New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin’s Desperate Plea For Help

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New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin expresses outrage and frustration during an interview last week by a local New Orleans radio station. Nagin demands greater effort and quicker delivery. [includes rush transcript]

Last Thursday night New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin blasted the slow pace of federal and state efforts to rescue the tens of thousands still stranded in flooded New Orleans. Earlier that day, he had issued a desperate S.O.S for help as crowds at the Superdome swelled to 30,000 with another 25,000 at the convention center. The sidewalks were packed with people without food, water or medical care, waiting for buses that did not come. Nagin was interviewed last Thursday night by Garland Robinette on WWL AM a local New Orleans radio station that is reportedly the only radio station that has remained on the air in the city. Nagin demanded that more be done to help the citizens of New Orleans.

  • Ray Nagin, Mayor of New Orleans

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

AMY GOODMAN: This an excerpt of what he [Nagin] had to say.

RAY NAGIN: You call him right now and you call the Governor and you tell them to delegate the powers that they have to the Mayor of New Orleans and we’ll get this damn thing fixed. It’s politics, man, and they’re playing games. They’re spinning — they’re out there spinning for the cameras.

GARLAND ROBINETTE: Can’t they just — if nothing else, look at 25% of their energy coming from the state is not flowing through the pipelines? We’re on the verge of anarchy; can’t they understand that they’re — if nothing else, they’re going to be hurt politically?

RAY NAGIN: I don’t know what they’re doing. Air conditioning must be good. Because I haven’t had any in five days, and maybe it’s — maybe there’s some smoke coming out of the air conditioning units that’s clogging some folks’ — their vision.

GARLAND ROBINETTE: Have you talked with the president?

RAY NAGIN: I’ve talked directly with the president.

GARLAND ROBINETTE: What does he say?

RAY NAGIN: I’ve talked to the head of the Homeland Security. I have talked to everybody under sun. I have been out there, man. I have flown these helicopters. been in the crowds talking to people, crying, don’t know where their relatives are. I have done it all, man, I tell you, man, Garland, I keep hearing that it’s coming. This is coming. That is coming. My answer to that today is: BS where is the beef? Because there’s no beef in this city. There’s no beef anywhere in Southeast Louisiana. Because these goddamn ships that are coming, I don’t see them!

GARLAND ROBINETTE: What did you say to the president of the United States, and what did he say to you?

RAY NAGIN: I basically told him we had an incredible crisis here and that his flying over in Air Force One does not do it justice. That I have been all around this city and I am very frustrated because we are not able to marshal resources, and we’re outmanned in just about every respect. You know the reason why the looters got out of control? Because we had most of our resources saving people, thousands of people, that were stuck in attics, old ladies. When you pull off the doggone ventilator vents and you look down there, and they’re standing in there in water up to their fricking neck. They don’t have a clue what’s going on down there. They flew down here one time, two days after the doing doggone event was over with TV cameras, A.P. reporters, all kind of god damn, excuse my French everybody in America, but I am pissed.

GARLAND ROBINETTE: Did you say to the president of the United States, I need the military in here?

RAY NAGIN: I said, I need everything. Now, I will tell you this, and I give the President some credit on this. He sent one John Wayne dude down here that can get some stuff done. His name is General Honoré. He came off the doggone chopper and he started cussing and people started moving. He’s getting some stuff done. They ought to give that guy — if they don’t want to give it to me, give him full authority to get the job done and we can save some people.

GARLAND ROBINETTE: What do you need right now to get control of this situation?

RAY NAGIN: I need reinforcements. I need troops, man. I need 500 buses, man. We aren’t talking about, you know, one of the briefings we had they were talking about getting — you know, public school bus drivers to come down here and bus people out of here. I’m like, 'You got to be kidding me. This is a national disaster. Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get their asses moving to New Orleans.' They are thinking small, man, and this is a major, major, major deal. I can’t emphasize it enough, man. This is crazy. I have got fifteen to twenty thousand people over at Convention Center is bursting at the seams, The poor people in Clackamas Parish, their air-vacking people over here to New Orleans. We don’t have anything. We’re sharing with our brothers in Clackamas Parish. It’s awful down here, man.

GARLAND ROBINETTE: Do you believe that the President is seeing this, holding news conference on it, but can’t do anything until Kathleen Blanco requests him to do it, and do you know whether or not she has made that request?

RAY NAGIN: I have no idea what they’re doing, but I will tell you this — you know, God is looking down on all of this, and if they are not doing everything in their power to save people, they are going to pay the price. Because every day that we delay, people are dying. They’re dying by the hundreds of them. I’m willing to bet you. We are getting reports and calls that are breaking my heart from people saying, I have been in my attic. I can’t take it anymore. The water is up to my neck. I don’t think I can hold out. That’s happening as we speak. You know what really upsets me, Garland. We told everybody the importance of the 17th Street Canal issue. We said, please, please, take care of this. We don’t care what you do, figure it out.

