Hazards Put Pressure on New Orleans Evacuation Effort
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
From Washington today, new help for victims of Katrina. The government says it will give some evacuees debit cards worth $2,000 to help them get by. And President Bush asked Congress for an additional $52 billion for relief efforts. The EPA warned that the floodwater in New Orleans is so contaminated that rescue workers and residents should try to avoid contact with it.
BLOCK: Inside the city, police, fire and rescue workers are facing another big problem, fire, as they continue evacuating thousands of people who haven't left. And as NPR's Phillip Davis reports from New Orleans, those who won't go voluntarily may be removed by force.
PHILLIP DAVIS reporting:
At Harrah's casino downtown, which is now being used as a police staging area, officers were busy figuring out how to organize today's rescue efforts.
Unidentified Law Enforcement Officer: We got to start deploying, and I got to get--if you could just stand over there by the boats. Please, let us get our boats. We got to get boats in the water. We got to get trucks in the water, please. Please.
DAVIS: And Police Chief Eddie Compass is figuring out how to implement the mayor's decision to turn up the heat on residents who don't want to evacuate. Compass said he agreed with the mayor, but the department's first priority hadn't changed.
Chief EDDIE COMPASS (New Orleans Police Department): We still have tens of thousands of people to evacuate. That's what you don't understand. Do you see this map? Do you see how many people we're trying to get? I can't use my force to fight, to break people because we got people that's looking for help, that's waving for help, that's still inside homes. They haven't eaten in how many days is it? How many days has it been going on?
Unidentified Man: This has been going on for about...
Chief COMPASS: How many days?
Unidentified Man: ...I don't know, 10, 12--I don't even know how many days...
Chief COMPASS: Exactly. So this is what we're trying to do.
DAVIS: That seemed at odds with the mayor's proclamation. But later on, at a joint briefing on the steps of a darkened City Hall, the chief said it wasn't so.
Chief COMPASS: There's no disagreement between the mayor and I. Once all the voluntary evacuees are evacuated, then we will enforce the mandatory evacuation. We'll use the minimal amount of force necessary to evacuate people out of this city to safety.
DAVIS: It's been a day in which city, state and out-of-state officials seemed finally to be moving toward a unified response to the crisis in the city. Across the river, in a neighborhood called Algiers, firefighters from around the country have set up a mini city from which to launch relief efforts. Fire Chief Charles Parent said that was a relief because the city has now been hit by a rash of fires caused, he said, by human negligence and live power wires.
Chief CHARLES PARENT (New Orleans Fire Department): Yesterday we had 15 fires. We had one four-alarm, one two-alarm, 10 one-alarms. And we had three that were inaccessible, only by helicopter drops, which we coordinated through our office. We had 111 gas leaks yesterday. And since we've started tracking, we've had 57 major fires around the city.
DAVIS: Indeed, just blocks away from the assembled top-ranking officials, firefighters were battling a blaze at the corner of Julia and Magazine Streets.
(Soundbite of emergency siren)
DAVIS: As you can imagine, with thousands of firefighters massing in the city, the response is pretty quick. Within minutes five fire trucks had surrounded the building, and firefighters from all over the country had swarmed inside throwing out smoking debris. Tom Lambouie(ph), a firefighter who had come all the way from the Bronx, said it was an old warehouse building located behind a city Fire Department supply depot.
Mr. TOM LAMBOUIE (Firefighter): There's a whole bunch stuff, tires and everything, back there. So who knows? We used two lines, and now we've put water on the fire, and it went out.
DAVIS: Another sign that things are a little better these day: The fire hydrants have started working downtown. Phillip Davis, NPR News, New Orleans.