

OLBERMANN: Are Mayor Nagin's estimates close, to your knowledge? He's got 78,000, he says, in shelters, as many as 100,000 others in the city, and he thinks he can get 15,000 out of town per day. Do those numbers sound reasonable and realistic to you?

BROWN: Well, we don't know yet, and here's why. Right now, we're focused primarily on lifesaving efforts, saving what people we can right now. Life-sustaining efforts of those that we've already rescued and are in either shelters or in the Super Dome or other places. And getting those people located somewhere in at least temporary housing, so we can take care of them on what's going to be a very long-term process.

I think the country needs to understand that. You know, in most disasters that I deal with, people can come back and at least see their damaged home, or they can get into a somewhat damaged home and start rebuilding. In New Orleans in particular, people are not even going to be able to get back into those places for at least a month or longer. And once they get there, those homes that have been underwater are not going to be repairable. They're probably going to have to be torn down and rebuilt.

That is an absolute disaster for those individual families, and I think the country needs to know that. The country needs to help us with managing these expectations, managing this process that's going to take a very long time to rebuild, as you said, the 35th-largest city in this country.

OLBERMANN: Yes, we have seen nothing like this before, in terms of shutting a place down and turning it off, and then hopefully turning it back on.

But let me ask you one last question. When you succeed in doing this, and obviously you will, and the people who are working on this will succeed, right now your primary goal, safety, as you said, life, recovery, all of that.

But in terms of the restart, of the rebuilding, what will turn out to have been the key? What should we watch? Is it the decontamination because of what is in that water that's standing in New Orleans right now?

BROWN: Well, I think it will be. I think it will be (INAUDIBLE) - you know, making certain that we get that water out. And that however we redesign to protect the city, I think, is going to be the key factor, because it's obvious that we can't just rebuild the levee and think that that's going to solve all the problems.

We've got to be smart. And as the president said to me this morning, you know, everything is on the table. No idea is too crazy to look at. No idea is too crazy to consider. That's my mission statement to my people here. We're going to look at every possibility.

OLBERMANN: Michael Brown, the director of FEMA, in Baton Rouge with us tonight. Great thanks for your time. Obviously all of us wishing you the easiest possible task under the circumstances.

BROWN: Thank you, Keith.


As emergency personnel work frantically to get everyone out of New Orleans, certain residents are working frantically to get everything off the shelves, paying optional. Other citizens, still stranded on top of rooftops throughout the city. Coast Guard choppers working so hard to try to get to everybody that the workers are refusing orders to take an occasional break.

We'll ask a pilot about the monumental task that faces them.

Countdown's special coverage of Hurricane Katrina continues on MSNBC.

OLBERMANN: It is an image that will live with anybody who saw it, an image at once tragic and comic and iconic.

Our fourth story on the Countdown tonight, looting, and the world's worst looter. He has opportunity and tools, yet the thing that he is throwing might as well have been made out of rubber, a symbol of frustration and of a lot else.

It's easy to dismiss the more successful looters as opportunistic criminals. It will be easy to be astounded by the video when we show it to you in a moment of people blithely looting a Wal-Mart and using the store's own shopping carts to carry off the merchandise.

But what exactly would you do trapped in a city in waist-high water where stores are closed, and social services have been washed away, along with your shoes?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because we're barefoot, and we're walking in the water, our feets is going to be cut.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All our shoes in the hurricane.


OLBERMANN: From the law-and-order protection of property point of view, this is dangerous sentiment. From the practical viewpoint, there's nowhere to safely keep all the people who are obeying the law. Where exactly do you want to put the looters?

It may mean something else entirely, as Matt Lauer discovered this morning while interviewing Governor Blanco of Louisiana.


GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: We don't like looters one bit. But one of our fears is that if we don't stop the breach, that we will put good people's lives in jeopardy, and they'll lose theirs too. So their looting will be for naught.


OLBERMANN: And thus, through a looking glass of sorts, because, as we mentioned before, not only is looting being unofficially and grudgingly winked at for the time, but certainly most of the looters were, maybe still are, unaware that what they stole has an excellent chance of being swept away as the waters continue to rise. And if not, almost all of it will have to be left behind as New Orleans is evacuated.

Our correspondent Martin Savidge captured most extraordinary images of the looting at the New Orleans Wal-Mart, and he joins us now.

And Martin, all of that explanation having been given, that videotape is still one of the damndest things I've ever seen in my life. You too?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: It is, it is remarkable. You know, I sympathize, obviously, with the people who are looting, because, as you point out, this is a huge community in which there is no power, no electricity, there is no food, there is no water. There are whole families that are trapped. The water is rising around their homes. Should they have left? Yes, they should have left. Should they go breaking and entering? They shouldn't be doing that.

But they are desperate, and these are desperate times.

Now, the fellow who walked out with the large television, I have a beef with him, because, let's face it, there's no electricity either. So it's hard to justify that one.

But here's what we found when we stumbled across a Wal-Mart while walking around.


SAVIDGE: Well, are you doing it because you need it, or you...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE), yes. I mean, you know, we have no means to wash clothes, we have no food. Sure.

SAVIDGE: A lot of the people here say they don't feel bad taking the stuff, one, because they need it, but two, they said, the police said it was OK. And we actually saw the police. They're in aisle three.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi. What are you doing here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm doing my job.

SAVIDGE: Taking shoes?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I'm looking for looters.

SAVIDGE: Looking for looters?

And what do you do when you find them? Because I think I see them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE), that's all I can do with them right now.

SAVIDGE: They're all around us, though.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what I see. Including you. What are you doing here?

SAVIDGE: I haven't taken anything, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you're in the store.

SAVIDGE: They don't quite look your color.


SAVIDGE: OK. You know, one of the things that strikes you is, of course, the Wal-Mart is a store that everybody knows. And to walk in it and see it as a free-for-all like that is - well, you can't help but laugh sometimes, even though it is grossly against the law. To see the police, though, that was a shock.

OLBERMANN: Martin, do you suspect that that police officer that you encountered in there was not making up, making something up out of whole cloth, and that those people were also not making something up after - out of whole cloth, given what Governor Blanco said, that essentially, if it's nonviolent, they have other things to worry about than people stealing stuff?

SAVIDGE: That's true, they do, obviously. In a city where the mayor has just proclaimed that he believes there are hundreds, maybe thousands dead, the looting of one Wal-Mart does not rank very high on the Richter scale of problems.

However, when you have the police in there looting, that is a problem, because if the breakdown of law and order happens on the very first day after the hurricane, how far will it go in a couple of days?

OLBERMANN: We don't want to contemplate that question, and we're sorry that you have to. But where you are, you have to. Martin Savidge, in New Orleans after the almost-indescribable scene inside the Wal-Mart. Thank you, sir.

In Alabama, a first look at the coastal devastation there. Some areas still without any power. Others, though, now planning to clean up and open up in time for businesses to run on Labor Day weekend.

No chance of that in Mississippi. Beaches strewn with dirt, debris, even caskets, caskets washed out by the storm. The remarkable December instruction along the Gulf Coast.

Countdown's special coverage continues.


OLBERMANN: There is a remarkable word from one of the afflicted states. It's from Alabama. It's from the other side of Perdido Bay, but it's still only 50 miles from the Mobile area. The remarkable word is, reopening. Hotels, condos, restaurants, even golf courses in that area minimally damaged by Katrina plan to be back up and running for Labor Day weekend. They will have plenty of customers from the rest of the state.

Still no official tally yet of the obvious devastation in Mobile and the surrounding area. Police and volunteers began directing traffic in lieu of traffic lights disabled by power outages. Those outages incredibly widespread, 191,000 customers in Mobile alone, facing a prolonged period without power, according to the Alabama Power spokesman.

That figure rises statewide to 500,000. Among the debris brought in with the hurricane, the Ocean Warwick, an oil drilling platform. Sunday night, it was in the Gulf. Today, it is on the beach at Dauphin Island. In those parts of Alabama still comparatively passable, lines at gas stations stretching half-a-mile or more. One bit of good news on that front, the administration this morning announcing it will tap the federal Strategic Petroleum Reserve to counterbalance the disruptions in domestic crude oil production.

The survivor stories, meanwhile, are not necessarily moments of joy. People in some of the affected areas are going home. Only, home is no longer there. And, in New Orleans, desperate pleas like this one, they're answered by the helicopter pilots from the Coast Guard. We will get the inside story of how you would rescue people like this when Countdown continues.


OLBERMANN: There's breaking news out of New Orleans. It does not pertain to disaster or flood, but to the looting story we brought you earlier.

The mayor of that city, Ray Nagin, has announced that he has ordered 1,500 members of the New Orleans Police Department to discontinue their part of the search-and-rescue missions to return to the streets of New Orleans to stop looting and other infractions.

To repeat that, Mayor Ray Nagin of New Orleans saying that 1,500 police will be moved from search-and-rescue operations in the flooded city, the 80 percent flooded city, to instead work on what has become a massive looting problem, as Martin Savidge showed you earlier from New Orleans.

Meanwhile, if you had not seen the images, the town-by-town log of destruction in the Mississippi, it would seem like a mistake, something misfiled, something meant for an archive about bombing damage to England during the Second World War, Route 90 under inches or feet of sand, communications down, transportation systems demolished, and house in the middle of the road on Second Street in Pass Christian.

Our third item on the Countdown tonight, as extraordinary as these things sound, perhaps more extraordinary still, people have survived this. Yesterday, a county emergency executive said there were at least 100 dead in the Gulfport-Biloxi region. Now we learn search-and-rescue teams are still unable to reach about half the locations ravaged by the storm.

And even with the grim estimates from New Orleans, people have survived this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was in my house. And I was - see, I was in that house. I was praying. I was scared, because I stayed by myself. I live by myself. And the walls started getting hot, so I got on top of the chest drawer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband is - stayed in Masters Point in Oak Harbor. And we just have no idea. We heard that there was a lot of water there. He wouldn't leave, which was so incredibly stupid. But - so, we're trying to find him, going from shelter to shelter and see if we can find him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know where my mama and my sisters, my little nephews, my family, I don't know where none of them at right now.


OLBERMANN: It is always better than the alternative, but one of the worst moments for the survivors repeated again and again is the return after the escape, the return to find that home is gone.

Our correspondent Lester Holt was a witness to one of those scenes today at Gulfport.


LESTER HOLT, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anne Anderson (ph) and Vernon Lacour's (ph) journey home through standing water, over fallen trees and across shattered two-by-fours was a journey to the pieces of their lives.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As ready as I'm going to be.

HOLT: They came to find their house, the one Anne's father built almost 60 years ago. Anne and Vernon heed the warnings and fled in the face of Katrina, confident, though, that this house that stood up to Camille in 1969 would survive.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here, dear. Is this anything?

HOLT: They came upon belongings, both cherished and familiar.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just so little, that - anything means something.

HOLT: But the house that stood here is no more.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I expected to maybe have two feet of water in my house, because my house is 17 feet above sea level, so, if that gives you any indication of how high the water came. And to have demolished this house and all of these houses, I mean, we're talking catastrophic, I mean, off the radar.

HOLT: The soggy ground here is littered with the fragments of memories.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This little guy was around my pool.

HOLT: The thing stunned residents of this neighborhood are left with as they slowly come to grips with what nature has dealt them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I consider myself somebody who is good with words. And I just - I'm at a loss. I mean, there's nothing. As far as you see in any direction, there's just absolutely nothing. And it just - it takes my breath away.

HOLT: But, for Vernon and Anne, the journey back ultimately served as a reminder that a house is not a home.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Possessions are always great. And they're nice to have. But, in the end, the bottom line is, family means everything. And I have got my father and my husband. And so, really, in a big way, I'm blessed.


