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Water Level Decreases in New Orleans

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

In New Orleans today, one week after Katrina, search-and-rescue teams continued to find survivors. Those being evacuated from the ravaged Gulf Coast region were spreading out farther across the country, to shelters and temporary homes, and officials continued trying to count and collect the dead.

BLOCK: In Washington, President Bush will seek an additional $40 billion in hurricane relief. Officials in New Orleans today did point to considerable progress on one front: pumping water out of that bowl-shaped city. Even as that continues, state and federal officials are starting to measure another problem: the environmental impact of Katrina. We begin our coverage of the day's developments in Baton Rouge with NPR's Phillip Davis.

PHILLIP DAVIS reporting:

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who had been bitterly critical of the slow pace of the rescue effort, now says that maybe the corner has been turned. After taking an aerial tour, he told reporters...

Mayor RAY NAGIN (Democrat, New Orleans): There's still a significant amount of water, but instead of having 80 percent of the city under water, I would estimate we have 60 percent of the city under water.

DAVIS: Throughout the inundated parts of the city, state Fish and Wildlife officers, National Guardsmen and volunteers took boats and military trucks to find stranded residents. Their numbers are dwindling, but still people are being found. The mayor said these individuals are in pretty bad shape.

Mayor NAGIN: Most of them are delirious, they're dehydrated. Lots of them are senior citizens that have not had their medications in a long time and they are requiring immediate medical assistance.

DAVIS: Nagin reiterated that conditions were unsafe and unsanitary in the city, and urged everyone to leave. But he denied that he had ordered rescuers to withhold food and water from those who refused to leave.

Mayor NAGIN: That is absolutely a false rumor. I said, `Do not--do not harm anyone, do not allow anyone to starve, do not allow anyone to go without water and always treat everyone with respect.'

DAVIS: The state also announced that storm evacuees staying in hotels will not have to pay state hotel taxes.

The mayor has described the waters festering in the city as a toxic soup. State environmental director Mike McDaniel today described the huge environmental challenge facing parts of the state affected by the hurricane.

Mr. MIKE McDANIEL (Louisiana Environmental Director): We have 2,200 facilities with underground storage tanks; each of them have about three tanks. We have 140 to 160,000 flooded homes. We have 25 major sewage treatment facilities that are out, we have 35 medium sewage treatments out and 470 small sewage treatment plants.

DAVIS: McDaniel said in the flooded parts of the city, there's almost a continuous sheen on the water from leaking gasoline tanks, from cars and service stations. That'll have a serious impact on the wildlife and waters of Lake Pontchartrain, but McDaniel says that Mother Nature is resilient and the lake will recover. Phillip Davis, NPR News, Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Phillip Davis
Correspondent Phillip Davis covers South Florida and beyond for NPR. He joined NPR in January 1993, and has reported on such topics as the Elian Gonzalez affair, the disputed 2000 presidential election, and the growing cultural diversity of South Florida. Davis has also filed reports from England, West Africa, and South America for NPR. His pieces can be heard on NPR's award-winning newsmagazines Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and All Things Considered.