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.