OLBERMANN: As breathtakingly bad as it has been in New Orleans, there's still reason to believe that a wider area, if not necessarily a larger number of people, has been impacted in Mississippi.

Our correspondent David Shuster has been in Biloxi throughout this ordeal and joins us again.

David, good evening.

Apropos of Lester's report there, let me start you off with this. What have you seen of people coming back to that area? Has the number of them increased? And what are they finding?

DAVID SHUSTER, NBC CORRESPONDENT: Depends on the neighborhood, Keith.

In this particular neighborhood, for example, this is one of the poorest in Biloxi. It is called the Point. They are finding just nothing but rubble. They're not even finding roofs that they could somehow sleep under for the night.

In other neighborhoods, they are finding that there's major damage, but that perhaps an attic or an upstairs floor is sturdy enough that they can spend the night there. So, it just depends on the neighborhood. But, again, you're not having any - there's no power; there's no electricity; there's no water. One of the cell phone towers, we think, went down. So, there's no longer any more communications, even though we had that for a day.

So, it is pretty grim. But at least it is not like the problem in New Orleans, where the water is still rising and there's still that problem.

OLBERMANN: To that point, conditions in general there. Somebody told me once that a good rule of thumb to assess long-term damage anywhere after any disaster is how much of the power grid is out or gone? There are 2.8 million people, roughly, in the state. We were told today, 900,000 of them do not have power. If that rule of thumb is correct, that's 33 percent of Mississippi that's long-term damaged. Does that number sound right to you from what you've seen?


Keith, we have been told that there is no power in Mississippi even as far as 100 miles away. If you go east of Pensacola, there's power there. But, as far as Mississippi is concerned, I mean, there are all kinds of problems with power and electricity. The utility crews, you see them out there. And they were smart. Ahead of time, they actually shut down the power in a lot of cities, including Biloxi, as a way of thinking, well, we will just change the transformers when this is done.

But the devastation has been so severe that even that didn't really work, because just getting to some of these lines, you can't - it is not a matter now of just replacing some of the equipment.

OLBERMANN: Do they have enough information to assess how serious the personal toll is, the fatality numbers, the injury numbers? Is that information gathered yet? Or are we still a ways away from knowing that?

SHUSTER: No, we don't know that, Keith.

But we do know that, for example, in this particular neighborhood, they had 3,500 people who lived here. They suspect that a large number had to stay, because it's an impoverished area and because this catastrophe happened at the end of the month. People live paycheck to paycheck here. A lot of people, we're told anecdotally, were asking businesses, people they dealt with, their friends, can you loan us some money, so we can leave? It is the end of the month. We don't have the money to fill up the gas tank.

Those people, a lot of them, we presume, and a lot, we have been told, thought, you know what? Let's just take our chance. Let's stay here. Rather than spend the $40 on gas, let's buy batteries and we will ride it out. A lot of those people paid with their lives, especially in this neighborhood. But, again, it is such a severe problem as far as trying to count numbers, because nobody really knows how many people left and are not here because they're just taking refuge someplace else or how many people stayed and are not here because their body has been washed aside someplace.

OLBERMANN: The end of the month, such a good point, such a heartbreaking point. David Shuster in Biloxi this evening, great thanks.

Returning to Washington this afternoon, the president said the area will be recovering for years. But the issues of life and death, obviously, will be decided in days or hours. And that's why those helicopter rescues have become perhaps the visual logo of this disaster. The Coast Guard has already rescued more than 1,200 people in that way.

Lieutenant Zac Mathews is a Coast Guard helicopter pilot. He's been involved with dozens of open-water rescues.

Lieutenant Mathews, good evening. Thanks for your time tonight.

LIEUTENANT ZAC MATHEWS, U.S. COAST GUARD: Good evening, Keith. I'm glad to be here.

OLBERMANN: The rescues we're seeing, are they preplanned? Are they done from scouting a region and looking for people in houses? How do you wind up going to a particular location?

MATHEWS: Sir, basically, as the aircraft commanders in the aircraft get on scene, they're the one making the calls. They are up there. They've been given the discretion to basically provide whatever relief they can.

And once they get on scene, it is up to them to decide how to retrieve the survivors and how to get them to safety.

OLBERMANN: Are these more difficult than the open-sea rescues? It would seem you've got advantages of a stationary object there, in terms of a house. But, on the other hand, you've got power lines and irregular surfaces. Is one more difficult than the other?

MATHEWS: Keith, they're both about the same, actually.

You mentioned some of the things at sea that make it easier, obviously, the lack of power lines, the lack of antennas and trees. So, when we're going into situations like this, those are obviously things that the entire crew and the aircraft are going to take a look at to make sure that they can actually perform the rescue safety.

So, they both have their advantages and disadvantages. But this is - this is a new territory for us.

OLBERMANN: The numbers game here that we're working with - and it is guesswork and it's estimates. But if the mayor of New Orleans says there might still be 100,000 people in their homes there and if most of them are pinned in by the water, how long would that take to rescue them? How many people can be rescued one at a time by one Coast Guard helicopter in one day?

MATHEWS: Keith, unfortunately, it is going to take a long time. We have got two pilots. There's a flight mechanic and a rescue swimmer in those helicopters. So, that's four people already.

Based on the amount of fuel they have on board and the weight of the survivors they're picking up, that is going to determine how many folks they can actually put into a helicopter. Worst-case scenario, we're going to try and pick up as many people as we can safely, without endangering their lives.

But, you know, if you've ever been inside of those, there's just not a lot of room, so maybe five, six people at most, and then to transport them to safety. So, it will take quite a while to get all those people off the - to get them to safety.

OLBERMANN: And speaking of that, lastly, all the video we see, just like this see, people are seemingly stoic as they're hoisted up. Is everybody that calm or are we just seeing the occasions when people don't panic?

MATHEWS: You're going to see everything from one end of the spectrum to the other. Of course, those people who are getting lifted up for the first time are going to be very apprehensive. They're going to be scared being in a basket lifted 100 feet out of the air.

Other folks have lost their livelihood, all of their possessions. It is a tremendous shock. I think the best feeling, though, and the one that made me join in the first point is, when you have that arm reach up between the two pilots and grab your shoulder at the end of the hoist and you turn around and there's a face there and it just says, thank you. And when you get to the ground, that's what - that what makes it worthwhile for us.

OLBERMANN: Lieutenant Zac Mathews of the U.S. Coast Guard, thanks for taking us inside the rescue helicopters. And thanks for the rescues, too.

MATHEWS: Keith, my pleasure. Good evening.

OLBERMANN: You can and should get involved yourself. A concert for hurricane relief featuring performances by artists who have direct ties to the Gulf Coast, Tim McGraw, Harry Connick Jr., Wynton Marsalis. It will raise money for the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. Donations will be accepted before, during and after the hour-long special this Friday here on MSNBC and all of our NBC networks at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 5:00 Pacific.

Tonight, from one Sugar Bowl drive in New Orleans to 8400 Kirby Drive in Houston, the trip is 355 miles and it should take five-and a-half miles. It is the route of the refugees going from the Superdome to the Astrodome.

And a nightmarish reminder that the rest of the world has not paused because of Hurricane Katrina, a bridge over the Tigris, a rumor of a suicide bomber and, suddenly, hundreds are dead in Iraq.

You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: The mayor of New Orleans says there are probably more than 1,000 bodies floating in the floodwaters, and we blanch with horror. In Baghdad, no probably about it, a stampede and then mass death, hundreds of people dead.

That story is next here on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: There is a group taking apparent glee in the devastation wrought by Katrina, Iraqi insurgents now calling it God's punishment to America.

Rationalization is a wonderful and a dangerous thing. Our number two on the Countdown, a headline from Iraq that forces its way into our consciousness tonight, no matter how focused we are on the Gulf Coast, a stampede caused by rumor and panic killing hundreds on a bridge over the Tigris River and then in the Tigris River.

And, as Richard Engel reports from Baghdad, at least 852 people died.

More likely, it's closer to 1,000.


RICHARD ENGEL, NBC CORRESPONDENT: It started out an impassioned pilgrimage, several hundred thousand Shiite Muslims commemorating the death of one of their martyrs. The crowds were already on edge after four mortars landed nearby, killing seven.

Then, as thousands crossed this 300-yard bridge 30 feet above the Tigris River, somebody yelled, they saw a suicide bomber. Some pilgrims jumped. Other were pushed. More were trampled.

"We fell down on each other," said this woman. "It was death, death, death."

At local hospitals and on the street, the injured were lined up along with the dead.

(voice-over): Iraqi troops have now sealed off the neighborhood, as people continue to leave the area. Most people say they blame Sunni insurgents, who have in the past attacked Shiite pilgrims, for causing the panic that led to this fatal stampede.

(voice-over): Hours later, a haunting image on the bridge, sandals people kicked off their feet to run faster to escape a suicide bomber who wasn't there.

Richard Engel, NBC News, Baghdad.


OLBERMANN: Back to the devastation here, hundreds, perhaps thousands killed by Hurricane Katrina up and down the coast, hundreds, maybe thousands more now beginning to evacuate New Orleans entirely.

We will let the day's events speak for themselves when Countdown's coverage continues.


OLBERMANN: Finally tonight, it's doubtful, to say the least, that many children born this year or next in Louisiana or Alabama or Mississippi will be named Katrina by their parents.

The process of giving human names to tropical storms and hurricanes is just barely more than a half-a-century old. The first one was Hurricane Carol. And a bitter irony for the victims of Katrina, Carol made her landfall at Groton, Connecticut, exactly 51 years ago today. There and at westerly Rhode Island, at Cape Cod and Augusta, Maine, and throughout New England, 70 were killed.

Our number one story on the Countdown, an awful anniversary commemorated by, as we have been doing at the end of each night's newscast, the capsulized version of the day in pictures, day four of Hurricane Katrina.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the disaster everyone feared in New Orleans, even though the storm didn't make a direct hit there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, it says diabetic, heart, needs transport.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Contrast the pictures of the rooftop rescues to then the looting in the streets. It's unbelievable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... you're not supposed to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, we don't, but if we're barefoot and we are walking in the water, our feet is going to get cut.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But you got at least six pairs of shoes there.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My whole family is at the hotel. I know. I understand I have at least six pairs of shoes, but we're trying to live.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We had to lot a Winn-Dixie the other day to have food and water.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yesterday, though, a looter shot somebody in - or shot a police officer - oh, you see somebody right here with Nike tennis shoes walking out of town.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thousands of refugees in New Orleans are now on the move from one dome to another. Texas Governor Rick Perry has announced, the Houston Astrodome will open its doors today to the refugees.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I ain't going up there to the Superdome, not me, not my family.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Get us out of this place! Get us out of here!

We want to get out of here!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The Federal Emergency Management Agency is providing 475 buses for the transfer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, we have very few resources. What are we supposed to do? I'm saying I have a 4-month-year-old child, very little food to feed him. This is a life-and-death situation. This is not a game, where you can just go back and start all over; OK, I made a mistake; let me win this time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please help us here. Can you give us a push?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just need a push up to the high ground.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Help us. Please, help us. Help us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, who do you think? These guys are God.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thank God. I thank these guys, too, so that God sent them to us, you know?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I believe that's a lot more severe than what we have seen in Gulfport and Biloxi.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sure is. That's gone.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's amazing, because you're going away from the ocean and it's still just flat back there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the bridge. This is Highway 90 that would go back across to the Pass Christian area.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think anybody has ever seen anything like this. It's just - it's just unbelievable. And if anybody was trying to stay in any one of those homes trying to ride it out, I think it's pretty clear there's no way - there's no way they could have survived.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Search-and-rescue teams are combing the debris looking for survivors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are still in that mode. We still feel that there's plenty of live people that we can get to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But, all too often, they're finding victims. Katrina has stripped away everything that was normal here, even pulling coffins from their graves and scattering them along the beach.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Right now, the days seem awfully dark for those affected. I understand that. But I'm confident that, with time, you'll get your life back in order. New communities will flourish. The great city of New Orleans will be back on its feet. And America will be a stronger place for it.


