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Hurricane Relief Workers Report Progress, Residents Express Frustration

Relief workers continue to evacuate residents from hurricane-stricken regions of the U.S. Gulf states. Officials reported progress in their fifth day of rescue efforts, but many residents are frustrated with the pace of the relief work.

Many of the evacuees are being taken to neighboring states. Nearly 100,000 have found shelter in Texas, while relief workers are bringing in beds for the displaced in Louisiana and Mississippi, the two states hardest hit.

Air Force Colonel John Gomez is helping coordinate the military portion of the relief work. From Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, Colonel Gomez told VOA the effort is massive. "We have something close to 300 helicopters, about 75 airlift aircraft, including our largest and most capable aircraft, the C-17 and C-5, as well as our airlift workhorse, the C-130, tanker aircraft, really every asset that the Air Force has available," he said.

He said the aircraft carry supplies into the area and take evacuees out. The U.S. Navy has some 15 support ships in the region.

Relief workers from private organizations are helping on the ground. A spokeswoman for the American Red Cross calls this the biggest response to a natural disaster in the organization's 125-year history. More than 3,000 Red Cross volunteers are in the area, along with thousands from other organizations.

President Bush has ordered more than 7,000 active-duty troops into the region, to assist more than 20,000 National Guard troops on the ground and thousands more being deployed over the weekend. Friday, the president toured the area, then signed a $10.5 billion disaster aid package.

Local officials in New Orleans have harshly criticized Washington for what they say has been a slow response to the disaster. In a radio address Saturday, Mr. Bush acknowledged problems, and said the flooding affected an area larger than that of Britain, and has strained resources in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. "Each state will have its own set of challenges and issues to solve. Yet, all of us agree that more can be done to improve our ability to restore order and deliver relief in a timely and effective manner," he said.

Many residents, however, are angry and frustrated with the pace of the relief work. "Come on. Take care of us. We need you," said one resident.

Another Louisiana man described the past five days as hell. "We've had no power. Water was shut off a few days ago. And then, last night, they turned the gas off. The first few days was a natural disaster. The last few days have been a man-made disaster," he said.

Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff said federal officials will aggressively respond to the pleas for help. "The United States, as the president has said, is going to move heaven and earth to rescue, feed, shelter and restore life and health to the people who are currently suffering," he said.

Public health officials say one of their biggest concerns is the possible outbreak of disease, and they are bringing in pharmaceuticals to prevent that. Other concerns are water safety and the possible spread of toxic materials from the widespread flooding.

Rescue workers say their focus now is on the living, not the dead. Officials say no one knows how many people were killed in the disaster, but they are prepared for fatalities in the range of one thousand to two thousand.

President Bush will return to the devastated Gulf region Monday.