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Desperation in New Orleans

This is a partial transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," September 1, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

Watch "The O'Reilly Factor" weeknights at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET and listen to the "Radio Factor!"

BILL O'REILLY, HOST:The top story tonight, desperation. Many trapped in New Orleans have reached that condition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My little boy, he's 12. My daughter, she's 8. And my other daughter, she's 3. And I just want to hear from them. I just want to know from somebody, whatever the communication system is or whatever that they're OK.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've walked out on dead people. They laid down on the side of the road because they couldn't get to them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everything gone. Everything wiped out. It's gone. Just everything we have to our name. Few little bags. That's it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I still have a 6-year-old son out there. I don't know where he is with his daddy.

SHEPARD SMITH, FOX NEWS CORRESPONDENT: This is the road refugees have taken for three days now, trying to make their way back into the center of the city in the Superdome. So many did not make it. This man is one of those. Someone has clothed him, covered him, put a blanket over his upper body, and left him dead in the city that died here with him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'REILLY: Joining us now on the phone from Baton Rouge is Lieutenant Kevin Cowan with Louisiana's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. And from New Orleans, FOX News correspondent Shepard Smith. And on the phone from — there's Shepard. And on the phone from the French Quarter, 53-year-old businessman Finis Shelnutt, who's surrounded by looters.

You've been there, Mr. Shelnutt, from the very beginning. Number one, how have you survived? Did you stockpile food and water before the storm?

FINIS SHELNUTT, TRAPPED IN FRENCH QUARTER: Well, by God's grace I'm still alive, and a couple of my friends that I've brought them in from my building. And I'll put it this way I think. Jesus will be back before the military.

O'REILLY: OK. So you've been there from the duration. You still have enough food and water to hold out?

SHELNUTT: Just — we're getting extremely low.

O'REILLY: You're on St. Louis Street. That's high ground in the French Quarter. No water in the street. But what's the looter factor there? How many of them are there and what are they doing?

SHELNUTT: Bill, it started off I guess the night after the hurricane the looting started. And the police were chasing looters a block away from me. And a couple of looters stopped and shot a policeman in the head - in the forehead and killed him.

The Cadillac dealership downtown, right by the Superbowl, all the cars were stolen. All the shops down on Canal Street, that is the main thoroughfare, your listeners don't know it's a major street downtown, all of those have been looted. The police asked them, you know, why don't you guys stop these guys because they're carrying tennis shoes from the Foot Locker right past them in front of my building. He said we don't have a jail. It's all flooded.

And it's just — they're pushing carts with tennis shoes and sports gear and everything in the world that you can think of. And they have literally broken in to probably 90 percent of the shops in the Quarter. And thank God my building is right by the police headquarters.

O'REILLY: All right, so they're roving bands of between five and seven young people, usually. And they have no fear, right? They are just doing this with impunity, correct?

SHELNUTT: They have - OK, they're pushing them down the street in grocery carts. And you can see everything that they've stolen. I had a guy approach me yesterday that had a huge cardboard box full of all kinds of jewelry that he had ripped off one of the jewelry stores.

O'REILLY: Now have you seen any National Guard out there in the Quarter?

SHELNUTT: None. Only thing they did is two days ago, I was with the captain, you know, say a block up the street. And the National Guard came by on the right here on one of these — like a Hummer. And he yelled at them to get their rear ends off of the Hummer and to help out. And they kept on driving. And I have not seen a National Guard in the French Quarter since yesterday morning.

O'REILLY: All right, you said you're fairly near the police headquarters down there in the French Quarter. The New Orleans police are on the job, though. They're around, correct?

SHELNUTT: Bill, they don't have — they're doing everything they can. I have - I rent out to a restaurant here. It's a Cajun restaurant. And the food was going bad. I put ice in everything. And I gave them all the gumbo, the duck, the crawfish etoufee, everything out of the cooler just to — for them to survive.

These guys are staying up 18, 20 hours a day. I told the captain today I was going to do your interview. And I said what should I tell him? He said I need some help.

O'REILLY: All right, well, we're going to get you help. And we're going to.

SHELNUTT: Bill, you know, it's almost too late. You know, we're like - we're down here praying for help. This is like a human - it's like a volcano.

O'REILLY: Right.

SHELNUTT: And it's a black mark on America. If this country ever has a multi city 9/11 from my experience on this catastrophe, this country and the citizens, we have 23 percent of our energy comes from this state, this country is doomed.

