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Convoys bring relief to New Orleans

Refugees cheer convoys; Bush signs $10.5 billion aid package

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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Four days after Hurricane Katrina devastated much of the northern Gulf Coast, tired and angry people stranded at the convention center in New Orleans welcomed a supply convoy carrying food, water and medicine with cheers and tears of joy.

It was perhaps the biggest breakthrough in a day of progress in the ravaged city.

Also on Friday, President Bush visited Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, saying there was still a lot of work ahead for the federal government.

And after returning to Washington, Bush signed a $10.5 billion disaster relief bill. The amount includes $10 billion in supplemental funds for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $500,000 for the Pentagon for its hurricane relief work. (Full story)

Earlier in the day, Bush termed the money a "down payment" and said it was just the beginning.

At the convention center, the thousands of people displaced by the storm -- many of whom have had little or nothing to eat since the storm hit Monday morning -- erupted when the convoy arrived, evacuee Tishia Walters told CNN by telephone.

"Flags went flying, people shouting and waving. There's like 7,000 people out here in dying conditions," she said.

Walters said she was outside of the center when the convoy of about 50 military vehicles carrying National Guard troops and police arrived.

"It's amazing. They've come in full force," she said.

Officials involved in relief efforts are dealing with a number of issues:

  • Military helicopters continued airlifts throughout the day, ferrying in supplies and taking many people out of the city to the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport in nearby Kenner. The facility so far has processed 40,000 people, with priority given to the sick and injured, one official said. (Full story)
  • Two hospitals in downtown New Orleans resumed evacuations despite safety concerns. (Full story)
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated Friday that it will take 36 to 80 days to drain the city. (Full story)
  • Texas officials said nearly 154,000 evacuees have arrived there.
  • Black members of Congress criticized the pace of relief efforts, saying response was slow because those most affected are poor. (Full story)
  • At a New Orleans street corner, Lt. Gen. Russel Honore directed the deployment of National Guard troops -- expected to number 1,000. (See video of the convoy roll through floodwaters -- 3:33)

    Honore said getting food and water to the people at the convention center was difficult. "If you ever have 20,000 people come to supper, you know what I'm talking about," the three-star general said. "If it was easy, it would have been done already." (Honore profile)

    CNN's Barbara Starr, who is traveling with the general, said Honore is "very determined to keep this looking like a humanitarian relief operation." (See the mayor's order to stop the talking and send soldiers to help -- 1:00)

    "A few moments ago, he stopped a truck full of National Guard troops ... and said, 'Point your weapons down, this is not Iraq,' " Starr reported.

    Authorities continued working to evacuate the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, trying to help the most at-risk people first, and the Louisiana Superdome, where thousands of people remained Friday evening.

    Bush inspects hurricane-battered cities

    President Bush took a helicopter tour of New Orleans on Friday afternoon with Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who a day earlier had blasted federal relief efforts in an expletive-laced diatribe.

    "I'm not going to forget what I've seen," Bush said, before departing on Air Force One for Washington. "I understand the devastation requires more than one day's attention. It's going to require the attention of this country for a long period of time."

    Nagin, who on Thursday night had scathing remarks for the federal government's response to the crisis, praised President Bush after Bush's trip through the region Friday. (See the mayor's demand for national leaders to 'get off their asses' -- 12:09)

    Nagin said Bush was "very serious" and "very engaging" during his time in New Orleans.

    "He was brutally honest. He wanted to know the truth," Nagin said. "... And we talked turkey. I think we're in a good spot now."

    On Friday the president also took an aerial tour of storm damage in Alabama and walked through a neighborhood in Biloxi, Mississippi, to inspect storm damage.

    The president said he is "satisfied" with the federal government's response to the Katrina disaster, although there is not "enough security in New Orleans, yet." (Full story) (Watch Bush news briefing -- 2:32)

    Other developments

  • State officials have spotted a "major" oil spill in the Venice area of the Mississippi Delta region, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality said Friday. A department news release said two tanks capable of holding 2 million barrels appeared to be leaking. The statement did not give the precise location of the spill. Venice is about 75 miles southeast of New Orleans.
  • Offers of support have poured in from all over the world. Many countries have offered condolences and made donations to the Red Cross, including Britain, Japan, Australia and Sri Lanka, which is still recovering from last year's tsunami. (Full story)
  • CNN's Sean Callebs, Sanjay Gupta, Ed Lavendera, Chris Lawrence and Barbara Starr contributed to this report.

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