The following is a transcript and audio recording of WWL correspondent Garland Robinette’s interview with Mayor Ray Nagin on Thursday, September 1, 2005 about Hurricane Katrina response. Robinette asked the mayor about his conversation with President Bush:
NAGIN: .. . And to give me executive powers, to authorize me to dictate and to manage military resources down here and I’ll fix this for you.
You call him right now and you call the governor and you tell them to delegate the power that they have to the Mayor of New Orleans and we’ll get this damn thing fixed.
It’s politics man and they playing games and they spinning. They out there spinning for the cameras.
GARLAND: Can’t they just, if nothing else, look at 25% of their energy coming from the state is not flowing through the pipelines. Were on the verge of anarchy. Can’t they understand, if nothing else, they are gonna be hurt politically?
NAGIN: I don’t know what they’re doing. I mean the air conditioning must be good because I haven’t had any in 5 days. Uh, and maybe there is some smoke coming out of the air conditioning units that’s clogging some folks vision.
GARLAND: Have you talked with the President?
NAGIN: I’ve talked directly with the President.
GARLAND: What is he saying?
NAGIN: I’ve talked to the head of the homeland security. I’ve talked to everybody under the sun. I’ve been out there man, I’ve flew these helicopters, been in the crowds talking to people crying, don’t know where their relatives are. I’ve done it all, man and I tell you man, Garland, I keep hearing that it’s coming. This is coming, that is coming and my answer to that today is BS, where is the beef. Because there is no beef in this city. There’s no beef anywhere in Southeast Louisiana and these goddamned ships that are coming, I don’t see them.
GARLAND: What did you say to the President of the United States and what did he say to you?
NAGIN: I basically told him we had an incredible, ahh… crisis here and that his flying over in Air Force One does not do it justice. And that I have been all around this city, and I am very frustrated because we are not able to marshal resources and we’re out-manned in just about every respect.
You know the reason why the looters got out of control? Because we had most of our resources saving people, thousands of people that were stuck in attics, man, old ladies. When you pull off the doggone ventilator vent and you look down there and they’re standing in there in water up to their freaking necks.
And they don’t have a clue what’s going on down here. They flew down here one time two days after the doggone event was over with TV cameras, AP reporters, all kind of goddamn — excuse my French everybody in America, but I am pissed.
GARLAND: Did you say to the president of the United States, “I need the military in here”?
NAGIN: I said, “I need everything.”
Now, I will tell you this — and I give the president some credit on this — he sent one John Wayne dude down here that can get some stuff done, and his name is [Lt.] Gen. [Russel] Honore.
And he came off the doggone chopper, and he started cussing and people started moving. And he’s getting some stuff done.
They ought to give that guy — if they don’t want to give it to me, give him full authority to get the job done, and we can save some people.
GARLAND: What do you need right now to get control of this situation?
NAGIN: I need reinforcements, I need troops, man. I need 500 buses, man. We ain’t talking about — you know, one of the briefings we had, they were talking about getting public school bus drivers to come down here and bus people out here.
I’m like, “You got to be kidding me. This is a national disaster. Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans.”
That’s — they’re thinking small, man. And this is a major, major, major deal. And I can’t emphasize it enough, man. This is crazy.
I’ve got 15,000 to 20,000 people over at the convention center. It’s bursting at the seams. The poor people in Plaquemines Parish. … We don’t have anything, and we’re sharing with our brothers in Plaquemines Parish.
It’s awful down here, man.
GARLAND: Do you believe that the president is seeing this, holding a news conference on it but can’t do anything until [Louisiana Gov.] Kathleen Blanco requested him to do it? And do you know whether or not she has made that request?
NAGIN: I have no idea what they’re doing. But I will tell you this: You know, God is looking down on all this, and if they are not doing everything in their power to save people, they are going to pay the price. Because every day that we delay, people are dying and they’re dying by the hundreds, I’m willing to bet you.
We’re getting reports and calls that are breaking my heart, from people saying, “I’ve been in my attic. I can’t take it anymore. The water is up to my neck. I don’t think I can hold out.” And that’s happening as we speak.
You know what really upsets me, Garland? We told everybody the importance of the 17th Street Canal issue. We said, “Please, please take care of this. We don’t care what you do. Figure it out.”
GARLAND: Who’d you say that to?
NAGIN: Everybody: the governor, Homeland Security, FEMA. You name it, we said it.
And they allowed that pumping station next to Pumping Station 6 to go under water. Our sewage and water board people … stayed there and endangered their lives.
And what happened when that pumping station went down, the water started flowing again in the city, and it starting getting to levels that probably killed more people.
In addition to that, we had water flowing through the pipes in the city. That’s a power station over there.
So there’s no water flowing anywhere on the east bank of Orleans Parish. So our critical water supply was destroyed because of lack of action.
