Evacuees to Go from Superdome to Astrodome

Thousands of flood victims who have been staying at the leaking, flood-threatened Superdome in New Orleans will be evacuated by bus, officials say. Their new destination? The Houston Astrodome.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

Two days after Hurricane Katrina swept through New Orleans, city officials plan to begin evacuating 25,000 people who still are in the city. Many of those people sought refuge during the hurricane in the New Orleans Superdome. City officials say they will be taken in a bus convoy to the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. The evacuation comes as Army engineers work to close two breached levees in the city. NPR's Phillip Davis joins me now from Lafayette, Louisiana.

Good morning.

PHILLIP DAVIS reporting:

Good morning. How are you?

MONTAGNE: Fine, thank you, Phillip. What can you tell us about the evacuation of those people from New Orleans?

DAVIS: Well, Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco says she wants everyone out within two days, because the waters continue to rise in New Orleans and the situation is just getting untenable. Especially in the Superdome, where there are something like 20,000 to 25,000 people, the situation, I'm told, is just getting horrendous. Trash is piling up because there's no place to take the trash. The toilets don't work. There's no air conditioning and the temperatures are hovering in the upper 90s, and there's little light and people aren't getting any information. So the situation is just getting really desperate for those people, so they have to move somewhere.

MONTAGNE: And search-and-rescue operations--what do you know about that?

DAVIS: Search-and-rescue operations are continuing in New Orleans. That's one of the bright spots. The Coast Guard, the Air Force and Navy and local rescue operations say they've rescued more than 400 people over the last 24 hours, people who were stranded on rooftops and on low-lying areas in New Orleans. And there's more help on the way. Two big helicopter ships from the US Navy, the USS Iwo Jima and the Bataan, are on their way from Norfolk, and they should be there in three or four days, and that'll add substantially to the number of helicopters that will be able to pluck people off these rooftops.

MONTAGNE: And much of New Orleans, of course, is covered in water at this point. What's going on with efforts to repair those levees?

DAVIS: Well, you have to realize that when a disaster this big happens, search and rescue and the government officials and emergency management officials, they're all impacted by this disaster as well. And I think with the levee situation there has been some problems with communication. They've been talking for the past day or two about dropping 3,000-pound sandbags into the breach to try to close up the levee. That operation just got started this morning, I'm told, but it doesn't seem like it has been very successful. The governor was on television recently saying that it's like dropping sandbags into a black hole. They just sort of get washed away, even though they weigh more than a ton each. So now there's a plan afoot to possibly float a barge and park it on top of the breach, to close it off that way, but that could be a couple days, maybe more, before that happens. And so meanwhile, the water level in New Orleans, which is, you know, between eight to 12 feet below sea level, continues to rise, and that's why the situation is getting so desperate.

MONTAGNE: And there was looting in the city and at one point the police cracked down, but what's happening this morning?

DAVIS: Well, there's looting. I--you know, in a situation like this, there's a couple kinds of looting. There are people who are stealing because there's no way to buy any food, because no shops are open, but there has been criminal looting as well, and the police are trying to crack down on that. I was told a Wal-Mart in New Orleans was looted and all the guns were taken. But right now the police are concentrating on search-and-rescue operations, and also recovering sick people. And so that's something they want to stop, but there's little they can do about it right now.

MONTAGNE: Phillip, thanks very much.

DAVIS: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Phillip Davis, speaking to us from Lafayette, Louisiana.

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