Transcript: Vice Adm. Thad Allen on 'FNS'

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The following is a transcribed excerpt of "FOX News Sunday," Sept. 25, 2005.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: So how far did Hurricane Rita (search) set back weeks of recovery efforts in new Orleans? For answers, we welcome back Vice Admiral Thad Allen, the head of federal operations in Louisiana.

And, Admiral, now that you've had a chance to survey the situation, how extensive is the flooding and how badly damaged were the levees?

VICE ADM. THAD ALLEN: Well, Chris, I'm assuming you mean New Orleans, and the main area of damage was the levee system around the Industrial Canal, especially the overtopping and the subsequent flooding into lower Ninth Ward and down toward St. Bernard's Parish.

We thought that the level was going to rise between five feet and seven feet. It went over seven feet and caused flooding. We also have an inoperative pump there. But as soon as we can, we will start working on that flooding problem.

WALLACE: And give us a sense. How long will it take to repair the levees? How long will it take to pump all the water out? And how much did this set back your efforts to recover New Orleans?

ALLEN: Well, it's a multifaceted problem. Just focusing on the levees first, we were able to close the levee breaches and get them up to a level where we could withstand a five-foot to seven-foot surge, which obviously wasn't enough for Hurricane Rita.

Ultimately we want to get those levees back up to the pre-Hurricane Katrina (search) height, but that's probably going to take till next June. In the meantime, we need to closely manage how people are brought into New Orleans and make sure we have evacuation plans.

WALLACE: Admiral, give us a sense of the mood in the city. People there have been working almost for a month to clean up from Hurricane Katrina.

How discouraged, how frustrated are they by the fact that after spending all of these hours working to clean up the city, they're going to have to do some of this very hard work all over again?

ALLEN: Well, Chris, it's naturally disappointing any time you think you've — you've achieved a milestone and something like this happens and creates a setback.

In fact, we had virtually dewatered the city before the Hurricane Rita impacts were felt. The good news is the 17th Street Canal and the London Avenue Canal were blocked from Lake Pontchartrain and we had no flooding over there, so the flooding back into the city has been minimized.

Therefore, the effort associated with unwatering the city now is going to be far less than what it was originally, and we think we'll get that done in a matter of days.

WALLACE: Now, Admiral, the mayor of New Orleans, Ray Nagin (search), is already talking about bringing people back into the city, repopulating the city. Are you and he still on different pages?

ALLEN: No, Chris, we're not on different pages, but I think a little clarity in intent is probably in order here. We have never objected — as you know, we were bringing businessmen back into the city on the East Bank to take a look at their businesses and also were allowing folks into the West Bank and the Algiers area because that was not impacted.

I think what the mayor would like to do is have the people of New Orleans have access to the city for the purpose of seeing what the condition of their houses are as a first step to repopulating. Some of these houses are going to be uninhabitable, but the public does not know that yet.

In my personal discussions with the mayor, I think he's desirous to have the public have a good appreciation for the condition of the city and then take next steps. That may not be explicitly stated, but that is my understanding.

WALLACE: So, Admiral, given the problems and the increased flooding now from Rita, when do you think people will, in these affected areas, be able to come back into New Orleans, even if it's just to inspect their property?

ALLEN: Well, first of all, you have to have access, so there's some unwatering from Rita that's going to have to be done, and then, after that, a plan on how to bus the people in or get them in so they can have access to their homes and see the condition.

I think the activity in and around what I call the commercial crescent — that's the zip codes the mayor identified as the business district — can go forward with assessment and repairs. I think the West Bank is no problem.

The conditions that we spoke about earlier, which the mayor has no objection to, regarding public safety and health kind of all remain, and he's agreed to work with us over the next few days on that. I think we're on the same sheet of music.

WALLACE: So in terms of those specific areas that you're talking about, within days, people will be able to come back?

ALLEN: Well, the central business district and the West Bank are no problem. I think access to the rest of the city depends on whether or not you have access to it because of the standing water.

Beyond that, I think access needs to be controlled in that people need to come in, be able to look at their houses. Many of these houses are uninhabitable right now, and those final details on how the city wants to do that is what we have to work out.

WALLACE: Admiral Allen, thanks again for joining us. And best of luck, sir.

ALLEN: Thank you.