Wolf Blitzer interviewed Lt. General Honore on CNN’s Late Edition today about the death toll in the Katrina disaster area, allowing residents to remain in their homes despite the dangerous waters, and whether he believes the media should be allowed to cover the search for bodies. Abridged transcript follows….
On the predicted number of deaths caused by Hurricane Katrina
HONORE: But once the city and the parish governments start looking at the names of the people that have been evacuated, we may be able to in the next 72 hours to give a better assessment of that. But for the time being, I would suspect that number would be somewhat lower than that — as a matter of fact, a heck of a lot lower than that..
BLITZER: And that high number that you’re referring to is what some have suggested could be as many as 10,000 fatalities. Is that right?
HONORE: Yes, that’s a number we’ll be very happy to be wrong about. Over.
BLITZER: And are you still thinking, though, it could be in the low thousands, more than 1,000?
HONORE: I think it’s going to be a lower number, much lower than the 10,000. Again, that 10,000 was based at a time when we didn’t know what we didn’t know. How many people were at the Convention Center, how many people were on overpasses and bridges. We’ve taken numbers of the people that have been evacuated. But you have to understand, inside the parishes of Louisiana, most of those city governments were victims. The first responders were victims.
On whether U.S. military will forcibly remove New Orleans residents from their homes
BLITZER: There has been some confusion as to how far the U.S. military will go in physically removing, forcibly removing individuals as opposed to local or state officials, or FEMA officials, civilians for that part. Can you explain what your troops, the thousands of U.S. military forces on the ground, how far they will go in enforcing this order to evacuate New Orleans?
HONORE: Yes, as you know, that’s a city and state or a parish and state issue. But I’m totally unconfused about our mission. Our mission is to save lives, provide food and water, and provide health, and provide enabling tasks that help the government and the people survive and build their infrastructure back, where it can communicate
(INAUDIBLE). Federal troops will not be involved in the direct evacuation in any way, or anyone, from their home. That is a local and state law enforcement task, not to include the federal troops. Over.
On allowing hurricane victims to remain in their homes
BLITZER: But some have suggested that in effect, that those against what city and state officials want, for their own good, these people need to leave, because of the health situations, the toxic nature, perhaps, of the water. And the charges that the military is enabling individuals to stay in an area that is inherently unhealthy. How do you respond to that?
HONORE: We’re working through that. I mean, these are tough decisions. They go to the heart and core of our democracy and people being able to make their own decisions… Right now, we want to make sure that we’re taking care of the people that are alive, and that we are treating them with dignity and respect, and we’re providing food and water for them.
On allowing reporters to cover the aftermath of the hurricane
BLITZER: General Honore, do the American people have the right to see what’s happening in New Orleans right now, the good, the bad and the ugly, including the bodies?
HONORE: I think that has been done, Wolf. I can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a reporter. I mean, they attend all of my meetings.