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One Week After Katrina

September 5, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


RAY SUAREZ: New Orleans is now a city without its people. One week after Katrina struck, officials now believe that fewer than 10,000 of the Big Easy’s half million residents remain to be evacuated. Search-and-rescue operations continue in the sodden streets; boats run where buses and streetcars once rolled.

They are still rescuing people. Many are old or infirm. These people have been trapped here for a week. All are taken to the airport and airlifted to safety.

But many of these rescuers will soon become collectors, and a horrific accounting will begin in earnest. Bodies went unattended for days as chaos and calamity reigned in New Orleans. Now, authorities have started the recovery of the dead and a restoration of dignity denied. One Orleanian, John Lee, took it upon himself to bury a neighbor.

JOHN LEE: I’m just worried about my neighbors. The good old nuns told me to bury the dead. You need to go.

RAY SUAREZ: The draining of the city continues. Engineers continue to patch breached levees and make repairs to pumps. There is apparent dread of what will be found once the city is pumped dry.

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, U.S. Army: We don’t expect it to be a low number. We expect it to be a significant number of people.

RAY SUAREZ: The toll will surely be in the hundreds; many expect thousands. Among the dead are two police officers. They died by their own hand. Morale in the small department has been hard-hit, and as many as 200 of the 1,500 member force have walked off the job. A deputy chief addressed that decimated morale today.

DEPUTY CHIEF WARREN RILEY, New Orleans Police Department: Some of those officers left for various reasons; some we understand. Some of those officers lost their homes; they don’t know where their families are; where their spouses are, and they’re out looking for them; some left because they simply could not deal with this catastrophe.

RAY SUAREZ: The survivors of Katrina are now part of an ever-widening hurricane Diaspora. Evacuees are being sheltered from coast to coast.

INITA COOPER: This land of people has been really, really good. I’ve never seen this in my life. They is pouring their heart out to us.

RAY SUAREZ: More than 200,000 are in Texas. The lone star state’s services are stretched nearly to capacity.

FRANK GUTIERREZ, Harris County, Texas Emergency Management: If Texas gets to a point where we can’t go anymore, we look at our other friendly states.

RAY SUAREZ: Many are wondering what comes next. Wal-mart employee Joi Gilmore has a leg up as she looks to start over.

JOI GILMORE: They guaranteed us a job. When we got settled, once she had the baby we can go to work whenever and at whatever Wal-mart we wanted to go to.

RAY SUAREZ: In Jefferson Parish, Louisiana today residents were allowed back for 12 hours to survey the damage to their homes and to salvage what they could.

MAN: The floors are loose and flopping around…the wood floors; it’s like surfing downstairs.

RAY SUAREZ: President Bush also returned to the region today. His second visit in four days comes amid continuing, and bipartisan, criticism of his administration’s response to the hurricane. He stopped first at a shelter in Baton Rouge.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Laura and I have come down to Louisiana and then we’re going over to Mississippi to let the good people of this region know there’s a lot of work to be done. The first mission of course is to save lives. And so long as any life is in danger, we got work to do. And they’re going to continue to save lives.

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Bush then toured an emergency operations center. The president later flew on to Mississippi, finishing his day in meetings with officials in Poplarville. The men running federal emergency operations in the region took questions this afternoon. Gen. Russel Honore was asked about charges there was too much red tape and too little coordination among agencies.

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE: That is B.S. I will take that on behalf of every first respondent down there. We’ve got 300 helicopters and some of the finest EMS workers in the world working down there in New Orleans, and they are making it happen.

RAY SUAREZ: Mr. Bush’s two most recent predecessors announced in Houston today the formation of the Bush-Clinton Katrina Relief Fund, what they hope is a massive private effort to help Gulf Coast residents. President Bush asked them last week to continue the fundraising the two men began after the Asian tsunami. The president’s father sought to defend his son’s handling of the crisis.

REPORTER: What do you think of the criticism that’s being leveled at the government?

GEORGE BUSH, SR.: The president can take it. In the sense that, you know, what do I think of it as a father? I don’t like it. But what do you think as a one who was president, and I expect President Clinton feels the same way, it goes with the territory. We can blame somebody else, that’s one of the big things you do after a football game, what went wrong. We want to go forward.

RAY SUAREZ: Former President Clinton said there should be an accounting of the federal effort but that more urgent tasks are at hand.

BILL CLINTON: We’re still finding bodies there. And there still may be some people alive there. The first thing we got to do is remember that these people are… what they’re going through. And now it seems that, you know, we’re all in harness and we’re all working on it. I think it’s an appropriate thing to look into, but not at this time.

RAY SUAREZ: In addition to an emergency $10.5 billion congressional appropriation the two presidents’ fund and other private efforts are raising unprecedented sums to aid those suffering unprecedented loss.