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Working at recovery with an eye on Rita

Lt. General in charge of Katrina task force discusses latest in Gulf
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Lt. General Russel Honore, commander of Joint Task Force Katrina, appeared on Monday's 'Scarborough Country' from Camp Shelby, Miss., to discuss the recovery effort and preparations the region is making with Hurricane Rita on the horizon.

To read an excerpt of the conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.

JOE SCARBOROUGH: Obviously, we have been hearing from everybody involved that you've provided strong leadership for a region that's needed it so desperately, but now a new challenge coming, Hurricane Rita.  Can you tell us what preparations you're making and what your men and women are having to make for this possible storm? 

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, COMMANDER, FIRST U.S. ARMY:  Yes. We have positioned a defense-coordinating officer in Florida.  That's a team of about 30 personnel working with the state of Florida at the state emergency operations center.  We have conducted several teleconferences today and have identified necessary assets.  We have started to support the state of Florida.  National Guard assets have been chopped to Florida in terms of a C-130 from North Carolina to start evacuating patients. 

The state of Florida identified its assets and helicopters, as well as agreements with National Guard assets from other states.  And on the DOD side, we're starting to reposition some of our naval assets out of New Orleans to take to save haven.  We have the USS Bataan in Pensacola now taking on supplies.  It will loiter in a safe place to be prepared, if they are needed in the Florida Keys, as well as the USS Comfort, which is a hospital ship, had been off the coast of Mississippi.  It was-it is moving at this time.  And the USS Tortuga will also be moving out of the part of the Gulf.

SCARBOROUGH:  So, General, you all are obviously planning well in advance for this storm.

Take us, if you could, inside of New Orleans.  I know that it's a terrible situation inside the city.  There was talk about people returning, but are you sending the message, as well as everybody else, don't come back to New Orleans right now? 

HONORE:  Well, I think that's the prudent measure. 

The mayor has issued a statement to the people based on this storm, that is, based on Rita.  We're in New Orleans every day.  I have got thousands of troops there.  And I take issue with the fact that you call it a toxic city.  There are pockets of where some spills from oil.  I mean, it is an industrial city of enormous capacity that is very important to this nation.  Its port facility in the petrochemical business is key to the entire nation. 

And when a Category 5 storm hit it, you could expect some of these type of things to happen.  But it is not a toxic city.  My troops are there.  The first-responders are there.  And, right now, on top of fighting the aftermath of Katrina, as you are showing on your screen now all of the water that's being pumped -- over 90 percent of the water's been pumped.  There's been an outcry to try and get the business leaders in to assess their business.

And, unfortunately, we have got a crisis on top of a crisis with Rita coming across the Florida Keys and coming into the Gulf. ... So, we have got a combination of catastrophes working here.

SCARBOROUGH:  You say, General, that it's not a toxic city.  But for Rita, would you think it would be safe to bring people back into New Orleans? 

HONORE:  Well, and I think that's been decisions been made by the mayor and the governor, based on current information by Rita.

You know, you made decisions three days ago.  People start confusing plans with actions.  And we have got to constantly update our decision points.  And that's what we're doing.  We're working close with the city and the state.  And they have great planners there.  And we're working through this and we're going to do the right thing to get the people evacuated prior to the effects of Rita coming in.  But, at the same time, we're still dealing with the aftermaths of Katrina.