A Sept. 4 article on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina incorrectly said that Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D) had not declared a state of emergency. She declared an emergency on Aug. 26.
Many Evacuated, but Thousands Still Waiting
Sunday, September 4, 2005
NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 3 -- Tens of thousands of people spent a fifth day awaiting evacuation from this ruined city, as Bush administration officials blamed state and local authorities for what leaders at all levels have called a failure of the country's emergency management.
President Bush authorized the dispatch of 7,200 active-duty ground troops to the area -- the first major commitment of regular ground forces in the crisis -- and the Pentagon announced that an additional 10,000 National Guard troops will be sent to Louisiana and Mississippi, raising the total Guard contingent to about 40,000.
Authorities reported progress in restoring order and electricity and repairing levees, as a hospital ship arrived and cruise ships were sent to provide temporary housing for victims. As Louisiana officials expressed confidence that they had begun to get a handle on the crisis, a dozen National Guard troops broke into applause late Saturday as Isaac Kelly, 81, the last person to be evacuated from the Superdome, boarded a school bus.
But there remained an overwhelming display of human misery on the streets of New Orleans, where the last 1,500 people were being evacuated from the Convention Center amid an overpowering odor of human waste and rotting garbage. The evacuees, most of them black and poor, spoke of violence, anarchy and family members who died for lack of food, water and medical care.
About 42,000 people had been evacuated from the city by Saturday afternoon, with roughly the same number remaining, city officials said. Search-and-rescue efforts continued in flooded areas of the city, where an unknown number of people wait in their homes, on rooftops or in makeshift shelters. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced by the flooding -- 250,000 have been absorbed by Texas alone, and local radio reported that Baton Rouge will have doubled in population by Monday. Federal officials said they have begun to collect corpses but could not guess the total toll.
Behind the scenes, a power struggle emerged, as federal officials tried to wrest authority from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco (D). Shortly before midnight Friday, the Bush administration sent her a proposed legal memorandum asking her to request a federal takeover of the evacuation of New Orleans, a source within the state's emergency operations center said Saturday.
The administration sought unified control over all local police and state National Guard units reporting to the governor. Louisiana officials rejected the request after talks throughout the night, concerned that such a move would be comparable to a federal declaration of martial law. Some officials in the state suspected a political motive behind the request. "Quite frankly, if they'd been able to pull off taking it away from the locals, they then could have blamed everything on the locals," said the source, who does not have the authority to speak publicly.
A senior administration official said that Bush has clear legal authority to federalize National Guard units to quell civil disturbances under the Insurrection Act and will continue to try to unify the chains of command that are split among the president, the Louisiana governor and the New Orleans mayor.
Louisiana did not reach out to a multi-state mutual aid compact for assistance until Wednesday, three state and federal officials said. As of Saturday, Blanco still had not declared a state of emergency, the senior Bush official said.
"The federal government stands ready to work with state and local officials to secure New Orleans and the state of Louisiana," White House spokesman Dan Bartlett said. "The president will not let any form of bureaucracy get in the way of protecting the citizens of Louisiana."
Blanco made two moves Saturday that protected her independence from the federal government: She created a philanthropic fund for the state's victims and hired James Lee Witt, Federal Emergency Management Agency director in the Clinton administration, to advise her on the relief effort.
Bush, who has been criticized, even by supporters, for the delayed response to the disaster, used his weekly radio address to put responsibility for the failure on lower levels of government. The magnitude of the crisis "has created tremendous problems that have strained state and local capabilities," he said. "The result is that many of our citizens simply are not getting the help they need, especially in New Orleans. And that is unacceptable."