Rescuing Victims of Hurricane Katrina by Air

Alex Chadwick speaks with Erroll Babineaux, who works for an ambulance company based in Lafayette, La. He has been coordinating the air rescue effort to pluck victims of Hurricane Katrina from flooded areas of New Orleans.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

More now on Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath. The Red Cross says it is now running the largest relief operation in its history for a natural disaster. The US military is sending ships and helicopters to help. Air rescue services say there are still people in New Orleans stranded on rooftops waiting to be rescued. I spoke earlier with the man who's coordinating civilian helicopters trying to carry out rescue and evacuations, especially from hospitals. He's Erroll Babineaux, vice president for air services at Acadian ambulances, the largest private ambulance service in southern Louisiana.

Mr. ERROLL BABINEAUX (Vice President for Air Services, Acadian): Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans, they actually physically cut down power poles for us to land helicopters on top of the parking garage. This is makeshift landing areas downtown New Orleans. That is the only way we're able to get these patients out.

CHADWICK: And you fly them out. Where do you take them?

Mr. BABINEAUX: We're taking them to, like, New Iberia, Louisiana, Lafayette, Alexandria. We went as far as Little Rock, Arkansas, Children's Hospital.

CHADWICK: Those places must all be jammed with people anyway, though.

Mr. BABINEAUX: They are, and that's why we're starting the outreach to get them a little farther out. And what we're doing is having services from outside of our area come in to staging points to where we can hand them off so they can go back to their regions where they're not overwhelmed.

CHADWICK: You're also evacuating people by ambulance, that is you're able to drive in--I guess there's one bridge still open into the city.

Mr. BABINEAUX: We're actually staging at Interstate 10 and Causeway Boulevard, which is about five miles from the downtown area, and we're having boats bring patients to us at that staging area. Some of the water--it's over the rooftop of the military vehicles, and the only way you can get in there is via boats. And the Superdome--we're attempting to evacuate that facility as we speak. They've got at least 20,000 people there.

CHADWICK: You think 20,000? That's the number for the Superdome?

Mr. BABINEAUX: Superdome, because people--as the water continues to rise, they keep going to the Superdome and to higher grounds.

CHADWICK: Can you get access to the Superdome now by streets?

Mr. BABINEAUX: Only in a very short radius of the Superdome because of the water levels. But there is--fortunately, there's a helipad there, and we're staging helicopters on and off of the Superdome and that's how we're affecting the evacuation.

CHADWICK: Mr. Babineaux, how long have you been up at work?

Mr. BABINEAUX: It's been since the hurricane hit. We've got a communication center of about 60 people now and, you know, it's non-stop. So we're basically pacing our people. We're forcing people to go home, get some sleep and come back. So we're working 12-hour shifts around the clock.

CHADWICK: Erroll Babineaux, coordinating ambulance services evacuating people from hospitals and centers in New Orleans.

Mr. Babineaux, thank you.

Mr. BABINEAUX: You're welcome. Thank you very much.

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