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2005-08-31

Report from Inside New Orleans Hospital: "Who is Left Behind?...The Sickest, The Oldest, The Poorest, The Youngest"

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As the devastation left in the wake of hurricane Katrina continues to unfold, we go to New Orleans to speak with law professor Bill Quigley of Loyola University. Quigley, who is volunteering at Memorial Hospital, said, "The people who are in New Orleans are–in all honesty–dying and there could be a lot more casualties unless there’s a lot of help, real fast." [includes rush transcript]

New Orleans and the Gulf region remain in a state of catastrophe following the devastating Hurricane Katrina. At least 80 percent of New Orleans is underwater. The city has no electricity and little drinkable water. Officials say New Orleans will be uninhabitable for weeks. On Tuesday two levees broke, flooding areas of the city that had appeared to survive the storm.

The total number killed in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama remains unknown but officials fear it will be several hundred. Officials in Harrison County in Mississippi say at least 100 people died there mostly in the cities of Biloxi and Gulfport. At least 30 people died at a single housing complex in Biloxi known as the Quiet Water Beach apartments. Thousands of homes in the region were destroyed including the oceanfront home of Mississippi Senator Trent Lott.

The governor of Louisiana Kathleen Blanco has ordered the entire city of New Orleans to be evacuated.

On Tuesday the city’s mayor Ray Nagin had to be airlifted from City Hall due to the rising waters. Officials are now planning to evacuate everyone inside the SuperDome where at least 20,000 have sought refuge. The emergency generators at the sports complex are now failing, there is no air conditioning and the building is surrounded by water.

Meanwhile both city airports are underwater. The staff of the city’s newspaper the Times-Picayune had to flee its newsroom Tuesday due to the rising waters. The paper has been forced to publish only electronic versions of its newspaper. The city’s main public hospital is no longer functioning and being evacuated. The U.S. military is reportedly helping to evacuate more than 1,000 people from Tulane University Hospital.

Doctors are also concerned about the possibility of outbreaks of disease spread through sewage contamination of drinking water, spoiled food, insects, and bites from snakes and other animals.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is making unprecedented preparations to house at least 1 million people in the region whose houses were damaged or destroyed. FEMA’s Bill Lokey called the hurricane "the most significant natural disaster to hit the United States."

The Pentagon has ordered five Navy ships and eight Navy maritime rescue teams to the Gulf Coast to bolster relief operations. Swift boat rescue teams are being flown in from California.

While the National Guard has been taking part in rescue operations and law enforcement, some 6,000 members of the Louisiana and Mississippi Guard have been forced to watch the catastrophe from 7,000 miles away in Iraq. 40 percent of Mississippi’s National Guard force and 35 percent of Louisiana’s is in Iraq. Over the past eight months 23 members of the Louisiana National Guard have died in Iraq–only New York’s Guard unit has suffered as many deaths.

The Times-Picayune reported the catastrophic flooding is expected to worsen over the next few days after rainfall from the hurricane flows into Lake Pontchartain from upstream rivers and streams. With the levees broke, the water will keep rising in the city of New Orleans until it is at same level as the lake and Mississippi River.

President Bush announced he would cut short his vacation by two days and return to Washington today. He spoke on Tuesday in San Diego.

"Right now our priority is on saving lives and we are still in the midst of search and rescue operations," Bush said.

During Bush’s appearance in San Diego he also took the time to briefly play guitar while with country singer Country Singer Mark Wills. Bush is expected to fly to Louisiana on Friday to tour parishes ravaged by the hurricane.

On the streets of New Orleans martial law has been declared. There have been reports of looting including many people breaking into stores in search of food and drinkable water. Others took electronics, alcohol and guns. The Times Picayune reported the looting was so widespread that even police officers took part. One uniform officer was photographed carrying six DVDs outside a Wal-Mart. Another was seen carrying a 27-inch TV.

Katrina is expected to become the costliest hurricane ever–more than Hurricane Andrew which cost $21 billion.

The hurricane is already affecting the nation’s economy. Most of the oil and gas production facilities in the Gulf of Mexico have been shut off since Monday and many sustained damage. The area normally accounts for a third of domestic oil production and a fifth of its natural gas output. The cost of gasoline is expected to soon rise to about three dollars a gallon in many parts of the country. Areas including Atlanta may also face severe gas shortages. The two main pipelines that bring gas and jet fuel to Atlanta are down. The region now only has a two-day supply of gasoline.

Questions are also being raised if the federal government could have done more to protect the region from the deadly flooding. In 1995 Congress authorized the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project. Over the past decade the Army Corps of Engineers has spent $430 million on shoring up levees and building pumping stations. But another $250 million in work remained. According to press accounts, the federal funding largely froze up in 2003. Over the past two years the Times-Picayune paper has run at least nine articles that cite the cost of the Iraq invasion as a reason for the lack of hurricane and flood control funding. Earlier this year President Bush proposed significantly reducing the amount of federal money for the project. He proposed spending $10 million. Local officials said six times as much money was needed.

