Now Empty, Superdome Awaits Cleanup
LIANE HANSEN, host:
US military troops in New Orleans cleared the last people from the Louisiana Superdome and the city's convention center this weekend. The two sites had become squalid and dangerous places in recent days as tens of thousands of people gathered; first for protection from Hurricane Katrina, and then from the floods that engulfed New Orleans in the following days. NPR's Phillip Davis was at the Superdome yesterday and filed this report.
PHILLIP DAVIS reporting:
There is still water around the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, water so high and so filthy that the best way to get to the city's biggest refugee shelter is to hop a ride on a military truck.
Unidentified Man #1: You got any room?
Unidentified Man #2: Yes.
Unidentified Man #1: All right, man. Hold on. Hold on, Mister. Hold on real quick.
DAVIS: It's 2 PM on Saturday afternoon. As we travel through the flooded streets, the National Guard truck passes a grim sight. In the Superdome garage, there's a body laying on the concrete wrapped in a plaid blanket, a Bible balanced on his chest. But at the Superdome itself, there's a welcome sight. Almost all the refugees are gone. Instead of thousands, perhaps just hundreds of bedraggled refugees are waiting outside the dome for the last buses to transport them out of town. Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Ellis--a no-nonsense, mustachioed officer who had just arrived 48 hours earlier from Ohio--is managing the effort.
Lieutenant Colonel GORDON ELLIS: In our time here, we've been able to accomplish that mission and we've been able to see the number of personnel who are waiting for buses reduced and we've been able to clear this area now, and we now have cleared the area in and around the Superdome.
DAVIS: The storm victims were grateful, but many were angry that what turned out to be a simple operation once they were buses and gas had taken so long. Wanda Peck(ph) was wandering the increasingly empty area in a torn house dress.
Ms. WANDA PECK: They should have been here. I'm sorry. They had counted 40 buses the other day and taken two buses at a time going to Texas and whatever. I feel that they would have did the buses the way they should have, we would have been out of here no later than Thursday. This place would have been cleared.
DAVIS: Anger was even more palpable at the New Orleans Convention Center, where thousands had waited until Friday before even getting meals and water when the first National Guard arrived. Tranika Gardner(ph), the young sheriff's deputy whose only goal now was to get out of town, said she too was grateful for the food, but wondered where the long-promised buses were.
Deputy TRANIKA GARDNER: It's every day we hear, `We're getting out of here today.' And it's, like, it's kind of redundant because every day you build your hopes up and then I know for me personally when night fall, I know we're not getting out of here.
DAVIS: But by the time evening fell, Tranika had gotten out of there. Yesterday afternoon, a convoy of hundreds of buses finally arrived at the convention center. And within three hours, all the thousands of people who had waited so patiently had been officially boarded on buses headed for shelters in Texas, Arkansas and other states. Seventy-seven-year-old Maude Wallace(ph) was one of the last to go.
Ms. MAUDE WALLACE: Thank God. The Lord is good, sending somebody for to get us, 'cause we've been up there for five days.
DAVIS: Where are you heading off to?
Ms. WALLACE: Anywhere ...(unintelligible).
DAVIS: With that, two of the worse epicenters of misery after Katrina, the Superdome and the convention center, were empty. But it's only the beginning. Now all the effort will turn to finding residents still scattered in the neighborhoods, whether alive or dead. Phillip Davis, NPR News, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
HANSEN: In other news we are following today, Chief Justice William Rehnquist died last night at his home in Arlington, Virginia. The 80-year-old jurist had been battling thyroid cancer since last fall. Rehnquist was one of the longest-serving chief justices in Supreme Court history. He was the conservative leader of the court since he was named chief justice in 1986. His death opens a rare second vacancy on the court. Hearings on Supreme Court nominee John Roberts start Tuesday. Roberts is the appeals court judge who was nominated by President Bush to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, who is retiring.
You can read more about Rehnquist's life and career and review some of his notable rulings at our Web site, npr.org. And stay with NPR through the day for continuing coverage of the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist and the latest in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
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