OLBERMANN: To recap the breaking news of this hour, the mayor of New Orleans redeploying 1,500 city police tonight, he says, taking them off the search for survivors, putting them instead on the search for looters, the looting sometimes for necessities, like food and water and clothing, sometimes for big-screen TVs during a blackout, sometimes so brazen that it's been done with the store's own shopping cart, done with police present.

All of that has led to Mayor Ray Nagin's announcement this evening, presumably contributing to it, a persistent fire evidently set by looters in a sporting goods store this afternoon on Bourbon Street. Nagin says looters are becoming more aggressive, now approaching areas like hotels and hospitals and he has no choice but to set up a facility to detain them.

That's Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.

Our coverage of Hurricane Katrina continues now with "RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT" from Aruba.


Tuesday, August 30, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for August 30

Guest: Marty Evans, Doug Whitlow

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: New Orleans, Louisiana.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got you. I got you. I got you.


OLBERMANN: Gulfport, Mississippi.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're just lost for words. It is just the whole coast.


OLBERMANN: Biloxi, Mississippi.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Don't expect to be too optimistic when you come back to your homes in Gulfport and Biloxi and along the beach and in Bay St. Louis. There's a lot of devastation.


OLBERMANN: Mobile, Alabama.

Carroll County, Georgia.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beyond description.


OLBERMANN: Hurricane Katrina.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've been washed all through the downtown area.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everything is gone.


OLBERMANN: This is Countdown.

Good evening.

It is like the Indian Ocean tsunami of last Christmas. The initial reports of damage and death had been harrowing enough. But as the sun rose over Louisiana and Mississippi and Alabama today, it became all too evident that they had also been, in fact, heartbreakingly optimistic.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, Hurricane Katrina killed at least 100 in Mississippi alone. Elsewhere, there are as yet no official counts, nor reliable estimates.

It will force the mandatory evacuation of the nation's 35th largest city. It butchered New Orleans' causeway to the northeast, I-10. It rendered vast areas of the region uninhabitable for weeks or months. And it wreaked devastation that was, as one area governor put it, "greater than our worst fears."

The song was from 1912, "Waiting for the Robert E. Lee." The lyric was once happy, "Waitin' on the Levee." No one in New Orleans will ever hear that phrase again without fear and pain. At least one levee, holding back Lake Pontchartrain, one of the levees that had held fast through the storm itself, breached overnight.

Slowly, the lake water rose over the 17th Street canal wall, finally cutting a hole in it. A second wall capitulated on the Industrial Canal connecting the Mississippi River to the Intercoastal Waterway. By midday, 80 percent of New Orleans was under water of varying heights.

Rescue crews, working around the clock on the outskirts of city, lowering gurneys to pull stranded residents off rooftops before the water levels threatened to completely engulf their houses. Governor Kathleen Blanco confirming there are fatalities in New Orleans and elsewhere in Louisiana. But as yet, there is no idea how many.

And that those still in the city, even those in the comparative shelter of the Super Dome, need to be evacuated over the next several days, federal officials saying they may even introduce floating dormitories as temporary shelters.

And yet the waking nightmare in New Orleans, what may be the first true full evacuation of a major American city since Atlanta and Richmond during the Civil War. Seems almost nothing by contrast to what has happened in Harrison County, Mississippi. That includes Biloxi, where the hurricane made land yesterday morning, and Gulfport, which was hit by the storm's surge, estimated by some at 22 feet.

Tonight, the civil defense director there confirmed there are more than 100 dead in his county. The mayor of Biloxi put it best. "This is our tsunami." The state's governor has just compared it to Hiroshima.

We're going to take 10 minutes now and not interrupt the matchless personal narrative from correspondent Coyt Bailey of our affiliated station in Jackson, Mississippi, WLBT. We warn you, many of the images you will see are disturbing, and the rest are merely unbelievable, especially when you realize that simply as the crow flies, this video journey by helicopter covers 17 miles.


COYT BAILEY, REPORTER, WLBT: We left the office this morning early, about daylight. And I tell you, we weren't prepared for all the damage just en route down to Gulfport. It was just incredible.

But once we got down there, this village that you're seeing is in the Long Beach area, which is just to the west of Gulfport, about three to five miles west of the Gulfport airport. This was along the beach.

The devastation was just amazing. It looks like about a half-mile in from the beach, everything has been leveled flat, destroyed. The buildings, there just aren't really any structures standing anymore. It's just incredible.

You can see where the storm surge came up and deposited all this debris. We're looking at an area now that's probably a quarter-mile inland from the beach.

That is right in front of - I think it's formerly a K-mart right there. And that was a marina right in the Long Beach area, which was just flattened. Just nothing left there standing at all. There was restaurants and marina offices there that are just gone.

This is proceeding eastbound along the beach. The Gulfport airport's just to the north of this area. And as you can see, it's - everything was destroyed. There's the homes, businesses.

We're looking at a lot of freight vehicles from the port of Gulfport there that were stacked in the port area. And they've been washed all through the downtown area of Gulfport. At first we thought they were rail cars. But it appears that these were the 18-wheeler containers, washed out of the port of Gulfport.

We've been flying these hurricane stories for 10 years now. We've covered them in Florida and Alabama and Mississippi. And they do not compare to what we've seen today. It's just absolutely beyond description.

This is close to the downtown area of Gulfport. And as you can see, some of the barges from the port area were just washed inland a, you know, a quarter-mile. Another barge there. And this is pulling out, looking at the beach.

Now, this is the - one of the casinos there right in the Gulfport area. I believe it's one of the - I think it's Casino Magic. I can't be sure. The - all of the casinos that we saw along the coast that, as you know, were floating on the water were basically just picked up and deposited inland, many of them over Highway 90, where the casinos were actually picked up and deposited on top of homes and businesses.

That's another casino in the Gulfport area that was moved.

I believe that's the Mississippi Power Company building in downtown Gulfport. You can see all the debris washed up around it. A lot of the structures in the downtown area are standing, but you can tell that the storm surge, probably 20 feet in that area, 25 feet in that area, just...

This is flying over the port of Gulfport, which is just right south of the downtown area. We're proceeding to the east along the beach here. And the camera's looking back to the north towards the coastline. If you remember the aquarium, that's the aquarium right there that was in the port of Gulfport right there. It's been completely destroyed.

This is looking north, back towards downtown Gulfport here.

And now this is just looking in from the beach. We're passing along Gulfport, coming up to the Gulfport-Biloxi line here. These are all the old homes that were along the beach, many of them just gone, just - you can see foundations, and just complete devastation through this area.

This is coming up on the Veterans Building, I believe. It was coming up towards Keesler Air Force Base, which is right south of there. These are some of the National Guard troops that are now, we saw, moving along what remain of Highway 90, trying to keep looters down, looking for people who need help.

Gulfport, the water tower, remains intact, but not much else along here. I've never seen anything that has compared with this. Just the complete devastation. And for the length that it went along the coast.

That's it. That's the former Holiday Inn at the Coliseum. And that's basically on top of the reception area, the front desk, and the restaurant area. It just picked up that - I believe that's the President Casino.

This is the old Broadwater Marina. As you can see, there's no structure left standing here. This is where the President Casino was moored right here, I think. This was Treasure Bay Casino, the - it looked like a Spanish galleon. As you can see, the structure has been completely undermined as the storm surge just went all the way through it. It's still not up on the beach, but it has been essentially destroyed.

This was the area just to the east of the Broadwater Marina, where there used to be an old putt-putt golf course and several restaurants and buildings, and those areas are just - they're gone.

This is the back end of the Hard Rock Casino, which was still under construction. But you can see, it has just fallen off into the water now. It's going to be a big job. We saw so much damage leaving Jackson, all the way to Gulfport, power lines down everywhere, rail lines blocked with trees and debris. Hattiesburg had extensive damage, and then we flew over the downtown area, southern - University of Southern Mississippi.

That's a casino - that, I believe, is the Grand Casino in Biloxi that

was picked up, removed from its moorings, and deposited to the west of its

· where it was moored, and it was brought back over Highway 90 there and just dropped down, looked like what appeared to be on homes.

But this was one of the premier casinos along the coast. And it's just been completely destroyed.

This is the downtown Biloxi area going out towards Point Cadet. It looked like the storm surge came all the way through this area.

That's looking back towards Point Cadet and Biloxi, and then back behind us here is Ocean Springs, (INAUDIBLE). That was Highway 90. And the railroad bridge, which is just to the north of this, is also destroyed.

You know, it's - there's nothing left of this. And it's going to be a major job to remove all of that concrete and debris for navigation for ships in the area, and rebuilding it for Highway 90. It's going to be a long, long process.

It's so extensive. And it - we were asking ourselves that question earlier. And I think, as Governor Barbour said earlier, I think we first focus on the search and rescue efforts, and that's certainly going on now. And once we - you know, you focus on getting the utilities back up. You focus on getting power and water, and you just start taking those steps towards rebuilding. And you don't try to think about the whole picture.

You just do the first steps that are right in front of us now.


OLBERMANN: Coyt Bailey of WLBT in Jackson, Mississippi.

I'd like to call in our correspondent in Biloxi, MSNBC's and NBC News;

David Shuster. David, good evening.


OLBERMANN: The video we just saw, that's about 17 miles going between Long Beach west to Biloxi, where you are. It's hard to tell from what we showed there, but he's looking a quarter of a mile to about a mile inland. And obviously that's all ground zero. There's pervasive damage, almost everything flattened. Does it go much further inland, or in that tape, did we see the worst of it?

SHUSTER: Keith, it does go pretty far inland, because not only do you have sort of the Gulf side over here, but up in the other direction, you've got the bay side. We're sort of on a peninsula. And so virtually all of Biloxi, at one point, had water damage.

But even when you go, say, four miles away, inland, either from both the bay and from the Gulf, then you still have extensive water damage, because you have so many creeks and rivers, where they just, like, totally overflowed and caused damage that way.

And then on top of that, you just have wind damage, you know, literally within the bottom, you know, 70 miles of the state, there's just incredible wind damage.

What we're going to do is show you a little bit of where we're sort of standing, just so you can see, I mean - for example, we're about a quarter-mile from the beach. This is one of the only homes in this entire area that we think is going to be able to be fixed. This was a home that it's got official seal on it that shows that it was built in 1890.

When you move farther down, the building with the green roof, that was the top of a gas station. The roof is the only thing that survived, because the water came up just about to the roof. That's about 22, 23 feet, the water level. Everything below got washed away.

Beyond the gas station, they had spent literally a couple of million dollars working on a boardwalk. All that's left of the boardwalk is the sort of wood planks that stick out into the water. And by the way, Keith, that's where we were doing some reporting the very first night before. And then that was all going to be underwater.

And then when you take this farther over, there was a pawnshop here. One of the problems that they had with the looting, there was a pawnshop that had $250,000 worth of weapons. Apparently some of them were looted. So they had problems with that. And then they had one of the oldest homes in Biloxi, (INAUDIBLE), what, 200-year-old Victorian home sat up sort of on that hill. All you see now, of course, is the debris. Nothing left of the Victorian home.

