|NOTE: Important text below highlighted
in bold red.
Meet The Press
Transcript for September 4
Michael Chertoff, Marc Morial, Mike Tidwell, Mark Fischetti, David Wessel, Haley Barbour & Aaron Broussard
MSNBC | September 4, 2005
MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: devastation, desperation and death all along the Gulf Coast in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. What now? With us, the secretary of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, the governor of Mississippi, Haley Barbour, and the president of Jefferson Parish, Aaron Broussard.
Then has the government responded quickly enough? Can New Orleans really be rebuilt? How will the crisis affect the rest of the country? With us, in 2001, he wrote "Drowning New Orleans," Mark Fischetti, the head of the National Urban League and former mayor of New Orleans, Marc Morial. In 2003, he wrote, "Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana's Cajun Coast," Mike Tidwell, and from The Wall Street Journal, reporter David Wessel.
But first, the chief justice of the United States, William Rehnquist, died at 11 p.m. last night after a long battle with thyroid cancer. And joining us is the man who covers the Supreme Court for NBC News, Pete Williams.
Pete, good morning.
MR. PETE WILLIAMS (NBC News): Good morning to you, Tim.
MR. RUSSERT: Justice Rehnquist has died. What now?
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, the president's going to have to decide whether he elevates someone from within the Supreme Court, which is how Chief Justice Rehnquist got this job, or whether he'll pick an outsider to the court. William Rehnquist was the 16th chief justice. Eleven of those 16 times it's been an outsider brought in to be chief justice, not an elevation. The way William Rehnquist got the job is not the way it usually works.
MR. RUSSERT: Those who are mentioned as being on the court who might be considered to be elevated, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
MR. WILLIAMS: Right. Well, you know, in all the run-up to the nomination of Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement, there was some possibility that people were being to talk about the possibility that Scalia might be looked at as ascending to chief if the chief justice decided to retire. No one was thinking at the time he would die while in office. So that's certainly a possibility, but on the other hand, I think the thinking has always been that the president would follow the sort of historical practice and bring someone in from the outside but we just don't know.
MR. RUSSERT: In January of 2005, a few months ago, when the president was inaugurated for his second terms, these are the pictures we saw of Chief Justice Rehnquist administering the oath of office, very sick then. In fact, President Bush has told friends he was not sure the chief justice would even show up and he may have to swear himself in. It was that kind of dicey, if you will. So the White House has been preparing for some time with a short list.
MR. WILLIAMS: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: There's a list left over...
MR. WILLIAMS: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: ...from when John Roberts was selected...
MR. WILLIAMS: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...only a few months ago. One of those names was Edith Clement of New Orleans.
MR. WILLIAMS: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: How fitting in the wake of Hurricane Katrina that one of the top contenders may be a woman from New Orleans.
MR. WILLIAMS: Well, in talking to some of the administration officials this week in anticipation of the Roberts hearing, I asked whether they were even thinking about a Rehnquist replacement and whether they could simply dust off that list of people they looked at when Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement and perhaps choose someone from that list. The equities will be different, of course, because they're replacing the chief. But the pressure will be on the president to nominate perhaps a woman, perhaps someone from a minority group.
MR. RUSSERT: The hearing for John Roberts is scheduled to begin on Tuesday.
MR. WILLIAMS: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: Does that go on as planned?
MR. WILLIAMS: So far there's word that it's going to be changed, but neither the majority leader of the Senate, the majority leader, Bill Frist, nor the ranking and Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee Arlen Specter and Patrick Leahy have discussed what to do. Now, you would assume that they would want to go ahead and get this done to clear the decks for the inevitable next nomination, but if the Rehnquist funeral services are this week, which seems likely, surely members of the Senate, Mr. Roberts himself who clerked for William Rehnquist, would want to attend. Will they want to work around it? Will they want to reschedule? We just don't know. They haven't decided.
MR. RUSSERT: But you expect two separate hearings, one for John Roberts and one for William Rehnquist's successor?
MR. WILLIAMS: No matter what the president does, there has to be a confirmation hearing. Whether he brings someone in from outside who's never been on the Supreme Court before, there obviously has to be a confirmation hearing. But even if he chooses to elevate a sitting justice, the Senate still has to confirm that nomination. You don't just automatically go from associate justice to chief justice. And then, of course, if he does that, they'll have to nominate someone from outside to fill that seat.
MR. RUSSERT: The goal was to have John Roberts sitting on the court by early October, when the court resumes.
MR. WILLIAMS: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you expect a chief justice could be in place that soon?
MR. WILLIAMS: No, I think that's impossible. If you look at history, the last time we had this sort of a scenario of two potential vacancies--and we should say Sandra Day O'Connor is still on the Supreme Court. She has said she will stay until her successor is nominated and confirmed. We know from some of the paperwork she's still doing court business. But I would be surprised if they could get a chief justice on the Supreme Court much before December. And by the way, that means they may have to take some of the cases early on in this docket, like assisted suicide from Oregon, and push them until later in the term, if they're not going to have a full number of eight justices--or a full number of nine.
