Katrina & Beyond

New Orleans Rescue Work Turns to City at Large

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Emergency workers in New Orleans have completed much of the mass evacuation work and are now going door to door looking for hurricane survivors.


We return now to our coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The rescue effort in New Orleans is shifting today. Teams are fanning out to flooded neighborhoods to search for survivors and recover the dead. We're joined now by NPR's John Ydstie in Baton Rouge.

Hi, John.

JOHN YDSTIE reporting:

Hello, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: So how is the pace of relief and rescue going today?

YDSTIE: Well, the mass evacuation is largely over. The Superdome is empty, the convention center's empty. Occasionally, people show up there and they get on buses and leave. But that's largely over. There are a few people left at the airport, and they're trying to move those people out. But largely, things are shifting to sort of door to door, trying to get people out of their homes. And conditions are actually stable enough in the city now and there are enough Guardsmen in the area so that National Guard is moving manpower out into the outer parishes, which haven't been searched yet, to try to help with search and rescue there.

ELLIOTT: Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff is saying now that everyone must leave New Orleans because of the health dangers there. Does that mean that the city is going to be completely empty?

YDSTIE: Well, there's a good deal of disagreement among local officials about that. I was talking to William Jefferson, the Democrat who represents New Orleans, and he said people who are safe and dry should be allowed to stay. He said people need to stay to rebuild. You can't just turn the lights out in the city; that's no way to get the city rebuilt again. And Jefferson also told me that Mayor Ray Nagin had told him that in the next couple of days, there might actually be some water restored to some of the areas of New Orleans; not many, but enough to help people out. So there's a big disagreement it seems here between the federal and the local officials about whether or not the city ought to be emptied.

ELLIOTT: Given that you're not getting the same message, is it any clearer today who's the one who is in charge? Who gets to make these decisions?

YDSTIE: Well, there's still an issue here. Secretary Chertoff said this morning in New Orleans that the federal government is in control. Secretary Rumsfeld--who is traveling here, as well--had a joint press conference with Secretary Chertoff; he said DHS was in control. But we were briefed by a National Guard general here who said that he was reporting to the governors and the governors were in charge.

It is complicated and there is coordination. Certainly, the military is coordinated. The active military is coordinating with the Guard very well. But it is a very complicated situation, and I think there's a lot of people doing things kind of independently just trying to get things done.

ELLIOTT: NPR's John Ydstie, reporting from Baton Rouge. Thanks, John.

YDSTIE: You're welcome, Debbie.

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