And by the way, what was so spooky, Keith, about this debris, and you see that everywhere there was water damage, anywhere in this sort of Gulf region of Mississippi, the debris is from clothes and garbage and what-not. As the waters receded, a lot of the debris, of course, got stuck in the trees. And Keith, we have seen this sort of debris five miles away from here inland, simply from the creeks and the rivers that overflowed. And never mind the storm surge that reached, you know, pretty far, maybe a half a mile to a mile from the Gulf.

OLBERMANN: As you well know, Governor Haley Barbour came back from an assessment tour of that county and two of the adjoining ones and used this comparison today to at least what his mental picture was of, if not the actual recorded films, of Hiroshima. It's an extraordinary comparison. He might get criticized for it.

Do you think he's been accurate in using that, at least in terms of imagery, if not a precise match?

SHUSTER: Yes. It's not precise, certainly, as far as casualties, because they're still expecting maybe a couple of hundred when they can get under the debris.

But I think what he's getting at, Keith, is the idea as far as the logistical headache that they have right now. No power, no running water, no electricity, spotty cell phone service. We have seen people almost battling with one another over bottles of water. The Red Cross can't get in because some of the major roads are still blocked because of debris over them.

And there are still concerns that because of the gas line that have been ruptured in so many places that there could be explosions, or they're worried about that. So it's just a logistical nightmare.

And then the other part about it, Keith, is because so many people evacuated from this Gulf Coast region north, all of the hotels that any rescue workers might want to stay in, they're already filled with people. They don't have any power, they don't have any running water, in many cases, but they already have people in the rooms, because those are people whose homes have all been destroyed and took the governor' advice to leave.

So there's not - it's just a huge logistical nightmare. And I think to that extent, yes, I mean, it is, this is a - it is a catastrophe of almost biblical proportions, according to the people who live here.

OLBERMANN: Last question, David, you mentioned evacuations before all this took place. Has there been any figure, any estimate, as to what sort of percentage of the population left before all this happened?

SHUSTER: Keith, based on talking to the mayor of Biloxi, he estimates that out of a sort of a population of 25,000 - and then another 25,000 who used the casinos, the tourists, most of the tourists got out - he says of the 25,000, he estimates that probably about 30 percent, 7,000 or 8,000, left. The rest all stayed.

And that's one of the reasons why they still have deep concerns that, when they start going through some of the debris, that they're going to find hundreds of people underneath it. And they have a very difficult time accounting for a lot of people, again, because there's no cell phone service, no electricity, no sort of modern form of communication.

OLBERMANN: Extraordinary. Dave Shuster at Biloxi, Mississippi, doing extraordinary work for us on this remarkable story. Great thanks, David. Stay safe.

SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: As the enormity of the devastation sinks in with each new picture from the Gulf Coast, perhaps you are considering ways that you would like to help. The president of the Red Cross will join us.

And from bad to worse, in New Orleans, the city dodged the direct hit from Katrina. It woke up today to broken levees and more flooding, and tonight, emergency situations in some parishes. Soon, mandatory evacuations. The Crescent City to become officially a ghost city.

You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: As with all of us not actually on the scene, it appears the president of the United States also underestimated just how bad it was after Katrina eviscerated parts of the Gulf Coast.

Yesterday, he had asked Americans to pray. Today, the message was a little more hands-on. He will cut short his vacation and return to Washington to preside over the recovery effort by 4:00 p.m. tomorrow.

Our fourth story on the Countdown, the premise that every American should perhaps feel obligated to do something, however small, in the wake of Katrina.

First the president. He's back for one final night in Crawford this evening, following two days out West. Today, spent commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of V-J Day, the World War II victory over Japan, that at the Naval Air Station in San Diego.

Mr. Bush will depart Waco tomorrow morning and arrive back at the White House in time to chair the late afternoon meeting of all agencies involved in the response.

One of them, the Navy, announcing tonight that four relief ships will be deployed tomorrow from Norfolk to go to the Gulf Coast to aid in humanitarian efforts there.

If you are wondering what you can do to help, time for us to call in a heavy hitter for some guidance on this. Marty Evans is the president and CEO of the American Red Cross. She join us now from Washington.

Ms. Evans, thanks for your time tonight.


OLBERMANN: I presume your needs are unchanged from last night, when we discussed this with your spokesman, Patrick McCrummen, the sentiment to send goods or food is nice, but it's money that's needed, right?

EVANS: That's exactly right. Actually, we need three different things. We need financial contributions. They will be essential, and with the new level of damage that we've appreciated today, particularly in the New Orleans area, money, financial donations, will be key to our ability to respond.

But we also need people to donate blood. As you can imagine, with the widespread damage, donations, regular donors have been unable to make their appointments. We're asking people in other parts of the country to make a lifesaving donation of blood.

And the third thing that we need, we need people to volunteer. Our Red Cross chapters across the country have been mobilized. They're all engaged in activities directly supporting this effort or contributing to it. And so whether you live in Maine or California, your Red Cross chapter can put you to work and help make a difference.

OLBERMANN: And that is not necessarily going to the Gulf Coast. That is in Maine or California, correct?

EVANS: Exactly right. You know, through technology, we're able to have some of our phone banks that are handling some of the overload of phone calls answered in places like Denver. We're also receiving financial contributions through white mail. So we, you know, we still have the old-fashioned way. We prefer people to go online and donate through RedCross.oras well.

OLBERMANN: Let me ask something of your logistical expertise and experience here. The news this afternoon about evacuating New Orleans, Grand Forks, North Dakota, was evacuated eight years ago. There were bloods and fires there. That was only 50,000 people, and it was a logistical dream to get it done. And they got it done. How would you go about evacuating conceivably hundred of thousands of people who are still in the New Orleans area, as appears to be imminently necessary?

EVANS: Well, as you can see, the emergency responders, the military, the various state and local agencies have a full-court press on to evacuate. Once people are evacuated, Red Cross shelters in the adjoining safe areas are being opened to receive those evacuees.

The most important thing is, we want people to get to shelters out of harm's way, and we're ready to take them in. We also are opening shelters, you know, pretty far west. People are evacuating, have evacuated to Texas. We're opening more shelters there, for example.

OLBERMANN: Unprecedented circumstances requiring unprecedented options. Let me give you the last word on this. Somebody is saying, no doubt, watching this, What I can afford to give here will not make any real difference. How do you answer that understandable kind of reluctance?

EVANS: I will tell you, we're receiving million-dollar donations. We're receiving $5 donations. It doesn't make a difference. Any amount somebody can give can make a difference in the lives of these people, who are incredibly suffering.

OLBERMANN: The president of the American Red Cross, Marty Evans. Great thanks for your time, and good luck with all this. I know it's going to be busy months ahead.

EVANS: Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN: If you'd like to learn more about how to donate to the Red Cross, and to other organizations that need your support right now, log onto our Web site,, and look for the link that says simply "How to Help."

Also tonight, the worst fears exceeded. The bowl that is the city of New Orleans is slowly filling. Water, 20 feet high in some places, leading to the next nightmare there, the first full mandatory evacuation of a major American city in living memory.

Countdown's coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina continues.


OLBERMANN: This time last night, everyone from the meteorologists to the mayor were saying the New Orleans area had dodged a bullet. Now we know the awful truth, centuries-old fears that the city below sea level would fill with water coming true. There are holes in at least two levees.

And with 989,000 customers in the dark in Louisiana and Mississippi alone, the area's main electrical grid will have to be rebuilt. The race to save people from the rising waters continues, rescues workers refusing to rest when told to do so. And now word that, in a nearly unprecedented move, New Orleans will be evacuated.

Countdown's coverage of Hurricane Katrina continues.


OLBERMANN: And continuing our coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina along our Gulf Coast.

Earlier in this news hour, we metaphorically flew alongside a news reporter from Jackson, Mississippi, as his helicopter showed the indescribable, inconceivable damage to Gulfport and Biloxi and points east.

Our third story on the Countdown, the devastation in New Orleans was delayed. The storm seemed to have pulled its punch there. And then, overnight, long after people had begun to return to the streets, the levees that separate the below-sea-level city from a canal connecting to Lake Pontchartrain to the north broke.

By morning, 80 percent of New Orleans was underwater. By sunrise, at least 300 people were atop their own homes awaiting aerial rescue.

Our second aerial tour of the night, some of those rescues in real-time from the helicopter of WAPT of Jackson.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dangerously close to these power lines as it lowers down on top of these rooftops, the victims covering their heads because the downwash is so intense from the Sikorsky and the power, dangling power lines. You can just see the force of this aircraft's downwash.

And debris, you're going to see debris flying through the screen like missiles. I'm going to push in tight here. You can see that grip that she's got on that basket, just holding on for life. And, again, this family extremely calm, took very well through this rescue and maintaining calm. It becomes very difficult for these rescuers to do their operations and get these people to safety when they're flailing about or panicking.

I'm going to shoot back in the cabin here, as you can see, some of the other family members standing by and waiting for their family member to come on board, which she's doing right now. And she's got a look of relief like, whew, I'm glad that's over with. And she's inside the aircraft now and breathes a big sigh of relief.

We're going to come around here to the north side of this rescue and show you in relationship again to where we are to downtown New Orleans. Everything you see in the background behind this S-60 helicopter, completely flooded. The widespread damage is absolutely amazing in this area. It is just devastation everywhere you look. You can see downtown New Orleans here. You can see the Mississippi River. You can see the delta that is keeping the river out has absolutely overflowed back and forth through this area.

There is no delineation between the river and this neighborhood. It looks like the neighborhood was built in the Mississippi River. You can see just the flood damage behind him and some of the devastation that they're going to have to be dealing with. This is one of many rescues that this crew is going to be doing today and probably throughout this week.

Rescue basket going back down, just landing on the rooftop again for the rescue swimmer, and loading up the last of the victims. As we slow down here, as we come around the east side, the oldest gentleman and the family has now been loaded into the basket, a big smile on his face, a nod and a thank you to the rescue swimmer on the rooftop. And away he goes.


OLBERMANN: That is New Orleans from above ground.

Now, on the ground, our correspondent Steve Handelsman.

Good evening, Steve.


OLBERMANN: Let's start with the breaks in the levees, the efforts to repair them, whether or not the threat that they pose is escalating. Update us, please.

HANDELSMAN: It doesn't seem, Keith, that the water is rising, but communications are terrible now in the city of New Orleans.

I spoke to a senior police official a short time ago. He said most of the police radios don't function. Fire, rescue radios have stopped functioning. They can't charge their individual radios. Cell towers that had backup batteries have gone dead. And so, the best we can determine at this time, Keith. is that the efforts to try to drop a lot of sand and even debris - they were thinking about using scrap cars to try to put them in these couple of big breaks in these couple of important levees - haven't borne fruit yet tonight.

I mean, it doesn't take a hydrologist to see, Keith, how hard it is to basically rebuild the dam while the water is rushing. The levees are wide and they're heavy and they're made not to be breached. Once they are breached, it's a worst-case scenario here in New Orleans. And the water is not dropping yet.

OLBERMANN: Speaking of worst-case scenarios, we have not seen probably 140 years the actual evacuation of an American city. And that was hinted at this afternoon broadly by the governor of Louisiana. Are - is there any indication of preparation for that yet, time frame, any of the logistics being prepared for? Or is this still just something that the governor said today?

HANDELSMAN: Well, let's just start with the smallest big piece of business, as - if you will. They've decided now, after resorting to the Superdome as their number one relief center, 10,000 New Orleaneans who did evacuate their homes, according to the requests of local officials, went to the Superdome and rode out the storm.

Then the Superdome, Keith, became the destination of choice for the many, many New Orleaneans who hadn't evacuated, and then, this morning, woke up hoping that the worst had passed, yesterday being hurricane day here in New Orleans, about midday. And they found that, at dawn this morning, they were being flooded big time and fast, inches, more water coming up, first floor, second floor. The people that could get out on foot did. Others were rescued by boat.