MR. RUSSERT: But the court could meet with eight justices?
MR. WILLIAMS: Oh, sure. And they can--they can take non-controversial cases and do those. The problem is, if there's eight justices, you have the potential of a 4-4 tie. That doesn't make law. That sets no precedent, and whoever prevailed in the lower court still prevails.
MR. RUSSERT: Pete Williams, we thank you for your report, and I know you'll be watching this situation closely, and we'll be checking in with you as the course goes on.
MR. WILLIAMS: You bet. OK.
MR. RUSSERT: Now, let's turn to Hurricane Katrina. Joining us is the man in charge of the federal response to the disaster, the director of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff.
Mr. Secretary, this is yesterday's Daily News: "Shame Of A Nation." And I want to read it to you and our viewers very carefully. It says, "As for Chertoff, if this is the best his department can do, the homeland is not very secure at all. It is absolutely outrageous that the United States of America could not send help to tens of thousands of forlorn, frightened, sick and hungry human beings at least 24 hours before it did, arguably longer than that. Who is specifically at fault for what is nothing less than a national scandal... It will never be known exactly what a day could have meant to so many unfortunates whose lives came to an end in those hopelessly tortured hours--on scorching roadsides, for lack of a swallow of water, in sweltering hospital bads, for lack of insulin. But what is already more than clear is that the nation's disaster-preparedness mechanisms do not appear to be in the hands of officials who know how to run them."
Mr. Secretary, are you or anyone who reports to you contemplating resignation?
SEC'Y MICHAEL CHERTOFF: You know, Tim, what we're contemplating now is the fact that we are very, very much in the middle of a crisis. There's a bit of a sense that you get that some people think it's now time to draw a sigh of relief and go back and do the after-action analysis, and there'll be plenty of time for that. We obviously need to look very closely at things that worked well, and many things did work well, and some things that didn't work well, and some things did not work well.
But we have to remember that we have an enormous challenge ahead of us, and there's not a lot of time to get ahead of it. We have basically moved the population of New Orleans to other parts of the country, or we're in the process of doing so. We've got to feed them. We've got to shelter the people. We've got to get them housing. We've got to educate their children. We have to dewater the city. We have to clean up the environment. We're going to have to rebuild. Those are enormous, enormous tasks, and we can't afford to get those messed up.
So what I'm focused on now and what I want my department--in fact, what the president has ordered all of us to be focused on now--is: What do we need to do in the next hours, in the next days, in the next weeks and the next months to make sure we are doing everything possible to give these people succor and to make their lives easier?
MR. RUSSERT: Mr....
SEC'Y CHERTOFF: We will have time to go back and do an after-action report, but the time right now is to look at what the enormous tasks ahead are.
MR. RUSSERT: Well, many Americans believe now is the time for accountability. The Republican governor of Massachusetts said, "We are an embarrassment to the world." The Republican senator from Louisiana, David Vitter, said that you deserve a grade of F, flunk. How would you grade yourself?
SEC'Y CHERTOFF: You know, Tim, again I'm going to--the process of grading myself and grading everybody else is one that we will examine over time. I will tell you that my focus now is on what is going to go forward. What would really be--require a grade of F would be to stop thinking about the crisis we have now so that we can start to go back and do the after-action analysis. There are some things that actually worked very well. There are some things that didn't. We may have to break the model that we have used for dealing with catastrophes, at least in the case of ultra-catastrophes.
And let me tell you, Tim, there is nobody who has ever seen or dealt with a catastrophe on this scale in this country. It has never happened before. So no matter what the planning was in advance, we were presented with an unprecedented situation. Obviously, we're going to want to learn about that. I'll tell you something I said when I--a month ago before this happened. I said that I thought that we need to build a preparedness capacity going forward that we have not yet succeeded in doing. That clearly remains the case, and we will in due course look at what we've done here and incorporate it into the planning. But first we are going to make sure we are attending to the crisis at hand.
MR. RUSSERT: So no heads will roll?
SEC'Y CHERTOFF: Tim, in due course, if people want to go and chop heads off, there'll be an opportunity to do it. The question I would put to people is what do you want to have us spend our time on now? Do we want to make sure we are feeding, sheltering, housing and educating those who are distressed, or do we want to begin the process of finger-pointing? I know that as far as I'm concerned I have got to be focused on, and everybody else in this government, and the president has made this very clear, we have got to focus on moving forward to deal with some very real emergencies which are going to be happening in the next days and weeks because of the fact that we have to deal with an unprecedented movement of evacuees.
MR. RUSSERT: Senator Vitter, the Republican from Louisiana, said the death toll could reach 10,000 because of the lack of response. Do you agree with that number?
