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Military Helicopters Key to Saving Lives in New Orleans

The Pentagon said Saturday it is sending an additional 10,000 National Guard troops to the Hurricane disaster area. There are currently 22,000 National Guard troops doing Katrina relief and public order work in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. About half are in Louisiana, and the number in the New Orleans area reached 7,000 on Saturday.

Part of their work involves helicopters, which are rescuing people stranded on roofs and carrying the sickest people from two sports and convention centers where evacuees have been stranded. They are also evacuating people from public hospitals inside the city. VOA's Brian Padden went to the New Orleans airport, which is now the staging area for all military operations.

One helicopter lands at the New Orleans airport, bringing survivors of hurricane Katrina to safety. And immediately, another takes off to continue search and rescue operations. No one knows how many people are still stranded by the floodwaters.

Leon Salphan was rescued yesterday. "I was rescued from the roof of my house in eastern New Orleans by helicopter. I put up an ‘SOS’ sign, a Help’ sign. I was ready to go."

Now he waits with thousands of other people to be taken to a more permanent shelter. Where they will go, and when they will leave, nobody knows. The airport is also now a temporary medical center for patients evacuated from hospitals.

Jules Knight, with the New Orleans Methodist Hospital, says he left many patients waiting on the hospital roof. "There are still people there that have to get off. On top of the roof, there are sick people that we carried up."

Many of the evacuees are frustrated with the pace of the rescue operation. But the commander of this emergency medical center, H. James Young, says they have been working day and night since the hurricane hit. "This is a time thing. It's not a quick fix. It's progressing."