O'REILLY: OK. Now you're locked in your apartment building. Now are you going to leave? Are you going to stay?

SHELNUTT: I can't leave.

O'REILLY: You're afraid to leave?

SHELNUTT: No, I cannot leave.

O'REILLY: Why?

SHELNUTT: When they — I just had eight more people that came in from the Monte Leon Hotel, very nice hotel in the Quarter. The Monte Leon hotel manager rented 10 Greyhound buses yesterday, paid $25,000. And they were supposed to arrive at the Monte Leon at 6:00 yesterday evening. At 12:30, I have all my windows up in my building because it's so hot that they started yelling and woke me up. The National Guard confiscated the 10 Continental Trailways or Greyhound buses.

O'REILLY: Right, commandeer.

SHELNUTT: ...whatever they were.

O'REILLY: So you can't get out physically? You just can't get out?

SHELNUTT: No, so they say that the buses are at the Superdome. I just sent them back over to the Superdome. And they came back with their luggage and they said we couldn't get there.

O'REILLY: All right.

SHELNUTT: And they would turn them away.

O'REILLY: All right, hang on the line, because we, Mr. Shelnutt, because we're going to talk now to Mr. Cowan of Homeland Security in Louisiana.

Now where's the National Guard, Mr. Cowan? I mean, what is the problem getting the troops into the Quarter to protect the folks? You would — I would think that they would have been on standby because the storm was forecast a few days in advance. And now we're in Thursday, four days after the fact. Still not on the street in great numbers. What's the problem?

LT. KEVIN COWAN, LOUISIANA HOMELAND SECURITY & EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: Well, Bill, they're out on the streets. However, the magnitude of this storm, the relief efforts we were trying to do, the search and rescue we were trying to execute, the evacuation security at the shelters we were executing put a tremendous strain on the Guard.

We're catching up. We're bringing in extra forces. We've got 300 riflemen from the Arkansas National Guard that are moving in. And more troops are following in.

O'REILLY: What was the.

COWAN: I just have to tell you, you just caught us off guard.

O'REILLY: No, look, I - but why - that's — everybody wants to know why did it catch you off guard, because you got a Category 5 bearing down on you. You would think that the governor would have every guardsman in the state on alert, as well as all the state police to come in in case there was a catastrophe that ensued.

You know, it seems that you guys are a little behind the curve here. But maybe I'm wrong.

COWAN: Well, we are getting there. I mean, behind the curve, maybe so. But we're trying to catch up. The water's still there. We're trying to execute the search and rescue still.

O'REILLY: What was the initial deployment of National Guard into New Orleans? Do you know what the initial deployment was?

COWAN: The initial deployment was around 2,000.

O'REILLY: Yes. You see, it should have been five times that with a city of 1.5 million. I don't want to be a Monday morning quarterback, but I want Mr. Shellnut to get out of there alive. By this time tomorrow night we'll be on the air. You see the situation better, sir?

COWAN: Yes, I do. I see more forces moving in. I see more people evacuated out of the city.

O'REILLY: All right. We appreciate it, Mr. Cowan. Thanks very much.

Let's go to Shepard Smith, who's been there from the beginning. Do we have Shepard? Can you - OK.

SMITH: I can hear you, Bill.

O'REILLY: Are you seeing any improvement at all, Shepard, from your vantage point?

SMITH: I hear a lot more noise overhead. I see a lot more choppers. I see more supplies going into the Superdome. I see more people evacuating from the Superdome. That's about it.

O'REILLY: OK. Now would it be fair to say that Louisiana and federal authorities were behind the curve, as we just discussed with Mr. Cowan? Because to me if you've got a Category 5 bearing down, you've got your guard, you've got your state police all ready to go. It doesn't look like the state had that.

SMITH: I wouldn't pass judgment, Bill, on whether they were ready. But I can tell you, this city slipped almost immediately into chaos. And when you thought chaos couldn't get worse, it did get worse. The people who - the haves of this city, the movers and shakers of this city, evacuated the city either immediately before or immediately after the storm. And immediately after that, those criminals went in and looted everything in the entire city.

And because of that, you wonder why those with would come back because they no longer have. And those others certainly won't come back.

O'REILLY: Well, you know, what I — from what I'm hearing, this looting was fairly - you know, it's not an organized thing like organized crime. But these people didn't want to leave.