And everybody you talked to was saying, we're going to the Superdome. Now, over there tonight, the place is jammed up. It is surrounded by water. And officials say now, after relying on that building for the rescue and relief effort, that there's not enough food. There's not enough water. And there's not enough either medical personnel or medical supplies there to take care of the people who are there now and who are trying to get to the Superdome.

So, they've declared that they're trying to evacuate the evacuation center, if you will, Keith. That will upset, irritate and worry an awful lot of New Orleaneans when they find out about it. Remember, mass media is a flop here. There's no electricity. None of the TV stations can get out to people who can't plug in a TV. Their batteries have long ago been exhausted. So, most people have no idea what's going on here, many no doubt tonight, Keith, still headed to the Superdome.

OLBERMANN: And the premise that people were supposed to evacuate voluntarily, in anticipation of some sort of mandatory evacuation later in the week, that falls down on the simple premise, does it not, Steve, that most of the people who didn't evacuate, or at least many of them, did not have means to evacuate and still don't have means to evacuate. They don't have private vehicles.


OLBERMANN: And there are no longer - there is no longer a northeast route out with, I-10 mostly in the water now, correct?

HANDELSMAN: Right, right on both counts.

If your goal is simply to get out and your house is not underwater,

and your vehicle has not been ruined, and you've got the money to go to

public accommodation or you've got relatives or you just want to get the

heck out - and you can certainly understand why people would feel that way

· you can do it. But many, many people in this town are low-income. They don't have cars. Or they've got rattletraps that have been buried by floodwaters.

They can't leave. And that's a big problem in New Orleans tonight.

OLBERMANN: Those four Navy cruisers coming in from Norfolk tomorrow may be more valuable than anybody suspects right now.

Steve Handelsman, live for us in New Orleans, a great thanks.

And, good luck, Steve. Thank you.

HANDELSMAN: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: There continue to be stories of escape. One man who has survived California's earthquakes was somewhat surprised that he survived this. Escape from New Orleans. We will talk to him next on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Katrina's fury seen through the eyes of someone who has lived through its wrath and has gotten 260 miles away from it now, and Katrina also through the eyes of the camera, this dramatic day in pictures putting the scope of the disaster into perspective.

Countdown continues after this.


OLBERMANN: Greater New Orleans, population 1.3 million, by various counts, the 30th, 31st or 35th biggest metropolis in the nation, and soon, in a matter of days, to be forcibly evacuated.

Our number two story on the Countdown, they will not have to tell Doug Whitlow twice. He is a young New Orleans chef who made the decision to ride out the storm in his apartment with family in town for the weekend. It was a decision he would regret almost immediately.

Doug Whitlow joining us now by phone from the road heading west. He has made it about 260 miles out, past the Texas border, near Beaumont.

Thank you for your time, sir.


OLBERMANN: How bad was the flooding as you left and how in fact did you get out of there?

WHITLOW: The flooding was - it was pretty bad.

From my roof, I could see the water surrounding the Superdome. And I saw it slowly leaking up toward Saint Charles, where I live. And that was when I decided, OK, got to get out of here now. And we didn't have a car. So, I had to find out where I could get a car from. And, luckily, I was able to get a hold of one and get out.

OLBERMANN: As to having decided to ride the thing out Sunday night and Monday morning, I understand you have a pretty good frame of reference for these things as a Californian. You have been through earthquakes. And anybody who has lived there, like you and me, has imagined the so-called big one of earthquakes.

Compare your experience in a hurricane - a hurricane to an experience of being in an earthquake.

WHITLOW: Well, in an earthquake, you don't know it is coming. It just comes and shakes you up and destroys - you know, destroys stuff.

And with the hurricane, I mean, it's coming. You know it's coming, but when it comes, it's just like, it just lasts forever. And it was just like, when you thought it was over, it just kept going. It was just - it was the worst night of my entire life, hearing it like devil - hearing the devil bang on my window and try to get me. But it didn't. So, you know...


OLBERMANN: How far did you have to travel? When you decided to leave, when you finally got going in that car, how far was it until you were out of the city before it stopped looking like it was a disaster area?

WHITLOW: I would say about an hour and-a-half of driving at normal freeway speed until it looked somewhat normal.

I think around - when we got to around Lafayette, that's when we could kind of tell that - Lafayette, Louisiana - that we could tell that it's not a disaster zone anymore.

OLBERMANN: What was the situation like before you left, particularly in regard to commodities, drinkable water, food? What - Was there anything left?

WHITLOW: Nothing.

Like, when we left my apartment, there was no water dripping out of the faucet. We couldn't flush the toilet. Luckily, we had filled the bathtub up with water before it all happened, so that we would have backup water.

But, I mean, there was - there was nothing. I mean, I was like talking. I was like, you know, I have no job now. I have no home. I have nothing. I just moved there a year-and-a-half ago and my life is nothing there now. Luckily, I have a family that is supporting me in California. So, I mean, I'm lucky, you know?

OLBERMANN: It may only seem relatively lucky, but, looking at these pictures and seeing what's ahead for New Orleans, with an evacuation in the next couple of days, I think you're right when you say you're lucky.

Doug Whitlow, near Beaumont, Texas, on his way out of New Orleans, great thanks for your time. And good luck.

WHITLOW: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: That the story in words. Next, to wrap it up, the story in pictures.

Countdown's coverage of Hurricane Katrina resumes after this.


OLBERMANN: There are breaking developments reported in New Orleans at this hour, as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is continuing to be felt in new and frightening ways, reports of an inmate uprising at Orleans Parish Prison, unconfirmed at this hour, where prisoners have allegedly taken a deputy, his wife and his four children hostage, the deputy's mother telling the story on local television in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with unconfirmed reports of a news conference by officials of the prison to come later this evening.

That leads nicely into our number one story on the Countdown. When the facts overwhelm a story like this, the images sometimes explain more viscerally and more intelligibly.

Katrina, visually, day two.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All the entire north side of these buildings, the windows are completely blown out. It looks like a bomb completely blew up this side of the building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Businesses. We're looking at a lot of freight vehicles from the port of Gulfport there that were stacked in the port area. And they've been washed all through the downtown area of Gulfport.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This area completely engulfed in fire right now. There's absolutely no way for a fire department to get to this area. So, more than likely, this will be completely destroyed. We can show you the shots of some of these boats just piled up like toys. Unbelievable carnage here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Towards the coastline, if you remember the aquarium, that's the aquarium right there that was in the port of Gulfport.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now we're coming in from the north towards downtown, the Superdome in sight. And the roof is completely torn up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can see the water that has enveloped this area is now rushing out of an area here where one of the levees has broken and given way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. Here it is. That's - that was Highway 90. And the railroad bridge, which is just to the north of this, is also destroyed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're scanning an area for any possible victims that may be on rooftops or stranded in their homes. Right now, it looks to be a ghost town.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're looking at live pictures of a rescue operation going on right now in downtown New Orleans. This family has been sitting on top of this house. And the Coast Guard has been very carefully, very gingerly rescuing them from the roof of their building.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, some people, no matter what their situation, some people are really skittish about getting into a sling or a basket like that dangled from the bottom of a helicopter. It's a pretty scary thing to do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you believe this is happening in our city?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That this is something we see on TV that we just...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We still have to remind ourselves, this is our town live right now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This has been a terrifying day for a lot of people in New Orleans who decided to try to stick out the storm and clearly are regretting their decision and have been for sometime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As the water rose today in New Orleans, the looters struck. Police moved quickly and, by afternoon, secured downtown. But they could not stop the water from rising. Officials said four levees had failed.

Thousands of people fled on foot, pushing or carrying what little they could save. For Danielle Price (ph) and her son, Reggie (ph), that was one drink.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's all I got for him, just for him to drink.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wildlife agents Billy Gomiliond (ph) and Ezekiel Talbot (ph) heading into the neighborhood by boat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we will try to go kind of fast.

That is it?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anyone else in there with you?






UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're all right. You're all right. Relax.

Relax. Ain't nothing going to happen to you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're going to be all right.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got my truck right here. That's my truck right under the water right here. That's mind right here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's my truck, the Chevy truck under the water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Joey (ph) walked down there. And there was no houses left. He said, nothing. He said their cars were there, but there's no houses.

ERIC KORDECK, RESIDENT OF BILOXI: There's a couple of people that were trying to help other people and actually probably got knocked out and drowned. And I know Mr. Garcia (ph) was one of the people that died. He was a really nice old man. And I hate to hear that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is really sad, as people are starting to make their way back into the community here and take a look at what's left of their homes and businesses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's behind here? I mean, what we see right behind you is not even your house. It's somebody else's, correct?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. That's all of these houses over here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's all out of tune, man. It won't play right.

Right there, this is my walkway and my front stairs. And that's all, all that is left.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's going through your mind?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good thing I wasn't in the house. That's about it.

It's out of tune. Sorry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When you see it on TV with everybody else, you feel bad for them, you know? But then, when it hits your own home, too, it's like you don't know what to say then. You're just lost for words.

GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: The destruction, just more than you can imagine.


OLBERMANN: More than 100 dead in Mississippi, two each in Alabama and Louisiana. The numbers, tragically, will continue to rise.

That's Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.

Our coverage of Hurricane Katrina continues with "RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT" from Aruba.

Good evening, Rita.


Thanks so much.


Monday, August 29, 2005

'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for August 29

Guest: Patrick McCrummen, Larry Griffis, Bruce Baughman, Terri Crisp

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Which of these stories will you be talking about tomorrow?

Hurricane Katrina goes shopping for a target, but it lights not where first expected, but rather in Biloxi, Mississippi.

Yet the Big Easy did not get off easy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were at your house?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So it's too bad?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the roof blew off.


OLBERMANN: There seems barely a building undamaged, hardly a brick unmoved, not a landmark untouched, nary a warning unheeded, and not a cliche unfulfilled. The signs are dropping at Wal-Mart.

And the safe house, the place of great refuge, began to lose its roof.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I wouldn't do it again. I wouldn't stay home.

The ceiling (INAUDIBLE), water through the windows.


OLBERMANN: Now, the aftermath. Looting, cleaning up, dead and displaced animals, and the part that hits you whether you live in New Orleans or New City, Illinois, the damage to the Gulf Coast's oil industry, and thus to your wallet.

All that and more, now on Countdown.

Good evening.

It is too ironic for words. The expected height of the storm surge was cut in half, meaning Gulfport, Louisiana, was only under 12 feet of water, not 24 or 25, and the windows flying off the skyscrapers of New Orleans like confetti, and the tiles rattling from the roof of the Super Dome, are thus only flying perils, and not signs the buildings might be collapsing.

And Katrina, the category 5 hurricane, was downgraded to category 4. Good news, especially in light of the fact that three months ago, the federal government cut the budget of the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project by 70 percent, and eliminated the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers study to determine how to protect the New Orleans area from a category 5.

Our fifth story on the Countdown, Katrina and the waves.

As of 7:50 Eastern time tonight, Katrina had been busted back to the status of tropical storm. But she came ashore this morning just to the east of New Orleans as a full-fledged hurricane, directly hitting Biloxi, Mississippi, with winds of 135 miles an hour and an initial storm surge ranging from 20 to 22 feet, that same surge causing massive flooding in Alabama, homes and highways in Mobile, engulfed by waves that exceeded six feet.

New Orleans, thought to be face-first towards Katrina, got somewhat less than it bargained for. It was still lacerated by heavy rain and gusting winds. At least 20 buildings collapsed. Dozens, hundreds, thousands, perhaps, of others were damaged, like the Hyatt Hotel, which was left looking like it would in those hours when all the housekeepers were airing out all the rooms with all the drapes blowing out all of the windows.

