Thousands rescued as New Orleans is emptied
September 4, 2005
NEW ORLEANS, La. — What a difference a day makes.
By the time Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld made his way through the facility on Sunday morning, with an entourage that included Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and 45 members of the press, terminals at Louis Armstrong International Airport were nearly empty and almost clean.
On Saturday morning, the same terminals were seething masses of fed-up residents, desperately sick patients, and exhausted and harried rescue workers.
In the triage area, the floors were so slippery with urine that workers had to shuffle to avoid falling. In the terminal where thousands of hot, tired and increasingly angry people waited to catch evacuation flights, trash was ankle-deep.
Rumsfeld did not linger Sunday, briskly making his way through the airport, shaking hands and listening to the occasional official talk about his or her responsibilities.
The cameras paused from time to time for arranged “photo ops,” including a young female Air Force medical worker feeding a toddler a bottle.
Rescue workers and military personnel, who had worked round the clock and beyond, had mixed reactions.
“Everything stops for him. He should have seen this yesterday, not today,” muttered a civilian volunteer, who promptly left the area in disgust before she could be asked her name.
Others were more excited to see the officials.
“Hey, that’s Gen. Myers,” an airman told his female colleague, who looked shattered with fatigue. “You know, the top guy in our service.”
“Oh,” she replied. “How nice of him to come.”
But most of the rescuers were so tired they seemed numb.
The fatigue was understandable. They had accomplished what only yesterday seemed impossible.
Over three intense days and nights, more than 1,000 medical workers, law enforcement officers and military personnel had managed to evacuate crowds that at times peaked at 25,000 at the airport, Marty Bahamonde, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, told USA Today.
On Saturday alone, the Air Force rescued 494 people from flooded homes and flew 4,249 more from places such as the Superdome to this airport for further movement by civilian charters.
The actual numbers are higher, because other services, including the Navy and Coast Guard and civilian law enforcement agencies, also did rescue and evacuation operations.
Also Saturday, the Air Force flew 1,072 patients to hospitals in San Antonio, Houston and Atlanta.
The first troops from the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg and 1st Cavalry Division from Fort Hood, Texas, who have been ordered to assist in the Katrina effort, began arriving at the airport Sunday.
The 82nd’s commander, Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, came to oversee the set-up of his division’s tactical operations center in the cargo area of the airport.