An Aerial Survey of the Storm's Path

Helicopters are at a premium in southeastern Louisiana as efforts continue to rescue hurricane survivors and assess damage. The view from the air emphasizes the extent of the storm's destruction. Many have lost everything, including loved ones.

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Helicopters are busy in and around New Orleans. They have dropped sandbags weighing 3,000 pounds over broken levees in an effort to plug leaks. The Coast Guard says more than a thousand people have been rescued from rooftops. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports on how helicopters are helping anxious residents.

(Soundbite of a helicopter)

WADE GOODWYN reporting:

During normal life, you don't give much thought to the sound of a helicopter passing overhead, but here in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, a helicopter is the most valuable means of transportation available. It doesn't matter how much money you have. The waiting list to rent a helicopter runs a dozen pages deep at every charter operation in southern Louisiana.

Mr. GERRY GOLDEN (General Manager, Rotorcraft Leasing): Well, it's just been extraordinarily busy. People that are going back and forth out there, the people that own properties, they're being very helpful, very cooperative. They all realize that we have a major catastrophe to deal with and we're all going to work together and deal with it as quickly as we can.

GOODWYN: Gerry Golden is the general manager of Rotorcraft Leasing and his 30 helicopters are running 16 hours a day.

Mr. GOLDEN: It's hard to describe what today has been like. For the last two or three days, it starts at 5:30 in the morning and it ends about 9:30, 10:00 at night.

Unidentified Man: Roger ...(unintelligible) relay, this is one-niner copy. It's going to be ...(unintelligible) 32.

Mr. GOLDEN: Most of those people are the people that are calling--an awful lot of them, at least--are people that are private individuals that are worried about families, friends, loved ones in transit, don't know where they are, no contact. And they just want to go over into the New Orleans area and see if they can find anything out.

GOODWYN: Golden has a major helicopter depot in a small town about 15 miles south of New Orleans called Venice. That is, he used to have a big operation there.

Mr. GOLDEN: Everything down there in this Venice, Louisiana, area is just inundated with water and boats, barges, shrimp boats, work boats, fish boats, they're all just scattered everywhere. Venice is gone. Venice is just not there anymore.

GOODWYN: That's bad news for Peggy Lytell(ph). She left her home in Venice the day before Katrina hit and now she's a refugee at the Cajun Dome in Lafayette. But she's young and unbowed.

Ms. PEGGY LYTELL (Venice, Louisiana, Resident): No, I'm going to start back over. I've been down here all the my life. You lose it, you rebuild. It's all right. It's just something we got to deal with. That's home for me.

GOODWYN: Lytell is joined by more than 2,000 fellow travelers in the Cajun Dome. One of them is 11-year-old Giselle Raugus(ph). She and her mother evacuated, but two of her uncles stayed behind. One uncle was rescued from the roof of her home before it collapsed when the levee gave way. The other uncle is gone. In a stream of consciousness, Giselle explains why what happened happened.

GISELLE RAUGUS: My uncle, he worked for the parish, and he had to stay down there. And my Aunt Gina(ph) told him that it was best for them to come with us, but they stayed. Last time when Ivan had came, they had stayed down there. And my ...(unintelligible) had told them that they're not going to be lucky every time, because you know, we didn't want nothing bad to happen.

GOODWYN: But something bad did happen to Giselle Raugus' uncle and to the city of New Orleans.

Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Lafayette, Louisiana.

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