'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Sept. 7
Guests: Eric Boehlert, JT Alpaugh
KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: New Orleans, Louisiana, day nine.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We thought the water was going to go down quicker, you know. We really don't want to leave. He says it was time for us to go now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: So does the mayor. Mandatory evacuation of all residents ordered, but not carried out by the police, not yet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Once all the voluntary evacuees are evacuated, then we will enforce the mandatory evacuation.
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OLBERMANN: A New Orleans police captain joins us to explain.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They have to understand, they have to get out.
The worst isn't over. There's disease coming.
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OLBERMANN: Disease in the water.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Human contact with the floodwater should be avoided as much as possible.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: You might want to avoid contact with the politicians too. Ten percent of Democrats think the president's handled this well. Ten percent of Republicans think the president handled this poorly.
And why did FEMA handle it so differently than it handled Florida last year?
The view from the air.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
J.T. ALPAUGH, HELINET AVIATION: We haven't seen any smoke or fires as of yet this morning on the horizon. In fact, this is the first morning we haven't seen anything.
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OLBERMANN: The voice in the helicopter, by turns amazed, frustrated, chillingly succinct, and omnipresent, no matter which channel you watch. J.T. Alpaugh joins us.
This is Countdown.
What if they ordered a forced evacuation, but nobody was forced to evacuated?
Our fifth story on the Countdown, it has been a week since the governor of Louisiana said there would be no choice, the 35th-largest city in the country would have to be depopulated. It would not be safe to live in for week, for months.
Late last night, the mayor made it official. Leave voluntarily, or face mandatory eviction. But nearly 24 hours later, there have been no mandatory evictions, not yet anyway. Door to door police and soldiers now trying to convince the last 10,000 or so holdouts into leaving New Orleans voluntarily.
The mandatory evacuation not really in force, ordered because the danger on the ground there is really real. Fires burning around the city, oil slicks, natural gas leaks raising the potential for explosions.
Help arriving today in the form of 320 firefighters from New York's fire department. They say they are simply returning the favor given to them by their New Orleans counterparts four years ago next Sunday and the days after that.
Then there is the water itself. The first official test results showing fecal and other biological matter 10 times above acceptable levels. Exposure to open skin could lead to infections. The CDC confirming that at least three people have died already, infected with a waterborne pathogen we told but last night related to cholera.
There are also reports of isolated violence still in the city. Today sniper fire, more than 100 officers and seven armored personnel carriers storming a public housing project, capturing a man suspected of having fired on workers who were trying to restore cellphone service.
In a moment, a New Orleans police captain joining us to explain the mandatory evacuations that are not yet mandatory. They are, as we will see in our nightly kind of you-are-there video visit to New Orleans, light on the mandatory so far, but heavy on the persuasion.
First, one of his neighbors trying to talk 86-year-old Anthony Charbonnay, Bunky (ph), into leaving the house in which he has lived since 1955.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Watch yourself, watch yourself.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're not doing that, Bunky. We're doing that for safety.
ANTHONY CHARBONNAY, NEW ORLEANS RESIDENT: I don't need this safety.
I could be safe right here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But you're doing it for us. You're doing it for us.
CHARBONNAY: Hey, look. I'm talking about me.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know. But it's (INAUDIBLE) right now.
CHARBONNAY: I'm safe in here. I can be safe in here. I can watch my house. I don't want to leave.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know, but what if something would happen?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the best, Bunky, this is the best.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You trust us, all right?
CHARBONNAY: Oh, all right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we love you.
CHARBONNAY: I love you all.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we'll be waiting for you to come back.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Help him up, would you help him up?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have family in the city somewhere?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, some family in the city, but (INAUDIBLE) I don't know where they're located at. Last time I seen them (INAUDIBLE).
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. What we're going to do, we're going to take to you a site that has helicopters and buses, and then you tell them where you want to go. Obviously it's not in New Orleans. I mean, if you have family, like, let's say, Knoxville, Tennessee, or wherever, they will take you there.
OLBERMANN: Those last images from the French Quarter after the news of the evacuation of New Orleans became official, and they figured they would have one last traditional parade of farewell.
Let's stay in the city, and call in our correspondent David Shuster.
David, you were in Biloxi for about a week now, you're in New Orleans. They're different in terms of standing water versus posthurricane conditions. They're different in terms of one big city versus many smaller cities. But you have seen both in these circumstances. Give them - give all those elements the weight that they deserve. Compare the two areas. Is one worse than the other?
