Thousands Remain in New Orleans, Despite Orders

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More New Orleans residents were rescued from their homes Wednesday. Mayor Ray Nagin has ordered the complete evacuation of the flooded city, where putrid waters are a health threat. Officials said as many as 10,000 people are still there.

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, rescue crews are still pulling people from their homes more than a week after the scale of the Katrina disaster became clear. Mayor Ray Nagin has ordered the complete evacuation of the flooded city, where putrid waters are a health threat. Officials said as many as 10,000 people are still there, but New Orleans police Superintendent Eddie Compass said there are no forced removals yet.

Mr. EDDIE COMPASS (New Orleans Police Superintendent): We still have thousands of people that want to voluntarily evacuate. If I pull my manpower from the search and rescue missions to forcibly remove people at this present time, many people who want to leave will die. Once all the voluntary evacuees are evacuated, then we will enforce the mandatory evacuations.

SIEGEL: Mike Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has come under withering fire for the slow federal response. Today Brown rebuffed reporters' questions about calls for his resignation from Congress and elsewhere.

Mr. MIKE BROWN (FEMA): The president's in charge of that, not me.

Unidentified Reporter: Did you offer your resignation at any time?

Mr. BROWN: I serve totally at the will of the president of the United States.

BLOCK: Rescue boats combed the city's 9th Ward, where one-story homes still were flooded halfway to their roofs. Thousands of people remained in that neighborhood alone. NPR's John Ydstie is in New Orleans.

(Soundbite of helicopter)

JOHN YDSTIE reporting:

I'm standing on I-10 in New Orleans where it cuts through the 9th Ward at Franklin Avenue, just above the downtown business district. There are lines of pickup trucks here with boat trailers, some of them empty, some of them still waiting to be launched. They're going through the 9th Ward, trying to find people who want to leave, and trying to convince people who don't want to leave that it's in their own interests to do so. Most of these boats are from the Texas Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Major LARRY YOUNG: I'm Major Larry Young from Corpus Christi, Texas.

YDSTIE: What are you doing out here today, right now?

Maj. YOUNG: We're going to be evacuating the residents of these neighborhoods on both sides of the highway.

YDSTIE: How about your resources? Are you going to be simply taking people out, or will you be collecting bodies if you find them?

Maj. YOUNG: Our job today is just to get out people that are still living back here in these conditions.

YDSTIE: Do you have any idea how many people there are out here?

Maj. YOUNG: No idea. No idea.

YDSTIE: And what's the tactic? Are you dividing it into grids? Are you going door to door? What...

Maj. YOUNG: Yes. We divided it into areas for specific moats, and we just go up and down the streets and knock on doors if we have to, and just try and verify if there's anybody living in these houses. And then we offer to take them out if they want to go. Still, it's voluntary. It's their decision.

YDSTIE: Are you bringing any provisions so if people say they want to stay, you'll give them water or meals ready to eat or some kind of food?

Maj. YOUNG: We have provisions on our boat, but they're very limited. We can't carry--if we carry too much, we aren't going to bring anybody out, but we do have limited supplies on our boats.

YDSTIE: What are the supplies?

Maj. YOUNG: All we have on our boats is water. There are MREs but we don't have those on our boats. We're providing water is about it.

YDSTIE: How long have you been here?

Maj. YOUNG: I've been here since Saturday.

YDSTIE: Can you noticeably see the water going down?

Maj. YOUNG: I've noticed about maybe a foot and a half.

YDSTIE: I notice that there's a bag here that appears to have a body in it. Is it a body?

Maj. YOUNG: That's correct.

YDSTIE: And why isn't anyone picking it up?

Maj. YOUNG: We've contacted somebody to do that.

YDSTIE: So someone will come pick it up and take it to the morgue.

Maj. YOUNG: I would assume, yes.

YDSTIE: Ah, great. Thank you very much, sir.

Maj. YOUNG: Yes, sir. Thank you.

YDSTIE: Further down the on-ramp where they're launching the boats, there are several more dead bodies, one in a blanket, others in garbage bags. Again, the people here say they don't have the resources to pick them up and are waiting for someone to come and do so. This is John Ydstie on I-10 in New Orleans.

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