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Convention Center Empties After Evacuation Delays

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

We turn now to NPR's Phillip Davis. He's been out of the streets of New Orleans today. We reached him in front of the Convention Center where thousands of hurricane victims are still waiting to be taken out of the city.

Phillip, welcome.

PHILLIP DAVIS reporting:

Hi, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: What's the situation now? We've heard about the horrible conditions there. Are people getting out?

DAVIS: Well, there are--I have to say that there has been some real progress made today. We arrived in New Orleans late this morning and there were thousands of people who had been sitting, hot and miserable, in front of the Convention Center. They had gotten food and water, but they were wondering, `Where are the buses? When are we going to finally leave?' And today the buses finally did come. A huge convoy started rolling up around 1:00 or so, and now, three, four hours later, the Convention Center is nearly empty. I'm looking at a sea of folding chairs and a sea of garbage, but there are hardly any people at all here.

ELLIOTT: I know that's a huge relief for many family and friends who have been watching people in that area. Can you tell me anything about the general security situation in the city at large?

DAVIS: The security situation in the city has improved with the arrival of the National Guard, which has helped free up some of the New Orleans police and state Guard to look after this sort of wave of lawlessness that hit the city after the hurricane. Though I still talk to people--we were just talking to a restaurant owner a few blocks away from the Convention Center. He's firing up the barbecue grill to barbecue some steaks for the National Guardsmen, and he said that just yesterday he saw a roving band of thieves breaking into cars and stealing whatever they could find. So the security situation, I would not say it's extremely safe here right now, but I think it is improving a bit.

ELLIOTT: Do people have the sense that someone is actually in charge now?

DAVIS: Well, it's hard to find a central command center here in New Orleans. There may be, but we went to two of the epicenters of this disaster, to the Convention Center and the Superdome, and we found people, National Guardsmen working very hard trying to complete their missions, whether it's giving away food and water or helping shepherd people on buses, and the buses are arriving. We see convoys of boats that are ready to start and start looking for people by water. And so things are happening. But in terms of if you ask someone who's in control, you can never get an answer to that question.

ELLIOTT: What about in general the situation there? We've heard that, you know, the water level was pretty high but had started to come down a little bit. What's it like where you've been today?

DAVIS: Well, we drove through the western reaches of the city, and we drove for quite a while on dry land. Once we started to get downtown, yes, there still is water. The water is waist deep around the Louisiana Superdome. It's two or three feet down famous Canal Street. Lots of streets downtown are blocked off and there's still lots of neighborhoods that are underwater. So there may be some natural subsidence of the water, but it's still a very serious situation, and I think the estimates that it's going to be a month or more before all the water is gone, those estimates, I think, still hold.

ELLIOTT: Very quickly, Phillip, are people still being rescued from their roofs?

DAVIS: Yes, they are. We just talked to a lady, an old lady who was getting on one of the buses today. She had been in her house for five days, and she saw someone going by on a boat, and she passed a note to this person, and they passed the note along to the Fish & Wildlife people, and within a day they had come and picked her and her grandkids up, and now just less than an hour ago she was getting on a bus and heading toward a shelter.

ELLIOTT: Thanks. NPR's Phillip Davis reporting from New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.
Phillip Davis
Correspondent Phillip Davis covers South Florida and beyond for NPR. He joined NPR in January 1993, and has reported on such topics as the Elian Gonzalez affair, the disputed 2000 presidential election, and the growing cultural diversity of South Florida. Davis has also filed reports from England, West Africa, and South America for NPR. His pieces can be heard on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and All Things Considered.