U.S.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The governor of Louisiana wants everybody out of New Orleans because of flooding brought on by Hurricane Katrina. Louisiana and Texas officials have worked out a plan to bus the 23,000 people living in the Superdome all the way to the Astrodome in Houston. Meanwhile, engineers and emergency workers are trying to plug the enormous holes in the levees of New Orleans so they can hold the water back and begin to pump it out. Parts of the city are under as much as 20 feet of water and drier parts are reported to be in chaos. Bands of looters openly ransack stores for food and water and for drugs and for guns. There are reports of armed citizen groups determined to protect their property.

Emergency workers and National Guard units are still focused on saving lives, people stranded without food or freshwater, in stifling heat and humidity. Here in Washington, federal officials declared a public health emergency. In Mississippi and Alabama, rescuers are working through floodwaters and flattened buildings to search for survivors. The death toll there has reached at least 110 in Mississippi alone. Louisiana is not yet counting, while it concentrates on rescue efforts.

President Bush flew over the disaster area on his way back to the White House, where he's tracking federal relief efforts. Four Navy ships are headed toward the Gulf Coast with helicopters, hospital facilities, drinking water and other emergency supplies. Red Cross workers have fanned out across the region.

If you're in the area, if you have access to a phone line or to a working computer, call and tell us about rescue efforts, about the impact of the storm or tell us about how your friends and family members are coping. Our number is (800) 989-8255. That's (800) 989-TALK. And the e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

And joining us now is Lieutenant Commander Tim Tobias(ph). He's with the United States Coast Guard in Louisiana. Thanks very much for being with us today.

Lieutenant Commander TIM TOBIAS (United States Coast Guard): Yes, sir.

CONAN: Can you tell us what your operations have been like today?

Lt. Cmdr. TOBIAS: Yes, sir. I'm from the Coast Guard Air Station in New Orleans here. We're conducting round-the-clock rescue operations. We have since the storm passed over Louisiana. We have approximately 15 to 25 Coast Guard aircraft and probably another 20 to 35 aircraft from the Army, Air Force or Marine Corps all conducting rescue operations.

CONAN: So they're doing aerial search and rescue.

Lt. Cmdr. TOBIAS: Yes, sir. The Coast Guard H-65s and H-60s are conducting hoists off of rooftops, flooded areas, cars, trees. Anything they can get to where people are under stress, they are performing the hoists from.

CONAN: I know you're extremely busy. Any way to estimate the number of people you've plucked off rooftops and out of the water so far?

Lt. Cmdr. TOBIAS: Yes, sir. Actually, the Air Station was able to respond with the first five helicopters on scene as soon as the storm passed, which was about 1:00 that afternoon. We had five helicopters battling 60 to 70 knot winds with gusts up to 80, performing medevacs and hoists from just about every surface you can think of. That initial day, we saved a hundred and sixty people. Since then, our forces have quadrupled, and the count last night was up to 730, 740 people saved via hoists from aircraft.

CONAN: Are your helicopters the only ones that are in the air?

Lt. Cmdr. TOBIAS: No, sir. We have helicopters from the Marines, the Navy, the Army, the National Guard and the Air Force all performing rescue operations, either conducting hoists if they're hoist-equipped or providing transport of water and other critical items.

CONAN: And are you focusing just on the city of New Orleans or in the surrounding communities as well?

Lt. Cmdr. TOBIAS: We are covering every area that's been damaged in the New Orleans--greater New Orleans area. So if there's somebody in need, we are responding and trying to rescue them.

CONAN: And how are you working it out? Is this divided up into a grid and each bird is assigned a different area to look or are you being directed to specific individuals?

Lt. Cmdr. TOBIAS: Yes, sir. We're actually directing our flight operations out of here, and when the pilots return, they debrief us here in the command center, and we find the areas that are heavily congested and send the resources to those areas and concentrate on picking people out. The aircraft take off from the air station here in New Orleans, and within minutes, they're in a hover hoisting survivors off of rooftops and other areas.

CONAN: And I wonder, has--as operations continue, have you noticed any reduction in the number of people who are needing rescue?

Lt. Cmdr. TOBIAS: Well, not really, sir. Every time a helicopter goes out, we fly the crew to the absolute limit. Each pilot's getting--an aircrew's getting six to eight hours of flight time and filling the helicopter up with survivors. So we're rescuing a lot of people, but there's still a lot of people out there in need of assistance.

CONAN: As time goes on, I imagine some of those people are in more and more distress.

Lt. Cmdr. TOBIAS: Yes, sir. And we are providing, you know, around-the-clock rescue operations and trying to get to everybody that's out there that's in need.

CONAN: And the pilots themselves--this has got to be very stressful.

Lt. Cmdr. TOBIAS: The conditions can be arduous. The first day, we had some pretty strong winds that they're conducting hoisting operations out of up to 80 knot gusts. The last two days, it has been hot, and the aircraft and the aircrews have performed magnificently in some pretty demanding conditions.

CONAN: And once you've picked these people up, where do you take them?

Lt. Cmdr. TOBIAS: Well, sir, the first day, it was as simple as picking somebody that was treading water or clinging to a tree and flying them to a high school or a hospital. I had flown the second day, and we landed at a high school in Belle Chasse. The football field was open. There was an ambulance in the middle. And that quickly became our collection point. So every helicopter that was hoisting in the immediate area was transporting survivors to EMS there. The hospitals that were able to maintain the power, either via generators or some other means, we would find out who they were and where they were and hoist them to there. We basically performed a triage to find out what kind of medical need a--the survivors needed and directed them to the--or took them to the appropriate resource.

