Officials Work to Restore Order in New Orleans

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New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin predicts the death toll there will be in the hundreds and possibly thousands, after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast. Much of the city is still flooded. As authorities worked to evacuate the Superdome, the operation was temporarily disrupted when shots were fired at a military helicopter.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

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

The mayor of New Orleans says it is likely that thousands of people were killed by Hurricane Katrina. If so, it would be the nation's deadliest hurricane since 1900; then some 12,000 people were killed in Galveston, Texas. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has $2 billion right now for relief efforts. FEMA chief Michael Brown calls Hurricane Katrina a, quote, "truly disas--catastrophic event."

Mr. MICHAEL BROWN (Chief, Federal Emergency Management Agency): We have literally tens of thousands of people who ar displaced that will not be able to return to their homes for months, and in some cases will probably never be able to return to those homes because they are not there. And so we have to deal with all of the related issues that come with that relocation: schools, housing, employment, the whole economic aspect of those people being uprooted and their lives totally disrupted. That is going to be a huge challenge for us.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Phillip Davis is in Lafayette, Louisiana. Good morning, Phil.

PHILLIP DAVIS reporting:

Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Tell us what is happening there near you. I know you're west, about 120 miles, from New Orleans.

DAVIS: That's right. What's happening is there's a lot of people who are in shelters near here.

In Baton Rouge, the latest development is that the Pete Maravich Center, which is a sports arena at LSU, Louisiana State University, has been turned into a temporary field hospital with hundreds of people who have been airlifted in from New Orleans and other areas, people who have urgent medical needs. And that is what's going on there. They have set up this temporary hospital to help those people.

That's been one of the problems over the last few days is that people with urgent health needs have not been able to get the help they need, and now this is being taken care of by--in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana area. But it's not nearly as bad as what's going on in New Orleans right now.

MONTAGNE: And, of course, in New Orleans there is looting and the mayor has ordered everyone out of the city; I guess, everyone who can get out of the city.

DAVIS: Well, it's true and there are two reasons for that. One is the health reason. With all this standing water, the mayor has talked very graphically about bodies floating in the water, about fecal matter in the water. And there is a risk of infection and disease that's increasingly serious.

The second reason is the security situation is deteriorating right now. At first, the looting was mainly people who were trying to get food and water and diapers from drugstores. But it's become increasingly criminal; that's the only way to describe it. A big Wal-Mart in New Orleans was looted and the entire firearms and ammunition section was completely cleared out. People have been seen in pickup trucks filled with TVs, and one local station broadcast the image of a group of men loading what looked like a safe on the back of their pickup truck and driving away. And so the mayor has now pulled 1,500 police officers off of search-and-rescue detail and ordered them to stop the looters, to restore security in the city. And the governor, Kathleen Blanco, is asking for federal troops to come down to help with search and rescue so that she can free up the Louisiana National Guard to help return more security to New Orleans and other areas.

MONTAGNE: And, of course, President Bush has announced that federal aid is coming.

DAVIS: That's true. The federal government is now stepping in in a big way. I think they finally realize the enormity of the situation. The president, of course, cut short his vacation by a couple of days and flew over the area in Air Force One before returning to Washington. The president said the devastation was one of the worst natural disasters in the nation's history. He says on the way are already more than five million meals ready to eat, 13 million liters of water. The Navy is sending half a dozen ships, including the USNS Comfort, which is a big hospital ship, to the area to help with the relief effort. And the government is also sending down an additional 10,000 National Guardsmen, so there's going to be almost 30,000 National Guard who will be patrolling New Orleans and affected towns along the Gulf Coast.

MONTAGNE: And just, finally, what about the flooding?

DAVIS: The flooding situation is--has stabilized. That's the best way to put it. The level of the lake and the level of the water in the city has--have become--they're at equilibrium right now. And that is giving a little breathing room to engineers and others who are trying to close the breaches in the levees right now. That's what's going on right there.

MONTAGNE: Thank you very much.

DAVIS: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Phillip Davis in Lafayette, Louisiana.

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