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Cleaning up the city

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

Progress a relative term


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New Orleans (Louisiana)
Disasters and Accidents

CNN's Jim Roope in New Orleans, Louisiana
Posted: 6:29 p.m. ET

As cleanup efforts continue in New Orleans, we've come to understand the word progress as a relative term. It comes in degrees and speed. While there is progress, it is slower in some places than in others.

I was able to walk Tuesday in places I needed a boat to travel to just a day and a half before. Still, in some places the water is high enough to need a boat. Some of these homes have been flooded for more than two weeks and most of them will have to be torn down. St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack Stevens says he's been told by health officials that 90 percent of the homes in his parish will have to be leveled.

I had a chance to go into a few homes of returning residents, in spite of urges against it, to assess the damage. The first thing you sense as you approach a house is the smell. When the swollen door is finally opened, the smell hits you like a blast from a furnace, but along with the heat is the intense indescribable smell with which we are familiar but in no way accustomed.

At this point you are already running out of air. Then you notice black mold everywhere [on] the walls, furniture and pictures. You can see on the wall where the water had crested, and then you notice how much more it soaked in -- up to and into the ceiling.

The furniture is rearranged and stacked like a cartoon. The water lifted refrigerators, floating them around and resting it on other pieces of furniture. Tables are resting on top of beds, toy chests on top kitchen counters. When you walk around the home some steps cause the home to buckle, underscoring the unseen damage to the structure. The owner of the house I walked through said simply, "I'll have to bulldoze it."

The recovery of bodies continues. As search teams prepare to enter a home, they look at each other as if to say, "OK, are you ready for what we might find?" They enter homes shouting, asking if anyone is home. The masks and dab of Vicks Vapo Rub under the nose barely helps you tolerate the smell, and in some cases the mood quickly changes as crews exit the house smiling, fists held high saying, "Clear!" to indicate that another person or family was able to escape.

But in some cases crews come out of a home grim-faced and visibly shaken, marking the side of the home with a number and the letters "db" for dead bodies and a crew comes in behind them to retrieve them. Bodies discovered earlier in the open, on freeway off-ramps, streets, and other places, are recovered by using GPS coordinates furnished by crews who found them. While we're told the death toll will be significantly less than the 10,000 originally estimated, still seeing just one is too many.

In less affected areas progress is a little more advanced. Electricity is restored in some places allowing some businesses to re-open, like pharmacies where residents can get much needed prescriptions filled. Also grocery stores and gas stations are popping up a little at a time. As the infrastructure is slowly restored, there is still the tremendous amount of debris and garbage in the streets of every part of the city. Mayor Nagin says he'd like the business district to ramp up on Monday, but I don't know how he'll get the debris and garbage off the streets. Driving is almost a slalom course. There is also the cleanup from the germs left by all that rotting garbage.

There is still much to be done. Some will say there has been great progress, some will say there has been just progress, but at least there is movement forward in the recovery of New Orleans. And any forward movement is progress.

Officials working to pump floodwaters out of city

CNN's Sean Callebs in New Orleans, Louisiana
Posted: 1:08 p.m. ET

We're in the Seventh Ward in New Orleans. There are actually 22 large stations in the city trying to pump the floodwaters out. Each station has between three and six pumps. Today we were in front of pumping station No. 3 which only had one functioning pump.

What kind of water are they dealing with? Well, it is nasty. Earlier today, the 82nd Airborne was out here. Both engineers and infantry were doing sampling of the water, the soil and the air. Something they've been doing basically around the clock. They're finding high levels of the substance that is usually found in coolant. They are also finding the sort of stuff that is associated with fuels and gasoline, which can cause burning of the eyes.

The big question is PCBs. When you look around the city, you can see all the utility lines that came down. Many transformers were slammed into the ground as well. They washed away in floodwaters. If the PCBs get out into the water, that could be a big mess as well.

Right now at the pumping station, the water is being sucked from the city. It is going underneath and it goes into a canal first. Then the water goes into the pumping station. Usually it's filtered and pumped back into the canal right behind the station but now they simply can't do that. It's coming out and going in as quick as they can do it to try to reduce the floodwaters in this area.

This pumping station is actually down low, so when the floodwaters came up it swamped the station and knocked out power. They've been trying to restore it for the better part of two weeks. They have one pump up today. They're optimistic more will be running in the future.

The water that comes through this pump station is supposed to just be rainwater. But, instead, it's a mixture of sewage, garbage, debris, rotting animals and everything you can imagine from this catastrophe.

There are all kinds of debris that they've never had to deal with before such as sofas and tree limbs, but they're learning lessons quickly in the aftermath of this hurricane.

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