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Hurricane Katrina: Louisiana Governor Responds

August 31, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: As the frustrations have grown in New Orleans and the surrounding area today, government relief efforts have been criticized by some local residents. A short time ago Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco responded to those criticisms and spoke about her own frustrations.

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO: You need to understand that we are working in what is essentially a primitive site condition. These conditions make it extremely impossible to do everything that is absolutely essential to be done simultaneously. So we have deployed our people in a prioritized fashion. And our goal is to save as many lives as possible.

We begged all of those people, the mayor begged the people; the parish presidents begged people to get out. The people who stayed chose to stay in some cases and in other cases had limited resources. But they were given — even those with limited resources were given opportunities and perhaps the communications network did not filter rapidly enough.

We were working on a very short time line when that hurricane turned its fire power on Louisiana. We acted as rapidly as humanly possible and we got out over a million people out of that region. Now, you know, we have limited resources.

No state, no region is prepared for the dimensions that we have dealt with. But I will tell you something. We have heroes a minute in this operation. We have people who have extended themselves in such a dramatic fashion, you know, that you’ll have plenty stories to write about our heroes.

But I do want to tell you what angers me the most is that usually disasters like this bring out the best in everybody, and that’s what we expected to see. And now we’ve got people that it’s bringing out the worst in. And we’re going to restore law and order. We are not going to put up with the kinds of things that we have heard.

We’re not going to put up with petty criminals or hardened criminals doing their business. This is not a time or a place for any of that behavior. And I am just furious. This is intolerant. Louisiana people are too good. They’re too strong. They’re too wonderful. They’re too noble for our reputation to be destroyed by these. — this criminal element that is just making us have to turn essential people over to taking them off the streets. And we will take them off the streets and they will be dealt with appropriately.

Now, you know, this is massive. I think that anybody who has seen it firsthand knows that the logistics are impossible. The Red Cross cannot set up in that disaster area. All people have to come out to get the kind of help that is necessary. There’s no place to function there or function in a rational, civilized fashion.

And as we eliminate the water from the streets and from the houses, people will be able to go back in. We will be able to actually assess the situation. We know that there are people trapped in their attics. We’re trying to get those out. The ones who are alive are being removed right now. The ones who didn’t make it, we don’t even know where they are. We don’t know which houses had people and which didn’t.

Certainly a lot of people are calling in knowing that their relatives were in certain houses. We’ve got addresses. But I will tell you, addresses mean nothing right now because street signs are underwater in so many places.

You know, so you have to have a coordinated effort. You have to have some people who know the area, who do it systematically, who pick up people as they come upon them.