Five years ago tonight I was part of an NBC News team hastily flown down to Louisiana to be in place for the anticipated early morning landfall of hurricane Katrina. We took off from a suburban New York airport that day bound for New Orleans, but as we flew south the pilot informed us the New Orleans airport had just closed. We ended up diverting to Baton Rouge. During the flight we chatted and speculated about whether this could be a false alarm, and whether the storm might veer away from land at the last minute, and we'd end up going right back to New York. As soon as we got on the ground however, our BlackBerrys came to life with urgent messages about the intensity and track of the storm and updated predictions about the "possible widespread loss of life," a storm of this magnitude could bring. It was heading straight toward New Orleans and the city was under mandatory evacuation. As our technical crews unloaded their gear from the plane, we got on the horn with New York to go over the coverage plan. My colleague Brian Williams and his team would head to New Orleans and try to reach the Superdome. Another group was to head to Houma, Louisiana. I was told to set up at the state command center in Baton Rouge. Other NBC personnel were already in place at various points along the Gulf coast. As we climbed into our rental cars we put on our game faces and exchange quick goodbyes and knowing glances. This was going to be a story for the ages.
I just spent the past week in New Orleans and along the Mississippi coast with many of those same colleagues assessing the impact of Katrina 5 years later, reliving those awful days and catching up with some of the memorable characters we met along the way. We're covering this grim anniversary all weekend long. On tonight's program you'll hear my interview with the man who became the symbol of the federal government's poor response, former FEMA head Michael Brown. He's taken a lot of blame, but as I discovered he's dishing out plenty of blame too. Also, Brian Williams is in New Orleans tonight and returns to the convention center, the scene of some of the disaster's most enduring images of suffering, with a famous son of New Orleans, singer Harry Connick, Jr.
I hope you can join us tonight for NBC Nightly News.