Police, MPs Struggle to Instill Order in New Orleans
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
More National Guard troops arrived in New Orleans today, four days after state and local officials pleaded for additional help. But even as trucks brought troops and supplies to some of the most hard-pressed areas, the Guard is still plagued by poor communications and unclear instructions. Some looting and violence has continued as officials try to regain control. NPR's Laura Sullivan reports.
LAURA SULLIVAN reporting:
Lieutenant General Steven Blum, head of the US National Guard, wants to make one thing clear.
Lieutenant General STEVEN BLUM (US National Guard): The National Guard is not in charge in any way or fashion. We're only in charge of our own forces.
SULLIVAN: That has caused some confusion in the region over who is directing troops and supplies where. Technically, the National Guard reports to the emergency management agency of the states in need, in this case, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida. On the street that means they report to local or state police. But the Guard far outnumbers the local police efforts in New Orleans, and officials say some local police are asking the Guard what they're supposed to be doing. General Blum says that kind of chaos can be expected in a crisis of this magnitude.
Lt. Gen. BLUM: With no communications and no power and standing water everywhere and the loss of roads, bridges, navigable waterways, it gets very, very tenuous. We're working at it and will continue to push and push and push equipment, people and food and water and medical in here until we get this situation under control.
SULLIVAN: The lack of available communications has been one of the most challenging problems the Guard is facing. Cell phone systems are swamped. Many handheld radios rely on batteries that need to be charged, and landlines are almost non-existent. Blum says they have satellite trucks and combat communications systems on their way in. Guard officials say they have 9,000 troops in Louisiana and lesser numbers in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. The states have granted Guard troops temporary powers to work across state lines. But even Guard officials at headquarters acknowledge they do not have a clear picture of where everyone is yet and what they are accomplishing.
Jeremy Shapiro, an expert in civil military relations at The Brookings Institution, said that the National Guard is better suited than almost any other agency to move people and supplies and maintain order, but they need to be called well in advance.
Mr. JEREMY SHAPIRO (The Brookings Institution): Once you get into a situation where you need the rapid deployment of several--into the tens of thousands of troops, the National Guard really isn't configured or capable of deploying that many people that quickly.
SULLIVAN: Shapiro says the Guard has to pull civilians out of their day jobs and gather equipment and put it all together in a slow-moving caravan through floods and bad roads.
Mr. SHAPIRO: Those are very big problems. It's simply not a question of getting in your car and driving a few hours.
SULLIVAN: Officials are hoping now that the Guard is finally arriving, some of those problems will start getting fixed. Laura Sullivan, NPR News.
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