September 07, 2005 08:00 AM

Oprah Winfrey on Tuesday devoted the first of two shows to the wake of Hurricane Katrina, saying: “I think … this country owes these people an apology” – referring to the survivors for their treatment after the disaster struck and to those who were left to die as help failed to arrive.

“This makes me so mad. This should not have happened,” said a tearful Winfrey, who wore a gas mask inside New Orleans’ now-vacated Superdome, where she was overcome by the stench.

“Nothing I saw on television prepared me for what I experienced on the ground,” she said on the show, which featured stories from all over the Gulf Coast, including those from New Orleans police superintendent Eddie Compass.

Compass told of children being sexually assaulted in the Superdome and how gang members threatened to take him hostage as he toured the facility. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin actually cut short his interview with Winfrey, so overcome with emotion and anger because, he said, other cities would have received a swifter response from the federal government.

Also on the show, Jamie Foxx, Matthew McConaughey and Faith Hill were shown among those distributing food. While unloading a truck at a Gulfport, Miss., shelter, a survivor asked Hill to sing “Amazing Grace.” She did.

“I was sitting at home feeling frustrated and useless, like so many other people, so I came down to personally assess how I could best be of service,” Winfrey told The New York Times in a statement.

Wednesday’s show will take Winfrey to Mississippi and show relief efforts by Chris Rock, Julia Roberts, Lisa Marie Presley and others.

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