GARLAND: Why couldn’t they drop the 3,000-pound sandbags or the containers that they were talking about earlier? Was it an engineering feat that just couldn’t be done?
NAGIN: They said it was some pulleys that they had to manufacture. But, you know, in a state of emergency, man, you are creative, you figure out ways to get stuff done.
Then they told me that they went overnight, and they built 17 concrete structures and they had the pulleys on them and they were going to drop them.
I flew over that thing yesterday, and it’s in the same shape that it was after the storm hit. There is nothing happening. And they’re feeding the public a line of bull and they’re spinning, and people are dying down here.
GARLAND: If some of the public called and they’re right, that there’s a law that the president, that the federal government can’t do anything without local or state requests, would you request martial law?
NAGIN: I’ve already called for martial law in the city of New Orleans. We did that a few days ago.
GARLAND: Did the governor do that, too?
NAGIN: I don’t know. I don’t think so.
But we called for martial law when we realized that the looting was getting out of control. And we redirected all of our police officers back to patrolling the streets. They were dead-tired from saving people, but they worked all night because we thought this thing was going to blow wide open last night. And so we redirected all of our resources, and we held it under check.
I’m not sure if we can do that another night with the current resources.
And I am telling you right now: They’re showing all these reports of people looting and doing all that weird stuff, and they are doing that, but people are desperate and they’re trying to find food and water, the majority of them.
Now you got some knuckleheads out there, and they are taking advantage of this lawless — this situation where, you know, we can’t really control it, and they’re doing some awful, awful things. But that’s a small majority of the people. Most people are looking to try and survive.
And one of the things people — nobody’s talked about this. Drugs flowed in and out of New Orleans and the surrounding metropolitan area so freely it was scary to me, and that’s why we were having the escalation in murders. People don’t want to talk about this, but I’m going to talk about it.
You have drug addicts that are now walking around this city looking for a fix, and that’s the reason why they were breaking in hospitals and drugstores. They’re looking for something to take the edge off of their jones, if you will.
And right now, they don’t have anything to take the edge off. And they’ve probably found guns. So what you’re seeing is drug-starving crazy addicts, drug addicts, that are wreaking havoc. And we don’t have the manpower to adequately deal with it. We can only target certain sections of the city and form a perimeter around them and hope to God that we’re not overrun.
GARLAND: Well, you and I must be in the minority. Because apparently there’s a section of our citizenry out there that thinks because of a law that says the federal government can’t come in unless requested by the proper people, that everything that’s going on to this point has been done as good as it can possibly be.
GARLAND: I know you don’t feel that way.
NAGIN: Well, did the tsunami victims request? Did it go through a formal process to request?
You know, did the Iraqi people request that we go in there? Did they ask us to go in there? What is more important?
And I’ll tell you, man, I’m probably going get in a whole bunch of trouble. I’m probably going to get in so much trouble it ain’t even funny. You probably won’t even want to deal with me after this interview is over.
GARLAND: You and I will be in the funny place together.
NAGIN: But we authorized $8 billion to go to Iraq lickety-quick. After 9/11, we gave the president unprecedented powers lickety-quick to take care of New York and other places.
Now, you mean to tell me that a place where most of your oil is coming through, a place that is so unique when you mention New Orleans anywhere around the world, everybody’s eyes light up — you mean to tell me that a place where you probably have thousands of people that have died and thousands more that are dying every day, that we can’t figure out a way to authorize the resources that we need? Come on, man.
You know, I’m not one of those drug addicts. I am thinking very clearly.
And I don’t know whose problem it is. I don’t know whether it’s the governor’s problem. I don’t know whether it’s the president’s problem, but somebody needs to get their ass on a plane and sit down, the two of them, and figure this out right now.
GARLAND: What can we do here?
NAGIN: Keep talking about it.
GARLAND: We’ll do that. What else can we do?
NAGIN: Organize people to write letters and make calls to their congressmen, to the president, to the governor. Flood their doggone offices with requests to do something. This is ridiculous.
I don’t want to see anybody do anymore goddamn press conferences. Put a moratorium on press conferences. Don’t do another press conference until the resources are in this city. And then come down to this city and stand with us when there are military trucks and troops that we can’t even count.
Don’t tell me 40,000 people are coming here. They’re not here. It’s too doggone late. Now get off your asses and let’s do something, and let’s fix the biggest goddamn crisis in the history of this country.
GARLAND: I’ll say it right now, you’re the only politician that’s called and called for arms like this. And if — whatever it takes, the governor, president — whatever law precedent it takes, whatever it takes, I bet that the people listening to you are on your side.
NAGIN: Well, I hope so, Garland. I am just — I’m at the point now where it don’t matter. People are dying. They don’t have homes. They don’t have jobs. The city of New Orleans will never be the same, in this time.
GARLAND: We’re both pretty speechless here. I don’t know what to say.
NAGIN: I got to go.
GARLAND: OK. Keep in touch. Keep in touch.