GARLAND ROBINETTE: Who did you say that to?

RAY NAGIN: Everybody, Governor, you know Homeland Security, FEMA, you name it, we said it. And you know, they allowed that pumping station next to it, the pumping station six, to go underwater. Our Sewage and Water Board people, Marcel St. Martin, stayed there and endangered their lives. What happened when that pumping station went down, the water started flowing again in the city. And it started getting to levels that probably killed more people. In addition to that, we had water flowing through the pipes in the city. That’s a power station over there. So, there’s no water flowing anywhere on the East bank of Orleans Parish. So a critical water supply was destroyed because of lack of action.

GARLAND ROBINETTE: Why couldn’t they drop the 3,000 pound sandbags or the containers that they were talking about earlier, was it an engineering feat that just couldn’t be done?

RAY NAGIN: They said it was some pulleys that they had to manufacture, but you know, in a state of emergency, man, you — you are creative. You figure out ways to get stuff done. Then they told me that they went overnight and built 17 concrete structures and they had the pulleys on them and were going to drop them. I flew over that thing yesterday and it’s in the same shape it was after the storm hit. There was nothing happening. They are feeding the public a line of bull. They’re spinning and people are dying down here.

GARLAND ROBINETTE: If some of the public called and they’re right, that there’s a law that the President, that the federal government can’t do anything without local or state requests, would you request marshal law?

RAY NAGIN: I have already called for marshal law in the City of New Orleans. We did that a few days ago.

GARLAND ROBINETTE: Did the Governor do that, too?

RAY NAGIN: I don’t know. I don’t think so. But we called for marshal law when we realized that the looting was getting out of control, and we redirected all of our police officers back to patrolling the streets. They were dead tired from saving people. But they worked all night because we thought this thing was going to blow wide open last night. So, we redirected all of our resources, and we held it under check. I’m not sure if we can do that another night with the current resources. I am telling you right now, they are showing all of these reports of people looting and doing all of this weird stuff. They are doing that. But people are desperate, and they’re trying to find food and water, the majority of them. Now, you got some knuckleheads out there, and they are taking advantage of this lawless — this situation where, you know, we cannot really control it, and they’re doing some awful, awful things. But that’s a small majority of the people. Most people are looking to try and survive. You have — one of the things that people have — nobody’s talked about this — drugs flowed in and out of New Orleans and the surrounding metropolitan area so freely it was scary to me. That’s why we are having the escalation in murders. People don’t want to talk about this, but I’m going to talk about it. You had drug addicts that are now walking around this city looking for a fix, and that’s the reason why they were breaking in hospitals and drugstores. They are looking for something to take the edge off of their Jones, if you will. Right now, they don’t have anything to take the edge off. And they probably have found guns, so what you are seeing is drug starving crazy addicts, drug addicts, that are wreaking havoc. We don’t have the manpower to adequately deal with it. We can only target certain sections of the city, and form a perimeter around them and hope to God that we are not overrun.

GARLAND ROBINETTE: You and I must be in the minority, because apparently there’s a section of our citizenry out there that thinks because of a law that says that the federal government can’t come in unless requested by the proper people that everything that’s going on to this point has been done as good as it can possibly be.

RAY NAGIN: Really?

GARLAND ROBINETTE: I know you don’t feel that way?

RAY NAGIN: Well did the tsunami victims request that you go through a formal process to request? You know, did Iraq, did the Iraqi people request that we go in there? Did they ask us to go in there? What is more important? This is you know, I will tell you, man, I’m probably going to get in a whole bunch of trouble. I’m probably going to get in so much trouble it ain’t even funny. They probably won’t want to deal with me after this interview is over.

GARLAND ROBINETTE: You and I will be in the funny place together.

RAY NAGIN: We authorized $8 billion to go to Iraq. Lickety-quick. After 9/11, we gave the President unprecedented power. Lickety-quick to take care of New York and other places. Now you mean to tell me that a place where most of your oil is coming through, a place that is so unique, when you mention New Orleans anywhere around the world, everybody’s eyes light up — you mean to tell me that a place where you probably have thousands of people that have died, and thousands more that are dying every day that we can’t figure out a way to authorize the resources that we need? Come on, man. You know, I am not one of those drug addicts. I am thinking very clearly. I don’t know whose problem it is. I don’t know whether it’s the Governor’s problem. I don’t know whether it’s the President’s problem, but somebody needs to get their ass on the plane and sit down, the two of them, and figure this out right now.

AMY GOODMAN:That was New Orleans Mayor, Ray Nagin, interviewed last Thursday night on the radio station that remained on the air throughout the hurricane, WWLAM in New Orleans. The next day, following the arrival of some National Guard troops and meeting with President Bush, Nagin expressed more hope the city would get the help it needed. This is Democracy Now!

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