CONAN: And these--at the moment, are you still trying to figure out where to take these people to?

Lt. Cmdr. TOBIAS: Well, sir, it changes. We have large collection points in the city that a majority of the survivors are going to, but when new facilities or hospitals are opened up, we quickly here--and we can transport them to there as well.

CONAN: Now it sounds like you were doing some of the flying yourself on the first day or so.

Lt. Cmdr. TOBIAS: Yes, sir. I flew in the first day and yesterday, I flew about eight hours.

CONAN: And what was it like? Tell us--can you describe some of the operations for us?

Lt. Cmdr. TOBIAS: Yes, sir. The hoist typically--yesterday, we flew south to Venice and down past a town called Buras, which is where the eye of the hurricane passed over, and the damage down there was extensive. We had located a person that was not able to move his lower extremities, was clinging to a portion of his roof, which was in the water, basically some shingles, and had a red handkerchief in his hand, barely waving it, so we were able to lower the rescue swimmer down between some trees, and he was able to traverse on this partially submerged wood object and grab the survivor, bring him into the helicopter, and we immediately transported him to a hospital. Those rescues are taking place every minute. We've got rescue swimmers that are landing on top of rooftops with crash axes and busting their way through roofs, trying to access people where there's no second-story windows, and they need assistance.

CONAN: I know you're busy. We're going to let you go. But I did want to ask you, what's your impression of what it looks like?

Lt. Cmdr. TOBIAS: Well, the damage is extensive. It's--there's--it's just--you can't imagine, you know, a storm of that caliber, does--and it doesn't look good out there, but we're doing everything possible to get out to those people in need and bring them to safety.

CONAN: Lieutenant Commander Tim Tobias, thanks very much for being with us.

Lt. Cmdr. TOBIAS: Yes, sir. Thank you.

CONAN: That was Lieutenant Commander Tim Tobias of the US Coast Guard, speaking with us from the New Orleans Air Station there in New Orleans.

Joining us now is Joe Suhayda. He's an oceanographer and an expert on emergency preparedness for the city of New Orleans. He's been planning and studying disaster scenarios for the city and had predicted a scenario not too dissimilar from what has just happened. And he joins us now by phone from his home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Good of you to be with us today.

Mr. JOE SUHAYDA (Oceanographer): Well, thank you.

CONAN: I guess, unfortunately, your predictions turned out to be more or less correct; not a happy thing, though.

Mr. SUHAYDA: Certainly, it's not. You know, the whole intention of doing that type of work is to prevent this or minimize it, so it's not a particular, you know, satisfaction that I see this happening.

CONAN: Are waters right now still rising in New Orleans?

Mr. SUHAYDA: As I understand it, there's two breaches. On the northern side of the city, the water is still coming in, but on the southern side, which is called the Industrial Canal area, water appears to be coming out of the flooded city areas and coming into the canal, so it's actually helping to relieve the flooding.

CONAN: So in some places, good news, and in some places, less good news. Now obviously, can you explain the difficulties of trying to fix these levees?

Mr. SUHAYDA: Well, once the water breaches a levee, it itself creates a very unstable situation with a very high velocity of the flow of the water. So anything you try to do while the water's flowing is immediately subject to some very large forces, so unfortunately, once an opening occurs, it's very, very difficult to try to put anything in there to resist those forces.

CONAN: And I know they've been dropping those gigantic 3,000-pound sandbags and talking about other kinds of obstructions to drop in there. Nothing yet has done much good.

Mr. SUHAYDA: That seems to be the case, yes.

CONAN: Can you hold on with us just for a moment?

Mr. SUHAYDA: Certainly.

CONAN: We wanted to get a caller involved in the conversation; (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. E-mail is totn@npr.org.

Edith is with us. Edith is on her way driving to North Carolina. Is that right?

EDITH (Caller): That's correct.

CONAN: And you left New Orleans when?

EDITH: We left New Orleans at 2 PM on Sunday, which was the very last minute to leave. We're fortunate, and thank God that we left when we did. Because it took us five hours to get to Slidell, Louisiana, which is 25 miles away, of course, from the city, and the traffic was flowing in an orderly fashion. No one was in the breakdown lane speeding or any of that, but we moved five miles per hour. And by the time we got to Lake Pontchartrain at, I guess, 5 PM on Sunday, we could feel the storm. We could feel the storm. We got up on the lake and the waters of the lake--I was so scared.

And the thing that frightened me the most was we could hear the local radio and they were saying on the local radio, `Get out now, get out while you can.' And I called the radio station, and I said, `Don't tell anyone to leave the city now. They're going to be on this bridge when the hurricane hits.'

CONAN: That...

EDITH: So that's a segment of our story. I don't know if you have other questions you want to ask me. I can share--I have a lot of information.

CONAN: Well, I just wanted to ask you--we just have a few seconds before we have to go to a break. But I wonder, did you have an internal debate about whether to stay and try to ride it out or whether to...

EDITH: Yes, we did. We didn't know the storm was coming until Saturday morning when I picked up The Times-Picayune and saw the track and the speed and the size and the direction. I knew the storm was big and in the Gulf, but it wasn't supposed to come to New Orleans. Anyway, we were not planning to leave. We never evacuate when there are hurricanes.

