New Orleans Tries to Stem Damage, Flooding

New Orleans police move to stop widespread looting in parts of the city. The mayor ordered 1,500 officers off rescue missions in order to restore security. Federal, state and city officials are working on shoring up the breached levees that flooded large parts of New Orleans.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

In Baton Rouge today, federal and state officials announced plans to try to regain control of the increasingly chaotic and desperate conditions in New Orleans. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco says she has asked for 40,000 troops to be deployed in the city. And state officials say they're beginning to make some progress in their efforts to plug the holes in the city's flood walls. NPR's Greg Allen reports from Baton Rouge.

GREG ALLEN reporting:

The command center here in Baton Rouge is just 80 miles from New Orleans, but right now it's a world away. In New Orleans, there's no power, no running water, little communications, and officials acknowledge that it's a city out of control. Search-and-rescue teams say their boats have been fired on. State police now ride shotgun. State police say at least two emergency personnel have been wounded, a National Guardsman and a police officer who was trying to stop looting. Senator Mary Landrieu acknowledged that it's a dire situation.

Senator MARY LANDRIEU (Democrat, Louisiana): We have gotten reports, but unconfirmed, of some of our deputies and sheriffs that have either been injured or killed. We do not have confirmation of the numbers. I am not able to answer any of the details about the numbers.

ALLEN: In the last day some 1,100 New Orleans police have been taken off search and rescue and put on the streets to try to restore order. In addition to the police and National Guard troops, head of the Louisiana State Police, Henry Whitehorn, says he's already sent in 200 troopers and 250 more are on the way. He says police have set up a temporary jail for looters and that he'll hold them in, quote, "handcuffs and shackles if necessary."

Colonel HENRY WHITEHORN (Louisiana State Police): We think that's working. With the addition of the military MPs that's coming in, we feel that we will have law and order restored in those small, minute numbers of individuals that's creating the problem. We will have those individuals under control in very short order.

ALLEN: Officials today said the death toll from Hurricane Katrina is likely to be in the thousands, but that so far search and rescue has taken precedence over the collection of dead bodies. FEMA has already set up a temporary morgue in New Orleans, but so far it has received few corpses. On emergency radio in New Orleans, residents are calling in to complain about dead bodies lying on their streets for days. The National Guard is deploying thousands of additional troops in the city over the next few days. Governor Kathleen Blanco said she's been given assurances that she'll have 40,000 Guard and active-duty troops in the city as soon as possible.

If there's a bright spot, it may be that state officials say they're making headway in efforts to patch the broken levees that have flooded the city. State Transportation Secretary Johnny Bradbury says contractors have begun driving pilings into the breach in the 17th Street levee, and he's confident those efforts will hold back the water. But after being slammed by a Category 4 hurricane, Bradbury says he's not sure about the condition of the rest of the city's levees.

State Secretary JOHNNY BRADBURY (Louisiana Transportation Department): So to say that all of our levees are intact--at this point in time, you know, I'm a little bit concerned about them. And we're going to have to do what we can to assure ourselves that when we turn pumps back on and--in the future that we have integrity in our levees.

ALLEN: Meanwhile, evacuation continues from the Superdome, other shelters and several New Orleans hospitals. Outside of New Orleans, some 50,000 people are already being housed in 131 shelters; many are now being bused to the Astrodome. And officials say they may need additional facilities to house the city's refugees. The biggest need, they say, is for additional ground transport to get those in shelters out of the city. Governor Blanco says she's received assurances from President Bush that Louisiana will receive all the assistance it needs. But she acknowledged that the federal help is late in coming.

Governor KATHLEEN BLANCO (Democrat, Louisiana): We would have wanted massive numbers of helicopters on day one, on Tuesday. As soon as the storm allowed people to fly, we would have wanted massive numbers. It's taken a few days. You know, there's a reality, and, you know, there's the wish, the need, the frustration.

ALLEN: It's a frustration many in New Orleans share. As one official in Jefferson Parish said, the best solution might be for New Orleans to declare itself a separate country and seek foreign aid. Greg Allen, NPR News, Baton Rouge.

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