Logistics, Lawlessness Hamper Aid Efforts
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.
Coming up, Texas prepares for an onslaught of hurricane refugees, and we visit a Red Cross relief center sending aid to victims.
First, to Louisiana, still struggling to restore order, as is Mississippi, after Hurricane Katrina. In New Orleans, lawlessness has hampered search-and-rescue efforts and efforts to evacuate those who were displaced by the flood. Louisiana's senior Senator Mary Landrieu says the situation is just dire.
Senator MARY LANDRIEU (Democrat, Louisiana): We understand that there are thousands of dead people, but the military, the governor, the president, your senators, all of your local elected officials, are doing everything in their power to stabilize the situation.
CHADWICK: Joining us from Baton Rouge is NPR's Greg Allen. Greg, what is the situation at this point?
GREG ALLEN reporting:
Well, right now a lot of attention is being focused on the Superdome, where, of course, the evacuation of some 16,000 people began yesterday, Alex. The evacuation began in chaos. There's hundreds of National Guardsmen on the scene. They're certainly keeping--doing their best to keep order, but it's clear that there's a lot of trouble going on there. Last night, we had a National Guardsman shot at the Superdome. This morning, we had shots fired at a Chinook helicopter that was working to--that landing--I forget if it was landing or taking off in the Superdome. Today, we had a FEMA official here on Baton Rouge saying they know they've got a problem at the Superdome and they're working to contain it.
CHADWICK: Are they saying that shots are coming from the Superdome?
ALLEN: It's not clear. The one last night, of course, was shot at the--was fired--was a shot that wounded an officer at the Superdome itself. Today, the shots fired, it's not clear where they came from, and I think that they temporarily grounded the helicopters while they took stock of the situation. But Mary Landrieu, the senator from Louisiana, today emphasized that that did not stop the evacuation; it's continuing full force. They're going to do everything they can to get everyone out of New Orleans as quickly as possible.
CHADWICK: And how about general search-and-rescue efforts? Those continue in New Orleans and Gulfport and Biloxi?
ALLEN: Yes, exactly. And it's--I don't think we know how many people are still out there on roofs and trapped in their homes. And the search-and-rescue missions certainly are continuing. One concern is that search and rescue is--that the--stopping the lawlessness has taken some of the personnel away from search and rescue. The mayor yesterday redeployed something like 1,500 police officers just to try to stop the lawlessness in the city, taking them away from search-and-rescue missions.
Meanwhile, you've got some 600 boats out there doing search and rescue all the time. They were yesterday ferrying something like 650 people every hour across the river. One concern there is that the search-and-rescue crews themselves are having gunshots fired, so there are state troopers in many of these Fish & Wildlife boats going around helping them rescue people, but also carrying firearms so they can protect them while they're doing their rescue mission.
CHADWICK: You're saying that the people in the boats who are trying to carry out the search-and-rescue efforts are being shot at in various places around the city?
ALLEN: Exactly. As one of the state troopers today told me that no one has actually been shot, but shots had been fired at some of the search-and-rescue crews, and that's why there are now state troopers on board with them.
CHADWICK: What about aid that's coming into the city, Greg?
ALLEN: Well, there's a--big relief efforts being mounted now, and we're seeing evidence here in Baton Rouge and trucks are headed south all the time. I think that's one of the reasons why they want to get the people evacuated from the city so they can actually get them to locations where they can take care of them and actually get aid into the city. We're seeing Red Cross here in Baton Rouge. They've been loath to go south, too much farther south from here, 'cause they don't want to encourage people to stay. So they're trying to get people out of the city where they then appear in this area and further north and then take care of their needs.
CHADWICK: You were evacuated last night from New Orleans. Just what's it's like trying to get out of the city?
ALLEN: Well, it was--you know, certainly there--we didn't see a lot of police officers on the street the day after the hurricane, on Tuesday, but by yesterday, you saw more and more out there. And when the evacuation order came down, there were a lot of police out there, because clearly, they knew this is something that's going to take some security presence to make sure it happens in an orderly fashion.
As we left the city, we drove by the Convention Center, and there you had people in the streets, you had people pulling up in trucks, selling goods out of the back of trucks. I can't say where the goods came from, but clearly almost every store has been looted in that area. Just a general sense of lawlessness pervaded; people walking in the streets. We went--left town in a convoy, and for one reason that we were concerned for our own safety.
CHADWICK: NPR's Greg Allen, reporting from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Greg, thank you.
ALLEN: You're welcome, Alex.