CONAN: And...

EDITH: We have never evacuated.

CONAN: And now it sounds...

EDITH: And this one is the biggest, headed to us, and we decided on around noon on Saturday that we weren't sure we would stay.

CONAN: Well, good luck to you.

EDITH: Sunday morning, my husband told me that, `We're leaving,' and I was not happy. I did not want to leave.

CONAN: Well, I'm afraid we have to leave you now, but good luck with your evacuation and get home soon or as soon as possible, anyway.

We're going to continue talking about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The Bush administration announced today it will release oil from federal petroleum reserves to help refineries hit by Hurricane Katrina. The move is supposed to give refineries a temporary supply of crude oil to take the place of shipments from tankers or offshore oil platforms affected by the storm. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency says it will temporarily allow the sale of higher polluting gasoline in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida because those states cannot provide enough cleaner fuel to the consumer. This would release more fuel temporarily.

For those dealing with power outages, a lack of food and a lack of freshwater, there was this today from Mike Leavitt, the US secretary of Health and Human Services.

Secretary MIKE LEAVITT (Health and Human Services): We're concerned about carbon monoxide poisoning, for example, on those who are using generators and stoves and other kinds of--other means to keep themselves warm and lighted. We encourage them to boil water and to drink safe water. Waterborne diseases can be a terrible aftermath of this kind of an incident, particularly for those who are feeding young children. We also encourage them to be conscious of food safety. Food that's been sealed in a refrigerator continually for less than four hours will be fine. Food that has rested for some time at more than 40 degrees could be unsafe.

CONAN: We're continuing our focus on the aftereffects of the storm surge, the flooding, the high winds of Hurricane Katrina. We'd like to include your story. If you're able to call or access a computer, if you have questions or comments, too, our number, (800) 989-8255, and the e-mail address is totn@npr.org.

And still with us--we thank him for this--is Joe Suhayda. He's an oceanographer and expert on emergency preparedness for the city of New Orleans, and he'd been working out disaster scenarios for the city, not unlike that which unfolded over the past couple of days. And, Mr. Suhayda, there needs to be a long-term fix for the city of New Orleans. Even if they're fixed, these current levees are just not adequate, are they?

Mr. SUHAYDA: Well, I agree with you, there needs to be a long-term re-examination of the whole situation. The levee protection was only known to provide protection up to a certain level of protection. I think that has to be re-examined. And obviously, there's some interior properties of the city with these very low-lying areas, the bowl, as we've described it--they need to be addressed. Obviously, we don't want to re-create the vulnerability that led to the problems that we have today.

CONAN: One of the things I know that you've proposed is, well, first fix the outside wall, yes, but in the meantime, erect a new inner wall.

Mr. SUHAYDA: Well, that's what we're proposing as an alternative or, let's say, internal plan; that is it takes generations, decades to complete these big levee projects. Let's do some interior drainage management to minimize the problem that can be accomplished within a year, so that we'll have some kind of management or mitigation of the problem until the big project kicks in.

CONAN: Because obviously, there's going to be a problem if another hurricane hits next month or even next year.

Mr. SUHAYDA: Well, that's the problem is--you know, I think there is a sense on some people that, well, now we've had the worst case and, of course, we'll recover from it, but, in fact, September's the worst month for hurricanes on the northern Gulf Coast, and next year, we could face a worse storm. So this is an ongoing issue that the state and the country has to face.

CONAN: I think we have some questions for you from callers. This is Jeffrey. Jeffrey calling us from south Florida.

JEFFREY (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Jeffrey, you're on the air. Go ahead.

JEFFREY: Yes. Good afternoon. And I was wondering if there will be any accountability and in regards to why those levees were only ready for Level 3. Here in south Florida, we place a lot of trust in our public officials, and should we be reconsidering that situation? Listen to what these people tell us, and I could see from the news--all the news, all cable channels here, that a lot of those residents were let down. They're the ones that have the property that's destroyed. We're not talking commercial. We're talking residential. I'm an architecture student, and I know that there's many ways around building these things and maybe incentives that could be given to construction companies to build these things and be fortified.

Mr. SUHAYDA: Well, my response, Jeffrey, is I think you're right on. I think this is an issue that starts with the people who are committing themselves to live and work and raise their families in these areas, and I think the impetus for action on the part of our governmental people will be reflective of the seriousness and the depth of the dedication of the public, so my feeling is now is the time to let people know, the public officials know from the people in New Orleans that we can't go back to business as usual, that there's going to be no chance of having this repeat again. `Never again' I think would be a phrase that would guide the whole recovery effort.

JEFFREY: We hope so, sir. We wish all the people in Louisiana very much luck.

CONAN: Thank you for the call, Jeffrey.

JEFFREY: Yes, sir. Thank you. Goodbye.

CONAN: And now let's turn to another caller. This is Dennis. Dennis calling from Minnesota.

DENNIS (Caller): Hi there.

CONAN: Hi.

Mr. SUHAYDA: Hi.

DENNIS: I was wondering if your guest could enlighten me. I'm not familiar with the facts on the ground there. It would seem to me they were trying to plug the breach and it would be easier to plug the canal that feeds the breach because you know the shape of the canal and you also have more manageable water velocities.