SMITH: It's widespread, Bill.

O'REILLY: Right. But they didn't want to leave because they sensed there might have been an opportunity to do what they eventually did, if they stayed behind knowing.

SMITH: I'm guessing.

O'REILLY: Go ahead.

SMITH: I was going to say I'm guessing that that's the case in large part. And I also know, because I've witnessed it, Bill, that people who came out of the water, were dropped onto the interstate. There's never an excuse for looting someone's house for God's sake.

O'REILLY: No.

SMITH: But these people have sat on bridges and interstates for days and days and days on end with no food, no instructions, no hope of any kind, with dead people around them, with babies. There was frustration and mounting chaos. Bill, it's been crazy here beyond description.

O'REILLY: No, I understand.

SMITH: That excuses nothing any of them did.

O'REILLY: I'm trying to figure out, you know, so if it ever happens again, we could be more prepared — but it looks like, I think to be fair, the Louisiana governor's office and authorities did not anticipate anything like this.

SMITH: I know they lost control immediately.

O'REILLY: Very, very bad.

SMITH: They lost control immediately, and to this moment have not regained it.

O'REILLY: Now the — we saw a dead guy we used in a collage coming into this segment. Do you know anything about him? What he died of? I mean, it was very disturbing to see him lying there on the bridge.

SMITH: It's very disturbing in the United States of America to see a corpse on the side of an interstate highway. It's not - it's the interstate. It's not a bridge. It's just an elevated highway lying there. Police passing.

Now - and you can't fault them. They have to go try to save the savable. But corpses are all over this city. In the water. They're floating in the open around the Convention Center. They're everywhere.

The disaster here, I - we - I said to you the first night of this storm that I didn't think we still knew the scope of this. Bill, to this day, I still don't think we know the scope of this.

O'REILLY: Yes, I think you're right.

SMITH: I want to say this. In my wildness dreams, I cannot conjure up a vision of this city rebuilt. I'm not saying they can't do it.

O'REILLY: No, they'll do it.

SMITH: I'm not saying they won't make a Herculean effort.

O'REILLY: Shepard, they'll do it. You'll see.

SMITH: You haven't seen this, Bill.

O'REILLY: No, they'll do it. They will. But that's not what I'm worried about now.

SMITH: OK (INAUDIBLE) more than I do, but I'd be surprised.

O'REILLY: And we want to save the savable. Is martial law in effect there? I don't know why that isn't in effect. You know, martial law, shoot looters on site.

SMITH: Martial law comes from the United States Congress. Well, the martial law comes from the United States Congress. It is a complicated process.

You may remember in the very early going, the president of Jefferson Parish declared what he called martial law. Of course it wasn't martial law, but it was reported as martial law because the president of the parish said it.

Jefferson Parish, to my understanding, has not had the problems that Orleans Parish and the city of New Orleans have had. How it was that on the first day of this — after this storm that the decision was made to allow the looting to continue while they tried to rescue people, I don't know how that decision was made. We haven't been able to get an answer.

O'REILLY: How about a curfew? Is there a curfew?

SMITH: There's absolutely a curfew. There was a curfew on the first night of the storm. We had the storm blow in. And you remember I was out on the street in front of the - right on Bourbon Street, doing a report for you before the water rose.

(AUDIO GAP)

SMITH: Behind me, the dacari bar was open that night. The curfew was on, yet people were all over the streets.

O'REILLY: Yes.

SMITH: Police weren't trying to get them off the streets. New Orleans has an attitude of let's go. And I remember saying to you also that night, Bill, kind of feels like the party might be on by the weekend.

O'REILLY: Yes.

SMITH: We had no idea what was going on beyond our little world there.

O'REILLY: Well, I can't blame the local authorities. They had nowhere to put these thugs.

SMITH: No.

O'REILLY: If you shoot them down in the street, you're going to have people screaming and yelling. But the lack of National Guard presence four days after this thing happened, that is very disturbing, Shepard.

As Mr. Shelnutt said.

SMITH: Most inexplicable things.

O'REILLY: Right. I mean, if we get a terror attack and you can't get the Guard in there, it's really scary.

All right Shepard, excellent work. I hope you win the highest journalism award ever. And we will check back as events warrant.

We would like to hear from you about how the authorities in, your opinion, are handling Katrina's aftermath. Our billoreilly.com poll question asks you to grade the powers that be from A to F. That's our brand new billoreilly.com poll.

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