SEC'Y CHERTOFF: You know, I understand first of all, Tim, that--and I'm clearly including myself among this group--many, many people are frustrated and very distressed by what happened here. Obviously, every minute matters in a situation like this. I think I said that we are racing the clock. But even with that sense of frustration and being upset, I don't think that I'm in a position to start to speculate and guess about what the numbers will be.
I will tell you one thing I know, that when we come to the point that we've completed the evacuation, we're going to start dewatering the city--in fact, it's under way now--we're going to confront some very, very ugly pictures. Many people may have been trapped when that levee broke, and the lake basically became, you know, part of the city of New Orleans. People were trapped in their houses and couldn't get out. Some of those people fortunately apparently were able to be safe and are coming out now.
We rescued 10,000 people, the Coast Guard did. That's three times as many as in any prior year. Think about that. That's an--that is compressing in three days the rescue efforts of--three times the rescue efforts of any prior year. There were some extraordinary actions that were taken by people at all levels, including people at the Department of Homeland Security where the Coast Guard is. So we have worked very aggressively, but we got to tell you, we have to prepare the country for what may be some very, very difficult pictures in the weeks to come.
MR. RUSSERT: People were stunned by a comment the president of the United States made on Wednesday, Mr. Secretary. He said, "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." How could the president be so wrong, be so misinformed?
SEC'Y CHERTOFF: Well, I think if you look at what actually happened, I remember on Tuesday morning picking up newspapers and I saw headlines, "New Orleans Dodged The Bullet," because if you recall the storm moved to the east and then continued on and appeared to pass with considerable damage but nothing worse. It was on Tuesday that the levee--may have been overnight Monday to Tuesday--that the levee started to break. And it was midday Tuesday that I became aware of the fact that there was no possibility of plugging the gap and that essentially the lake was going to start to drain into the city. I think that second catastrophe really caught everybody by surprise. In fact, I think that's one of the reasons people didn't continue to leave after the hurricane had passed initially. So this was clearly an unprecedented catastrophe. And I think it caused a tremendous dislocation in the response effort and, in fact, in our ability to get materials to people.
And one last point I'd make is this, Tim. We had actually prestaged a tremendous number of supplies, meals, shelter, water. We had prestaged, even before the hurricane, dozens of Coast Guard helicopters, which were obviously nearby but not in the area. So the difficulty wasn't lack of supplies. The difficulty was that when the levee broke, it was very, very hard to get the supplies to the people. I-10 was submerged. There was only one significant road going all the way the way around. Much of the city was flooded. The only way to get to people and to get supplies was to have airdrops and helicopters. And frankly, it is very--and their first priority was rescuing people from rooftops. So we really had a tremendous strain on the capacity of--to be able to both rescue people and also to be able to get them supplies.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Secretary, you say prestaged. People were sent to the Convention Center. There was no water, no food, no beds, no authorities there. There was no planning.
SEC'Y CHERTOFF: My understanding is, and again this is something that's going to go back--we're going to go back over after the fact is--the plan that the New Orleans officials and the state officials put together called for the Superdome to be the refuge of last resort. We became aware of the fact at some point that people began to go to the Convention Center on their own, spontaneously, in order to shelter there. And I think it's for that reason that people found themselves without food and water and supplies. The challenge then became...
MR. RUSSERT: Well, Mr. Secretary, you said--hold on. Mr. Secretary, there was no food or water at the Superdome, either. And I want to stay on this because...
SEC'Y CHERTOFF: Well, my understanding--well...
MR. RUSSERT: I want to stay on this because this is very important. You said you were surprised by the levee being broken. In 2002, The Times-Picayune did story after story--and this is eerie; this is what they wrote and how they predicted what was going to happen. It said, and I'll read it very carefully: "...A major hurricane could decimate the region, but flooding from even a moderate storm could kill thousands. It's just a matter of time. ... The scene's been played out for years in computer models or emergency operations simulations... New Orleans has hurricane levees that create a bowl with the bottom dipping lower than the bottom of Lake Pontchartrain. ...the levees would trap any water that gets inside-- by breach, overtopping or torrential downpour--catastrophic storm. ... The estimated 200,000 or more people left behind in an evacuation will be struggling to survive. Some will be housed at the Superdome, the designated shelter for people too sick or inform to leave the city. ...But many will simply be on their own, in homes or looking for high ground. Thousands will drown while trapped in homes or cars by rising water. Other will be washed away or crushed by debris. Survivors will end up trapped on roofs, in buildings or on high ground surrounded by water, with no means of escape and little food or fresh water, perhaps for several days."
That was four years ago. And last summer FEMA, who reports to you, and the LSU Hurricane Center, and local and state officials did a simulated Hurricane Pam in which the levees broke. The levees broke, Mr. Secretary, and people--thousands...
SEC'Y CHERTOFF: Actually, Tim, that...