Mr. SUHAYDA: You're right. There was a option for plugging the canal. The last time I saw some aerial photos or some aerial video was that the face of the bridge that really terminates the canal was cluttered with debris, so there'd be a substantial amount of effort to just clear that area before you could get in to then try to do something. And, of course, while you're clearing it, you're not plugging the hole, and, in fact, you're actually opening up the flow of water a little bit. So it's, unfortunately, a real complicated win, you know, and lose situation.

CONAN: Dennis, thanks for the call.

DENNIS: Thank you.

CONAN: And before we let you go, Mr. Suhayda, can you tell us, has the water risen to the level where it threatens the freshwater supply in New Orleans and what about the pumps? Are they going to be still working when the levees are shut, and do you try to pump the water out?

Mr. SUHAYDA: Well, there's two issues there. I think the freshwater supply was compromised early on; that is, there was a break of a water main supply so that the freshwater was already contaminated, and there are problems with sewage and all the rest of that. The second part of this is, we have to stop the flow of the water into the city, close that off. Then the pumps can slowly try to remove (technical difficulties). They cannot keep up with the amount of water coming in.

CONAN: Joe Suhayda, thank you very much for being with us.

Mr. SUHAYDA: Sure. My pleasure. Thank you.

CONAN: Joe Suhayda is an expert on emergency preparedness for the city of New Orleans and joined us by phone from his home in Baton Rouge.

Joining us now to talk about water conditions, both drinking and the floodwater, is Thomas La Point, an aquatic toxicologist at the University of North Texas. He's with us from his office in Denton, Texas. Thanks for joining us today.

Mr. THOMAS LA POINT (University of North Texas): My pleasure. Thank you.

CONAN: Is the floodwater dangerous in and of itself? Is it toxic?

Mr. LA POINT: Well, not in and of itself. The condition that exists, though, is very--there's a good probability that with the sewage now not being able to be treated and with literally all the household wastes, the garbage and primarily sewage wastes floating about, that the potential for health problems are pretty high. It's a good thing, though, I mean, in terms of the evacuation, that, you know, some people were concerned about a major outbreak or some kind of a major illness developing, but it's my understanding now that starting Wednesday, most of the people will begin to be evacuated or the 40-odd-thousand left.

CONAN: Yeah. And some people say as many as 80,000. Yeah.

Mr. LA POINT: Well, yeah, that's correct. And, of course, for those that remain behind over the next few days, it's really critical, because it's so hot and that water's warm, so decomposition processes go on and the chance for fecal contamination is high, so I think that in the sense of toxic, there's more a bacterial problem than anything else.

CONAN: And what about drinking water? As we heard, I think Joe Suhayda was saying a moment ago that was compromised early on.

Mr. LA POINT: That's right. Because the plant for the city was either partially or totally inoperable, and so water now has to be brought in as bottled water or boiled certainly. But I think that FEMA has got this probably well in hand and trying to do that. It's a matter of getting enough of it for the tens of thousands of people that will need it.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Charles. Charles calling us from Louisville, Kentucky.

CHARLES (Caller): Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure, Charles.

CHARLES: I was calling. I still have family members still in New Orleans; my mother and brothers and sisters. And I've had no contact with them since Sunday, and I'm just getting bits and pieces of information off the news and it's pretty stressful.

CONAN: I can imagine. Have you tried contacting the Red Cross?

CHARLES: I contacted the Red Cross yesterday. They took my information down and they told me it'd be at least two weeks.

CONAN: Before they could even begin to have an idea of where people are.

CHARLES: Yes. I heard on the news today that they're going to be busing people to Houston.

CONAN: Yeah. The people who are in the Superdome now will be bused toe Houston and moved into the Astrodome there.

CHARLES: Yes. It's a small relief. I don't even know if they even made it to the Superdome, because when I spoke to my mom Sunday night, they were still at home and were going to just sit it out at home.

CONAN: Why did they decide to stay?

CHARLES: The area that we live in, where I grew up at, they went through Betsy and Camille and they said that they were just going to stay, like we have in the past.

CONAN: So they thought they could ride this one out, too?

CHARLES: Correct.

CONAN: Yeah. Charles, good luck. I hope everybody's all right.

CHARLES: Oh, thank you very much.

CONAN: OK. Bye.

Thomas La Point, I guess a lot of people in New Orleans thought that they could ride this one out, too, and this one has turned out to be as big as anything anybody's seen in that...

Unidentified Man: ...welcome.

CONAN: Hello? Mr. La Point?

Mr. LA POINT: Yes, I'm here.

CONAN: Yes, hi. This one has turned out to be as big as anybody ever--as any storm anybody's ever seen in that part of the country.

Mr. LA POINT: It certainly seems to be that. A major developing catastrophe. I mean, until they get the pumps going to pump the water out, and then in addition, the water that's coming in from Lake Pontchartrain with the potential to have some industrial chemicals as part of that still--all I can say is that it's really wonderful that those people are getting out, now being--and the mandatory evacuation going on. Because as soon as people are out of there, the better it'll be.

CONAN: Eventually, when they do finally pump the water out, there's going to be an awful lot of terrible stuff left behind, no?

Mr. LA POINT: Well, yes, and that's one of the issues, is that I'm sure no one yet has a handle on in the sense of where these sedi--anytime water moves, it carries with it suspended sediments. That's particles in the water, coming up from the muds and the soils that were in the area. But think about this in terms of all the homes and all the chemicals that are carried in people's garages even, and all these things will be corroding over the time. The cans will be, and so there's going to be some real possibilities of some contaminated soils and muck that will need to be cleaned out before people are allowed in. And in my way of thinking, that's one of the issues that'll probably be a very difficult issue to solve anytime within a month or two, certainly.

