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WHAT YOU CAN'T SEE ON THE AIR

We try to be very careful in choosing the street, neighborhood or building that serves as the backdrop for our coverage, especially on a night like this one, considering the size of the live viewing audience and the level of interest. We are sensitive to charges that media portrayals of New Orleans are all alike, and we are always actively looking for "mixed progress" neighborhoods where there is work underway, and where people have decided to put down stakes and stay. We are in such a neighborhood tonight -- but the view changes (as it does all over this region) seemingly every few feet. The odor on the street is staggering (they are STILL finding bodies at the one-year mark) and the drive into this neighborhood is depressing. A police officer remarked, "this neighborhood's gone." But not everyone. Tonight we'll try to highlight the good (recovery) with the bad (retreat) while surrounded by the ubiquitous destruction that the waters caused.


The most powerful recurring image in some parts of town is the MP's patrolling the streets in Humvees. The National Guard has fitted their desert-camouflage Hummers with revolving blue lights (to highlight their policing function and increase their visibility at night), but the sight of a vehicle that we associate with warfare presents an aggressive picture. Yesterday we drove past a Hummer that had pulled over a civilian in a traffic stop. Yet another sat idling in a drugstore parking lot. The men we've seen are in fatigues, most with "MP" armbands... and attitudes vary. In some neighborhoods, they ARE the police, and while it is certainly not the Anbar Province, it is not without its dangers and risks. It is hot and difficult work for these citizen soldiers, all of whom left lives and families at home.

Tonight we will take stock of this region one year after Katrina -- we'll actually kick off two nights from here, following the same theme. We'll hear from some of the NBC News on-air team that viewers came to associate with the horrors here -- we'll look at what went wrong, we'll talk about the issue of race and where the national discussion stands. We will also cover the other major stories before us: the Tropical Storm that is likely to return to hurricane status before long, and the crash of the commuter jet in Lexington, Ky. We will try to get at the question of what this experienced air crew was doing on the shorter of the two runways. The short answer obviously is: it can happen. It evidently came close to happening 12 years ago, at the same airport and with a similar aircraft. The stories of the individual souls lost... are heartbreaking.

For now, we hope to see you from New Orleans tonight. And please join me for our hour-long NBC News special, at 8 p.m. Eastern, 7 Central tonight. It's our look back at the first five days of Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath. We'll look for you then.