MR. RUSSERT: Thousands drowned.
SEC'Y CHERTOFF: Tim, I had...
MR. RUSSERT: There's a CD which is in your department and the White House has it and the president, and you are saying, "We were surprised that the levees may not hold." How could this be?
SEC'Y CHERTOFF: No, Tim, I have to tell you, that's not what I said. You have to listen to what I said. What I said was not that we didn't anticipate that there's a possibility the levees will break. What I said is in this storm, what happened is the storm passed and passed without the levees breaking on Monday. Tuesday morning, I opened newspapers and saw headlines that said "New Orleans Dodged The Bullet," which surprised people. What surprised them was that the levee broke overnight and the next day and, in fact, collapsed. That was a surprise.
As to the larger point, there's no question that people have known for probably decades that New Orleans sits in a bowl surrounded by levees. This is a city built on the coast in an area that has hurricanes in it that is built below sea levels and that is a soup bowl. People have talked for years about, you know, whether it makes sense to have a city like that, how to build the levees. So, of course, that's not a surprise. What caught people by surprise in this instance was the fact that there was a second wave, and that, as The Times-Picayune article makes very clear, creates an almost apocalyptic challenge for rescuers.
The fact of the matter is, there's only really one way to deal with that issue, and that is to get people out first. Once that bowl breaks and that soup bowl fills with water, it is unquestionably the case, as we saw vividly demonstrated, that it's going to be almost impossible to get people out. So there is really only one way to deal with it, and that is to evacuate people in advance.
Michael Brown got on TV in Saturday and he said to people in New Orleans, "Take this seriously. There is a storm coming." On Friday there was discussion about the fact that even though this storm could fall anywhere along the Gulf, people had to be carefully monitoring it. We were watching it on Saturday and Sunday. The president was on a videoconference on Sunday telling us we've got to do everything possible to be prepared. But you know, Tim, at the end of the day, this is the ground truth: The only way to avoid a catastrophic problem in that soup bowl is to have people leave before the hurricane hits. Those who got out are fine. Those who stayed in faced one of the most horrible experiences in their life.
MR. RUSSERT: But that's the point. Those who got out were people with SUVs and automobiles and air fares who could get out. Those who could not get out were the poor who rely on public buses to get out. Your Web site says that your department assumes primary responsibility for a national disaster. If you knew a hurricane 3 storm was coming, why weren't buses, trains, planes, cruise ships, trucks provided on Friday, Saturday, Sunday to evacuate people before the storm?
SEC'Y CHERTOFF: Tim, the way that emergency operations act under the law is the responsibility and the power, the authority, to order an evacuation rests with state and local officials. The federal government comes in and supports those officials. That's why Mike Brown got on TV on Saturday and he told people to start to get out of there.
Now, ultimately the resources that will get people who don't have cars and don't have the ability to remove themselves has to rest with the kinds of assets a city has--the city's buses, the city's transportation. You know, there will be plenty of time to go back over what the preparation has been with respect to infrastructure in New Orleans, with respect to transportation, with respect to evacuation. To confront a situation that, as you point out, people have been aware of for decades--this is not something that just came on the horizon recently.
But I want to leave you with a very, very important marker which I'm going to put down now. At this particular moment, this is not over. There is a tremendous challenge. Whatever the criticisms and the after-action report may be about what was right and what was wrong looking back, what would be a horrible tragedy would be to distract ourselves from avoiding further problems because we're spending time talking about problems that have already occurred.
MR. RUSSERT: The...
SEC'Y CHERTOFF: We are going to have to feed--wait a second. We're going to have to feed, clothe, house and educate a city of people scattered across the country. We're going to have to do it in a way that doesn't disrupt the rest of the country. We're going to have to continue the work to restore our infrastructure. We're going to have to clean probably the greatest environmental mess we've ever seen in this country. And we're going to have to make important decisions about this in the next days and weeks and months. And I've got to tell you that for my money what I'm going to spend my time on is focusing on making sure we are getting on top of emergencies that are still under way.
MR. RUSSERT: This is hurricane season. Are you prepared for another hurricane in that region or, God forbid, a nuclear or biological attack, which we're told could happen at any time?
SEC'Y CHERTOFF: I'm going to tell you, Tim, you've put your finger on something which I said the day after this hurricane hit. As catastrophic as this is, we are still in hurricane season. And as much as we are working on desperately getting people out now, we've got to make sure we are holding in reserve and we are preparing for what could come next, whether it be a hurricane, whether it be a disease. I mean, we are challenged to make sure that at a moment when we have a current catastrophe and we have to be vigilant about other catastrophes that we do not lose focus and spend time dwelling on the past. I promise you we will go back and review the lessons that we have to learn, what went right and what went wrong. But I will tell you now we will be making a huge mistake if we spend the time in the immediate future looking back instead of dealing with, as you point out, what's going on now and what may yet come.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Secretary, as always, we thank you for joining us and sharing your views.