Of most practical concern, the sports stadium, the Super Dome. It did not prove to be the utterly reliable safe haven that had been anticipated. Some said it had been tested safe for winds of 200 miles an hour. Last year, a spokesman said maybe 130 miles an hour. The correct answer seems to have been closer to 100. At least two huge holes broke in the roof. Witnesses said it was raining harder inside than outside.

And the 9,000 or 10,000 taking shelter there had to move within the statement four different times to avoid the leaks.

Just hours after Katrina landed, people were back in the streets, ignoring all warnings about standing water and the prospect of downed live electrical lines. Our affiliated station, WDSU in New Orleans, even caught some early looters on tape, hauling away goods from the battered stores downtown, local police arresting other alleged perpetrators, chasing them to retrieve boxes of Pampers and other groceries, apparently pilfered from nearby stores.

We'll to go to New Orleans in a moment. But as we have all learned repeatedly in the last 13 months, these hurricanes tend to do their worst as surprise visitors to locales that had not been expected to get the brunt. This time around, that looks like Biloxi, Mississippi, essentially halfway between New Orleans on the west and Mobile on the east.

Our correspondent in Biloxi is David Shuster. Good evening, David.

DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: (audio interrupt)... gusts of up to 50 miles an hour here - (audio interrupt)

OLBERMANN: There's an audio problem with David Shuster's feed from Biloxi. We're going to go back to David's prerecorded report from Biloxi, Mississippi, which apparently took the brunt of the storm today.


SHUSTER (voice-over): The small town of D'Iberville, Mississippi, population 6,500, is supposed to be two miles up the road from the coast. But today, Katrina, with winds gusting at over 100 miles per hour, pushed the waters of the Gulf of Mexico right into downtown.

At first glance, no one was around to see the power of Katrina, and five hours after it passed through, we were the only car on the road, fighting winds still at over 80 miles per hour. And there was water everywhere, in some places six feet high, in others much deeper.

Katrina, with storm surges as high as 28 feet, left her mark on restaurants and homes. Her winds battered a car dealership, and a motor boat was tossed up on a street.

GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: And so it came in on Mississippi like a ton of bricks.

SHUSTER (on camera): This area along the Biloxi coast had been hit hard 36 years ago by Hurricane Camille. But with beautiful beaches, gambling casinos, and more than $3 billion in development in recent years, the area had become popular with retirees and vacationers.

(voice-over): There are now reports the Biloxi casinos are flooded, one with water as high as the second floor. And tonight, Biloxi remains cut off, with roads blocked and power out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What is your worst fear, governor?

BARBOUR: That there are a lot of dead people down there.

SHUSTER: So far, there are reports of at least three casualties. But there are many areas that have not been reached, even by phone.


OLBERMANN: David Shuster at Biloxi, Mississippi.

And now to the Crescent City, New Orleans, is theoretically a hurricane's dream target, 10 feet below sea level in most areas, the area ringed with petrochemical plants serving the oil rigs in the Gulf, the city full of ancient crypts built largely aboveground.

Evidently, it was bad, but it could have been much worse. The levees held.

On the scene for us there is correspondent Martin Savidge. Good evening, Martin.


You're right, the worst-case scenario was that we would be floating atop 25 feet of a highly toxic soup here in downtown New Orleans. That's not the case. But it was pretty bad. In fact, it was bad enough for many folks here.

Most of downtown, in the dark tonight, will be, probably for some time, authorities say perhaps 30 days, in some cases, perhaps two months, without electricity. Boil orders in effect. That means that all the water throughout the area has been tainted, so don't go drinking that.

A lot of people have come out on the street, because, well, there isn't a lot to do now in New Orleans, except come out and gawk at all the devastation that has taken place. It's not often in the middle of a major city you see what looks like a bomb that has gone off, block after block after block after block.

You had the vertical evacuation that a lot of people tried, going up in the hotels like the Hyatt. Didn't work out too well. It was not a good idea. Many hotels had, in fact, warned their patrons, You've got to come down from the high floors. Get into the conference rooms. Get away from the windows. And that's what they did. It may have saved lives.

But quite frankly, we don't know what the death toll is, because it wasn't till late this afternoon that authorities could go out and begin assessing the damage, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Martin, those people on the streets that you mentioned are not just there to gawk, obviously. We've seen obviously some of the video already that your camera crews captured of the looting. Is that continuing? Is there a curfew? What is the social structure status right now in the city?

SAVIDGE: Well, it's loose at this particular point. I mean, there is a lot of police that are patrolling out there, probably nowhere near as much as they could use. There is also the presence of some National Guard forces that have been patrolling the streets.

But it's going to get dark, very dark, very soon. And after that, it will be extremely difficult to keep the city under control if it has a mind to do anything but stay under control. So it could be problematic. The people that were out there, they said, Well, it was just that the storefront was caved in, and it was an opportunistic opportunity, I guess, to do the looting. They were caught in some cases.

Many people say it reflects the worst side of this city, and that others don't intend to do anything like that. We'll see as the night wears on.

OLBERMANN: Wouldn't want to let that go to waste, or possibly get damaged by further flooding.

Last question, there's still pretty much a stay-out order. Those who evacuated New Orleans are being told not to come back yet?

SAVIDGE: Yes. The welcome mat is not back out, especially for the people that live here and left. It's essentially been said by all the city leaders, in not just New Orleans but all the surrounding parishes, that if you did leave, don't be coming back tomorrow. In fact, don't think about coming back perhaps until the day after that, because there is just so much that has to be cleaned up.

All the streets, the major roadways here in downtown New Orleans are clogged with either debris or tree limbs that have come down, street lamps that have fallen, wires all over the place.

Let me just give you an idea. There are over 300,000 people without power just in the city of New Orleans, and 40,000 home in Kenner alone were damaged by water, because the levy did break there. They got off lucky, I guess, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Typical New Orleans luck, was the way it was described earlier today. Let's hope it continues, in that's indeed luck.

Martin Savidge in New Orleans, wet and battered and comparatively lucky. Thank you, sir.

The question there for tomorrow, how did the Port of New Orleans, through which everything from oil to grain travels into and out of this country, fare? The question outside of New Orleans, as Martin mentioned, the mayor of that city of Kenner, saying tonight he's afraid there's so much infrastructure damage that his citizens may be without electricity for a month or more.

Although the news may get worse as the hours pass, as more information trickles in, it seems unlikely that the storm, now tropical storm Katrina, will worsen.

We're joined now by MSNBC meteorologist Sean McLaughlin. Good evening, Sean.

SEAN MCLAUGHLIN, MSNBC METEOROLOGIST: Keith, before Hurricane Katrina hit earlier this morning, we knew that, as a category five, only three category five storms have ever hit the United States, the Labor Day storm in '35, Camille in '69, Andrew in '92.

Well, it hit as a category 4, but subsequently it's going to go down in history as the third most intense hurricane ever on record, most intense for the strongest.

Look at this central pressure, 918 millibars. All that means is, take a look at your barometer at home. Look at 27.11 inches of mercury. That just is buried on the left side of your instrument. That is an incredibly intense center of low pressure, a very strong storm.

And this is what you get. You get wind gusts like this, 114 miles an hour at Grand Isle, Louisiana. Pascagoula, Mississippi, 113 miles per hour down there at that shipyard right there on the Gulf Coast. New Orleans, Louisiana, 96 miles an hour.

Granted, Keith, these instruments were the last readings before they went offline. So they could have had wind gusts even higher in those places.

What is tropical storm Katrina doing right now through this evening, and then through tomorrow? Well, if we strip away the clouds, you can see that radar imprint. Pretty impressive. You can see these little bands right here. These are called feeder bands, and you can see, right in there, very strong areas of high pressure to the east. Will continue to push this to the northeast.

Also, within these feeder bands, there are very intense areas of convection. Just means it's very stormy out there, and there's going to have a lot of tornadoes throughout tonight and tomorrow morning.

Latest statistics, wind 66 miles an hour, gusts to 81, pressure rising rapidly, 965 millibars. All that means is, it's weakening. It's moving to the north-northeast at 21 miles per hour. Tropical storm-force winds, the areas in the orange, extend out only about 205 miles. At one point, they were 460 miles across. That's how wide the storm was.

And the present position, 30 miles northwest of Meridian, Mississippi. And again, it's moving to the north-northeast at 21 miles an hour. Through the night tonight and tomorrow, it'll be downgraded to a tropical depression. And it's going to be a big rain event for western Kentucky and Tennessee.

There's those areas of concern for tornadoes in the red boxes for Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. That's through tonight in through tomorrow morning. Also, flooding throughout this entire portion of the Southeast, and then stretching up in through Ohio.

And Keith, this is how close New Orleans came to landfall. There's that center of that eyewall. You don't ever want to be east of the eyewall, in this right front quadrant. That's the area of highest winds, biggest storm surge, and most rain.

Well, guess who was east of the eyewall, like you said at the top of the show, the top of the Countdown? Biloxi, Mississippi. We will see storm surge reports right down in this area, Keith, 20 to 25 feet. We'll see the most damage tomorrow from the air in this area.

OLBERMANN: Sean McLaughlin at MSNBC Weather Headquarters, great thanks.

It is hardly all over, but already, damage assessment and recovery strategy has begun. And at its center, as ever, the American Red Cross. From its headquarters in Washington, I'm joined by spokesman Patrick McCrummen.

Mr. McCrummen, thank you for your time.


OLBERMANN: Where do you start? You've got devastation with details like 40,000 homes have been flooded in Saint Bernard Parish just east of New Orleans. You've got the mayor of Kenner saying maybe no power in his city for a month. Where do you begin?

MCCRUMMEN: It's going to take weeks and months to get through this. We begin by watching the storm as it came through south Florida, now helping those people to recover. And as it came up the Gulf, we were in our strategy phases and our planning to decide best where the storm was going to come in, where we needed to preposition our people and our supplies to make sure that we could get in as quickly as possible after the storm hit, and that's what we're planning to do.

OLBERMANN: Which brings the question up about the expectations of this storm and what actually happened, the expectation being a city-based disaster in New Orleans. The reality was a rural-based disaster, the rest of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi. To any degree, did that - did the necessary planning for something like that catch you off guard? Or were you flexible enough to change as the storm changed?

MCCRUMMEN: Well, we have to be as flexible as the storm is. So we prepositioned things outside the storm area, so that we can get them in quickly, whether it's in an urban situation like New Orleans, and thank goodness it was spared. But the bad news is that it continues to move up through northern Mississippi, and up to the northeast United States. This event isn't over yet, because there's a lot of rain to come, a lot of flooding that is possible.

And the Red Cross is mobilizing all throughout the eastern United States to make sure that we can help people that need it.

OLBERMANN: As usual, after something like this, there's always the ironic truth, with all of this water, that the lack of reliable water becomes the immediate and biggest problem, right? Water that you can drink, water you can clean with, water you can safely wade in?

MCCRUMMEN: Absolutely. That's one of the biggest concerns. Other than water and food is making sure that people have a good safe place to stay. And that's what the Red Cross does, meeting those emergency-caused needs immediately after the disaster, and as soon as we can get in to help.

OLBERMANN: Inevitably, the question that a viewer has, looking at this and saying, I want to help, how? What do you need?

MCCRUMMEN: The biggest and best thing that we need right now is the American public to help us deliver the services that we need through donations, through 1-800-HELP-NOW, or through our Web site, which is That's the fastest and most efficient way for us to get people what they need.

OLBERMANN: Patrick McCrummen, spokesman for the American Red Cross out of Washington, 1-800-HELP-NOW.

Great thanks, sir.