DAVID SHUSTER, MSNBC CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think New Orleans is worse in the sense, Keith, that the situation here still seems to be evolving. As you mentioned, the people who are being asked to leave, the police chief said today, there may be as many as 1,000 people who still want to be evacuated, never mind those who don't want to leave, 1,000 who are still looking for help, who may have been without food and water for several days.
I'd say that's the biggest difference between New Orleans and Biloxi. Biloxi just feels like the story is now about finding the dead bodies and feeding the people who survived this. There isn't any sort of in between about people who may not survive or people who are still dealing with water. Of course, total destruction there in Biloxi. And you're looking at one of the neighborhoods that was hit the hardest, called the Point.
This is a neighborhood where 3,000 or 4,000 mostly impoverished people, the poorest neighborhood in Biloxi, and it got totally leveled. The difference is, you don't see this kind of destruction on your screen, you don't see it here in New Orleans. You see a few houses here in New Orleans that are totally destroyed. But for the most part, the thing that was - what catches you about New Orleans are those homes that are still under water, homes with the rooftops, and the rooftops that you did not see in Biloxi.
And yet the water goes up to the second floor on many of these homes in New Orleans.
The other thing, Keith, that strikes you is, while there has been so much focus on the water, and trying to get water pumped out of the city, you tend to forget that there's still a lot of debris in New Orleans, trees down everywhere, a lot of the windows in downtown were blown out, so there's glass all over the streets.
So never mind the issue of just pumping the water out of the city. There's still a massive cleanup for the rest of the city that is already dry.
OLBERMANN: Every report from there - and this may be fresh to your eyes as well, and may also apply to our comparisons to Biloxi - every report from there has spoken of the intensity of the military and police presence in New Orleans. Is there a way you can quantify that for us?
SHUSTER: (INAUDIBLE), Keith, here in downtown, for example, where you have stores like Brooks Brothers and Saks and all the sort of chains, there are either police or Army reservists on every corner, every corner. You're talking about, in the French Quarter, for example, they're about every block or two. And you sort of wonder, well, what are they doing there? Because most of the people are out of the city.
I mean, this is the sort of police presence that I suppose was called for last week that city officials are wanting. Now they're here, and we heard from the National Guard today that more than 45,000 Guardsmen have been deployed across the states that were affected, and that apparently that is some kind of record, going even beyond the California earthquake.
But a lot of people are sort of looking around, seeing these guys with M-16s, and they have their weapons, and you look at the city, in parts of the city, it's a ghost town with the exception of the media, of course, and some of these guys from the police and these guys with the weapons.
And so, yes, it's great that they're guarding all these stores, but you sort of wonder, what are they guarding it from? Nobody is around this part of the city anymore.
OLBERMANN: Maybe the theory is that that might somehow encourage someone to come in from out of town and go after the banks or the stores or who knows what? That it's - clearly it's about property protection now.
But let me ask again you about the water. We have heard, in terms of its content, E. coli, parasites, this cousin of cholera they're talking about, but aren't they worried about this heavy oil and gasoline content? You're still getting building fires. If you got one near an oil slick, conceivably you could get an instantaneous giant neighborhood-sized fire, like the ones that used to light up on the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland.
Are people worried about the combination of oily water and random fires?
SHUSTER: Yes. They are very worried, Keith, especially about the buildings that's are near some of where the oil rigs are. There are parts of the city, for example, where you can clearly smell the gasoline that's been burning, the oil that is in the water. And city officials are very concerned about fires starting there, maybe even as innocently as somebody flicking a cigarette or a match.
So what they've done, as a precaution, while they can't do anything about cleaning up the oil slicks right now, they're trying to figure out where the gas leaks are. But secondly, today we saw firefighters pumping storm water into some of the pipes down here in downtown, with the theory that, as bad as it may to be try to fight fires with storm water.
And as disgusting as that water may be, at least that way there is water pressure in some of these systems, so that if a fire were to break out, rather than consuming city blocks, the fire department can go plug into the fire hydrants, at least have some sort of water pressure there to fight the fires that they inevitably believe are going to break out, because of the oil slicks and the gas leaks all over the city.
OLBERMANN: Let me ask about the evacuations, the forced evacuations, that order. And we're hearing from the - from every level of the police department that although Mayor Nagin ordered that, made that order last night, that it has not been effected yet, because they are still out there trying to get people who want to be rescued out, and when they run out of people who are volunteering to leave, that's when they'll to have turn to this issue of possibly handcuffing people and dragging them out of their homes.
On the other hand, there's a quote from the Associated Press, man named Patrick McCarty (ph), who apparently owns several buildings in the lower Garden District, and lives in one of them, Mr. McCarty is quoted as saying, "A large group of young armed men, armed with M-16s, just arrived at my door and told me that I have to leave. While not saying they would you, the inference is clear." I'm gathering here that it is voluntary, with a lot of persuasion and encouragement at this stage.
