New Orleans Leaders Float Emergency Plan

May 2, 2006

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and other officials lay out new evacuation plans for the city, nearly nine months after it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. With the revamped strategy focused on helping those without transportation leave, Nagin reassured residents that looting would be prevented.

Nagin, who faces a runoff election for his post on May 20, says the detailed plan for a total evacuation in the event of a huge storm was worked out over several months, with the help of the federal government. The plan would use buses and trains to get people out of the city.

New Orleans is getting ready for another hurricane season, which begins on June 1.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Less than nine months after it was devastated by Katrina, New Orleans is getting ready for another hurricane season and today, leaders of the city unveiled a detailed plan for a total evacuation in the event of another big storm. Mayor Ray Nagin says the plan was worked out over several months, with the help of the federal government.

NPR's Cheryl Corley has details.

CHERYL CORLEY: Hurricane season begins June 1st. With a circle of city officials and charts by his side, Mayor Ray Nagin said this month is the time for the citizens of New Orleans to get ready. Widely criticized for not calling an evacuation earlier during the last hurricane season, Nagin said he'd consider a mandatory evacuation anytime a hurricane reached more than a Level 2. And he repeated what he's been saying for months, that New Orleans would not offer any safe havens.

RAY NAGIN: Read my lips. This is a plan for getting people out of the city. There is no shelter of last resort. We're going to communicate that, we're going to use PSAs, we're going to use print, we're going to use everything. And we're going to try and get as many people out of here as possible.

CORLEY: The Morial Convention Center, the scene of massive suffering after last year's storms, will be used as a staging center. Nagin says the city will use busses to transport people out of town, and he's been working with the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to clear the way to use Amtrak passenger trains for evacuation purposes. Evacuees would be allowed to bring their pets with them, as long as they have some type of cage to put them in. The mayor says just as the city has planned, residents should do the same.

NAGIN: I want them to sit down with their family members and outline who needs to move, who has special needs, and identify locations that they can go in, talk to each other about how much money they're going to need to move, the supplies that are necessary.

CORLEY: And Nagin says how they will communicate with each other once they leave. City officials say there are about 200,000 people in New Orleans now. Mayor Nagin says it's a much more mobile population than pre-Katrina. Even so, New Orleans Homeland Security Director Terry Ebbert estimates that 10,000 people would have trouble leaving the area in the event of a storm. He says the first goal is to provide greater support for the disabled, and to get tourists out as quickly as possible.

TERRY EBBERT: Goal number two is to create an atmosphere in our city where it makes more sense for everybody to leave rather than stay.

CORLEY: When citizens do leave, Police Chief Warren Riley says he also wants them to have no doubt that their property is safe. He says all of his officers will be on duty, and 3,000 National Guard troops will also be assigned to the city's police districts.

WARREN RILEY: They will see people at static checkpoints throughout the city at every major intersection. Residential areas will see the patrols, not one or two, it will be a overwhelming number of soldiers and police officers that will protect this city.

CORLEY: Of course, whether New Orleans will be able to weather any storm will depend on its levee system. Mayor Nagin says he grows more confident every day that levees which failed last year are in much better shape. He says the Army Corps of Engineers has nearly finished rebuilding them.

NAGIN: They are using high-grade clay, they're driving steel pylons as deep as 60 to 80 feet in some areas, and they have concrete to support that also. These levees are going to be very, very secure, and we should be positioned better and not have the catastrophic flooding that we've had in the past.

CORLEY: Or the nightmare scenes of stranded, desperate people with no place to go.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.