New Orleans Mayor: Thousands Could be Dead

Aug 31, 2005
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From NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up, we'll go to Mississippi, where now more than 100 people are thought to have died in Hurricane Katrina.

First, to Louisiana, where the numbers are worse, much worse. A while ago, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said he is now certain that at least hundreds of people are dead there; he thinks the number may be thousands. President Bush will speak to the nation about the Gulf Coast disaster later today. A short time ago, I spoke with NPR's Phillip Davis in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Phillip Davis, these comments by Mayor Nagin in New Orleans--thousands of people dead in the city--is just astounding and a story that's changing very quickly, always for the worse.

PHILLIP DAVIS reporting:

Yeah, it's very sobering to hear his remarks, though probably nobody in New Orleans is surprised to hear that. There have been reports already of bodies floating in the water, which is one of the reasons why they wanted to expedite this evacuation of the city because the corpses floating in the water might contribute to a situation that spreads disease.

And you have to remember that the people who made it up to the rooftops that have been rescued have talked about how quickly the water started rising a couple of days ago when the levees breached, and those people were probably nimble enough or strong enough or had already thought about how to get up to the rooftops. There were probably many, many people who weren't quick enough to do that.

CHADWICK: Phil, the mayor says there's not going to be any electrical power in the city for three months. There will be no economic activity, no commerce for three months. This is just devastating.

DAVIS: It's really astounding. It's almost as if the city is going to be abandoned before, and I can't recall a time in American history where a major American city has basically been depopulated and no commerce and no activity is going to go on in that city for a period of months. But it's going to take weeks at least for all the water to be pumped out, if and when they fix this breach in the levees, and it'll take even longer for electrical power to be returned. And so we're looking at what might become almost literally a ghost town over the next two or three months. And the question is: What happens after that? Three months now all those refugees, all those evacuees, will have had to get on with their lives somehow. How many of them are going to be coming back and what are they going to do about their ruined houses that they find when they get back is anybody's guess?

CHADWICK: Do we know whether the water levels in the city of New Orleans are still rising?

DAVIS: There have been conflicting reports about that. State emergency management officials say the water levels are no longer rising, that Lake Pontchartrain is getting into a low-tide situation and its level is dropping, and, therefore, the amount of water is not as great as it once was. But you know, aerial photos seem to indicate that there still is water coming over the levees that have collapsed, and so it's unclear what's happening with that right now. But what is clear is that water levels are not going down and that the situation is still very grave there.

CHADWICK: Evacuation of people from the Superdome--25,000 people there.

DAVIS: That is another almost untenable situation right now. Twenty thousand people in the Superdome, the toilets don't work, garbage is piling up, there's no air conditioning, temperatures are in the 90s. That situation could not continue, and the governor, Kathleen Blanco, wants everyone out of the city in the next two days. The big plan now is to take all those people, put them on nearly 500 buses and send them 350 miles west to the Houston Astrodome, another dome, but this one has air conditioning and emergency officials are ready and waiting for those people to arrive. And so that's where the bulk of those refugees are going to go.

CHADWICK: NPR's Phillip Davis in Lafayette, Louisiana, we'll note about 135 miles west of New Orleans.

Phillip, thank you again.

DAVIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.