SHUSTER: Yes, that's absolutely right. And Keith, you know, the tape that you showed captured it perfectly. There are people who it takes extreme persuasion to get them to leave, whether it is somebody talking to them, being very friendly, it's a neighbor saying, It's time for you to go, or whether it is somebody like a police officer or a member of the National Guard with an M-16 who says, OK, now is the time to go.
The only forcible removal that we've heard about today was a woman who apparently had somehow lost her mind and was pointing a revolver out of her door. So when police came and said, OK, it's time for you to go, she had this weapon in her hands. And that's when the police essentially stormed in and grabbed her and handcuffed her and dragged her out of the house, even as she was sort of wailing, saying, At least let me stay on the front porch.
But that's the sort of extreme example. We have not heard of anybody who was not posing a threat to police who actually got dragged out of their house by force. It's, again, the sort of persuasion of trying to convince people that it is a good time to leave, but also having these guys with the M-16s knocking on the door and say, You know what? Time is up. You really need to get out of here.
OLBERMANN: If that's as bad as it gets, then I guess everybody will get a round of applause.
Let me ask you quickly, and something else we figured was inevitable with the amount of air traffic in New Orleans, a helicopter down tonight, what do we know about that?
SHUSTER: Keith, apparently it was a civilian helicopter that was helping with deliver supplies, or at least survey some of the damage. It apparently was trying to make a landing on the roof of a building, made a hard landing. The helicopter apparently broke in half. But the pilot and the crew, they were fine. They walked away with minor injuries, minor scrapes.
OLBERMANN: David Shuster reporting for us from the streets of New Orleans, great thanks, sir.
SHUSTER: Thanks, Keith.
OLBERMANN: There has been another voice you have heard, whether you've watched this newscast or any other, J.T. Alpaugh, photographer and narrator of the unbelievable these last nine days. He joins us.
And who will join our severed political body over this? Members of the two parties were closer to agreement on who should have been elected last year than they now are on how President Bush has handled the crisis. Poll numbers simply defy belief.
You are watching Countdown on MSNBC.
OLBERMANN: The man in question certainly embellished his story later. But we know this much of it was true. On April 14, 1912, a 21-year-old Russian-born telegrapher sat down at the Marconi wireless station in New York, and for the next three days, without a break, he sent and received message after message to and from the survivors and rescuers of the S.S. "Titanic."
He was not the sole communications link to the disaster in the North Atlantic, but to the world, it seemed that way. His name was David Sarnoff, and those 72 hours of crisis were his launch pad towards running the RCA Corporation and a fledgling broadcasting company called NBC.
Our fourth story on the Countdown tonight, we cannot predict that kind of future for J.T. Alpaugh, but you have already seen the similarities between what he and Sarnoff did.
These images, rock-steady, crystal clear, shot with a high-definition camera and seen on every television station and network virtually in this country, and by local police, military, politicians, rescuers hunting for survivors.
The helicopter, from Helinet Aviation of Van Nuys, California, became the so-called pool chopper for the major TV operations.
Alan Perwin (ph) runs the show and pilots the craft. J.T. co-pilots and, most importantly, narrates.
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J.T. ALPAUGH, HELINET AVIATION: Every time we go, if you think after a while, you would start to get used to seeing this, but this is something that you can never get used to. It's just - everywhere you look, just complete destruction.
The stench, the smell. It has started to permeate up into the air at our altitudes of - we're now at 1,000 feet above the ground, and we can smell a very, very strong smell of rotting water, and just an awful, awful smell that - it's very hard to describe, but it's something you don't ever want to have to smell.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: J.T. Alpaugh has just landed from his last flight of the day about an hour ago, and joins us now by phone from the airport in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
It's good to talk to you, sir.
ALPAUGH (on phone): Good afternoon, Keith. How are you?
OLBERMANN: I'm sure you know what your work has meant to so many people here, but let me reiterate it. It's just been invaluable.
You may have a better perspective on the relative condition of these areas than anybody else, having seen so much of them and so often in the last two weeks. Is New Orleans in better shape today than it was yesterday or Monday? Are things getting better visually?
ALPAUGH: Well, Keith, I can't say that they are getting any better. What we have noticed is that the waters are just receding ever so slightly, because the canals have actually started to drain out in Lake Pontchartrain because of the levee repairs that they've done.
But I can tell you that these waters are becoming more and more stagnant and more and more darkened with chemicals and human waste and becoming, as you heard in the intro there, very, very foul with odor. And I can't imagine any of these survivors staying behind and staying in these waters.
