Door-To-Door Search Could Take Weeks

Sep 04 7:15 PM US/Eastern

Associated Press Writer


Rescuers have plucked tens of thousands of terrified residents from the rooftops of their homes in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, capturing what may be the bulk of the survivors in readily visible locations. Now the more difficult door-to-door scouring begins, and it could take weeks, if not months.

"I would like to believe that we are on the back side of this tremendous hump," Air Force Maj. Gen. Marvin S. "Scott" Mayes, leader of the air component for the military task force operating in the hurricane-ravaged region, said Sunday. "But now comes the grunt work of the search and rescue, now we're getting to the hard part. It will go on for some time."

Mayes, in a telephone interview, said the military is now going door- to-door, by foot or by boat, in many of the harder to reach sections of New Orleans and more remote areas of Mississippi and the region. And he said he hopes it won't take months.

Rescuers will "now have to find the people who have hunkered down," he said, in what he called a continuing rescue mission _ not yet simply a recovery of bodies.

Mayes, who is based at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, said Air Force units have evacuated more than 3,000 patients out of New Orleans International Airport _ mostly on stretchers. He said crews also have shuttled more than 15,000 people out of the swamped region and flown in more than 4,600 tons of supplies.

Four major airports in Louisiana and Mississippi are open for military and other relief flights. But Mayes said it is far too early to tell when any of the commercial airports would be able to open for regular traffic.

Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., was severely damaged by the storm, but the airfield is open and repairs are being done so that the families of military members who lost their homes can stay on the base.

The Air Force has announced it will send 300 airmen, who are based at Keesler, home from Iraq and Afghanistan in the next two weeks, and nearly 100 more who were scheduled to leave Keesler for war duty will be staying home.