CONAN: Well, I'm told that the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin, says now it'll be at least two or three months before New Orleans has electricity, and during that time, he says, there will be no commerce in the city. We've also heard that people who have been evacuated from the city, 12, 16 weeks, and, again, that's three or four months before they can anticipate being able to return home. This is going to be quite some operation.

Mr. LA POINT: I don't think anyone yet really has a--can get their minds around just the enormity of the situation. You're right.

CONAN: We're talking with Thomas La Point, an aquatic toxicologist and director of the Institute of Applied Sciences at the University of North Texas, and you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Let's get another caller on the line. This is Mike, Mike calling us from Pennsylvania.

MIKE (Caller): Yes. Hi. I have a question in regards to--since most of the water coming in that's flooding the city is coming in from Lake Pontchartrain, that would be freshwater. How does that differ from initial assessments that the storm surge would come over the levees and the city would get flooded with saltwater?

Mr. LA POINT: Well, I think, again, I'm taking a bit of a guess on here, but the lake water is fresh, but it's also--in some areas towards the south it's brackish, certainly tidal--influenced by the tides. And so where most of the water in Lake Pontchartrain is freshwater, there's the potential there of getting some brackish water; not really saltwater--it's not as salty as what you might find in the Gulf--but still water that's of sufficient salt content that it would be not potable, not drinkable.

MIKE: Well, what about, like, venomous wildlife or alligator or something infiltrating it, since now it's going to be brackish or less salty than ocean water?

Mr. LA POINT: I'm sorry. I didn't catch the question--again, you're asking...

CONAN: He was asking about wildlife, you know, reptiles, venomous snakes, that sort of thing.

Mr. LA POINT: Yeah. Well, you know, that's been carried on a couple of the newscasts and such, and although I wouldn't want to minimize the danger to people of being bitten by a water moccasin, I think the real risk for the people remaining over the next few days to a week in New Orleans is more from bacterial infection and then the diarrheal diseases that could start if they were to drink some of that contaminated water. I think the wildlife issue, whereas it is real, just the actual probability of meeting one of these creatures is pretty small in the whole area, so I'm not sure that's a problem.

Now in terms of what's happening to the wildlife, I don't think anyone has a clue yet.

CONAN: Mike, thanks very much.

MIKE: Thank you. Have a great day.

CONAN: And, Thomas La Point, we appreciate your time today.

Mr. LA POINT: My pleasure. Thank you.

CONAN: Thomas La Point at the University of North Texas.

With us now is Joe Guarisco, director of the emergency department at Oschner Hospital in New Orleans.

If those people have problems, they're going to need to be treated. First of all, thanks for being with us.

Mr. JOE GUARISCO (Director, Ochsner Hospital Emergency Department): I'm glad to be here.

CONAN: And what's your situation like?

Mr. GUARISCO: Well, right now I'm standing on and actually talking from my offices, one of the last pieces of dry land in the city, right next to the levee for the Mississippi River. So we're an island, in a way, and things are under control, I think, simply by the fact that 90 percent of the population has left.

CONAN: Do you have power? Do you have water? Can you still treat patients?

Mr. GUARISCO: Well, we--years ago, anticipating this type of problem, we have our own well, and so we have water. It's not very good water, but it is water that can be used for basic needs. And we have our own generators that are powering air conditioning and life-support systems right now. So we're surviving and taking care of our patients, but it's a tenuous situation, with both the water and the electrical.

CONAN: And are you accepting new patients?

Mr. GUARISCO: We are taking new patients. We are--patients or individuals who need resources such as dialysis or oxygen, things like that, we're trying to get those to FEMA installations, but patients who have acute emergency--we are taking those patients and managing those emergencies as I speak.

CONAN: What do you--and what problems do you anticipate over the next few days? How long can you sustain this?

Mr. GUARISCO: Well, we have some capacity where--we're moving some of our in-patients to Baton Rouge and flying those to Hermann Hospital in Texas, and so we're creating some capacity in the hospital system, and we're doing that mainly in case we have to shut down completely if the water were to keep rising. But we have capacity in the ED, and we're--in the next few days we're seeing things like we were seeing for the last few days, which is dehydration, heat exposure and a lot of patients with chronic medical illnesses who--with no access to medication. And so that's what we're seeing now. We expect the direct storm-related injuries to come in a week or two, once people start going back to their homes.

CONAN: And if there are bacterial diseases, that sort of thing, they'll start cropping up in the next few days.

Mr. GUARISCO: Exactly.

CONAN: Joe Guarisco, thanks very much for being with us. Good luck to you.

Mr. GUARISCO: Thank you.

CONAN: Joe Guarisco, director of the emergency department at Ochsner Hospital in New Orleans, and he was speaking to us from there.

We're continuing to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, both in New Orleans, which we've been focusing on in this part of the program, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which has been terribly struck by the storm as well. (800) 989-8255, if you'd like to join us. E-mail is totn@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Announcements)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

The deaths and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina will probably lead to retirement of that name by the Committee of the World Meteorological Association. Storm names are usually dropped if a storm is so deadly or costly that future use of the name would be inappropriate. Sixty-two names have been retired thus far. Carol and Hazel were the first to be retired in 1954; Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne have been most recent--dropped from the master list.

