Thousands of soldiers, state and local police and private volunteers continue the massive effort to aid people stricken by Hurricane Katrina on the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast. The effort is especially intense in New Orleans, where the situation is complicated by flood waters contaminated by petrochemicals, sewage and dead bodies.
Federal officials have acknowledged what state and local officials have been saying in recent days: that the death toll in New Orleans is likely to be in the thousands. Recovery crews are going in and out of the city trying to get people out and help those still there, close to 60 thousand people, according to Mayor Ray Nagin.
Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff says health conditions are such that relief workers cannot continue to assist people who refuse to leave the city.
"There are a significant number of people who say they do not want to leave and we give them food and water, but let me say this: that is not a reasonable alternative," Mr. Chertoff says. "We are not going to be able to have people sitting in houses for weeks and months while we de-water (remove flood water) and clean this city."
But local officials and survivors coming out of the city have little good to say about the government relief efforts of the last several days. The president of Jefferson Parish, on the other side of the Mississippi river south of New Orleans, Aaron Broussard, aired his complaints on the NBC Television program "Meet the Press" Sunday. He says the Federal Emergency Management Agency, known as FEMA, interfered with local relief efforts.
"Yesterday, FEMA comes in and cuts all our emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice," Mr. Broussard says.
Mr. Broussard became emotional as he described how a man working in his office spoke to his elderly mother by telephone all week trying to assure her help was on the way as the water kept rising.
"Someone is coming to get you, someone is coming to get you Tuesday, someone is coming to get you Wednesday, someone is coming to get you Thursday and someone is coming to get you on Friday and she drowned Friday night, she drowned Friday night," Mr. Broussard says.
Many recent evacuees from the flooded city are also expressing anger over aspects of the rescue missions. Lynette Boutee spoke on New Orleans television station WDSU Sunday about how she and several hundred other people were left trapped on a bridge in the broiling sun and helicopters flew by and offered them no assistance.
"It was totally and completely a crime against humanity," Ms. Boutee says. "You do not have people sitting on concrete slabs with no food and no water in 92 degrees temperatures and the only thing you think about is people stealing stuff they cannot use."
She said the preoccupation with what she described as a handful of looters caused authorities to ignore the plight of tens of thousands of displaced people, many of whom, Mrs. Boutee said, became disorderly because of their predicament.
"Dehydration causes insanity and starvation causes insanity and if you did not eat a day before you got there, you damn sure have to do something when you have not eaten in five days," Ms. Boutee says. "So, yes, they were reacting, but the reaction was the fact of survival, starvation, okay?"
Asked about such criticisms late Sunday, Homeland Security Director Chertoff said his focus is now on the immediate recovery effort and that an analysis of mistakes and failures will have to wait until much later.