Volunteers Search New Orleans' 9th Ward
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Evacuations continue in New Orleans. Contaminated floodwaters are posing a health threat and police are urging thousands of residents to leave. Civilian volunteers, including many out-of-towners, are also helping in these rescue efforts. NPR's John Ydstie spoke with some volunteers working in the lower Ninth Ward. That's one of the most devastated areas of New Orleans.
Unidentified Man: Those areas back in here we just flew over, you're looking at 10 or 12 feet of water, and in the underpasses, you're looking at 20, 25 feet of water.
JOHN YDSTIE reporting:
It's early morning at the police command post on Canal Street. Rescuers are being briefed before they head out on to the water. Some are game wardens from Texas, others fish and wildlife officers from Louisiana. Many are volunteers.
Mr. PATRICK NICHOLAS(ph) (Rescue Volunteer): My name is Patrick Nicholas. I live in Prairieville, Louisiana. I'm a local business owner.
YDSTIE: Nicholas has been out all but one day as a rescuer since the floodwaters rose. Now he's echoing the mayor's tough talk about pressuring people to leave.
Mr. NICHOLAS: That's exactly right. We're going to go in and give them one last chance to come out. We've got all these people came down here just to get them. If they won't leave, the military's going to come in here, they're going to force them out. I mean, these people need to get out of here. This water's full of disease.
YDSTIE: Nicholas and his crew will be focusing on the living and not on recovery.
Mr. NICHOLAS: Well, when we see dead bodies, we've been instructed to tie them off to a tree or a pole, or kick them in a building and close the door. I'm not trying to be morbid, but there's a lot of them out there and none of us are actually trained to deal with cadavers, so we have professional people coming in.
(Soundbite of motor)
YDSTIE: Nicholas tows his blue Fiberglas speedboat in a long line of other rigs including airboats and flat-bottomed duck boats. They wind out Interstate 10 to the Ninth Ward where homes sit half-submerged in floodwaters. At an entrance ramp near Franklin Street, the rescuers back their rigs down to the water's edge. They roll it right by a black garbage bag, actually two garbage bags slipped together, and bulging on the concrete highway. Texas Parks and Wildlife Warden Larry Young stands about 20 yards away.
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YDSTIE: I notice that there's a bag here that appears to have a body in it. Is it a body?
Mr. LARRY YOUNG (Warden, Texas Parks and Wildlife): That's correct.
YDSTIE: And why isn't anyone picking it up?
Mr. YOUNG: We've contacted somebody to do that.
YDSTIE: But six hours later, the body is still there and so are three more at the bottom of the ramp where the boats have been launching all day. Terry Coleman(ph) has just walked by them after a hot day on the water. He's unusual in this group, a resident of New Orleans, the only black person here at this location today among hundreds of white volunteers. He's disappointed at the way the dead are being treated.
Mr. TERRY COLEMAN (Rescue Volunteer): They're not picking them up as fast as they should pick them up, and I often think of how they would treat their own. It's unfortunate that people of color is not given the same reverence of people that are of fair skin.
YDSTIE: Coleman is a tugboat captain for a big oil firm. He rode the storm out on Lake Charles. He found getting back into New Orleans nearly impossible, and he regrets that more people from his community can't be involved in this rescue.
Mr. COLEMAN: No one I have met today could be more effective in this community than I--OK?--because I know the street. I know how to pronounce the street. I know what the neighborhood--I know exactly where to look. I could tell you if that's an abandoned house or not. No one else could do that today.
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YDSTIE: And today Coleman managed to coax an old man to come out of his home in the floodwaters to safety.
Mr. COLEMAN: You can't talk to them in a first--you can't be authoritative because they'd be resistant of that. You have to be sympathetic to their plight and put yourself in their shoes and say, `I would like to stay,' 'cause obvi--you know, this is my community, too. But, you know, in reality, we got to go.
YDSTIE: Unlike Coleman, volunteer Patrick Nicholas didn't have any success today. As he pulls his blue speedboat from the black, putrid water, he says one woman was particularly frustrating.
Ms. NICHOLAS: She was telling us, `Nobody's treating us good,' and all of this, and we were telling her, `Ma'am, please come out,' you know? `We're here to help you. We got food, we got water, we can send you to a clean shelter. You can get a clean shower, a hot meal.' `Nobody's treating me good,' and she scratched the SOS off her house and said, `Don't come back.'
YDSTIE: Despite his frustration, Nicholas says he'll be here again tomorrow.
John Ydstie, NPR News, New Orleans.
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