New Orleans Rescues Continue, But Some Won't Go

Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division are planning a new rescue effort in New Orleans using small boats in the continuing push to completely evacuate the city. But some residents refuse to go.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

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

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

In New Orleans today, engineers finished plugging the major breaks in the levee system. Water is now being pumped out of the city back into Lake Pontchartrain. After surveying his city by helicopter, Mayor Ray Nagin said significant progress is being made. Floodwaters are receding; 60 percent of New Orleans is now under water, down from 80 percent a few days ago.

SIEGEL: But the water that remains is becoming more dangerous.

Mayor RAY NAGIN (Democrat, New Orleans): There's lots of oil on the water and there's gas leaks, where there's bubbling up, and there's fire on top of that. If those two unite, God bless us.

SIEGEL: That's Mayor Ray Nagin.

There is still no sense of how many people have died in Hurricane Katrina. Authorities are preparing to handle thousands of corpses.

BLOCK: Today, though, search efforts were still focused on the living. Paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division were planning a new rescue effort using small boats. A police official said there are now fewer than 10,000 people remaining in New Orleans. The authorities don't want anyone left in the city until the toxic floodwaters are pumped out and services are restored.

SIEGEL: NPR's John Burnett is in New Orleans, where he's been talking to people who remain there.

John, how are people holding on with no services, no water, no electricity?

JOHN BURNETT reporting:

It's astonishing, Robert. We met people all morning long who simply won't leave their neighborhoods. One couple is getting by. They run across the street with buckets and they dip water from their neighbor's swimming pool, and they use that for flushing and bathing. They've stockpiled food, and they actually--they've kind of run almost a sort of adult day-care service. They look in on elderly neighbors to see how they're doing. But the National Guard wants all of these holdouts out of the city, and they've told them they're going to cut off their food rations, the meals ready to eat, to force them out.

SIEGEL: Would the National Guard actually march people out of New Orleans?

BURNETT: Well, it's a little confusing because we understand that no martial law has been declared by the governor, and so the authorities cannot force people out of their homes. At the same time, these people have such a reluctance to go, I can't imagine that everyone is going to leave this city. Let's listen to Patricia Kelly.

SIEGEL: Mm-hmm.

BURNETT: She's lived for two to three generations in the Lower 9th Ward. She works as a missionary for her Abutaland Baptist Church.(ph)

Ms. PATRICIA KELLY (Missionary, Abutaland Baptist Church): Oh, Lord Jesus, maybe just try to stick it out over here and try to help keep the place clean and just wait on the Lord to try to bless us with another place to go. I don't know nowhere else that I could go to because I was born and raised here in New Orleans and I would like to stay here, you know, and rebuild from what I had lost. Mm-hmm.

BURNETT: And so unlike the images of the desperate storm evacuees that everyone has seen on TV, she like many others we talked to were rather composed and peaceful. She was sitting in the shade of a beauty shop, and a friend of hers was cooking some red beans and rice on a grill; they were having a picnic.

SIEGEL: On the grill because that would be the only way that she could cook at this point, if I'm...

BURNETT: Exactly.

SIEGEL: I assume that there are other threats to the city, as well, and--with no services.

BURNETT: We came upon a large house fire that was engulfing a two-story house down by St. Andrews and Coliseum streets in the near uptown neighborhood. It was really scary because there's no water pressure in the city, and so the whole block of these grand old 200-year-old houses is a tinderbox. Miraculously, the New Orleans Fire Department pumped water out of actually a tank truck, and then helicopters came in and dropped water from above, the way they do with forest fires. We came back three hours later, and the fire was out, thank goodness.

SIEGEL: John, have you been able to talk to any of the National Guard who are now patrolling the city?

BURNETT: We did. We spoke with a sergeant first class from the Oklahoma National Guard who's securing Audubon Park, and he said he and his wife were vacationing in New Orleans three years ago. He was walking through Audubon Park, and he can't believe that his own unit is now occupying this park and protecting this American city. The word `surreal' has come up over and over.

SIEGEL: John, thanks a lot.

BURNETT: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's NPR's John Burnett, speaking to us from New Orleans.

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