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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 September 2005, 05:04 GMT 06:04 UK
Bedraggled survivors seek safety
By Matthew Davis
BBC News, New Orleans

A steady stream of military helicopters has been ferrying the remaining survivors of the New Orleans floods to a staging point at the city's airport.

Flood survivors are flown to Louis Armstrong International Airport
With conditions worsening, people decided to abandon their homes

Bedraggled and bewildered, but glad to be alive, many of those stepping gingerly onto the tarmac of Louis Armstrong International Airport are a sorry sight.

They clutch whatever possessions they can cram into a bag and - squinting in the sun - are ushered into the care of US soldiers.

Many people had stocked up with food and water, hoping to sit out the disaster.

But, trapped by the waters and with conditions deteriorating by the day, they faced up to the reality of their plight.

Alfred Carson, plucked from the roof of a second floor flat in a building is still in high spirits.

Lynette Stevenson
I am just grateful to God, it is a blessing to be able to see your face
Lynette Stevenson
"I'm feeling good, I'm feeling fantastic," he told BBC News.

"I didn't want to go but they told us this was one of the last transports from our area. We were prepared to stay for another week, but you know it was time.

"I've got no money in my pocket, but if I can get to Atlanta, then I'm going to open a car wash!"

Lynette Stevenson, evacuated by the same aircrew smiles and says: "I am just grateful to God, it is a blessing to be able to see your face."

Many others, especially the elderly, look shattered.

'Time to go'

Volunteers hand out bottles of water and direct them to the airport terminal where the injured will be treated and then flown out to scattered cities across the region.

In the last week, more than 22,000 evacuees have passed through. Some 1,500 have been taken straight to other hospitals in the region.

From pick-up to the flight out of the city, the whole process can be over in as little as five hours.

Today, the last of the "hold-outs" are not troubling the acute unit set up in the space between the airport's restaurant chains.

But military vets are busy - checking over all manner of animals cradled by their owners. One man has lost everything - except his yellow budgerigars.

Sarah Young (left)
When we first looked forward to bringing a baby into the world these are circumstances we never could have imagined
Sarah Young

Lt Colonel Mary McFadden, of the US Air Force, told the BBC: "People are coming in saying it is time to leave the city, it is time to go.

"The biggest concern is their mental state. Many have had enough, they have reached breaking point."

Doctors say disease is now a major threat, especially among those who waded through stagnant waters to safety.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin was asked whether reports of a death toll as high as 10,000 would be accurate.

He said he couldn't tell how high it would go, but added: "It's going to be awful, and it is going to wake the nation up again."

Care needed

Some say that a quicker response from the authorities could have saved lives.

Dr Joe Garvisco, from the Ochsner hospital - the only city hospital to stay open throughout the crisis - told the BBC: "I would guess maybe that half the fatalities could be avoided.

"A lot of those fatalities were people who were able to gain access to attics or to make signs that they were there - we could have saved another 1,000 to 1,500 people probably."

But amid the recriminations, there was a positive sign on Tuesday when a walk-in clinic opened at the Ochsner for the first time.

Medics hope it will be a lifeline to all those still in the city needing basic medical care like fresh prescriptions to replace those lost in the floods.

Chief nurse Avery Corenswet said: "We are about two thirds of our normal volume, but when you think how many people have left the city it shows you just how much care the people behind are going to need."

Sarah Young, 39 weeks-pregnant, told the BBC: "It is wonderful to be able to see my usual obstetrician - you don't want to change.

"When we first looked forward to bringing a baby into the world these are circumstances we never could have imagined."

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