Bush Sends Active Duty Troops to Katrina Region

Evacuees at Superdome, shot from above i i

hide captionEvacuees wait to be moved from outside the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans on Saturday.

Reuters
Evacuees at Superdome, shot from above

Evacuees wait to be moved from outside the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans on Saturday.

Reuters

President Bush says 7,000 active-duty troops will go to Louisiana for additional hurricane relief. Despite hopes all would be evacuated Friday, some New Orleans flood victims remain at the Superdome. Security forces are still trying to restore order, and engineers are working to drain the city.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Scott Simon is away on assignment. I'm Linda Wertheimer.

Hurricane Katrina has become a story of failure, the failure to prevent tragedy and the failure to lessen the effects once it happened. And nearly a week after the hurricane came ashore on the northern Gulf Coast, the crisis continues. By the end of yesterday, everyone was supposed to be evacuated from the Superdome in New Orleans. This morning, there are still people there. In his weekly radio address today, President Bush said more help is on the way.

(Soundbite of radio address)

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Over the next 24 to 72 hours, more than 7,000 additional troops from the 82nd Airborne, from the 1st Cavalry, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force and the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force will arrive in the affected areas.

WERTHEIMER: The president spoke from the Rose Garden. NPR's Don Gonyea joins us from the White House.

Don, that's an unusual venue for a weekly radio address.

DON GONYEA reporting:

Absolutely, and the headline here is that more troops are on the way, active military. But for the president to do the radio address, which is usually a prerecorded thing and sent out to the networks, from the Rose Garden demonstrates that the White House knows they needed fresh pictures of the president in the mix on TV today. There are brand-new, heartbreaking images every hour on television of people overwhelmed with the tough situation, so the White House thinks Mr. Bush needs to be seen addressing this in person every single day. And doing a radio address live on TV in the Rose Garden also is a real demonstration of the White House recognizing that so much is at stake politically for this president, who does continue to face tremendous criticism of how he's handled this crisis.

WERTHEIMER: Don, thanks.

GONYEA: My pleasure.

WERTHEIMER: That's NPR's Don Gonyea at the White House.

NPR's Mike Pesca has been following developments from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Hi, Mike.

MIKE PESCA reporting:

Hello.

WERTHEIMER: What is the latest from New Orleans?

PESCA: Well, let's start with the crisis downtown. As you said, there are still some people at the Superdome. A General Flemming addressed some portions of the media today. What went on was, yesterday, a 50-truck convoy rolled downtown and they began evacuating people. They evacuated 20,000 people. Beyond the Superdome, at the Convention Center, there are many, many more people. The general indicated that some relief has been gotten to them. They have water, they have some food, some rudimentary medical attention, but they have yet to be evacuated. The plan is, he is optimistic, that they can get them all out today. They'll be then bused to different centers: Houston, Dallas, San Antonio.

What they're trying to do and what they're combating is a security situation downtown that the Louisiana attorney general, Charles Foti, and the US attorney for the part of the country that includes New Orleans, Jim Letten, talked about establishing a jail, getting the criminal justice system up and rolling. But the bottom line is that they hope that almost all of the people will be evacuated by the end of the day today, and that they do have some relief for most of those people downtown.

WERTHEIMER: Now while relief operations in the city have been ramping up, efforts are continuing to plug the breach in the levee by Lake Pontchartrain. Do we know anything about that this morning?

PESCA: Yeah. What we know is the estimates range from the most optimistic figure, 30 days or over a month; 80 days is the number that was talked about by a lot of the officials. What they're doing is they're plugging the breach. They're lowering 3,000-pound sandbags, dropping them into the main breached area, 17th Street levee. But the other thing they're doing is that they're puncturing other parts of the levee sort of to ease it and to let the floodwaters out, then they're turning on their pumps, which--some private contractors and other government officials have helped restore the pumps and give new ones. So they're trying to both pump out the water, drain it and relieve some of the pressure on the levee. Like I said, 80 days that could take.

WERTHEIMER: NPR's Mike Pesca is reporting from Baton Rouge.

Mike, thank you.

PESCA: You're welcome.

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