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River Center holds thousands of evacuees

Editor's Note: CNN correspondents report back on what they are seeing in New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities hit by Hurricane Katrina.

'The less they know, the better'


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New Orleans (Louisiana)
Disasters and Accidents

Posted: 5:01 p.m. ET
CNN's Manav Tanneeru in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Evacuees from Hurricane Katrina still file into the Baton Rouge River Center, located on the banks of the Mississippi River, even as others leave for temporary housing with relatives, relocate to a new state through relief organizations, or independently find apartments or other housing.

The River Center, run by the American Red Cross, includes a sports arena and convention hall, and both are being used to house evacuees. The shelter overall is capable of holding some 5,000 evacuees, according to a Red Cross public affairs volunteer, making it the largest shelter in Louisiana.

"I was really uplifted here," said Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, who visited the shelter today after spending the previous days in devastated areas across the state. "There are heroes to this story and they are the local leaders and private citizens who banded together in the individual communities that were devastated to just get the job done in the initial days, with no help in those initial days coming in from outside, they got it done and they are the real heroes."

The convention center is lined with cots from end-to-end, and a half-dozen camping tents are located near the center of the shelter, some with infants sleeping inside.

One extended family from Port Sulphur has 13 children, ages two months to 14 years, with another baby due next month. "The less they know, the better," said Cassie Picquet, 23, a member of the extended family whose children are also there. "They're just being children right now."

The evacuees enter the shelter through metal detectors, fill in their personal information, and are processed. A desk has been set up for posting missing persons' information, and another desk has been set up for general information.

82nd Airborne to assist mortuary teams

Posted: 3:09 p.m. ET
CNN's Barbara Starr in New Orleans, Louisiana

On the very difficult search for those many thousands who may have perished in the floods, we talked to the commander of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division here in New Orleans this morning. He says his troops will not enter houses in New Orleans. They will knock on doors and on windows. They will attempt to locate and identify the dead and then point out to mortuary teams that will come through the city.

Maj. Gen. Bill Caldwell feels within a few weeks they will have been able to complete a search of all of the residential areas north of the Interstate 10 corridor. (See how U.S. Army soldiers are assisting law enforcement in New Orleans -- 3:16)

Some residents still holding their ground

Posted: 3:07 p.m. ET
CNN's Jeff Koinange in New Orleans, Louisiana

I remember the city about a week ago. It was 80 percent under water. It's starting to recede a bit. Now it's about 60 percent.

That water is still foul, smelly and in some parts very high. We went to a neighborhood in the uptown part of New Orleans and the water was chest high in some of these neighborhoods. This is why the mayor is urging all residents of New Orleans to vacate because that water is contaminated with all kinds of bacteria.

He wants the residents to leave the city so emergency services can come in and pump that water out and start the cleanup process and eventually get the people back in. It's going to take awhile but people have to realize they have to leave the city first

We just heard a short while ago the New Orleans police chief saying he's not going to force people. He still wants them to volunteer to leave. In the next couple of days if they find there are still too many people in New Orleans, don't be surprised if they go door to door insisting that people leave town.

The police chief is insisting they have other priorities right now. They are still urging people. They don't want it to come to forcing people out. The people, on the other hand, are adamant. They are resisting. They are saying they are going to stay as long as they can. They are saying that they have the right to. Don't be surprised if it comes to a standoff.

No sign of forced evacuations

Posted: 12:02 p.m. ET
CNN's Karl Penhaul in New Orleans, Louisiana

We certainly still haven't seen any sign of the start of forced evacuations. We are on the edge of the French Quarter and we know that there are some stragglers -- people who have refused to leave -- but we haven't seen any law enforcement officials move in there to root them out.

Mayor Nagin's plan has had little detail so far as to who exactly would be taking these people out and how they would be forced out, especially in those flooded areas.

You can imagine if it took a week to get survivors out who were willing to come out, it's going to be a big job to get law enforcement officers in flooded areas to get people who don't want to come out. (See Karl Penhaul's report on the mandatory evacuation ordered in New Orleans -- 2:42)

'You come back next year'

Posted: 11:35 a.m. ET
CNN Radio's Ed McCarthy at the New Orleans airport

This story is so tied up in human emotion that one person's story seems to trump the other. It's amazing.

Robert Hopkins is the deputy commander of FEMA's disaster medical team called the Massachusetts 2. He's been doing this kind of work for 30 years. He's been through Hurricanes Andrew, Hugo, Isabel and the World Trade Center disaster and says this tops any rescue mission.

I also spoke to Alonzo Douglas who was at the New Orleans airport Tuesday night getting medical attention.

He's from Bayou St. John, in the Esplanade area of New Orleans. He relented being picked up by a helicopter and didn't want to leave. He wants to go back after he gets medical attention. He even said, "Give me my antibiotics and let me go home."

This is the prevailing attitude here. A lot of people did not want to evacuate, and they still don't. A lot of people would prefer to go back home rather than going somewhere else.

As I left the airport, Douglas shook my hand and told me he had something for me. He came out with a T-shirt from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival from 2003 and said, "You come back next year; we'll have a great time."

That's how people try to stay optimistic in this awful period. It's just amazing.

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