And it's been really imperative that we're trying to find anybody that's left and get rescue aircraft to them, and get them out of the area.
OLBERMANN: Speaking of rescue, and your involvement therein, we happened to be carrying your reporting live on Monday night when this remarkable story of the man at the grocery store began to unfold, Calvin, who would not leave. I thought this was part of the story of New Orleans in microcosm. Have you followed up on Calvin?
ALPAUGH: Yes, we actually have been following up on Calvin. And we can - There he is, right there. We've - we checked on him today, and he's still out on that very porch that you see right there. That Coast Guard rescue swimmer that went in to get him, pleaded with him, as we were talking to his wife, on the porch to get him out of there.
But we checked on him today, and we actually called his wife, Kim, and kept in contact with her, giving him - giving her the updates on how he is doing. But he is extremely stubborn man. He does not want to leave that convenience store at all. And again, we would love to get him out of there. But today we saw him wading through that water and going back and forth between the store and that porch that you see right there. That's him talking and waving, with the blue hat on.
And it was just an awful, awful scene to see him just wade through these waters. And again, it's just heartbreaking. We landed that night, and I had to go up to Kim and talk to her. And I saw Kim's children and daughter in the back seat of their car, and she just started crying.
And that's the point that was my final point where I absolutely lost it. I couldn't really keep it together after that.
But again, just - we're seeing this story replayed over and over again throughout this city. These people just aren't getting out. And I don't understand why. These waters are just awful.
OLBERMANN: Well, we've heard the two possible explanations, this almost pathological concern about property, and the idea that if they left their neighborhood, somebody else would come in and steal whatever they have. And this other thing about animals, about not wanting to leave their pets. And there are things that come out in strange priorities in situations like this.
But, I, you know, is that - you said that that caused you to finally give in to the emotions that come with covering a story like this for such a long period of time. What else immediately jumps to your mind as unforgettable from the last nine days?
ALPAUGH: Well, I can tell you, Keith, the most unforgettable sight that I can remember was the very first few minutes that we flew in. We came in about two hours after Katrina had blown through to the north, and gone through the area. And when we came in, we - myself and Alan couldn't really talk. We were absolutely overwhelmed with what we were seeing. We had no idea what we were going to expect.
The devastation that we saw widespread throughout the area, it was absolutely - and the people, like you see here, just waving the flags. I mean, we saw thousands upon thousands. And a very helpless feeling for us.
We came in right behind a couple Coast Guard helicopters, and we put them in on as many rescues as we could in the first couple hours of this rescue.
But it just was beyond comprehension what we were seeing. And we found some solace in the fact that our images did get out that night. We put them out on a satellite so the world could see exactly how widespread this damage was. And we were hoping to get more resources into the area, just by our images.
And again, it was just an absolutely - we couldn't, we couldn't even begin to tell you what the amount of emotions that we've been going through for the past week, but that was probably the most remarkable moment for me.
OLBERMANN: If it didn't work directly, J.T., let me tell assure you that it worked indirectly, that you got the message across in those images.
Lastly, got to ask this, I don't want to get too inside-baseball for the viewers, but how did somebody from an aviation firm from Southern California wind up on every TV network covering a hurricane that hit the Gulf Coast?
ALPAUGH: Well, I don't know how to tell you that, but I can just tell that you myself and Alan Perwin, for some reason, we all came together, and we were talking over the weekend, and we figured, because we have this technology, we have some really good camera technology, and the (INAUDIBLE) camera system, and we had the helicopter and the means to do it. We put together a crew, and we flew in.
And we just timed it to come in right behind there. And people started taking our images, and we became the pool and the voice of this disaster.
And, I mean, for some - for - there's people and things happen for strange reasons. And I think this was kind of our destiny to come in here and just show these images. But, you know, I can only hope that it's helped.
OLBERMANN: I think we can say without fear of contradiction, it has. J.T. Alpaugh of Helinet Aviation, give my best to all of your colleagues doing this. You collectively are the eyes and ears for so many of us in this awful time. Great thanks.
ALPAUGH: Thank you, Keith.
OLBERMANN: From the view above the disaster to the view inside it, two British tourists finally make it home today and share their home video of the catastrophe as they lived it.
And the efforts, the relief efforts, as they played out, comparing FEMA's response to Katrina to its acclaimed efforts in Florida last hurricane season.
That's next. This is Countdown.
OLBERMANN: Nine days after Hurricane Katrina hit, and still each night there are new perspectives to consider, the perspective of responsibility, or politics, or blame, poll numbers that won't clarify a thing.
And a perspective on FEMA's response in an election year, compared to its response in the year after an election year.
