Soldiers Patrol and Explore New Orleans
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
In Louisiana today, officials said the number of deaths reached 423, up from 279 a day ago, and the city of New Orleans says it is broke. Many contractors are working without pay. Still, parts of the city will reopen early next week, allowing residents to return to their homes and businesses during daylight hours. People coming back to assess the damage may find waterlogged houses, looted cars and a very heavy military presence. Authorities were blamed for not keeping order immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit. They've responded with a huge show of force. NPR's Jeff Brady reports.
JEFF BRADY reporting:
You can still find a street musician or two in the French Quarter, which fared better than most of the rest of the city.
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BRADY: But everywhere else, the Big Easy has been turned into a big security zone.
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BRADY: There are security forces from police departments all over the country and a few federal agencies like the Border Patrol. Even postal inspectors walk around with pistols strapped to their hips. That's in addition to the National Guard and Army soldiers dressed in combat gear. They carry assault rifles over their shoulders. They patrol the streets on foot in groups of six or eight. Driving through the city, there's a checkpoint every few miles. It's not uncommon to see caravans of military trucks that look like they belong in a war zone.
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BRADY: You might think the folks who stayed behind in the city would resent such a strong military presence, but everyone interviewed for this story said they were happy soldiers were keeping the looters away. At an open bar in the French Quarter, Victoria Snyder has dropped by.
Ms. VICTORIA SNYDER: Given the amount of disorder that happened here, I think it's the best effort at creating a sense of control and predictability, and that adds a lot to people's sense of well-being.
BRADY: Snyder says that's especially true for people who evacuated and are watching television for clues about whether their houses are OK.
The 82nd Airborne is patrolling the French Quarter. Sergeant Matthew Collins says his power on the street is limited. If he sees someone looting, he calls the police. Federal law prevents the military from acting as a domestic police force. But if there's a more immediate situation, he can act.
Sergeant MATTHEW COLLINS (82nd Airborne): Where there's either like a gun to someone's head or a knife or just something that shows that somebody might die, we neutralize the individual that chose to make that decision.
BRADY: Which is why you have those guns.
Sgt. COLLINS: Right, but we try not to use them. That's why they're slung to the sides and to our backs. We do not carry the magazines, and they are not loaded.
BRADY: Collins says mostly he and his soldiers just walk the streets, four hours per shift, and then they get eight hours off.
Sgt. COLLINS: I was in Afghanistan and Iraq and now I get deployed here. And it's a different mind-set 'cause, you know, on a deployment, your objective is to neutralize the enemy and, you know, restore order. Here there is no enemy; there's just no law, and you're just here to help the law get back into place so everything can get restored.
BRADY: It appears authorities are beginning to tone down the security presence. A caravan of sheriff's deputies from New Mexico was seen leaving the city Monday. Arrests also appear to be down. Drive by the temporary jail at the bus and train station downtown and there are no more prisoners in the makeshift jail cells set up outside. Jeff Brady, NPR News, New Orleans.
ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): This is NPR, National Public Radio.
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