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Allen: Pumping capacity No. 1 challenge

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Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, left, and Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen brief the media in Baton Rouge.

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New Orleans (Louisiana)

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- The Coast Guard officer in charge of Hurricane Katrina relief efforts for the federal government said Saturday his priority is to remove water from New Orleans as quickly as possible -- and he intends to coordinate the groups providing aid.

"Quite clearly, the No. 1 challenge right now is more pumping capacity," Vice Adm. Thad Allen told reporters Saturday, his first full day on the job.

According to the Army Corps of Engineers, 32 of the 148 pumps in and around New Orleans were operating as of noon Saturday.

Allen said the pumps are steadily coming back on line.

"Everything is related to the unwatering at this point," he added.

The Army Corps of Engineers Saturday revised its timetable for draining the flood waters from New Orleans, saying the draining should be completed in October, far sooner than previous estimates.

Allen, chief of staff of the Coast Guard, said he had met with the presidents of eight parishes in the New Orleans area to discuss "the unity that is going to be needed to move this effort forward."

"There are a lot of people trying to help these parishes. You've got FEMA coming in, you've got the National Guard coming in, and Department of Defense people on the ground here with tremendous capabilities," Allen said.

"One of the things we talked about today was a single coordinating mechanism so I could take all those different forces that are flowing into a parish and make sure they were being put to the highest priorities of those parish residents and the presidents," he said.

Allen declined to describe specifics of the plan to reporters, but said, "I think we know how to move forward from here."

Allen said the discussions were "frank and open."

One goal, he said, was to better coordinate moving people to temporary shelters once they are evacuated and their immediate needs met.

In addition, the effort to recover bodies was improving so the people could be documented, families notified and the bodies transported.

His goal, Allen said, was a "seamless handoff."

Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown, who had been leading the relief effort, was recalled to Washington on Thursday night by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

Allen replaced Brown after a storm of criticism over the federal response to the storm. (Full story)

Asked about Brown, Allen said he spoke to him Friday.

"I worked with Mike Brown. He's a great friend. I wish him good luck. I'm on the ground to move forward. That's what I tend intend to do," he said.

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