The perspective of two foreign tourists. Katrina's buildup, the impact, then the disaster in New Orleans afterwards, all of it caught on their tape.
And the perspective of the evacuees. They have shelter, they have food. Now they want their families.
All ahead, here on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: It would seemingly be impossible to recreate the mind-set of the national politics of the year 1864.
But consider the fact that, in the middle of the Civil War, just after the capture of Atlantic, with victory, as it proved, no more than five months away, with only people in the Northern states eligible to cast a ballot, with all that, 45 percent of all voters still voted against the Republican, Abraham Lincoln, and for the Democrat, George McClellan -
McClellan, whose campaign platform consisted entirely of promising to immediately end the war, let the South succeed, and let slavery continue there; 45 percent, 1.8 million out of four million voters, said yes to that.
Our third story in the Countdown, well, maybe it isn't impossible to recreate the mind-set of the national politics of the year 1864. The latest Gallup poll results are in. Only 10 percent of Democrats give the president a positive rating for his response to the hurricane. And only 10 percent of the Republicans give the president a negative rating for his response to the hurricane.
Taken as a whole, 10 percent of the country thinks Mr. Bush did great, 25 percent good, 21 percent neither good nor bad, 18 percent bad, 24 percent terrible. Cut out the middle. That's 35 percent good or great and 42 percent bad or terrible. In that black-and-white fashion, he gets about the same blame as everybody else. How did the federal agencies do? Thirty-five percent, good or great, 42 percent, bad or terrible, exactly the same as the president.
How about state and local officials? Thirty-seven percent good or great, 35 percent bad or terrible. Who is most responsible for the problems in New Orleans after the hurricane? No one to blame was the clear winner with 38 percent. The president or federal agencies, 31 percent, state and local officials, 25 percent.
And one old number, though, for contrast, how the president was perceived shortly after the great crisis of 9/11. Gallup poll closing Friday, September 22, 2001, 90 percent approved of how he was doing his job; 6 percent disapproved.
Continuing the theme of bipartisanship, bye as in goodbye, Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert and Majority Leader of the Senate Bill Frist meeting the media this afternoon to announce a joint House-Senate bipartisan investigation into the preparation and response to Katrina.
But when reached for comment, the office of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said the Republicans had not contacted the Democrats at all about any investigation.
Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, the thought may have already crossed your mind. Is this disconnect between the two sides really political? Or have the members of each party simply begun to inhabit separate and mutually exclusive physical plains of existence, you know, like separate universes?
Perhaps a quick recap of who has said what, when, since the advent of Hurricane Katrina might help bring us all back to the same solar system.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees. They did anticipate a serious storm. But these levees got breached. And, as a result, much of New Orleans is flooded. And now we're having to deal with it and will.
MICHAEL BROWN, DIRECTOR, FEDERAL EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY: This is
not an exact science. It just depends on where the storm makes landfall, what the winds do, how well the levees hold up. There are just a lot of factors. And so, our job, unfortunately, is to plan for the worst-case scenario.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We believe that the levees in Jefferson Parish, with the tidal surge that is presently forecast, will be topped. All of the models available to us, all of them tell us that we can expect our communicate to be significantly under water and for a number of days.
BUSH: I know my fellow citizens here in Arizona and across the country are saying our prayers for those affected by the Hurricane Katrina. Our Gulf Coast is getting hit and hit hard. I want the folks there on the Gulf Coast to know that the federal government is prepared to help when you the storm passes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning.
A staggering blow. Hurricane Katrina leaves behind a vicious trail of destruction, dozens feared dead, thousands homeless. More than a million without power.
BUSH: The federal, state and local governments are working side by side to do all we can. Our second priority is to sustain lives by ensuring adequate food, water, shelter, and medical supplies for survivors and dedicated citizens - or dislocated citizens. FEMA is moving supplies and equipment into the hardest-hit areas.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In Baghdad, they drop - they airdrop water, food to people. Why can't they do that to their own people in New Orleans?
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: We are extremely pleased with the response that every element of the federal government...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're lying, saying we all right. They're lying. They don't give us nothing.
CHERTOFF: Now, of course, a critical element of what we're doing is the process of evacuation and securing New Orleans and other areas that are afflicted. And here, the Department of Defense has performed magnificently, as has the National Guard, in bringing enormous resources and capabilities to bear in the areas that are suffering.
BROWN: FEMA is not going to hesitate at all in this storm. We are not going to sit back and make this a bureaucratic process.
