One weary evacuee cries, "Lord, I thank you for getting us out of here!" But not all praise President Bush s efforts

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated September 03, 2005 09:15 AM
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Momentum is increasing in the rescue efforts in New Orleans this weekend, despite thousands of victims of Hurricane Katrina who remain stranded in the flooded city.

After four days of frustration, lack of food and water and even hope, the arrival of the National Guard s military convoy carrying supplies – along with a fleet of air-conditioned buses to evacuate victims of the disaster to other states – was met with mixed and highly charged emotions about the government s pace and level of concern.

Observing the caravan of buses, evacuee Leschia Radford sang the praises of a higher power. “Lord, I thank you for getting us out of here!” she told the AP.

Yet another sufferer, 70-year-old Nellie Washington, voiced a more tempered reaction. Shielded from the searing sun by only a rag, and pushing a shopping cart containing all her belongings in the world, Washington asked: “What took you so long? I’m extremely happy, but I cannot let it be at that. They did not take the lead to do this. They had to be pushed to do it.”

The soldiers’ arrival came amid angry complaints from local officials that the federal government had bungled the relief effort and let people die in the streets for lack of proper provisions.

“The people of our city are holding on by a thread,” Mayor Ray Nagin had warned. “Time has run out. Can we survive another night? And who can we depend on? Only God knows.”

The scale of the casualties is still not known, but tens of thousands of citizens remain in the devastated city of New Orleans, while more than 75,000 people have been forced to take shelter in neighboring Texas.

Two of the city’s hospitals were evacuated late Friday after frantic doctors spent days making difficult choices about which patients would receive dwindling supplies of food, water and medicine.

Elsewhere in the city came more reports of violence and mayhem taking place in shelters and in the streets, with some police officers reportedly turning in their badges rather than deal with the lawlessness.

President Bush took a land and air tour of hard-hit areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama on Friday, and admitted of the relief effort: “The results are not enough.” Congress passed a $10.5 billion disaster aid package, and Bush quickly signed the measure.

Not that the president s signature wiped away everybody s feelings about the government s handling of the Katrina situation. On NBC s Friday night “A Concert for Hurricane Relief” benefit, hip-hop star Kanye West delivered a darted criticism about the chief executive s response to the disaster.

Veering from the prepared script for the show, which raised money for relief efforts through the appearances of Lindsay Lohan, Leonardo DiCaprio, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Richard Gere, Harry Connick Jr. and Wynton Marsalis, West told the audience: “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

West added: “I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says they’re looting. See a white family, it says they’re looking for food.”

West s remarks went out live on the east coast, but were deleted from a tape-delay version later shown out west.

In a statement NBC said, “Kanye West departed from the scripted comments that were prepared for him, and his opinions in no way represent the views of the networks.

“It would be most unfortunate if the efforts of the artists who participated tonight and the generosity of millions of Americans who are helping those in need are overshadowed by one person’s opinion.”

Friday’s program was the first of several TV benefits planned through next weekend.

NBC and the five other major commercial broadcast networks, along with PBS, plan to unite next Friday for a special. The same night, BET will air a benefit. And on Saturday, Sept. 10, the MTV networks will air a special.