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FEMA Director: We Did Not Know New Orleans Convention Center Was A Hurricane Shelter
Hereâ€™s what the FEMA director said to Paula Zahn tonight on CNN:
Michael Brown, director of FEMA: People who were unable or chose not to evacuate are suddenly appearing. And so this catastrophic disaster continues to grow. I will tell you this, though, every person in that convention center, we just learned about that today and so I have directed that we have all the available resources to get to that convention center to make sure that they have the food and water, the medical care that they need.
Paula Zahn: Sir, youâ€™re not telling me â€“
Brown: To care of those bodies that are there â€“
Zahn: youâ€™re not telling me that you just learned that the folks at the convention center didnâ€™t have food and water until today, are you? You had no idea that they were completely cut off?
Brown: Paula, the federal government did not even know about the convention center people until today.
Navy ship nearby underused
Craft with food, water, doctors needed orders
The USS Bataan, a 844-foot ship designed to dispatch Marines in amphibious assaults, has helicopters, doctors, hospital beds, food and water. It also can make its own water, up to 100,000 gallons a day. And it just happened to be in the Gulf of Mexico when Katrina came roaring ashore.
The Bataan rode out the storm and then followed it toward shore, awaiting relief orders. Helicopter pilots flying from its deck were some of the first to begin plucking stranded New Orleans residents.
But now the Bataan's hospital facilities, including six operating rooms and beds for 600 patients, are empty. A good share of its 1,200 sailors could also go ashore to help with the relief effort, but they haven't been asked. The Bataan has been in the stricken region the longest of any military unit, but federal authorities have yet to fully utilize the ship.
The Bataan, though, was already in the gulf when Katrina crossed Florida and picked up new, devastating energy from the warm gulf waters. The ship, sailing near the Texas coastline, had just finished an exercise in Panama and was scheduled to return to its home port in Norfolk on Friday after six weeks at sea.
Instead, the ship rode out the hurricane in 12 to 14 foot seas and then fell in behind the storm as it neared the gulf coast. A day after Katrina struck, Navy helicopters arrived from Corpus Christi, Texas, and began survey flights over New Orleans.
A 135-foot landing craft stored within the Bataan, the LCU-1656, was dispatched to steam up the 90 miles of Mississippi River to New Orleans. It took a crew of 16, including a doctor, and its deck was stacked with food and water. The craft carries enough food and fuel to remain self-sufficient for 10 days.
Moving up through the storm's flotsam, the crew couldn't believe the scene.
"We saw a lot of dead animals, dead horses, floating cows, dead alligators," said Rodney Blackshear, LCU-1656's navigator. "And a lot of dogs that had been pets. But no people."
Near Boothville, La., the storm surge had lifted a construction crane and put it on top of a house. Near Venice, the crew members considered going ashore to examine the damage, but dogs drove them back.
"I didn't want any of my guys in there," said Bill Fish, who commands LCUs and who went on the river trip.
"Everything was decimated. It was the storm surge."
Then the Bataan was ordered to move to the waters off Biloxi, Miss., and LCU-1656 was ordered to return. The landing craft was 40 miles from New Orleans, but it wouldn't be able to deliver its cargo.
"It was a disappointment," Fish said. "I figured we would be a big help in New Orleans. We've got electricity, and the police could have charged up their radios. We've got water, toilets. We've got food."
Now sailing within 25 miles of Gulfport, Miss., the Bataan has become a floating warehouse. Supplies from Texas and Florida are ferried out to the ship, and the helicopters distribute them where Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel say they are needed.Comment Posted By Jerry T. On 6.09.2005 @ 16:10
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