Coming next, the very latest from the governor of Mississippi. And the president of Jefferson Parish just outside New Orleans, Louisiana. Hurricane Katrina continues on this special edition of MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: More on Hurricane Katrina, the response from the governor of Mississippi and the president of Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, after this station break.
MR. RUSSERT: And we are back.
Jefferson Parish President Broussard, let me start with you. You just heard the director of Homeland Security's explanation of what has happened this last week. What is your reaction?
MR. AARON BROUSSARD: We have been abandoned by our own country. Hurricane Katrina will go down in history as one of the worst storms ever to hit an American coast, but the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history. I am personally asking our bipartisan congressional delegation here in Louisiana to immediately begin congressional hearings to find out just what happened here. Why did it happen? Who needs to be fired? And believe me, they need to be fired right away, because we still have weeks to go in this tragedy. We have months to go. We have years to go. And whoever is at the top of this totem pole, that totem pole needs to be chain-sawed off and we've got to start with some new leadership.
It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now. It's so obvious. FEMA needs more congressional funding. It needs more presidential support. It needs to be a Cabinet-level director. It needs to be an independent agency that will be able to fulfill its mission to work in partnership with state and local governments around America. FEMA needs to be empowered to do the things it was created to do. It needs to come somewhere, like New Orleans, with all of its force immediately, without red tape, without bureaucracy, act immediately with common sense and leadership, and save lives. Forget about the property. We can rebuild the property. It's got to be able to come in and save lives.
We need strong leadership at the top of America right now in order to accomplish this and to-- reconstructing FEMA.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. Broussard, let me ask--I want to ask--should...
MR. BROUSSARD: You know, just some quick examples...
MR. RUSSERT: Hold on. Hold on, sir. Shouldn't the mayor of New Orleans and the governor of New Orleans bear some responsibility? Couldn't they have been much more forceful, much more effective and much more organized in evacuating the area?
MR. BROUSSARD: Sir, they were told like me, every single day, "The cavalry's coming," on a federal level, "The cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming." I have just begun to hear the hoofs of the cavalry. The cavalry's still not here yet, but I've begun to hear the hoofs, and we're almost a week out.
Let me give you just three quick examples. We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn't need them. This was a week ago. FEMA--we had 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said, "Come get the fuel right away." When we got there with our trucks, they got a word. "FEMA says don't give you the fuel." Yesterday--yesterday--FEMA comes in and cuts all of our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in, he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards on our line and says, "No one is getting near these lines." Sheriff Harry Lee said that if America--American government would have responded like Wal-Mart has responded, we wouldn't be in this crisis.
But I want to thank Governor Blanco for all she's done and all her leadership. She sent in the National Guard. I just repaired a breach on my side of the 17th Street canal that the secretary didn't foresee, a 300-foot breach. I just completed it yesterday with convoys of National Guard and local parish workers and levee board people. It took us two and a half days working 24/7. I just closed it.
MR. RUSSERT: All right.
MR. BROUSSARD: I'm telling you most importantly I want to thank my public employees...
MR. RUSSERT: All right.
MR. BROUSSARD: ...that have worked 24/7. They're burned out, the doctors, the nurses. And I want to give you one last story and I'll shut up and let you tell me whatever you want to tell me. The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he's responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard nursing home and every day she called him and said, "Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?" And he said, "Yeah, Mama, somebody's coming to get you. Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday." And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night.
MR. RUSSERT: Mr. President...
MR. BROUSSARD: Nobody's coming to get us. Nobody's coming to get us. The secretary has promised. Everybody's promised. They've had press conferences. I'm sick of the press conferences. For God sakes, shut up and send us somebody.
MR. RUSSERT: Just take a pause, Mr. President. While you gather yourself in your very emotional times, I understand, let me go to Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi.
Governor Barbour, can you bring our audience up to date on what is happening in your state, how many deaths have you experienced and what do you see playing out over the next couple days?
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR, (R-MS): Well, we were ground zero of the worst natural disaster ever to hit the United States. And it's not just a calamity on our Gulf Coast, which is decimated, I mean, destroyed, all the infrastructure overwhelmed. We have damage 150 miles inland. We have 100 miles inland, 12 deaths from winds over 110 miles an hour.
Saturday night before this storm hit, the head of the National Hurricane Center called me and said, "Governor, this is going to be like Camille." I said, "Well, start telling people it's going to be like Camille," because Camille is the benchmark for how bad--it's the worst hurricane that ever hit America, it happened to hit Pass Christian, Mississippi. Well, Tim, Katrina was worse than Camille. It was worse than Camille in size. It was worse than Camille in damage. And so we've had a terrible, grievous blow struck us.
