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 » 2006 Forecast  | Saffir-Simpson scale  |  Your stories

FEMA chief: Victims bear some responsibility

Brown pleased with effort: 'Things are going relatively well'

Programming Note: CNN looks at the disaster and chaos crippling Louisiana, "NewsNight," Thursday, 10 p.m. ET.

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Brown: When evacuation warnings go out, people should realize it's for their own good.

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(CNN) -- The director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Thursday those New Orleans residents who chose not to heed warnings to evacuate before Hurricane Katrina bear some responsibility for their fates.

Michael Brown also agreed with other public officials that the death toll in the city could reach into the thousands.

"Unfortunately, that's going to be attributable a lot to people who did not heed the advance warnings," Brown told CNN.

"I don't make judgments about why people chose not to leave but, you know, there was a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans," he said.

"And to find people still there is just heart-wrenching to me because, you know, the mayor did everything he could to get them out of there.

"So, we've got to figure out some way to convince people that whenever warnings go out it's for their own good," Brown said. "Now, I don't want to second guess why they did that. My job now is to get relief to them."

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco and New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin have both predicted the death toll could be in the thousands.

Nagin issued a "desperate SOS" Thursday as violence disrupted efforts to rescue people still trapped in the flooded city and evacuate thousands of displaced residents living amid corpses and human waste. (Full story)

Residents expressed growing frustration with the disorder evident on the streets, raising questions about the coordination and timeliness of relief efforts. (See video on the desperate conditions -- 4:36 )

Sniper fire prevented Charity Hospital from evacuating its patients Thursday. The hospital has no electricity or water, food consists of a few cans of vegetables, and the patients had to be moved to upper floors because of looters. (Full story) (See video of a city sinking in chaos -- 2:54)

Brown was upbeat in his assessment of the relief effort so far, ticking off a list of accomplishments: more than 30,000 National Guard troops will be in the city within three days, the hospitals are being evacuated and search and rescue missions are continuing. (See video of National Guard efforts to rein in violence -- 3:14)

"Considering the dire circumstances that we have in New Orleans -- virtually a city that has been destroyed -- that things are going relatively well," Brown said.

Nevertheless, he said he could "empathize with those in miserable conditions."

Asked later on CNN how he could blame the victims, many of whom could not flee the storm because they had no transportation or were too frail to evacuate on their own, Brown said he was not blaming anyone.

"Now is not the time to be blaming," Brown said. "Now is the time to recognize that whether they chose to evacuate or chose not to evacuate, we have to help them."

Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, whose father was a longtime New Orleans mayor, said there was "plenty of blame to go around," citing underinvestement by federal authorities over many years "despite pleas and warnings by officials."

Earlier on CNN, Brown was asked why authorities had not prepared for just such a catastrophe -- given that the levees were designed to withstand only a Category 3 hurricane and Katrina was stronger than that.

"Government officials and engineers will debate that and figure that out," he replied. "Right now, I'm trying to focus on saving lives. I think we should have that debate, but at an appropriate time."

Brown said Katrina was unlike other hurricanes in which the magnitude of the disaster typically subsides after the initial blow. That was not the case Monday, when the Category 4 storm blew ashore.

"What we had in New Orleans is a growing disaster: The hurricane hit, that was one disaster; then the levees broke, that was another disaster; then the floods came; that became a third disaster."

Brown said he had to be careful about getting rescue teams to the site earlier.

"Otherwise, we would have faced an even higher death toll," he said.

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