Saturday, September 03, 2005

St. Bernard rescue efforts continue
Plaquemines request to blow levee denied

By Susan Langenhenning and Ed Anderson
Staff writers

More than 10,000 people in St. Bernard Parish have been rescued since Tuesday, and the race is on to reach thousands more there and in neighboring Plaquemines parishes, home to some of Hurricane Katrina's worst flooding.In Plaquemines Parish, Parish Council Chairman Amos Cormier sought permission Friday from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dynamite the Mississippi River levee at Myrtle Grove to relieve flooding in the lower half the parish, a proposal quickly shot down by the Corps.Cormier declined to estimate the number of people killed by the hurricane, but he requested the state provide the parish with 200 body bags."It seems like a good number to ask for,'' he said.Rescuers also snagged more than 500 people off rooftops and levees, officials said. Three people were confirmed dead, and more deaths are expected. And at least more people need to be rescued as soon as possible, said Jesse St. Amant, director of the parish's emergency operations center.Cormier also requested that 50 military police officers, 50 assault weapons and 50 sharpshooters be sent to the parish, where reports of looting of marine vessels are rampant.The parish, from Buras south, is wiped out, officials said.Cormier said marine vessels in the area that survived the storm are being looted, while others are being taken."We have looters coming in by boat,'' he said.Cormier's request to dynamite the levee to relieve flooding was met with disapproval by the corps, which is responsible for levee maintenance and construction."We will have a crater over which we would have no control,'' said Brig. Gen. Robert Crear, of the corps. "Absolutely not.''Meanwhile, in St. Bernard Parish, officials said the race was on to rescue many people still trapped in flooded homes and shelters."We have had people laying in water in their attics for days,'' said Sen. Walter Boasso, who represents the parish. "I need land transportation. I need to get a deuce and half.''Since Tuesday, some 200 boats operated by the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and private volunteers have been plucking stranded St. Bernard residents from their homes and bringing them to the Chalmette boat slip, where they wait in a warehouse until they can catch ferries to Algiers, Boasso said. From there, they have been transported to Algiers and then bused to shelters in DeRidder and Dallas, he said."We're constantly rescuing people," said Boasso, who visited St. Bernard Thursday night. "People on the West Bank also are hearing about the buses, so we're helping them, too.''He estimated that more than 10,000 people have been resuced from St. Bernard, which has a population of about 66,000.Chalmette Refining and the Creole Queen, which is docked on the river, are serving as bases for parish emergency operations, he said, adding that one floor of the refinery even had air conditioning."Our whole parish is on lock down. All entrances and exits are guarded," Boasso said, adding that residents who evacuated should not try to return. The state Department of Transportation and Development is trying to set up portable boat ramps so additional boats can assist in the recovery.The senator, who owns Boasso America Corp., a liquid bulk shipping business, said privately owned barges and tug boats have been lined up to bring in additional supplies to St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parish, which he described as "completely devastated from Buras on down.""We're getting ready to fly over to see where we can get the barges into (Plaquemines)."Boasso said almost all businesses and homes in St. Bernard have been destroyed, including his own house. His company's 200 employees are "spread out all over the country," but he has set up essential personnel in Houston.


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