We're asking you to join our discussion about Katrina, which is expected to be dropped. If you or a family member have been affected directly or indirectly, give us a call: (800) 989-8255. E-mail us: totn@npr.org.

And joining us now is Marc Caputo. He's a reporter for The Miami Herald and he's joining us now by satellite telephone from Gulfport, Mississippi.

And it's good to have you on the program.

And Marc Caputo's phone has dropped out. We'll try to get him back and bring him to you as soon as we can.

Also on the line with us is Sharon Terrell. She owns a home on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain in Slidell, Louisiana. She and her family rode out the storm from a family friend's house located on higher ground in Slidell. She's with us now from her mother-in-law's home in Baton Rouge.

Good of you to be with us, and congratulations for surviving.

Ms. SHARON TERRELL (Slidell, Louisiana, Resident): Thanks, Neal.

CONAN: I understand your house was 30 years old and sits right on the water. I assume you've had flooding before.

Ms. TERRELL: No. No, it was the first time in that entire neighborhood.

CONAN: Really? And what happened to your home?

Ms. TERRELL: Right now it is--we have a two-story home right off of Lake Pontchartrain, and it is to the roof line with water. So...

CONAN: And in an area that's...

Ms. TERRELL: ...everything we own is under right now.

CONAN: In an area that's never been flooded before.

Ms. TERRELL: Correct.

CONAN: Slidell is a town that some have described as being almost wiped off the map.

Ms. TERRELL: Yeah, it's--all of the towns right there on the Gulf Coast, including us, they're 90 percent gone. And, you know, it's difficult enough, you know, losing, you know, all of your belongings, you know, family videos, because I certainly didn't even think to get that. I was able to grab photographs so, you know, I was happy for that. But it's just hard to fathom your town, your entire town, being wiped out and roadways to your town--I mean, obviously, you know, a lot of people commute from my community into New Orleans, and the roadway is gone. And so, you know, the isolation is just very hard to deal with.

CONAN: When did you decide to leave?

Ms. TERRELL: Well, I'll tell you, we will definitely--if we stay in the area, we will definitely never, never stay again. It was quite scary. You know, we rode through the storm just fine. We had a big generator, and so we were actually quite comfortable and watching the chaos outside, but then that ended and the water came up so fast. It was so scary and we were, you know, banking on plan number two, which was to get up into an attic and, of course, you know, bring an ax with us so we could, you know, chop our way through the top in case we had to be on the rooftop. But luckily, it subsided and started to go down pretty fast, and we were sort of stuck in the back of a big subdivision. And my daughter's fiance was Paul Bunyan, and for two miles he cut trees and went through power lines to get us out of that subdivision. And it also created a pathway for other people that had stayed behind, so they could get out as well. So, you know, at that point, when we could exit and when, you know, he chopped through all the trees, then, you know, we were able to get out.

CONAN: Now you and your husband own two Quiznos stores there in Slidell.

Ms. TERRELL: Correct.

CONAN: What happened to them?

Ms. TERRELL: They went under as well. We lost a vacation home and our primary home and two businesses.

CONAN: And what's going to happen? Do you have any idea?

Ms. TERRELL: You know, it's--there are just, you know, so many emotions and just trying to deal, you know, with the loss; however, being very happy that, you know, my family, you know, made it through, particularly with us staying which, you know, of course, was a very foolish move. But, you know, to even think about the economic--you know, revitalizing our town economically, and New Orleans as well and the rest of the Gulf Coast, I just--I can't even imagine how that's going to happen. And, you know, like I said, it's enough dealing with, you know, the loss of our home and everything, but now, also, our businesses.

CONAN: And, obviously, there are--you know, those businesses support a lot of employees who make their livings there. This just ripples out farther and farther.

Ms. TERRELL: Sure, it does. And each day we find another ripple or another couple of ripples, you know, that we really hadn't thought about or counted on. And we've heard from a couple of our employees. You know, it's so difficult because all of us, you know, from Slidell--the information has been very slow in coming; very frustrating. And just yesterday we started, you know, receiving information. Of course, I took it as a very bad sign that they weren't even reporting on the area, but, you know, all of us have friends. Some of them stayed. And, you know, I fear it'll be weeks, you know, before we can all get in touch with each other, you know, to make sure everyone's OK.

CONAN: I saw an interview with the mayor of Slidell earlier today, and he said he didn't know where his wife and children were.

Ms. TERRELL: I saw that as well, and I'll tell you, it was nice to see a familiar face on the news this morning. I was very glad that he did that press conference. But yeah, I mean, you know, our cell phones don't work. The communication has probably been one of the most difficult to deal with, you know, because of that fact, because you don't know where your family members are, you can't get in touch with anyone; you can't even make, you know, those needed calls to FEMA, you know, to start your claim because, of course, you know, that's a huge process that all of us now have to go through, and I'm sure that they are just, you know, inundated. But, you know, without communications, you can't do any of those things.

CONAN: You have two daughters, as I understand it, who attend local universities. What's happened to them?

Ms. TERRELL: Well, the one that it's really affected is my oldest daughter. She's a junior at the University of New Orleans, and the University of New Orleans sits right on Lake Pontchartrain. So, you know, obviously, there have been no news reports. No one has addressed the condition of the university. But, you know, we have to assume that it's pretty bad. And so, you know, she's worried about, you know, how is she going to graduate, you know? What's--you know, what is going to befall all the credits that she's received? And, again, it's just a little frustrating because no one has addressed it at all. And so, you know, I mean, thousands of students, also, at Loyola and Tulane--you know, they've all started class already and, you know, they don't know where to go, where to turn. There's no Web sites. You know, all the servers, I guess, are down. And so that's been really difficult.