But my experience is very different from Louisiana, apparently. I don't know anything about Louisiana. Over here, we had the Coast Guard in Monday night. They took 1,700 people off the roofs of houses with guys hanging off of helicopters to get them. They sent us a million meals last night because we'd eaten everything through. Everything hasn't been perfect here, by any stretch of the imagination, Tim. But the federal government has been good partners to us. They've tried hard. Our people have tried hard. Firemen and policemen and emergency medical people, National Guard, highway patrolmen working virtually around the clock, sleeping in their cars when they could sleep. And we've made progress every day.
But should I--we haven't made as much progress as I want any day. And to be honest, we won't make as much progress as I want any day because the devastation we're dealing with is unimaginable, not just unprecedented. It's unimaginable.
MR. RUSSERT: Governor, will you rebuild casinos along the Gulfport, exactly the same locations they were? And is that inviting another disaster if you do?
GOV. BARBOUR: Just this spring, our Legislature voted to no longer require the casinos to float, which had been the law that was initially passed when we legalized Las Vegas-style casinos in 1991. Our Legislature is going to have to look at whether or not we want to allow the casinos to be built on the land like the hotels that they're attached to. Nobody is going to talk about bringing them inland or anything. But the question is, should the bottoms, should the floors actually sit on land or pilings instead of out in the water. And because every one, or virtually every one of the casino barges, the casino floors were blown inland and did a lot of damage, the Legislature, I think, will do that. That's going to be my recommendation.
MR. RUSSERT: All right, gentlemen.
GOV. BARBOUR: But that's just one issue. It's one of a lot of terrible issues. That's just one issue.
MR. RUSSERT: Governor, how many people do you think have died in the state of Mississippi?
GOV. BARBOUR: Well, the official death toll is 160-something. And with the debris, Tim, that we have on the coast, which in many areas is six, eight, 10 feet tall, and because some people didn't evacuate, I think that toll will go up. I can't tell you how much, but we have so many people on the coast, they boarded up for Ivan, evacuated, nothing happened. Boarded up for Dennis, evacuated, nothing happened. Then they said, you know, "Where I am was OK for Camille." Nobody ever imagined something worse than Camille. And we have a lot of people...
MR. RUSSERT: Right.
GOV. BARBOUR: ...who may have died because they didn't believe anything could be worse than Camille.
MR. RUSSERT: Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi, Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, we thank you very much for your own personal testimony this morning and sharing it with the American viewers.
Coming next, why were all the warnings about New Orleans ignored? And what will be the impact of this crisis on our nation's economy and our nation's psyche? Coming up right here on MEET THE PRESS.
MR. RUSSERT: Welcome all.
By now this animation by NBC News has become very familiar. It shows exactly how New Orleans is that so-called bathtub, a city in between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. And when those levees break, the city can be flooded and disaster can occur.
Mark Fischetti, you wrote an article for Scientific American 2001...
MR. MARK FISCHETTI: Right.
MR. RUSSERT: ...and you basically predicted this very thing happening.
MR. FISCHETTI: Right. The article came out in 2001. It was based on computer models that Louisiana State University had been running for several years. A plan had been put together in 1998 already by scientists and engineers what could be done to protect New Orleans if a Category 4 or 5 hurricane came from the south as it did.
MR. RUSSERT: So when the president and Secretary Chertoff say, "We were surprised that the levees were breached," were you surprised?
MR. FISCHETTI: I wasn't surprised. I felt sick Sunday night myself having written this piece and seen the computer models about what could happen in this very instance. I wasn't the only one to write about it. Others have written about it. The models have been out there.
MR. RUSSERT: Mike Tidwell, you've written about it as well, and you say that in order to rebuild, there's going to have to be some serious undertakings in recognition of the environmental realities of what exists in the New Orleans area.
MR. MIKE TIDWELL: Well, the question and the answer is: Why in the world is New Orleans below sea level to begin with? I think the media has sort of accepted it uncritically that this city is below sea level which is why we have this problem. Miami is not below sea level. New York's not below sea level. It's below sea level because of the levees. The levees stop the river from flooding and the river's what built the whole coast of Louisiana through 7,000 years of alluvial soil deposits. And if you stop that flooding, the other second natural phenomena in any delta region in the world is subsidence. That alluvial soil is fine, it compacts, it shrinks. That's why New Orleans is below sea level. That's why the whole coast of Louisiana is--the whole land platform is sinking. An area of land the size of Manhattan turns to water in south Louisiana every year even without hurricanes.
You can't just fix the levees in New Orleans. We now have to have a massive coastal restoration project where we get the water out of the Mississippi River in a controlled fashion toward the Barrier islands, restore the wetlands. If you don't commit to this plan which is this $14 billion, costs of the Big Dig in Boston, or two weeks of spending Iraq, you shouldn't fix a single window in New Orleans. You shouldn't pick up a single piece of debris because to do one without the other is to set the table for another nightmare.
MR. RUSSERT: So if you keep status quo, rebuild the levee and not do the other environmental corrections that you're talking about, this will happen again?
