Katrina & Beyond

New Orleans Update: Leaving the City, Again

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Citizens who had just returned to New Orleans at the urging of Mayor Ray Nagin are being forced to evacuate again because of the approach of Hurricane Rita. Noah Adams talks to Robert Smith, reporting from New Orleans.


There is a chance that Hurricane Rita could change direction slightly and hit southern Louisiana again later this week. On Monday, New Orleans' mayor, Ray Nagin, suspended the reopening of parts of the city. Those who had made their way back in have been forced to evacuate again. A state of emergency has been declared for the state of Louisiana one more time. NPR's Robert Smith is in New Orleans and joins us.

Robert, what are you seeing with this latest evacuation, people going back out of the city?

ROBERT SMITH reporting:

Well, people and federal officials and the military this morning just as the sun came up over the Mississippi River--the Iwo Jima, the aircraft carrier that was being used as a headquarters for military personnel here, sailed out of town. And the military says, `OK, we're not retreating. We're not pulling out of New Orleans. We're repositioning.' So parts of the National Guard, a half battalion of Coast Guard, their search and rescue teams and non-essential FEMA people are leaving New Orleans, repositioning as they say, so that wherever the storm hits in the Gulf Coast, they can move there immediately.

ADAMS: Well, who is still left in the city of New Orleans?

SMITH: Well, that's a real question. They've set up a staging area for evacuations here at the notorious Convention Center where a lot of things went wrong last time. And they're sort of treating this as a do-over. They do not want this to turn out like Katrina, so whereas there wasn't a lot of federal response or help for the people in the Convention Center during the last hurricane, this time they have 4,000 National Guard troops stationed at the Convention Center. They have 500 buses available to take people out of the city. They want this to be a completely smooth evacuation. The problem is that most of the people have already left the city. So last night, 50 people left from the Convention Center. And this morning, apparently there were eight buses lined up and one guy getting on them.

ADAMS: Now you visited an area--you've been going around the city--one place that was supposed to be flooded for a long time yet to come. What did you see there?

SMITH: A lot of mud, a lot of destruction. I mean, just horrible, horrible situation there. But no water. And this is incredibly significant, because they were not supposed to be able to pump this water out of the city for another month. But the days have been really hot. The pumping's been very effective. And the last few areas that were flooded, the deepest areas of flood, are now at least quasi-dry. There's no standing water. And that's allowing search and rescue teams to go in there. Of course, the irony is that the moment at which the city dries out is the moment at which it may receive rain or worse again.

ADAMS: Yeah. And how are the people feeling there about the leadership; just about government in general, especially now that--they were asked to come back. Now they're asked to leave again, and here comes the weather.

SMITH: I don't know. Maybe it's a sign of normalcy back in the city that they're able to joke about their mayor and joke about government again. But everyone you meet has some strong opinion about what should be done with New Orleans, about who was responsible for the debacle before. But there's been a lot of jokes about the mayor here, about inviting people back in, then saying, `No, don't come back in.' Now saying, `Those who came back in, you should leave now.' That in his daily press conferences that appear on national TV. A lot of people feel that the mayor is at least not showing signs of leadership and consistency, we'll say.

ADAMS: NPR's Robert Smith talking with us from New Orleans.

Thank you, Robert.

SMITH: You're welcome.

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