My youngest one just started at LSU here in Baton Rouge, and she, you know, of course, now is missing a lot of class because they're not going to take back in until September 6th because they have to actually use the university, I guess, for, you know, medical triage. So, you know, it's kind of been, you know, odd for her, you know, because she hasn't been able to start school like, you know, she really should have and have the excitement of, you know, her first semester.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. We wish you the best of luck. It's going to be a long haul.

Ms. TERRELL: Yes, it is, and thank you so much.

CONAN: All right. We'll try to check back with in--you as well.

Sharon Terrell joined us from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She's a resident of Slidell, Louisiana.

And with us now, we hope, is Marc Caputo, a reporter for The Miami Herald, with us by satellite telephone from Gulfport, Mississippi.

Marc, are you there?

Mr. MARC CAPUTO (Reporter, The Miami Herald): Yeah, I'm here. Actually, I'm just outside of--well, I can't even tell where I am anymore--just outside of Bay Saint Louis...

CONAN: Bay Saint Louis.

Mr. CAPUTO: ...on I-10. Yes.

CONAN: What is it like there?

Mr. CAPUTO: I was in New Orleans for the hurricane. I left the morning as the floodwaters started rising. The way I got out is I found a way to drive on some sidewalks and actually had to use a chain saw to get through a fallen tree. And I thought that all of the flooding there was the worst thing I'd ever seen, and then when I got to places like Gulfport and, most recently, Pass Christian, I thought that was the worst I'd ever seen. Everywhere you go, it's the worst you've ever seen, but in a different respect.

CONAN: And...

Mr. CAPUTO: It's just every type of different devastation. Everything has a different face. New Orleans was a city of shattered glass and then floods. And Gulfport is a city of snapped pine trees, snapped oaks and smashed-up houses. Pass Christian is a city of mudslides. It's--everything is covered in mud. There's mud on everything. I just got stuck in the mud and I had--some nice people helped get me out by helping me both push the car and pull it out.

CONAN: You've covered more than a few hurricanes in your life. How does this one compare?

Mr. CAPUTO: Oh, this is by far the worst. I was going to college when Hurricane Andrew hit at the University of Miami, and so I was through that even before I started working in this field. And that was a shocker. I drove up from the Keys before Hurricane Andrew and I drove down the day after, so I saw both before and after, and it looked like a nuclear bomb. This looks like about 10 hydrogen bombs. The devastation just stretches all along the coast. Everyone you talk to has the same story with its own heartbreaking details that make it unique. Everyone's lost everything, and no one knows what they're going to do.

CONAN: What do they ask you about?

Mr. CAPUTO: They ask me just about the outside world--what's happening in--you know, what's happened over here? What's happened over there? Or they ask me the same thing--what did--you know, `Is this the worst?' And I tell them, `Yeah, it's the worst, but over there is the worst, too, and over here is the worst, too.' It's the worst everywhere. It's like that thing from "Anna Karenina," when all happy families are alike and all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. Well, you know, all hurricane-devastated areas are unique and most devastated in their own way. It's difficult to even compare them.

CONAN: And what is it like in the aftermath, particularly the weather? The heat, people are saying, is just stifling, and the humidity.

Mr. CAPUTO: Yeah. I said this morning in Gulfport it felt like--the air feels like fondue. It just sticks to you and it burns you and it infuriates you. Luckily, people are still nice, but this is a recipe for tempers starting to snap. In fact, in New Orleans right before I left, I went out right after the hurricane had cleared, and within 30 minutes there was the first gunshot victim. A kid got shot twice in either looter-on-looter violence or gang violence. People need very little excuse to lose their temper with each other and start shooting or start swinging fists.

CONAN: Can you imagine what it's like when the adrenaline begins to ebb in a couple or three days or a couple or three weeks?

Mr. CAPUTO: Yeah. Well, it's one of those things that is--you see so many bizarre sights of destruction, you don't realize how deeply set it is in your mind, and little things will just set you off for no reason. Like, you know, I'll lose my keys and I'll go crazy, you know, for absolutely no real good reason. And I assume that if someone loses their entire house, they could be committed to a mental facility, you know, if something minor goes wrong.

CONAN: Marc Caputo, we thank you for your time today. We appreciate your effort to get through to us, and...

Mr. CAPUTO: Yeah.

CONAN: ...take care of yourself.

Mr. CAPUTO: So just tell folks out there that there's a lot of people here who are really hurting and need a lot of help.

CONAN: I think they've gotten the message.

Mr. CAPUTO: Thank you.

CONAN: Marc Caputo is a reporter for The Miami Herald, and he spoke to us by satellite telephone from the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

Yesterday we spoke with Joshua Clark, the founder and editor of Light of New Orleans Publishing, who--he and his girlfriend, Ellen Harris, rode out the storm in the heart of the French Quarter in a sturdy building, and Joshua Clark joins us now.

Are you still in New Orleans, Josh?

Mr. JOSHUA CLARK (Founder and Editor, Light of New Orleans Publishing): Yes, indeed. I'm still sitting in my kitchen, right where I talked to you yesterday.

CONAN: And how are things today?