  • Bill Quigley, law professor at Loyola University in New Orleans who is volunteering at Memorial Hospital.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to New Orleans. Early this morning, I reached Bill Quigley there. He is law professor at Loyola University. I spoke to him on his cell phone from Tenant Memorial Hospital, where he is volunteering, helping out his wife, Debbie, who is an oncology nurse. He said there are 1,200 people in the hospital. I asked him to describe the situation in the city.

BILL QUIGLEY: This is sort of the nightmare scenario that everybody was really worried about, but the problem for New Orleans is that everybody who had their health, had money and had a car, they left. Okay, so we have probably 100,000 people trapped in the city right now, maybe 50,000 or 60,000 people in the Superdome who are there without electricity, without flushing toilets, without food, without water. And they are people who had to walk over there or take a bus, because they didn’t have a car to get out. There are people in nursing homes, there’s people in these little hospitals all over the place.

And then there’s still — we can see when you’re looking out the window at night, you can see flashlights in the water where people are walking around out in the neighborhoods completely dark. You see a flashlight where somebody’s walking down the water. As you said, tomorrow night, you are not going to see those flashlights because tomorrow night, they expect that we’re going to have nine to 15 feet of water. So those people that are walking out there with flashlights, they’re not going to be there.

And the hospitals are full. The hospitals are turning people away, because they don’t have enough food and water to be able to take care of the people who are in the hospitals. So, the boatload of people that came apparently to the hospital this morning or this afternoon, a father, a mother and two little kids came in a boat, and the people at the hospital turned them away, sent them away, because they didn’t have room for them.

Another 20 people walked up to the parking lot — parking garage. They had been in the Holiday Inn downtown. That Holiday Inn lost electricity, lost everything. So those people just left, and they have been wandering around the city looking for a place to stay, and the security guards had to turn them away. They sent them back into the flood waters because they didn’t have enough food or water or that to even be able to take care of necessarily the people that are here.

So who’s left behind in New Orleans right now, you are talking about tens of thousands of people who are left behind, and those are the sickest, the oldest, poorest, the youngest, the people with disabilities and the like, and the plan was that everybody should leave. Well, you can’t leave if you’re in a hospital. You can’t leave if you’re a nurse. You can’t leave if you are a patient. You can’t leave if you’re in a nursing home. You can’t leave if you don’t have a car. All of these things. They didn’t have — there wass no plan for that.

And so, we are talking about somewhere in the neighborhood, I think, of 100,000 people probably in the metropolitan New Orleans area that are still here. And the suggestions from local officials are, you know, in the suburban parish next to us, they announced on the radio — we have one radio station, have no TV, have no cell phones. Nothing. The only calls we are able to get are the calls that come in. And the suggestion was that people should take a boat over toward the interstate, and then they would pick them up there. But, you know, these people don’t have a car, people who live in an apartment with their mother, you know, people who are sick. That’s why they couldn’t leave. They don’t have cars. They certainly don’t have boats. And so, there’s a huge humanitarian crisis going on here right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Quigley, I wanted to ask — this is a bit of an odd question. You’re a law professor. We usually talk to you about the crisis that’s going on in Haiti, where you have been a number of times and represent, among others, Father Jean-Juste, who is in prison there. How does what you are seeing in New Orleans right now, how does it compare to Haiti?

BILL QUIGLEY: Well, you know, I had always hoped that Haiti would become more like New Orleans, but what’s happened is New Orleans has become more like Haiti here recently. You know, we don’t have power. We don’t have transportation. At this point, I think, at least the people in the hospital have some fresh water, but they’re telling people you can’t drink the water out of the taps. So there’s people wandering around the city without water, without transportation, without medical care. So in many senses, we have about a million people in the New Orleans area who are experiencing, you know, what Haiti it like.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you seen any National Guard?

BILL QUIGLEY: There are apparently some National Guard who are on the roof, who are helping with the helicopters. We have seen one or two here or there. There’s been reports that there’s thousands of them that are coming in, but again, I don’t know how they would get in. People are not able to — you know, the communication system is so bad that for a large part of the day, the mayor, the chief of police, the governor and those people couldn’t call the one working radio station. And so they had to walk into the radio station to be able to talk to the people who are out here trying to figure out what’s going on. So it is really a disaster, and the people who aren’t in New Orleans, I know, are dying to get back to their houses. But the people who are in New Orleans are, in all honesty, dying, and there could be a lot more casualties unless there’s a lot of help real fast.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill Quigley is a law professor at Loyola University. He was speaking to us from the hospital he is staying at, Tenant Memorial Hospital in New Orleans, where his wife Debbie is an oncology nurse. After we spoke to him early this morning, the electricity, backup electricity, went out at the hospital.

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