MCCRUMMEN: Thanks, Keith.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, back to this issue of the New Orleans shelter, the Super Dome, that word "super," appearing tonight to have been largely a brand name. Were emergency planners warned that the stadium could not be the kind of shelter they wanted? Is that the proof?

And Katrina did not just hit New Orleans and Biloxi and Mobile and places in between. Oil rigs in trouble, production shutting down, and thus, higher prices coming to a pump near you.

You are watching Countdown's special coverage of hurricane, now tropical storm, Katrina, on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: The concept of shelter at a time of natural disaster is comforting, but history tells us that it can sometimes be as dangerous as merely staying right where you are.

When the Johnstown flood devastated that Pennsylvania city in 1889, two day-express trains heading east from Pittsford were stuck outside the city nearly side by side, as the torrent of water built and headed their way. Nearly all the passengers in the first day-express got out of their train. Nearly all of them survived. Only the few who stayed in the train drowned. Nearly all the passengers in the second day-express got out of their train. Nearly all of them drowned. Only the ones who stayed in the train survived.

Our number four story on the Countdown, shelter from the storm. And if any of the 10,000 people inside perhaps the biggest hurricane shelter ever improvised knew of that story of Johnstown, they were probably wondering today if they were first day-express or second day-express.

It was described as raining harder inside the Super Dome this morning than out.

Here's Brian Williams.


BRIAN WILLIAMS, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the last row of section 122, and spread out on two coolers that form a makeshift bed in the aisle, you will find Albert Brian (ph) of New Orleans and eight other members of his family. They had planned to evacuate to Houston. They took one look at the Interstate and came here to the Super Dome.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We made a mistake. We wasn't going to stay here.

But in the process of leaving, we got tied up into traffic.

WILLIAMS: The Brian family was sitting in the stands with thousands of others, sound asleep, when the noise started.

It sounded like a New York City subway train. Others said they thought it was thunder or someone hammering, and in a way, it was. It was Katrina hammering away at the roof, trying to get in.

And then this, the first break visible in the roof. That is daylight coming through, and the rain soon followed, torrents of it, the artificial turf as wet as it would have been outdoors.

The crowd sought shelter. The Brians found dry seats in section 122.

It's been a long haul for all of these families. They waited in line last night for hours. Security was tight, and there were complaints. But the National Guard didn't want any weapons or alcohol getting in.

But the people who had no other shelter and a category 5 storm bearing down badly needed the shelter the dome offered.

Once inside, there was shelter, food and water, but no information, no announcements, just the leaky roof, and folks like the Brians wondering if there's any home to go home to.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You've got lights. You got everything.


OLBERMANN: Brian Williams, safe inside the Super Dome in New Orleans.

But how super was it? The areas away from the playing field seemed secure, to some degree, watertight. But is the structure safe? Will it be safe next time?

Let me call in Larry Griffis. He is a structural engineer who works with the American Society of Civil Engineers to develop the standards by which stadiums are constructed.

Mr. Griffis, good evening. Thank you for your time.


OLBERMANN: The worst-case scenario that you'd envision for a place like the Super Dome would be what? The roof goes, but with enough warning that you get people into those concourses or the parking garages? We're not really talking a prospect of a building collapse in one of these places, are we?

GRIFFIS: No, Keith. If you go back and look at the record of the design of the New Orleans Super Dome, the roof skeleton that supports the roof was designed for 150-mile-an-hour sustained winds, and 200-mile-per-hour gusts. All the damage that we've observed on television really involves the roof covering, or the cladding, the part of the roof that keeps it dry, as opposed to keeping it structurally intact.

I've not seen any evidence that there was any damage to the structural steel skeleton, what we call the Lamella (ph) dome frame that supports the roof of the Super Dome. Indeed, all evidence is that that remains intact, as was expected.

OLBERMANN: A year ago, a spokesman for that building, though, the manager of that building, said almost prophetically that his building should be used only in dire emergencies. The quote was, "The Super Dome is not a shelter." Do you think he was proven wrong today, or was he proven right?

GRIFFIS: No, I think, as I say, the damage we saw there was really just in the cladding, not in the structural frame. You have to remember, the Super Dome roof was designed back in the 1960s, the late 1960s, and we've come a long way in structural analysis techniques and software.

So really, the Super Dome's never been reanalyzed from its original design back in 1969. And so that raises some concern about how you would fare up in modern design standards. But knowing the history of the design of the roof and the loads it was designed for, I had every expectation that it would perform very well. And indeed, the structural frame portion of the roof did perform well. It's merely the membrane roof that we see as major damage.

In some spots of the building, there was some metal deck peeling off. It would show daylight. But the structural skeleton stayed intact, as designed.

OLBERMANN: As you obviously personally know from having worked on the Astrodome in Houston, the technology in massive dome construction is basically about 40 years old, although it has its roots in ancient history. The roof of the Civic Center in Hartford, Connecticut, collapsed in 1978 after a week of snow had packed up on it. Fortunately, the last staff member had just left before that collapsed.

Strong winds have frayed the roof of the Metrodome in Minnesota. There's been stuff falling off and on from some of the dome rooves in Seattle, in Montreal, even when there wasn't bad weather.

Do we know less than we think we know about the roof process, if not the buildings themselves?

GRIFFIS: No. I think if you compare the structural analysis techniques that we use, and you see some of the wind tunnel testing that's done in the design process, you compare that with performance of well-engineered buildings, the conclusion you have to reach is that in a well-engineered modern building, there's really been no evidence of structural failures of the steel or concrete skeletons or frames.

Most of the damage we're observing in these earthquakes and in windstorms in particular is cladding, portions of the cladding and the roof membrane peeling off. But that's not endangering the structural integrity of the roof systems itself.

OLBERMANN: Larry Griffis of the American Society of Civil Engineers, great thanks for your insight, sir.

GRIFFIS: Thank you, Keith.

OLBERMANN: What was supposed to be, as we said, a big-city storm turned into a rural one. No, a major metropolis is not underwater, apparently. But how many towns in Alabama and Mississippi and elsewhere in Louisiana are?

Live from Mobile, I'm with the head of Alabama's emergency operations.

And protecting the animals, everything from dolphins to the family dog, to the thousands for whom pets are members of the family. This is hardly trivial. Often, it is the reason they will not evacuate.

That subject is next.

This is Countdown.


OLBERMANN: The third strongest hurricane ever to hit the United States has been downgraded tonight to a tropical storm. It will make life grayer, but not much worse than that for all who encounter it henceforth.

But the people of Alabama and the rest of the Gulf Coast are not interested in what category storm did this to their city. They are wondering if they have homes to return to.

Live in Mobile, Alabama. And there are other victims, the animals.

If they seem irrelevant to you, try telling that to the evacuees.

And if you think you're somewhere safe, somewhere Katrina did not even touch today, think again. Got a car? Does it use gasoline? How much more are you going to have to pay for it?

Countdown's special coverage of Hurricane Katrina continues.


OLBERMANN: Continuing our coverage of Hurricane, now Tropical Storm Katrina. What you have not heard so far is a death toll. We know there is one, at least a handful of elderly in New Orleans who died while being evacuated by bus before the storm hit.

But the greater fear, without question, dead in the rising waters of the highways of Mississippi and Alabama. Our third story on Countdown, the unexpected. It is part and parcel of a hurricane. Yet, it seems to surprise us every time. Mobile, Alabama, knew it would be hit. It hoped, perhaps it believed, it wouldn't be this bad.

Our correspondent there is Ron Blome. Good evening, Ron.


It is very bad along the coast. But, in the city of Mobile, I think they're going to recognize within a day or so that they were one of the lucky ones. Yes, there were tornadoes that dipped down around the edge of the city. And, yes, the power is out for a day or two or more. And, yes, there was flooding in downtown. The expected storm surge of 20 feet turned out to be more like 12 or 13 feet. The water did push up around government buildings. It flooded part of the post office, the train station, around the federal courthouse building, into a lot of the downtown hotels and such.

But it was not the flood that could have overwhelmed and flooded much of downtown. Now, the story is probably going to be a little more grim down on the coast. Dauphin Island, we understand, was just obliterated by the storm. And there are some people missing there who had decided to ride out the storm, the sheriff's department trying to get in there before dark to see what was happening.

But, with 23,000 evacuees and the shelters full up last night, everything seemed to go pretty well here. And, today, I think they know they dodged the bullet - Keith.

OLBERMANN: We remember from Hurricane Ivan last year, Ron, in that vicinity and the damage that was done to places like Gulf Shores and, as you said, other barrier islands' communities.

BLOME: Right.

OLBERMANN: And so, presumably, that will be what we're looking at tomorrow. And we will also be looking at later in the program the impact immediately on oil prices.

But I understand there's been a sort of immediate effect on oil, if you will, right there. There's a runaway drilling platform on the Mobile River?

BLOME: Well, the Mobile River has a lot of shipyards. And they do a lot of construction of new, as well as overall and repair of rigs.

And one platform, a floating platform, broke loose this morning. And it was pushed up the river by these very strong 80-mile-an-hour winds. And it went up and lodged against the bridge that is used to transport hazardous chemical over the Mobile River. Now, they had three tugboats in play very quickly to try to get it under control. But they closed the bridge just as a precaution.

And there wasn't any time today, with the winds, to see if any significant damage was done there. And then, on the coast, as early as yesterday afternoon, those coastal communities were being overrun. And we know the wave heights were 35 feet just off the coast last night. So, I can't imagine that many of those homes, even the ones built on stilts, would have survived.

OLBERMANN: Give us the benefit of your experience. You've been through a hatful of these. We know that New Orleans certainly as a community dodged a bullet. From what you're telling us, Mobile was very lucky as well. That almost necessarily means that the damage and the nightmare stories are going to be in those smaller communities that don't have names that are familiar outside of the South, correct?

BLOME: They certainly will. Pass Christian, Bay St. Louis, those areas that were so hard hit by Camille back in 1969, were hit again.

I wouldn't discount the horror people that felt in New Orleans. Even here, 60 miles to the east of the eye, early this morning, there's a certain sound from hurricanes, strong ones, as they come in. And it reminded me - I had this flashback when Ivan was tearing up the hotel I was staying in Pensacola, Florida, just a year ago.

This was a ferocious storm. It was a scary storm. And we don't know yet the full outcome of the casualties. But we're going to get a better picture of that tomorrow - Keith.

OLBERMANN: Ron Blome in Mobile, Alabama, great thanks, sir.

BLOME: Thank you.

OLBERMANN: It is as yet a tossup who got hit worse, Mississippi or Alabama. Nobody wants to win that competition.

Bruce Baughman is particularly qualified to describe what all of Alabama got. He's the head of the state's emergency management agency. And he was FEMA's director of operations for the response efforts on 9/11 at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He joins us now by phone.

Thank you for your time, sir.


Keith. How are you?

OLBERMANN: Do you have a sense of the breadth of the damage in your state yet?

BAUGHMAN: Keith, right now, the winds have been up all day. It's dark right now. We're starting to get damage assessment reports in, but it will be morning before we can actually get out and really assess the damages.

OLBERMANN: We mentioned at the start of this segment, we are not getting fatality totals. Or, if there is a number now, it is something like five in the entire region. How worried are you, because of the communications disconnections, about the areas that might not have been evacuated or the areas that you have not been in touch with yet?

BAUGHMAN: Actually, the county has been pretty good about getting us the information they can.

Right now, Dauphin Island is an area that we haven't got in and searched. We will be able to do that in the morning. So, who knows. We may be able to - we may have some casualties down there at that time. We just don't know. The only two reported fatalities we had was a traffic accident up in Washington County and a car hydroplaned into a tree and two people were killed, one critically injured.

