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Exhausted evacuees pack New Orleans airport

Commercial carriers, military begin massive airlift of survivors



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New Orleans (Louisiana)

KENNER, Louisiana (CNN) -- Military helicopters continued flying masses of New Orleans evacuees Friday to the field hospital and staging center established at the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.

The facility so far has processed 40,000 people, with priority given to the sick and injured, one official said.

CNN's Ed Lavandera said dozens of helicopters were landing and depositing people evacuated from various sites in New Orleans. Those sites included the convention center and the Superdome, where thousands of people have been stranded.

"The look on these people's faces is so distressing," he said. "They're so exhausted, it's hard to describe."

Lavandera reported seeing several corpses in body bags. (Watch more of his report from the airport-turned-field hospital -- 3:02)

At the airport, the evacuees are being assessed and sent either to get medical help inside the buildings or to another area for evacuation to other sites, many outside the state.

A nurse told him that medical teams may, at some point, have to "black tag" patients -- decide which ones have a better chance of survival so the medical team's limited resources aren't consumed on lost causes.

People who can't walk are being ferried in wheelchairs and on equipment normally used to move luggage around the airport.

One official said as many as 800 people were being treated each hour. Among those arriving are doctors and staff evacuated from Tulane University Hospital.

Arriving at the field hospital and staging center Friday was President Bush, who met with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco. (Full story)

Evacuees sent out of New Orleans

As of Friday night, the Red Cross counted more than 94,000 evacuees in nearly 300 of its shelters in eight states: Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Tennessee, Arkansas, Florida and Georgia.

And offers of spare rooms were pouring in from elsewhere around the country.

Meanwhile, nearly 154,000 refugees were reported to be in neighboring Texas as of Friday night, and the number was growing. Gov. Rick Perry said Texas could end up with as many as 200,000 evacuees. Among the Texas cities taking in people were Huntsville, San Antonio and Dallas.

The Houston Astrodome, which already is sheltering thousands of people, stopped accepting them late Thursday. Authorities have begun housing newly arrived evacuees in nearby Reliant Arena, said Patrick Trahan, a city spokesman. Houston's mayor said that no person would be turned away. About 90,000 pounds of Red Cross relief supplies were being flown by FedEx from Newark, New Jersey.

The Texas Education Agency says more than 3,500 new students already had enrolled statewide.

A bus carrying a number of evacuees from New Orleans overturned north of Lafayette, Louisiana, on Friday afternoon. One man was killed and an unknown number of people were injured, a Louisiana State Police spokesman said.

"These people were simply trying to escape an extremely bad situation," said Trooper Willie Williams.

The bus was going northbound on Interstate 49 when it crossed two southbound lanes and flipped on its side. An investigation is under way.

Massive airlift operation

The U.S. Air Force said Friday that 10,000 evacuees will be transported in a military and commercial airlift from New Orleans to San Antonio.

The federal government also has started a separate, massive airlift effort with the private aviation industry. Dubbed "Operation Air Care," the effort is aimed at evacuating more than 25,000 people stranded in New Orleans.

Passenger carriers participating in the volunteer effort include: Alaska, America West, American, ATA, Continental, Delta, Jet Blue, Northwest, Southwest, United, US Airways, and Air Canada. Cargo carriers providing support include: ASTAR Air Cargo, Federal Express and UPS Airlines.

The Air Transport Association -- a major trade organization -- and its member carriers are coordinating the volunteer effort.

Similar efforts are taking place across the Gulf Coast. The operations include running the local international airport, conducting rescue missions, treating sick people and shipping supplies. AirEvac Life Teams has taken patients in greatest need from Gulfport, Mississippi to Mobile, Alabama.

Rescue and relief

One New Orleans police officer said that he and four other officers secured a landing zone that helped enable helicopters to evacuate 3,000 men, women and children. "Our biggest problem was that the men wanted to get out before the women," Sgt. Joel Sylve told CNN's Karl Penhaul. "We had to drag them off the choppers."

By midday Friday, the U.S. Coast Guard said more than 5,500 people had been rescued by its helicopters and more than 1,600 by boats.

Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, in charge of the military operation, estimated that about 7,000 people were stranded on the Interstate 10 overpass Thursday. "We're going in and picking up those that are sick and moving them to the hospital," he said, referring to the makeshift facility at New Orleans Louis Armstrong International Airport.

Honore said that 1,000 National Guard troops were involved in the evacuation of people there and in the city's hospitals.

CNN's Barbara Starr reported that as she was walking in the street with Honore, a young woman with twin babies in her arms was walking in the street.

"She was trying to walk in this terrible heat, and she apparently was so exhausted the babies were half falling out of her arms," Starr said.

Gen. Honore, she said, "went up to this woman, and he said, 'We're going to get you help.' And he took both of those babies, handed them off to his soldiers, said, 'Take these babies,' and we got on a Coast Guard ship."

The mother and the babies are now getting medical care, Starr said.

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