Superdome Storm Refugees to be Evacuated

Emergency officials are finalizing plans to evacuate some 25,000 people who sought shelter from Hurricane Katrina in the Superdome in New Orleans. The massive sports facility was battered by storm winds, cut off from water and electricity and now flood waters are rising around its base.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, we'll go to Mississippi, which is now counting probably more than 100 people killed by Hurricane Katrina.

First, to Louisiana. The governor said today that people still in New Orleans must now abandon the city. Tens of thousands of flood and storm refugees are still in the Superdome. With us now from Lafayette, Louisiana, is NPR's Phillip Davis.

Phillip, the big question at the moment, it seems to me, is: Is the water still rising in New Orleans? And I see conflicting answers on that.

PHILLIP DAVIS reporting:

Well, that's true, because what's happening is--you have to realize that the people who are in New Orleans are human, too, and they depend on things like cell phones and walkie-talkies, and those batteries are running down and it's very hard for communications to get out right now.

But the latest that I have been told is that there are still two major breaches in the levees around New Orleans and the water is still rising. There's a breach perhaps 500 feet long in the 17th Street Canal, and there's also a huge breach in the Industrial Waterway Canal in the city, as well. And I'm told there are three smaller breaks in a levee east of the city in Bayou Biangu(ph). Right now they are starting to try to close one of these breaches by dropping huge 3,000-pound sandbags into the breach, but it's not looking too good. The governor said earlier this morning it's like dropping sandbags into a black hole; they just kind of disappear. So one of the more sort of audacious plans that they're thinking about right now is maybe taking a barge and parking a barge on top of this breach and maybe blocking it that way, but that's still in the planning phase.

CHADWICK: Tell me, Phillip, do they know anything about the general stability of the levee system otherwise? That is, they've already had these failures. What about the security of the levees in other places?

DAVIS: That is something that very few people are talking about right now. But the reason that the two breaches happened in the first place was because they were undermined by water from the rains of Hurricane Katrina and, also, some of the rain--the wind-pushed overthrow from Lake Pontchartrain. So if that is what caused these two breaches, then similar pressures may be on levees around the city. But we haven't heard of any other breaches other than the ones I just mentioned, so they may be holding fast. But as more and more water pours through, that will start putting pressure on more and more of the flood walls around the city, as well.

CHADWICK: What are authorities reporting about conditions at the Superdome, where there are tens of thousands of people, I gather, still waiting for help?

DAVIS: Conditions at the Superdome are really grim at this point in time. There's at least 20,000 people there; thousands more are trying to get in. The water situation is looking really precarious. The toilets are not working right now, the garbage is piling up, there's no air conditioning. There's very little way for people to get information on what's happening in their neighborhoods and in their homes, and the situation is really horrendous, which is why they've now come up with this plan to take them from the Superdome to the Astrodome in Houston 375 miles away. There has been an agreement between the state of Texas and the state of Louisiana to take at least 20 to 25,000 people from the Superdome and take them to Houston.

CHADWICK: Well, that's going to be a major operation. When are they going to get that under way?

DAVIS: The governor wants to have everyone out in two days, but how they're going to get everyone out of New Orleans when--the main artery from New Orleans, connecting New Orleans to Texas, is Interstate 20, which is an elevated highway in some places, and that was blown away in a lot of places by the storm. So we're talking a convoy of, say, 475 buses taking these people to Houston, but they may end up having to take back roads to get there. So there's a lot of logistical planning that needs to be done before this happens. But they say in Houston, they're ready to take in all the refugees that will be coming.

CHADWICK: NPR's Phillip Davis reporting from Lafayette, Louisiana. Phillip, thanks again.

DAVIS: Thank you.

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