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New Orleans evacuation plan has holes

City's security chief: Plan to use trains, planes, buses will work

From Susan Roesgen
CNN Gulf Coast Bureau

Evacuees mob buses at an evacuation staging point in Metairie, Louisiana, on September 1.


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New Orleans (Louisiana)
City Planning

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- New Orleans' plan to evacuate its residents in the event of a major hurricane strike this summer may not be as complete as city officials made it sound last week when they unveiled the plan, according to a CNN review.

Mayor Ray Nagin and Terry Ebbert, director of the city's Homeland Security Department, released a plan that uses trains, planes and buses to get people out of town -- a plan Nagin told CNN is good to go.

"The fundamentals of this plan basically is to get as many people out pre-event, and right after the event," he said.

CNN took a closer look at those fundamentals and found some of them lacking, evoking a scenario reminiscent of the chaos when Hurricane Katrina hit the city last September and the finger-pointing afterward. (Watch how the plan raises doubt -- 2:32)

For one, the plan to use Amtrak trains to evacuate the sick and elderly has not been completed with the rail operator. However, Amtrak officials said they are working on a memorandum of understanding with the city.

The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals said the plan has another problem -- not enough doctors to put on board those trains.

Department officials said the state would not be able to spare any doctors for the evacuation trains.

The plan calls for airlines to hold their planes in New Orleans long enough to evacuate tourists -- a plan the Transportation Security Administration said is under discussion but not completed. No airlines have agreed to it.

The city plans to use buses to pick up residents with no means of transportation from designated points and deliver them to the Convention Center.

From there, according to the plan, the state is to get them to shelters outside the city.

But the city has no more than 100 buses available for the job of moving an estimated 10,000 people, and the bus drivers have not agreed to stay.

Furthermore, the state transportation department said it considers it the city's responsibility to get people out of town. However, it did say it was preparing a plan to help New Orleans get its people out.

Finally, less than three weeks before the start of hurricane season, not a single shelter has been lined up.

Ebbert said he wasn't particularly worried about the apparent holes in the plan, saying the city's position is that the state and federal government have to make the plan work.

"The plan is land-based transportation out of the city on buses," he said. "That is the plan. These other areas are improvements to the plan, which I believe the federal government will make good on."

There are other questions. For instance, just how mandatory is the city's plan for a mandatory evacuation? The city has said that it would not force residents to leave if they choose to stay.

And there is no provision for the evacuation of nursing homes, which the state Department of Health and Hospitals considers private businesses and responsible for their own evacuation plans.

At least 35 people died at the St. Rita Nursing Home when Katrina hit after the facility failed to evacuate its residents.

New Orleans' population is less than half of what it was before last year's catastrophic Hurricane Katrina -- meaning fewer people to evacuate.

But the problems with the plan can't but make those people just a little nervous about what would happen should another hurricane make the Crescent City its target this year.

The city will test its plan with drills on May 23 and 24, Ebbert said. Public service announcements on local stations will get the word out to residents.

Nagin may not be around to implement this plan. He is in a tough re-election fight with Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu. The runoff vote is set for May 20.

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