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Campaign reportedly urged self-reliance for poor

Officials sought to warn New Orleans residents to find way out

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New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was among the officials recording messages to warn the poor.

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New Orleans (Louisiana)
Disaster Relief
Disasters (General)
Transportation

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Weeks before Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans, government officials reportedly were organizing a campaign to warn the city's poor that they would need to find their own way out in the event of an evacuation.

On July 24, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported that city, state and federal emergency officials were recording video messages as part of a campaign organized by the anti-poverty group Total Community Action.

About 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded last week when levees collapsed in Katrina's wake, trapping thousands of the city's poorest residents. Mayor Ray Nagin has estimated the death toll could reach 10,000 in the city, most of which lies below sea level.

The response by local, state and federal officials was chaotic in the first days following the storm.

Thousands of residents who were unable or unwilling to leave the city were stranded without food or drinkable water for days.

Nagin, who bluntly criticized the feds for their response to the disaster, was among those taking part in the campaign to the poor.

In an interview with the paper, he summarized his message: "You're responsible for your safety, and you should be responsible for the person next to you," he said.

"If you have some room to get that person out of town, the Red Cross will have a space for that person outside the area. We can help you. But we don't have the transportation."

It was unclear exactly what language he and others used in their taped messages.

The Times-Picayune said other speakers included representatives of the Louisiana State Police and National Weather Service.

The message was to be distributed on DVDs across the city, the newspaper said in the July article. But it was unclear whether any of the city's poorest residents received the message by the time Hurricane Katrina struck last week.

The newspaper also reported that the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority planned to make 64 buses and 10 lift vans available in the event of an emergency. But "whether that means out of town or to local shelters of last resort would depend on emergency planners' decision at that moment," an agency spokeswoman told the paper.

The paper said government officials acknowledged that even that plan would help only a fraction of the city's poor population.

The plan was not followed in the case of Katrina. City and state officials have said no one was sent to poor communities to ensure people knew about mandatory evacuation orders.

One of the central criticisms of government response to Katrina centers on the failure to reach out to the's city large impoverished population and make sure people were aware of mandatory evacuation orders and had the means to flee.

The Bush administration has come under fire for what critics have called a slow federal response to the disaster.

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