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Homeland Security Secretary Explains Katrina's Relief Efforts

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," August 30, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: joining us now from Washington is the man coordinating the federal governments response to the disaster, the secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff.

Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for being with us tonight. We really do appreciate it.

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Good evening.

COLMES: I saw your news conference today, and you know, you talked about pre-staging, and you talked about pre-positioning resources. In light of that, why are we seeing what we're seeing? We're hearing words like, you know, "possible riots." Why is this happening, if that level of pre-staging was taking place?

CHERTOFF: Well, you know, Alan, this has been a unique challenge among all disasters. It was really a double disaster.

In the traditional hurricane, the hurricane comes in, or the flood comes in. It goes away, and then you bring in the relief, and you begin to address the victims and the situation.

Here, we had a hurricane. And it was followed the next day by a flood. And that flood is still underway, so that, as we send people in, they have the challenge of actually dealing with an ongoing catastrophe. They have to deal with six to eight feet of water. They have to deal with the inability to find dry ground in which to set up.

This has added an element of challenge and complexity to the relief effort that I, frankly, think is unprecedented.

COLMES: Are we learning anything here? I mean, heaven forbid -- you know, we've talked about what would happen in this country if we had a terrorist attack, if somebody had a dirty bomb. Does this teach us anything about how we might respond in such a situation?

CHERTOFF: Well, I certainly think the catastrophic magnitude of this tragedy rivals anything we could imagine -- or virtually anything we could imagine from a terrorist.

We didn't have the direct loss of life, as far as we know, that would come from a huge bomb. But in terms of the collateral consequences, in terms of the people who were sick and suffering, and who are exposed to the possibility of fatal illness or death, in terms of the destruction and the pain, I think it's at a level that's comparable to the worst tragedies we've seen.

We've learned some lessons. We've learned some things we've done well. We've recognized the challenge, and particularly in preserving public order.

I have to say, I think we're all a little disappointed that a small minority of the city has decided they want to exploit the vulnerability of others.

I still think most people really want to be rescued. I understand that they're anxious, they're afraid. Many of them are hurt or feeling weak. Clearly, for these people, even an hour delay seems like an eternity. The only thing I can tell you is that the rescuers are working tirelessly to get what they have on hand through the debris, through the water, and get help.

COLMES: We've heard from other countries that they've offered help, even Venezuela, Jamaica. I understand 20 countries, and all has been refused. Will that continue to be the case? And is there a reason we should not accept help from other countries?

CHERTOFF: Well, we haven't refused help. In fact, we've been grateful for help, and we've welcomed it. What we want to do, though, is we want to make sure that we get the help in the most effective way.

This is going to be a long process, Alan. We're not going to just stop when we evacuate people. We're going to have to find them temporary shelter. We're going to have to find them long-term shelter. We're going to have to drain and clean the city, and we're going to have to rebuild it.

As the president said the other day, this is a task that is going to take not months but years. So there's going to be plenty of opportunity to apply the resources that we get from generous people in the country and people overseas.

Our first and most immediate requirement is to get people out of the city of New Orleans, and also, by the way, to address some very urgent needs in Mississippi and Alabama, as well.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Mr. Secretary, it's Sean Hannity. Thank you for being with us in this very difficult time for you, and for the government, and the president, everybody else.

There is some whining. There is some complaining. Is there a little bit of politics going on here? Or do you feel that you are doing the best you possibly can?

I know, we've got 10,000 National Guard troops headed in there. Do you think you have enough people in the right places, in an expeditious time frame here?

CHERTOFF: Sean, we do have enough people. And we're bringing more in.

And, of course, we began immediately when the hurricane ended by starting to move people in. We then had to deal with the issue of the flood. And we are continuing to increase the resources we bring to bear.

We're working, for example, to get trains into New Orleans overnight, so we can start to use trains to remove people and evacuate them. We're working on an air bridge, a way to get people to an airport and start to get planes in to the airport, now that we can open it up again.

So, as time passes, we're getting a lot of work done. But I'm very well aware of the fact that the clock is ticking for people who are suffering and that every hour that goes by is an hour of pain and difficulty.

HANNITY: Mr. Secretary, are you confident that everybody that is affected, more specifically in New Orleans, that needs food, that needs water, that needs shelter, that needs medical care, at this hour, is able to get it?

CHERTOFF: Sean, I have to tell you: We are seeking desperately to give everybody the care they need.

People have begun, in the last day, to emerge from places of shelter that we didn't know about. Some of them go to designated refuges, but some of them don't. They congregate on portions of I-10 or in dry spots in the street. And the challenge for us is to get them the food and water.

We have to make sure we can drop it in a place that they get access to. We have to make sure we don't have fighting or scuffling that breaks out. So the issue here is really not a lack of resources; it is the difficulty of distributing them.

HANNITY: Yes. Let's talk specifically about the New Orleans mayor issuing a desperate SOS. All the video that America is looking at, the looting, the lawlessness, the crime that has been reported, how soon do you think it will be, Mr. Secretary, until that situation is under complete and full control?

CHERTOFF: Well, we have 1,400 supplemental National Guard military police arriving today. We'll have an equal number tomorrow, more thereafter. You know, essentially, that is like doubling the size of the New Orleans police force every single day.

The president has made it very clear that we are not going to tolerate lawlessness. We have a lot of compassion for those who are suffering, but we will not spare those people who are preying on others. We've got to get about the business of getting people out of here and getting them shelter, and food, and water, without being hindered.

COLMES: Mr. Secretary, we thank you very much for being with us tonight. Thank you so much for being here.

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