OLBERMANN: Ron Blome mentioned that he thinks that when the lights come on, or at least the sun comes back, and Mobile takes a look at what happened that, like - like New Orleans, the big city will feel as if it had been very lucky. Is that your early assessment as well?

BAUGHMAN: That's our assessment. The governor and I will be flying over the area, along with our congressional delegation, tomorrow to take a look at the damages themselves. But I think we really dodged a bullet.

OLBERMANN: We will ask you one last question here about that same topic I just asked Ron about, the idea of a loose drilling platform or part of one in the Mobile River. Is that a risk to anybody?

BAUGHMAN: We have closed down the bridge. Our DOT is assessing the damage to the bridge right now. We don't expect it's going to be extensive. And we hope to have the bridge open in the morning.

OLBERMANN: Good news again.

Bruce Baughman of the Alabama Emergency Management Agency, great thanks and good luck, sir.

BAUGHMAN: OK, thanks.

OLBERMANN: With the bad surprises come the unbelievably good ones. If you saw correspondent Don Teague's story about this last night, it might have given you nightmares, the mother of a young child opting to ride out Katrina on a shrimp boat.

Incredible, today, everybody on board making it through the monster storm and safely, Donna Lowry (ph) and her 3-year-old daughter, Demi (ph), one of six people to ride out that storm on that boat moored in a Marine in Houma, Louisiana. Also on board, Donna's boyfriend, a crewman on the vessel, she, the woman, Donna, making the decision to stay on the boat, rather than be at home, because, three years ago, during Hurricane Lili, she lost her house and everything in it.

We will say this much. The boat was and is sturdy, 78-feet-long, steel-hulled, and weighing 110 tons. Supposedly, the woman lost her house again, though that has not yet been confirmed. Demi, her mother tells us, slept through the night, the boat apparently rocking from time to time, perhaps 10 times. But that's about it. They even had air conditioning aboard and electricity throughout, which most in the area, we can safely say, did not.

And you have doubtless seen the photograph of the dolphins relocated from a highly vulnerable Louisiana aquarium to a hotel swimming pool. There's also, remarkably, the story of a puppy currently being housed in an NBC News satellite truck in New Orleans, being cared for by the techies because its owners were told they couldn't bring it with them into the shelter at the Superdome.

If that doesn't tell you this is about more than just people in the path of nature's fury, our next guest may be able to convince you, Terri Crisp, the founder and director of Noah's Wish, a not-for-profit animal rescue operation for national disaster relief.

Ms. Crisp, thank you for your time. Good evening.

TERRI CRISP, FOUNDER & DIRECTOR, NOAH'S WISH: Well, thank you very much. And thanks for including this part of the story.

OLBERMANN: Give us the big picture on this part of the story, winds in three digits, water up to 12 feet. What happens to the animal population in a region like this?

CRISP: Well, at this point in time, it is pretty hard to get a real accurate assessment on what the overall impact will be on the animal population. But given our experience in all the disasters that we have been to in the past, undoubtedly, there is going to be loss of life.

There's are a lot of animal right now that are sitting in places alone, wondering where their families have gone. They're starting to get hungry. Hopefully, the water is receded or didn't get as high as we thought it would have. And they're not in situations where they're having to continue to dog paddle to stay alive.

But, undoubtedly, there's going to be huge needs among the animal population in the weeks and maybe months to come.

OLBERMANN: The story we told of the puppy not being admitted to the Superdome, it sounds almost cornball. You can understand why they wouldn't necessarily want animals in a big public facility like that. There would be sanitary questions, even just allergy questions.

But should planners for emergencies be thinking more about pets if only to reduce the number of people who say, well, I'm not going to evacuate because I am not going to leave my pet here?

CRISP: Right.

The first responsibility lies with those people who have the animals. We have domesticated these animals. They're dependent upon us. And when disasters arrive, if people are not willing to get them to safety, animals can't fend for themselves. They do not have the capability to open doors, open windows, to get to safe areas if they are left alone. We really, at all times, are encouraging people to have a plan, to know how you're going to safely get your animals out of an area and where you're going to take them.

And, as Hurricane Katrina continues to make her way north and those people who have not yet felt the effects of her, we really encourage them to start thinking about moving their animals now. Last year, on Hurricane Ivan, we ended up working way up in West Virginia and Ohio along the Ohio Valley. And there were lots and lots of people up there who lost their animals because they weren't prepared. And we would hate to see that happen again.

OLBERMANN: As it becomes and has become a tropical storm and the likelihood for further evacuations decreases on this particular storm, nonetheless, as we learned last year, this isn't the last one. If it is the last one this year, it won't be the last one in the years to come.

CRISP: Exactly.

OLBERMANN: So, if you're in an evacuation situation, and you do not leave and you wind up in an emergency situation where you have to run for your life, what do you do about your pet?

CRISP: What we tell people is to at least free them if you can't take them with you. Give them a fighting chance of surviving on their own. One of the most heartbreaking things that we see, especially when we go into flood areas, when we find dogs who have been left on chains in backyards and have drowned.

If nothing else, you let them free. You let them go. You give them a fighting chance to survive. On our Web site,, we have extensive information on how people can put together disaster plans, not only for themselves, but for their animals. And we encourage people now, while the awareness is so high, to take the few minutes it is going to take to do that to protect the members of your household.

OLBERMANN: Terri Crisp, founder and director of Noah's Wish, thanks for your time.

CRISP: Thank you very much.

OLBERMANN: Also tonight, you may not live in the sights of Katrina's track, but she will get you anyway close to your own home at your nearest gas station.

And, as ever, in television, we have met the news and it is us. At least we think it is, a capsule summary of how Hurricane Katrina came into your home today via TV.

You're watching Countdown on MSNBC.


OLBERMANN: Just when you thought gas prices could not get any higher, along comes Katrina. The disaster that just keeps on taking when Countdown continues.


OLBERMANN: The first hit came overnight at the Singapore Exchange.

Crude oil futures there crossed $70 a barrel for the first time in history. But, by midday, the price of the European exchanges had dropped back below $69.

Our number two story on the Countdown, despite that downward trend, even if it was bright and sunny and lovely where you were today, Katrina actually hit you just as surely as it hit New Orleans. Three weeks ago today, those crude oil futures were at $62 a gallon.

Our as correspondent Anne Thompson reports, it's all by six words, off-shore Gulf Coast oil drilling.


ANNE THOMPSON, NBC CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Trucking company owner Ron Shermerhorn (ph), 600 miles away on Fort Worth, Texas, tallies up his bills, bracing for Katrina's impact.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's as bad as I have seen it in my lifetime. I expect it'll be worse.

THOMPSON: Energy analyst Tom Closa (ph) says it could get much worse by the end of the week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are clearly going to see nationwide average prices go above $2.75 a gallon. And I suspect that we will see $3-a-gallon gasoline common in a number of neighborhoods.

THOMPSON: Why? Because Wholesale gasoline prices jumped today on fears about potential damage to refineries that turn oil into gas.

JOHN KILDUFF, OIL ANALYST: To have the potential for 40 percent of the nation's refining capacity to be in - literally in the eye of a huge storm just sent prices skyrocketing.

THOMPSON: With at least 13 refineries closed and nearly all offshore rigs shut down, oil soared, too, briefly topping $70 a barrel, then subsiding with Katrina's wind, but not enough so companies like Apache Corporation could check for destruction to their oil and gas platforms in the Gulf.

TONY LENTINI, VICE PRESIDENT, APACHE CORPORATION: It's just a matter of time. We got to go out and look at it. I can't even guess until we get out there.

THOMPSON (on camera): Also with the potential to impact pump prices, the closing of Louisiana's oil import terminal, siphoning off oil supplies to Midwest refiners.

(voice-over): The White House is watching the situation and appears ready to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve if needed, as oil companies assess the damage to their facilities and consumers wait for the damage to their wallets.

Anne Thompson, NBC News, New York.


OLBERMANN: Katrina was billed as a once-in-a-lifetime storm. Those who survived it hope so - so, too, those who reported it. The day of coverage, the finger-in-the-ear salute, encapsulated for you next here on Countdown.


OLBERMANN: Television is important, not as important as we in it think it is, more important than its detractors think it is.

Our number one story on the Countdown, its value during an emergency is questionable. If you can still watch it, you're probably OK. But its value to convey an emergency to those not directly affected is unparalleled. We close tonight then with Katrina as seen through a day's worth of the unblinking eye.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have landfall officially, about 6:30 Eastern time on the southern tip of Louisiana.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But just in the past, I'd say hour or so, we have beginning to get on the taps of the windows the debris from the trees that are beginning to shred. You see, I just lost my hat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Winds 150 miles to hour, gusts to 184, still a strong Category 4.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flying debris. We have got a piece right back there. I don't know if you can see it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, we see it. We see it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it's starting...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... we're looking at is the outside of the building. And, obviously, all of those windows have been blown out.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm a big guy, about 220, and it's hard to stand when they come through here. And...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Remember, hurricanes love smooth ocean water, just like the top of your desk. Once these start to hit landfall, the friction of the trees, the building and the topography starts to slow it down. So, it will slow down and that means the rain bands will expand.

GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: It's a terrible storm. Whether it will turn out to be worse than Camille, lord, I hope not.

QUESTION: What's your worst fear, Governor?

GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: That there are a lot of dead people down there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm kind of anxious to hear this interview, because you kind of wonder why this guy is walking through here. And look at...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You were at your house?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not too bad?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The roof blew off.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, they got some people that's hanging in there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) is literally coming apart from the hurricane-force winds. We have been seeing this debris flying off all afternoon.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our Gulf Coast is getting hit, hit hard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really too dangerous to be out walking around, because the material of debris that's flying, pieces of aluminum flashing, roofing, tree limbs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this is what is left as part of a Wal-Mart sign. The R rolled over into our parking lot here. The Wal-Mart is well, well away from us, so, this just one example of flying debris that can certainly fly around in a storm like this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK, let's take a look at this. We can see that this car is submerged. And presumably this is happening right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Blends in with the gray of the road. And I just drove right into it. It was my fault. It was a stupid thing to do, and I did it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some cars toppled over. And then we showed this picture earlier, I believe. This is in the CBD, a still photo of this. And part of a building facade completely apart, fallen apart and covering and destroying this car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, there's an insurance claim that will make a grown man cry.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Hard to believe that somebody parked there . this point. And our crew obviously has been able to get out. And that's definitely Bourbon Street with that sign.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Some entire New Orleans neighborhoods were under water. The storm blew out part of the New Orleans Superdome.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The governor spoke. And she had one word for Louisiana citizens. If you're in a shelter, don't try to go home. I guess that's more than one word. But she really emphasized that message.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no power. The only circulating air is coming in through fan portals. The fans are running backwards. You would, too, if hit with 100 miles-and-hour wind.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were jokingly telling one another that it's actually raining harder inside the Superdome now than it is outside.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you expect that at all? This is supposed to be the strongest building in New Orleans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know, not the Superdome.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Superdome let us down, water coming like you're outside. Yes, it surprised me man, for the Superdome to be like that.


OLBERMANN: Let's briefly recap, Hurricane Katrina now a tropical storm tracking northward, after largely having pulled its punches at New Orleans and Mobile. Kenner, Louisiana, though, the mayor there says power may be out for a month. Biloxi, Mississippi, was apparently ground zero here, no idea on the impact of the ports.

That's Countdown. I'm Keith Olbermann. Good night and good luck.

Our coverage of Hurricane Katrina continues with "RITA COSBY LIVE & DIRECT" from Aruba.

Good evening, Rita.

RITA COSBY, HOST, "RITA COSBY: LIVE & DIRECT": And thanks so much, Keith.