Landrieu Surveys Katrina Damage by Air

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) took a helicopter tour of areas ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, surveying flood damage and working on plans for where to move survivors. Melissa Block talks with Sen. Landrieu.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu joins us from Baton Rouge.

And, Senator Landrieu, I understand you had a helicopter flight today over the state. Tell us please what you saw.

Senator MARY LANDRIEU (Democrat, Louisiana): It's hard to describe in words what the governor and the FEMA director and I saw. We flew for about four hours over southeast Louisiana. The devastation is simply undescribable. There are bridges out. There are highways with high water. There are whole neighborhoods that are under water with water up and over rooftops. People are still being rescued. What's happened is as the storm passed--we were afraid of--is that water breached the levee system. The storm came in a way that caused the city and the surrounding areas to be very vulnerable to flooding. Water has actually been pouring into parts of the city because of breaches. There's really devastation as far as the eye can see.

BLOCK: There are tens of thousands of people who were taken to the Superdome in New Orleans for shelter. With these waters rising, what will happen with those people?

Sen. LANDRIEU: Well, what is happening now is people around the country, who are tuned in to the visuals, are seeing our dramatic rescue missions of people who did not heed the warnings to evacuate or people who simply could not evacuate, who have gotten stuck in attics and on roofs. And so our whole team in Louisiana and FEMA and the Red Cross, the National Guard, the Coast Guard are basically focused right now on saving lives. We have large populations, whether they're in prisons or nursing homes or hospitals, that are in desperate need of attention and, in some places, evacuation. We're running low on diesel fuel for generators; the electricity is off. The Gulf Coast of Mississippi has also been very hard hit.

My phone has been ringing today, although I was up in the helicopter, by senators calling saying they will help. Senator Lott, of course, and Senator Cochran representing Mississippi are well aware of the damage. We understand that perhaps Senator Lott himself has lost his home. And it is going to be probably the most expensive and perhaps the deadliest storm in the nation's history.

BLOCK: For these people in nursing homes and prisons that you mentioned and people, say, in the Superdome, what's the plan for them? Where will they be taken?

Sen. LANDRIEU: Well, right now we're getting them to high ground. There are highways that are out of the water--in other words, high enough; interstates that aren't flooded. The Superdome is high enough to keep people out of water. And, yes, ultimately there will be plans for shelters. But I can't stress enough to the country that we are still in search-and-rescue. We have boats coming from California, we have assets coming from other states. We have just got to get people to higher ground. They may have to sleep outside tonight, but they'll sleep out of the water.

BLOCK: Senator Landrieu, have you heard any reports, numbers of fatalities?

Sen. LANDRIEU: Well, I have heard there are hundreds of people. We have not confirmed those deaths but just from the drownings and people--the stories they've told from the rescue missions. But, again, it's not a time, you know, for anyone to panic, of course, but it is a time for people who have evacuated this area to please stay where you are.

BLOCK: Senator Landrieu, thanks very much.

Sen. LANDRIEU: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: US Senator Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, speaking with us from Baton Rouge.

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