Video: Many ask: Where is the help?

By Pete Williams Justice correspondent
NBC News
updated 9/1/2005 8:52:24 PM ET 2005-09-02T00:52:24

With so much suffering and so many urgent pleas for help, nearly everyone still left in New Orleans is asking the same questions: “Where is the help? Why isn't more being done?”

Insisting he's well aware of the desperate cries for help, Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said Thursday the government is responding to a catastrophe spread over 90,000 square miles.

“For those who wonder why it is that it is difficult to get these supplies and these medical teams into place,” said Chertoff, “the answer is, they are battling an ongoing, dynamic problem with the water.”

As for what it is doing, the Coast Guard said it has rescued more than 3,000 people.

And more than 13,000 National Guard troops are now deployed in Louisiana and Mississippi, with thousands more coming.

“I am satisfied that we have not only enough,” insisted Chertoff, “but more than enough forces there and on the way.”

It is much better, the Pentagon says, to use state guardsmen than for President Bush to call up active duty forces whose role would be more limited.

“Often,” explains Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Paul McHale, “they have ties to local law enforcement, certainly. They have ties to local families and businesses in the community to be protected.”

But a growing chorus of former federal and state officials says much more should be done now.

“We need to focus,” says former FEMA official John Copenhaver, “to make sure we're addressing the needs of the people. And I can honestly say the images out of New Orleans have been of really serious concern.”

And just last year, a hurricane disaster exercise among government officials identified the likely worst case in New Orleans — including massive flooding beyond the wind damage. A participant tells NBC News it found that one-third of residents said they would not obey an evacuation order, even with a hurricane coming.

Thursday night officials in Washington say they're responding as fast as they can. Later, they say, they'll deal with the questions of whether enough was done before disaster hit.

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