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Extract from transcript of "Meet the Press" Sept 4 2005
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. 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. 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. 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; 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)