MR. TIDWELL: I don't think we should fix a single window in New Orleans unless as a nation we commit to this $14 billion plan called Coast 2050. You can Google it under the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana. It's been on the table since the mid-'90s. The Bush administration has had all kinds of folks in New Orleans and in Louisiana begging for funding for this--the cost of the Big Dig--to restore the Barrier islands, to fix the wetlands because without that, New Orleans is an endangered city forever.
MR. RUSSERT: Marc Morial, you were the mayor of New Orleans.
MR. MARC MORIAL: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: Your dad was the mayor. In fact, ironically, the very faces of those poor souls we saw in the Convention Center, it's the Dutch Morial Convention Center named after your dad.
MR. MORIAL: Yeah.
MR. RUSSERT: I want to raise a subject that was written by The Washington Post and I've seen you on television speaking about it. "The Racial Dimension: To Me, It Just seems Like Black People Are Marked"--was the headline of The Washington Post story. "While hundreds of thousands of people have been dislocated by Hurricane Katrina, the images that have filled the television screens have been mainly of black Americans--grieving, suffering, in some cases looting and desperately trying to leave New Orleans. Along with the intimate tales of family drama and survival being played out Thursday, there was no escaping that race had become a subtext to the unfolding drama of the hurricane's aftermath."
MR. MORIAL: One has to ask themselves a question: Were this Washington, D.C., New York, an earthquake in Los Angeles, would the response have been so inadequate, been so lacking? Tim, what-- where my emotions are and watching Aaron Broussard, it just struck me another time. Where my emotions are is there was Hurricane Katrina, and then there was the first 72 to 96 hours of response. It was wholly and completely inadequate.
Not only am I upset, shocked, angry, I hope that as I talk on this show today that this nation will recognize that this is a wake-up call and an opportunity for black and white people to come together to try to do something for the now almost one million people who've been displaced from their homes, unprecedented in American history, a humanitarian crisis of untold proportions. And we've got to focus on that.
I'm on my way to Houston today to visit the residents of my former city just to try to give hope and try to give healing and to try to say we care. There's going to need to be a retrospective and an examination of all that went wrong, but there needs to be a continuation of rescue efforts in New Orleans and also energy, money and resources, not just from the private sector, but from the government of the United States to do something about all of the people who have now evacuated and must be resettled.
MR. RUSSERT: There was a poll taken before the hurricane, and about 60 percent of the residents of New Orleans said they probably wouldn't leave if they were asked to evacuate. Many of them said they couldn't leave. They live check to check. They don't have an automobile. Should the mayor, should the governor, should the president, should everyone have been more insistent and provided the resources-- trains, planes, buses, automobiles, boats--to evacuate the city before the hurricane?
MR. MORIAL: When I was mayor in '98, we orchestrated the first evacuation of the city during Hurricane Georges. After the evacuation, we did a public opinion poll, or a poll of the citizens of the city, which demonstrated that 50 percent, approximately, evacuated. About 20 to 25 percent found themselves in shelters of last resort, which were the dome, the Convention Center, and then another 25 percent refused to go. It was always foreseeable that there would be those that would not leave. There was a marker here, Hurricane Georges going forward, that led, I must admit to, for example, changes in the city's hurricane evacuation plan which contraflowed the interstate, which, if that had not occurred, the tragedy may have even been greater.
So under these circumstances, faced with what we're faced, it was foreseeable that people would not be able to evacuate. Many of the people you saw at the Convention Center or the dome didn't have cars, didn't have means, didn't have money. And also, let's not forget, there were many who have now evacuated to hotels whose money is short, their jobs are gone. This requires a massive undertaking by our government on behalf of our own citizens. These are not, Tim, refugees. Let's not refer to them as refugees. They're citizens. They're survivors.
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah. They're Americans.
MR. MORIAL: They're us.
MR. RUSSERT: David Wessel, let me ask you about the economic impact of all this. You work for The Wall Street Journal and have written about it. Louisiana's coast produces one-third of the country's seafood, one-fifth of the oil, one quarter of our natural gas, and the strip between Baton Rouge and New Orleans is the nation's largest port. What is going to be the fallout for the rest of the nation from this crisis?
MR. DAVID WESSEL: It's going to be big, Tim. Of course, at first--the first blush is it's a horrible tragedy for the people there and the economy. Rebuilding there is going to be just a massive undertaking, as the mayor said. But this is like having a heart attack and then having problems with your circulatory system. The United States' economy depends on oil and gas and refineries that are in this region. They've been damaged, and it's going to be a shock to the economy if those things don't come back soon.
MR. RUSSERT: Do you believe they will come back soon?
MR. WESSEL: I don't think we know yet. It's pretty clear that some of them are coming back as power is restored. We know that the pressure in the pipelines...
MR. RUSSERT: Yeah.
