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Relief Efforts Intensify to Help Increasingly Frustrated Hurricane Survivors


Relief efforts are intensifying along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, already described as one of the worst natural disasters ever to hit the United States. But thousands of refugees stranded in the city of New Orleans are growing increasingly desperate, and in some cases angry, as local, state and federal officials try to cope with the enormity of the disaster.

Thousands of people continue to be evacuated out of flooded New Orleans, many desperate for food and water, and anxious to escape the heat.

"We need somebody to come into this city and help us," one woman said. "We need the National Guard, Mr. Bush, please send somebody down here to help us."

There is particular concern about the New Orleans Convention Center and the Superdome sports arena, where thousands have fled in the wake of the storm, but where sanitary conditions have steadily grown worse over the past few days.

This woman says authorities need to take control of the situation at the convention center.

"There is nobody. Somebody needs to come take charge," she said, " and put organization [into effect] and get these people to safety."

Roughly 12,000 refugees have already been bused out of the New Orleans Superdome to another sports arena, the Houston Astrodome, more than 500 kilometers away. But thousands more took their place, in hopes of also being evacuated.

President Bush is touring some of the areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, and acknowledges that the federal response to the disaster needs to improve.

"A lot of people are working hard to help those who have been affected, and I want to thank the people for their efforts," said Mr. Bush. "The results are not acceptable. I want to assure the people of the affected areas, and this country, that we will deploy the assets necessary to get the situation under control."

Local officials in New Orleans are growing increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of relief. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin spoke out in an interview with a local radio station.

"This is a national disaster," Mayor Nagin said. "Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country, and get them moving to New Orleans! They [relief officials] are thinking small, man, and this is a major, major, major deal."

Looting and armed criminals are complicating the relief effort, and have left many of those stranded in New Orleans fearful.

VOA Correspondent Greg Flakus is near New Orleans, and has been talking to some of those who left the city in hopes of finding refuge elsewhere in [the southern state of] Louisiana.

"But as the days have gone on, yes, this anger is coming out," a victim said. "People are saying, 'well, why is it that it took that many days for them to come down there and help us? Why are there not more helicopters? Why are there not more National Guard?'"

Key members of Congress were called back from vacation to approve a $10 billion emergency aid request to help the hurricane victims, and the federal government is sending in thousands of National Guard troops to assist in the effort and help restore order.

But relief officials caution that it may be a while before everyone gets the help they need. Michael Brown is director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He spoke on NBC's Today program.

"Again, as the disaster begins to settle down, the flood waters recede and we begin to find out exactly where people are, and get into those neighborhoods, house by house, I think we will see a dramatic improvement over the next several days," he explained.

The devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina has sparked offers of aid and technical assistance from several countries, as well as the United Nations.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged the international community to offer assistance, because, he said, the United States has always been generous in responding to natural disasters around the globe.

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