Five days after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast, residents of the flooded city of New Orleans are expressing anger and frustration at the slow pace of recovery. The mayor of the stricken city is demanding immediate action.
Tens of thousands of evacuees from New Orleans have been pouring into Baton Rouge and other nearby areas with stories of chaos, suffering and violence. Many of them praise the relief efforts at huge shelters set up by federal and state officials, but they express dismay over the continuing anarchy in the city they left behind.
In a telephone interview with local radio station WWL, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin challenged both President Bush and Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco to bring his city more help.
"God is looking down on all this, and if they are not doing everything in their power to save people, they are going to pay the price, because everyday that we delay, people are dying, and they are dying by the hundreds, I am willing to bet," said Mr. Nagin. "We are getting reports and calls that are breaking my heart from people saying, 'I have been in my attic, I cannot take it any more, the water is up to my neck, I don't think I can hold out'."
The mayor says political leaders should stop giving news conferences and concentrate instead on getting the relief effort up to speed. Mr. Nagin says this is not the time for politics, as he watches his city fall apart. "I am at the point now where it does not matter. People are dying. They do not have homes. They do not have jobs. The city of New Orleans will never be the same," he added.
President Bush has also expressed frustration at the slow pace of recovery and has called on officials on the scene to do more. The president was touring the devastated region, and was scheduled to meet with Governor Blanco and other officials.
Another problem vexing the relief effort is lawlessness. Criminals have taken advantage of the crisis, and have been hijacking relief vehicles, and reportedly even firing guns at helicopters. National Guard Lieutenant General Steven Blum says his forces are well armed, but that their job is not to go after the delinquents.
"Lethal force is something that we would try to avoid at all costs," he explained. "We are here to help the people of Louisiana, not to inflict damage on them. The only reason we come armed is for self protection, and if it is necessary to have arms and ammunition to preserve a safe and secure environment down here, then we have that equipment on hand, but we do not want to use it."
Federal officials say some 30,000 soldiers are being deployed in New Orleans and other battered areas along the Gulf coast. On Thursday, 300 National Guard soldiers with combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan arrived here from Arkansas and, on Friday, a contingent of 1,000 National Guardsmen from Puerto Rico arrived on scene.