My primary mission right now is to get the urban search-and-rescue teams in, get the disaster medical teams in, get them as close as I can to ground zero, so they can actually start saving people.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People began showing up here on Tuesday, when they heard that there would be food, water and buses to take them away. But there is no lifeline and many honestly believe this is where they will die.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look how hot he is. He is not wake up very easy.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some have already died, waiting to be saved, with just notes for next of kin.
BROWN: The federal government just learned about those people today.
BUSH: Again, I want to thank you all for - and, Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job. The FEMA director is working 24...
OLBERMANN: Senator Frist gets a gold star today. At that news briefing I mentioned, he said that the planning and response at the local, state and federal levels were - quote - "unacceptable."
Has this all been about perception or has there actually been a shift of some kind within the country's response to a crisis like Katrina, an actual change inside FEMA?
Our next guest argues, there sure has been. Eric Boehlert writes for Salon.com and is in the studio with us tonight.
Thanks for your time.
ERIC BOEHLERT, SALON.COM: Glad to be here.
OLBERMANN: Spell this out in brief. Why do you say there was an actual difference in the way FEMA handled New Orleans and the Gulf in 2005 compared with FEMA and how it handled Florida and the hurricane swarm in 2004?
BOEHLERT: Right. They had to deal with four major storms August, September of 2004. And the difference, of course, is, that was an election year. And there was just a completely different mind-set.
If you go back and look at what happened, there was a different mind-set at FEMA; there was a different mind-set with Michael Brown; there was a different mind-set with the Bush administration and the reelection team. I mean, it was top priority. It was all hands on deck. FEMA was standing by, literally, not just Michael Brown talking about it, like in New Orleans.
And Bush was on the scene. He toured Florida five times. FEMA was - we can talk about it. They were handing out so many checks. They were handing out checks to people in Florida who were never even touched by a hurricane. And then you compare that to 2005. I mean, some top officials were in Wyoming. Some were in - Bush went to San Diego. People were in Greece at a wedding. I mean, this was clearly not a priority, the way it was in 2004.
OLBERMANN: That Gallup poll that I quoted before asked if anybody running any of the federal agencies should be fired. Presumably, that would be Mr. Chertoff or Mr. Brown. And 29 percent said yes.
And also today, we had a remarkable - there's no other phrase for it. Basically, it was an out-of-control comment from the House minority leader, Pelosi, of California about him.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: When I said to the president that he should fire Michael Brown, he said, why would I do that? I said, because of all that went wrong, with all that didn't go right last week. And he said, what didn't go right? Oblivious, in denial, dangerous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: This time last year, though, as your piece pointed out, FEMA had been so well received and what it did in Florida had been so widely praised, Director Brown was actually being touted to become head of Homeland Security?
BOEHLERT: Well, yes.
I mean, actually, if you go back, in May, there was an overlooked, sort of little noticed paragraph in a "Washington Post" piece last spring, that FEMA officials were so happy with the way they dealt the hurricanes, and, specifically, they were so - they realized the political home run they had hit for the Bush administration, that they were talking about Michael Brown taking over Homeland Security as sort of payback for what a great job he did with the hurricanes in 2004.
And you have to remember, the Bush campaign was really concerned. They didn't want to repeat his father's mistakes from Hurricane Andrew in 1992. I think that Bush Sr. was on his way to reelection defeat. But a lot of people talk about the lackadaisical response to Hurricane Andrew. And Bush , President Bush was an adviser then. Everyone in the reelection last year was determined not to repeat that fiasco, that P.R. fiasco, as well as on-the-ground fiasco from '92.
And so, again, it was all hands on deck. Jeb Bush in Florida was on top of this. The president was on top of it. And just look at what happened last week, when Bush was flying around from San Diego and then flying over New Orleans and then not touching down for several days. It is a completely different mind-set.
OLBERMANN: Is it just a question of all hands on deck? Or is there some question of efficiency and result? Because it doesn't just seem like there was an insufficient volume of response here in the last week.
OLBERMANN: But also in terms of quality and some of the things FEMA is still doing today.
BOEHLERT: Oh, yes.
Well, first, let's be fair. I mean, what happened in New Orleans has never been - we haven't seen in a century in this country. I mean, the devastation there was off the charts. And so, you can't compare what happened in New Orleans to Florida.
But Florida was four massive storms right in a row. And so, what FEMA did and Michael Brown in 2004, he stood along alongside Governor Bush during press conferences, saying, we have got all the supplies. We're just ready for the storm to leave. We are going to bring it all in. We're going to hand out checks. We are going to get people houses.
And what happened in New Orleans, it is just not comparable. People were coming and going from New Orleans. I mean, Harry Connick made it into New Orleans last week to do some relief. And yet, the FEMA people couldn't. Now we're hearing reports that Michael Brown didn't even contact Homeland Security until five hours after the storm.
