Katrina Update: Holdouts in New Orleans

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Madeleine Brand gets the latest on the situation in New Orleans from Martin Kaste. Law enforcement officials are compelling all city residents still holding out to clear the city, and have threatened to use force.


From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.

Coming up, we'll talk with NPR's Juan Williams about the politics of Hurricane Katrina, but first to New Orleans, where the water continues to recede, uncovering the depth of Katrina's destruction. Perhaps thousands of people remain in the city, and authorities are still trying to convince them to leave before they carry out orders to forcibly remove them. Earlier I spoke with NPR's Martin Kaste about the situation in New Orleans.

MARTIN KASTE reporting:

Right now I'm speaking to you from the back of an open flatbed truck owned by the Oklahoma National Guard. We're driving through what's called the Ninth Ward, eastern New Orleans. It's where most of the worst flooding happened. We're in about two, three feet of water. It was about nine feet high here judging by the high-water marks.

This place is pretty much deserted. It's just devastated. The houses are empty. If they're not empty, they probably have dead bodies inside because we've seen a few floating in the water. There's trash hanging from the few trees that are standing. The roofs are completely damaged. The cars, you can tell, were all submerged. And the whole place smells like rotten eggs here. So this place, I would guess--you know, we saw one straggler on a bit of high ground, but I think most people have just given up on this area.

Other parts of the city are higher, especially near the Mississippi River, an area called Uptown, the Garden District. And there are holdouts there, little tribes they call themselves, the people who are trying to make due. But the word there is as soon as they ask for help from the National Guard, they're escorted out.

BRAND: And what about the water level? About a fifth of the city's water pumps are now working. Is the water noticeably lower?

KASTE: It is. Where I am, this is eastern New Orleans, the Ninth Ward. You can see the watermark. The high-water mark is about seven, eight feet on average above where it right now, but it's fallen considerably. The New Orleans police officer I was speaking to a little bit ago told me that just a day or two ago they couldn't come anywhere near where we are right now. And we're in a truck, and the water is up to the top of our wheels, but I think we're almost reaching the limit. But they've now received some amphibious vehicles from the Navy and other services. Those are going into the deeper end. There are still helicopters flying over. But the waters are receding, and you can get in further into the east now than you could just a day ago.

BRAND: And are there any attempts yet to recover the dead bodies?

KASTE: There are a few bodies visible right now in the streets, but the state here in eastern New Orleans is so chaotic still, and a lot of it's flooded. Most of it's still flooded, but no one's worried about that yet. We don't know what's inside these structures we're passing right now.

BRAND: You're with the National Guard. What exactly are they doing there?

KASTE: We're on a patrol. The whole city's been searched once from the air and somewhat from amphibious sort of trucks. Now we're kind of doing second passes through areas where the waters are receding. There have been a few holdouts in some of the flooded areas in eastern New Orleans, very few people left, though. And basically what the National Guard is doing here--driving through one more time, two more times, giving people another chance to get out if they want to.

BRAND: And then what will they be doing?

KASTE: The National Guard--no one knows what tomorrow's going to hold here. You ask people, they say, `We don't even know what's going to happen today.' People are just sort of moving from crisis to crisis here. I don't think there's a plan yet for tomorrow.

BRAND: NPR's Martin Kaste in New Orleans, thanks for joining us.

KASTE: You're welcome.

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