MR. WESSEL: ...for instance, that carry the fuel from the coast to the rest of the country, is being restored. But a number of these refineries and also oil drilling platforms have been damaged so severely that it'll probably be months before they come back. And that's why the rest of us are going to be feeling the impact of this, not only in our hearts but in our economic lives.
MR. RUSSERT: Gasoline prices will be very high for some time to come?
MR. WESSEL: That's right. The early signs are, since the end of last week, that the financial markets, which guess, which bet on future gasoline prices, are that the price is coming down a little bit; that is, that we'll have a spike for a few weeks and then it'll start to come down. But that could turn around quickly when the oil companies--if the oil companies tell us that the refineries are going to be out of commission for a long time.
MR. RUSSERT: Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert started a debate by saying, "Well, we have to think about whether or not New Orleans should be rebuilt in the way it is and where it is." He then put out several other statements saying, "What I meant to say is that it will be rebuilt, but it has to be rebuilt correctly." It follows up on what you've been saying, Mark and Mike, in terms of just what is there and what should be there. Do you believe that we have the wherewithal, the money, $14 billion, to rebuild New Orleans? And how long will it take to do that?
MR. FISCHETTI: I don't think it's a question of money. It's a question of will. Florida in 2000 started this--Congress approved, essentially, a $7 billion plan to refresh the Everglades, which is a very similar kind of project. It's freshwater; it's marsh lands. $7 billion in 2000. I don't think the dollar figure is the obstacle. It's the desire to do it.
MR. TIDWELL: I think there are a number of stories here. I mean, first of all, we need to, of course, address the humanitarian crisis. And beyond that, we got to start thinking about how--what we need to do to rebuild New Orleans. And that's going to take just restoration now for--to get the water of the Mississippi back toward the Barrier islands and the wetlands.
But the really final big story here is that the Bush administration is failing on another level to hear warning signs and take credible evidence that there's dire problems. The Bush administration itself--its own studies say that we will in this century turn every coastal city in America into a New Orleans. Why? Because we got three feet of subsidence, sinking,in south Louisiana in the 20th century because of the levees. Right now, because of global climate change, the Bush administration's own studies say we will get between one and three feet of sea level rise worldwide because of our use of fossil fuels.
The big, big, big take-away message here is: New Orleans is the future of Miami, New York, San Diego, every coastal city in the world, because whether the land sinks three feet and you get a bowl in a hurricane like this, or sea level rises worldwide, same problem. We have got to address this energy problem that David mentioned. We have an irrational energy problem.
The way most Americans are going to feel this hurricane is at the gas pump and the energy. That's because this infrastructure is irrationally exposed to hurricanes. That's a problem big enough itself and shows how vulnerable we are to fossil fuels. Then you have the consequences of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases turning every city, coastal city in the world into a New Orleans. We've got to start thinking about a new energy future.
MR. RUSSERT: I also think we feel it in our hearts very, very deeply as we watch those pictures as well, as the gasoline pumps. And I can tell you by the reaction I've gotten from people all across the country. Mr. Mayor, do you believe that the people of New Orleans will come back to their city? With-- there are no housing. There are no jobs. Will they come back?
MR. MORIAL: New Orleans must be rebuilt. It must be rebuilt as the diverse cultural gumbo that it's always been. It must be rebuilt the right way. Mary Landrieu has had legislation for a coastal restoration initiative now pending in Congress for three years and has not been able to get it passed. What we need here is a reconstruction and resettlement czar, someone like Colin Powell, someone like Andrew Young, someone with broad credibility to lead the efforts to resettle people and provide the leadership for the reconstruction of New Orleans, Louisiana, and southern Mississippi.
MR. RUSSERT: With pending tax cuts, state tax cuts, record deficits, the war in Iraq, do you believe there will be money in the federal government to do all this?
MR. WESSEL: I believe there will be money in the federal government to do this. If there was ever an occasion to borrow money, this is it. The history of America is when cities get destroyed, they come back. The Chicago fire; Galveston, Texas, was raised afterwards. This city will come back, but it's going to be hard and it's going to challenge the institutional leadership of New Orleans and Louisiana, which is not distinguished by its efficiency or honesty.
MR. RUSSERT: It's going to take our government. It's going to also take all of you. And to all our viewers, you can give. You can help the victims of Katrina by calling the American Red Cross, 1-800- HELP-NOW, 1-800-HELP-NOW, or logging on to our Web site at mtp.msnbc.com; a list of all the other charities who are involved in this effort to help the poor souls of the Gulf region. We'll be right back.
MR. RUSSERT: That's all for today. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of Hurricane Katrina and the people of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana as they try to rebuild their lives and their homes.
And we leave you with these haunting images of this terrible week, set to the voice of a son of New Orleans, Aaron Neville. These faces, these eyes, these tears are forever seared into our hearts.
(Videotape, photos and footage of hurricane aftermath; audio of Neville song)