Rigs were being sent away. Ships were being sent away. Firefighters were being turned away. I mean, the picture that's emerging is complete chaos, in terms of FEMA's standpoint last week.
OLBERMANN: Eric Boehlert of Salon.com. The full piece is on that Web site.
And we thank you for it. And we thank you for your perspective, sir.
OLBERMANN: Also tonight, a totally different perspective, what two British backpackers saw and taped as they were caught in the hurricane, the evacuation, and the nightmare that was New Orleans.
And in the relocation, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters separated in their exodus to safety, a reunion to share, and also more pleas tonight for information about loved ones who are missing.
But, first, time for Countdown's list of today's three nominees for another special Katrina version of the title for worst person in the world.
At the bronze level, Commander Michael Holdener, air operations chief at the Navy base at Pensacola. He chastised two of his helicopter pilots. They had come upon 100 residents trapped in the floodwaters near the University of New Orleans. They rescued them, but they were not supposed to do, said Commander Holdener. They were supposed to just deliver water and spare parts to Mississippi and then come right back. They had a lot of nerve rescuing civilians during the return trip. There might have been more spare parts to ship.
Also nominated, speaking of FEMA, the guy there in charge of maps. Twice yesterday, medical teams were scrambled at the airport in Charleston, South Carolina, to meet a plane full of injured evacuees from Houston. Both time, FEMA had sent the planes to Charleston, West Virginia, not Charleston, South Carolina.
But your winner, FEMA spokesperson Mary Hudak. She has defended what the agency did with 1,400 firefighters from across the country who had volunteered to help throughout the Gulf Coast. FEMA told the firefighters that they would be handing out fliers with FEMA's toll-free phone number to residents in the area, most of whom don't have working phones yet. Some of the firemen went home. Ms. Hudak said that they needed to - quote -
"revisit their commitment to FEMA, to firefighting and to the citizens of this country."
Hey, lady, I think we need to revisit your commitment.
Fifty of the firefighters were sent to Louisiana to stand next to the president during his tour of the afflicted areas.
OLBERMANN: How Americans perceive the future of New Orleans, how two British backpackers perceive its recent past, the catastrophe and the nightmare in the Superdome captured on their home videotape - next here on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: Within hours of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, artists, with city leaders leaning over their shoulders, were retouching the photographs of the damage to make it look like most of it had been done by fire and not by seismic activity. Fire, you see, you could get insurance for, earthquakes, not so much.
And within days of the 1906 earthquake, all they were talking about in San Francisco was rebuilding.
Our number two story on the Countdown, on the other hand, we have not heard much from the city of Pompeii since the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79 A.D., nor Harrisburg, Texas, burned to the ground by the Mexico General Santa Anna in 1836, its ruins later sold for $5,000 to speculators, who put up an entirely new city where Harrisburg had been and called it Houston.
That Gallup poll today suggests only 42 percent of Americans are predicting the San Francisco kind of outcome for New Orleans; 56 percent think it will never completely recover. But 63 percent think we should at least try to rebuild it anyway.
It is hard to imagine how two young British tourists would vote in that poll. They got back to London today having seen more of New Orleans than they bargained for. Their extraordinary story told in their own home video and by the correspondent of our affiliated British network ITV Paul Davies.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Me and Russell (ph) in our hotel room before Hurricane Katrina hit. It's 11:00 on Sunday. As you can see, this is what the hurricane is.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't look good.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It doesn't look good. We are here.
PAUL DAVIES, ITV REPORTER (voice-over): Here, as Adam Friend (ph) and Russell Porter (ph) know all too well, is right in the hurricane's path.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you can see, the weather (INAUDIBLE) the worse.
DAVIES: And soon, she arrives outside their hotel room. They have to take shelter in the corridor, emerging next day to survey the damage.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we have just been allowed back to our rooms.
Luckily, our window did not smash, but most other people's did.
DAVIES: Their holiday video becomes a diary of the hurricane, the first two days spent trapped in the hotel.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And we have no electricity, no water. Can't go outside. Can't really leave the building, can't really leave our room.
DAVIES: But the view from their balcony gets worse, for the city's protective levees have been breached by the hurricane and now the streets are submerged.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The water is going - it's getting deeper and deeper down there.
DAVIES: And when the friends are finally evacuated, it is to somewhere they would rather not be, New Orleans' vastly overcrowded and highly dangerous Superdome.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have been taken from our hotel to the Superdome in an armored truck along with everybody else. There's 15,000, 20,000 people here, not too friendly people either. It's quite scary. And, at this point, we don't know what the hell we are going to do to get out of here.