Mr. CLARK: Well, I'll tell you, man, it's--the French Quarter is an island. We are almost completely dry, a little bit of water creeping in a few of the streets. We got--we're protected with police. It's--you know, it's a sunny day. You know, and a lot of people have flocked here, and there's sort of this exodus of people, particularly coming over from the other sections, toward the Industrial Canal, and there were people who have their homes underwater right now walking through the French Quarter to get to the Superdome, I guess, where they're awaiting transport from there.

CONAN: Evacuation, yeah.

Mr. CLARK: Yeah. We're told--the good news down here is we're told they've stopped the breach in the levee and they're actually finding a way to drain it now, so the water is not rising. We were afraid we'd get water here in the French Quarter. We don't have it. It doesn't look like we're going to get it.

CONAN: Well, let's hope that report is accurate. We've not heard that here, so we can't confirm it, but let's hope that it's true. At this point, are you still hoping to ride it out?

Mr. CLARK: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, barring some serious catastrophe, some serious flooding, we're up high enough that we're not going to get affected immediately by that. I mean, we've literally--our friends have used pirogues and kayaks so far already to get out of the--friends that have houses and stuff. I have no plans on going anywhere. I'll tell you, the scary thing is we both parked our cars in a big, huge parking lot on Canal Street, where there was a lot of looting yesterday, and it was so bad the police just had to let it go. We're scared to go get the cars, for one thing, because it's in a parking lot with no supervision, and I understand there's been carjackings; there's been some shootings around the city. It's not widespread; I have not seen any myself, but I've heard some--a few terrible accounts.

Last night they--one supermarket, they opened it up. They made--because, I guess, people started looting. They just opened up and let people take what they wanted, you know? I saw people walking out of there, literally, with 80 bottles of wine and food and just truckloads full of stuff.

And that night, you know, there was some of--we were in another section of the city. It was dry, too, but there were some areas where, like, some guy walked up and tried to take ice as we were using a pay phone, which was working, miraculously, and as soon as he started banging on the lock to get the ice out, about three guys walked up with machine guns and flashlights and started screaming, `Martial law,' and sent him on his way. So there's a lot of that and it's a bit scary, you know? Everyone's trying to protect their property and nip looting in the bud before it starts.

CONAN: Mm-hmm, obviously, but as you're suggesting, in some areas, it may be too late for that. Let's get a caller on the line. This is Kathleen, Kathleen calling from Grand Junction in Colorado.

KATHLEEN (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Kathleen. You're on the air.

KATHLEEN: Oh, hello. Yes. I've been trying to find out about the town that sits right next to Biloxi. It's called Ocean Springs. But it seems like nobody from the media will go that way; as far as they keep going is Biloxi, and I just want to know: Can anybody tell me anything about Ocean Springs, how it fared? I have two brothers and I can't contact them and I'm trying to find them.

CONAN: The only advice that we've gotten--and yours is not the first call like this, I'm terribly afraid, Kathleen--is to check with the Red Cross. And, obviously, just driving around is extremely difficult and communications, as you know, are impossible.

KATHLEEN: Right. But I said--I realize that the Highway 90, which connects Ocean Springs and Biloxi together--it's gone.

CONAN: Yeah. And, obviously, the interstate down along the coast there, parts of that are gone as well.

KATHLEEN: Oh, OK, because that's why I didn't hear. I didn't know if I-10 was still accessible, to get to Ocean Springs that way.

CONAN: I'm afraid not...

KATHLEEN: OK.

CONAN: ...or at least not without some serious vehicles of some sort.

KATHLEEN: Oh, dear.

CONAN: Kathleen, we wish you the best of luck. I know this is an awful situation.

KATHLEEN: Yeah.

CONAN: There are so many people in your situation, too.

KATHLEEN: OK. Well, hopefully, maybe my brothers hear it on the radio and they'll try to get ahold of me.

CONAN: I hope so.

KATHLEEN: Thank you.

CONAN: All right. Thanks for the phone call.

KATHLEEN: Bye.

CONAN: And, Joshua Clark, before we let you go, how long--unless there's some restoration of services, how long can you stay?

Mr. CLARK: Well, I'll see. You know, I'm more liable to go on vacation when everyone else returns. This is my city and I don't want to abandon it. You know, I've got a beer in one hand, a radio in the other hand, and I'm praying for the best for everybody. Another thing I'm doing is going around with a tape recorder, and I've already filled up a couple tapes just getting sort of oral accounts of stuff and just people's anecdotes of exactly what happened to them and their homes and what they've been doing the last couple days, and I think it's important. Someone needs to be here doing that. And I'm going to continue doing that as long as I can.

CONAN: Well, think about us if you're looking for a place to play those tapes later, all right?

Mr. CLARK: OK.

CONAN: All right.

Mr. CLARK: Yes, indeed.

CONAN: And continued good luck to you.

Mr. CLARK: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Joshua Clark and his girlfriend, Ellen Harris, talking to us there from the French Quarter in New Orleans, where they're continuing to try to ride out the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Mayor Ray Nagin, the mayor of New Orleans, says hundreds of people have been killed in New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, but the number most likely will be in the thousands. He says authorities know that there are a significant number of dead bodies in the water that now covers most of the city, and that others died in attics. And again, those are not confirmed numbers, but the mayor of New Orleans says the death toll could rise into the thousands; hundreds believed to be dead now.

Stay tuned to NPR for continuing coverage of Katrina. I'm Neal Conan. This is TALK OF THE NATION.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from