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New Orleans mayor: Trying to get everybody in synch

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New Orleans (Louisiana)
Ray Nagin

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Conditions worsened Wednesday in New Orleans from still-rising floodwater, looting and rapidly deteriorating conditions in the Superdome, where up to 30,000 people sought shelter.

CNN's Soledad O'Brien spoke Wednesday with New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin about how the city is coping with the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

O'BRIEN: Here's how it sounds from our vantage point. Things are getting worse, and it doesn't seem like there's much of a plan to make things better. Is that a fair reading?

NAGIN: Well, you know, we have our challenges, and obviously over the last couple of hours, the challenges have escalated. The good news in the city is that our rescue efforts have been tremendous, and we've saved thousands of people that have been on top of roofs and stuck in attics. But, unfortunately, we do have that rising water situation.

O'BRIEN: You mention, sir, too many cooks. What did you mean? (Watch: "There is way too many fricking ... cooks in the kitchen")

NAGIN: Well, you know, yesterday, I was a little frustrated. There was, you know, I was expecting the levee to be plugged with some 3,000-pound sandbags, and it didn't happen. So we have command centers that are spread out in different locations, and this morning we're going to bring all of our command centers together so that we can get all of the varying opinions in one room ...

O'BRIEN: I could imagine that would be very frustrating. Who exactly is in charge? I mean, why are you still talking about a plan when you're 48-plus hours into this storm hitting? It wasn't much of a surprise in a lot of ways that it was coming.

NAGIN: Well, you know, this is an unprecedented event. And you have so many agencies working down here. You have wildlife and fisheries, with over a hundred rescue boats. You have the National Guard. They are mobilizing another 3,000 troops that are expected to be here. You have the state. You have the Army. You -- we have an unprecedented number of support personnel. And it's just a matter of getting everybody totally on synch and making sure that we have the sense of urgency on the priority issues. That's my concern.

O'BRIEN: So all of these different agencies, in your opinion, aren't really communicating well and aren't talking?

NAGIN: Well, we're talking, but unfortunately the communication systems are not that great down here, with the surprises. Most of the cell phones are not working. E-mails are not working properly. Batteries have run out on most of the radio systems that we have. So we're constantly in a state of flux, as it relates to communication. But we're going to get it fixed.

O'BRIEN: This is a city that is below sea level and right in the path of hurricanes. I mean, it has been for a long, long time. Why is there not a plan in place or a plan that has been in place for years and years in the event of something like this happening?

NAGIN: Well, there's always a plan in place. The last time New Orleans had an event like this -- similar, not even as worse as this -- was Hurricane Betsy in the '60s. No one could have predicted that a Category 4 or 5 would come this close to New Orleans and breach levees of two main parts of the city. That's the unique thing. (Map)

O'BRIEN: Do you feel, sir, that the administration and that FEMA are doing enough to help out?

NAGIN: FEMA is on the ground. I talked to the director of FEMA. He assured me that everything that we needed would be taken care of. I just tell you that it's really hard to understand the devastation and the challenge that we face, unless you're here. So now that we have people on the ground, I'm sure we will pick things up.

O'BRIEN: There are huge problems with evacuations. Why aren't people and why haven't people been taken out of the city by whatever means possible?

NAGIN: Well, you know, we have some very unique challenges in that respect, also.

O'BRIEN: What do you mean?

NAGIN: ... We're basically almost surrounded by water, so there's a bridge system that brings us out to the east. That bridge system has been destroyed by the storm, for the most part. There's a high-rise interstate. It's a double lane in a state that is basically a jigsaw puzzle, missing slabs -- huge missing slabs of concrete. So that locked us in. To the west, there's a problem with flooding in certain sections of the interstate to the west. So we're really kind of locked in with only one kind of alternate route where you have to go through several gyrations to get in and out of the city.

O'BRIEN: Why not military transport planes ... dragging people out or taking people out and evacuating them? I mean, you've got 20,000 or so people just inside the Superdome, where the temperatures are getting to, you know, 90, 100 degrees. There's no bathroom facilities. They're hungry. They're frustrated. They're, obviously psychologically a wreck. I don't think it takes a genius to figure out that these people are going to start snapping very soon.

NAGIN: Yes, but you have to understand the priorities of our challenges. We had thousands of people. We evacuated probably close to a million people in the metropolitan area. But there were still a couple hundred thousand still here. So all of the resources initially were focused on rescue. And we have rescued thousands of people that were trapped in attics and on roofs. So that was the main priority, as far as getting people out, with the challenge of rescue and rising waters. And then we've had some looting. We've had our hands full.

O'BRIEN: Are you getting all the assistance you need? Is there anyone you'd like to ask assistance from?

NAGIN: The federal government is working great with us. The state is working wonderful with us. It's just a plethora of challenges and we just need, in my opinion --- I'm a very impatient person in a crisis. We just need to all make sure that we're on the same page, and we're moving with a tremendous sense of urgency to get things done.

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