DAVIES: These the first pictures from inside the Superdome after Katrina struck, taken by Adam and Russell.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's the holes in the roof.
DAVIES: They teamed up with other young Britons for safety. They said there was racial tension, with gangs attacking fellow refugees, particularly young women.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were getting attacked.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE:... all the girls were getting raped.
DAVIES: The Britons were eventually moved out of the Superdome for their own safety. Before returning home, they paid a visit to the district where they spent their first night, when Katrina struck. It was the final chapter in their video record of disaster and survival.
Today, Adam and Russell arrived back at Heathrow Airport, welcomed by those who missed them and worried, two young men with a chilling story to tell and the pictures to prove it.
Paul Davies, ITV News.
OLBERMANN: Boiling down Katrina's power and destruction to its most basic and most important element, the families torn apart, and some reunited - next here on Countdown.
OLBERMANN: In a broad-reaching catastrophe like this, it's easy to dismiss the individual human story as interesting, but not truly important. The San Francisco earthquake isn't remembered by which family lost the most children, nor is the Johnstown Flood defined by which husband and wife took the longest to be reunited.
But, ultimately, right now, this a story entirely about reconnecting those separated, not just from their homes, but from the other people in their lives.
Our number one story on the Countdown, in this regard, we got one happy ending this morning. Teenager Marcellus Allen had been relocated to the Astrodome in Houston. He put up a sign on a message board there looking for Doris and Raymond (ph) Allen, his parents. Doris Allen had been relocated to the Astrodome, was walking around carrying a sign reading, "Looking for Marcellus Allen."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DORIS ALLEN, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: I had looking for him for several days, just walking around with a sign, and came across a gentleman that works over in the arena. And he found that message.
I wish I could remember what his name was. But he was determined to find him. Actually, it was a culmination of a lot of people that just - I guess they saw me with the sign. And everyone just started working. And then they announced him that final last time. And there must have been 20 announcements before finally and I saw him walking.
MARCELLUS ALLEN, HURRICANE SURVIVOR: Last time I talked to her, she said that she was there - they was trapped in the building and the building was flooding and they couldn't get out.
D. ALLEN: I am really worried about, where are all these people going to go, man? It's just - it's - I don't - it's amazing. It's just really amazing that a whole city is here. It's just spread across our country, with nowhere to go, nowhere to go. I really don't care about me right now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
OLBERMANN: As to the father, Raymond, he's still on the job with the Housing Authority in New Orleans. He's OK.
And we continue our small contribution of time to those who have not found their loved ones yet, those who are OK and want to say so, those who are hoping to hear just that from a missing family member.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My name is Felicia Washington (ph).
And I want to let Shakuda (ph) and Jeanne Washington (ph) in Omaha, Nebraska, know that I miss them. And I'm trying to get home as soon as we can, me and my mom, and that I love you all, and that we all right and we alive.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. I'm Janet Myers (ph). I'm looking for my daughter. Rachel Shelby (ph) and Martin (ph), if you all, you know, see us, you all got a number they can contact me at, which is 870-946-1844.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello. My name is Justin Johnson (ph). And I'm looking for Cynthia White (ph) and Keith White (ph). They're in (INAUDIBLE) I was stuck in the water. I couldn't get to you all. But wherever you all are at, you can just call my cellular phone at 274-9242.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My name is Michael Battise (ph). I'm from New Orleans, Louisiana. I'm trying to locate a young lady by the name of Mary Connie White (ph) from New Orleans, and Michael Wayne Battise (ph), the same name as myself, and her mother and her father, Mrs. Dorothy White (ph) and Mr. Aaron White (ph). I don't know where they went. I tried to find them. They were having some difficulties when they left New Orleans. But I haven't heard for myself. I'm in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm in Memphis, Tennessee. I'm looking for my father, Darrell Delot (ph). I have not heard from him since the storm came. He's from New Orleans, Louisiana.
And also my husband, Mario Breetlove (ph), he's from New Orleans. We can be reached at 901-729-3930.
OLBERMANN: We're now presenting these video reconnections all day on MSNBC. There's also a database on our Web site. You'll get the guidance there, Countdown.MSNBC.com.
Before we go, a brief look at the headlines from New Orleans. The mayor has ordered involuntary evacuations. But, as yet, the police haven't carried any out. There are still plenty of people who want to leave voluntarily. And the speaker of the House and the Senate majority leader said today they'll have a special committee to investigate preparations to and responses to the crisis. But they say it's bipartisan, but the Democrats say they've not been approached about this.
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 New Orleans.
Good evening, Rita.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED. END