Louisiana's Jefferson Parish is desperate for relief, but parish President Aaron Broussard says officials of the Federal Emergency Management Agency turned back three trailer trucks of water, ordered the Coast Guard not to provide emergency diesel fuel and cut emergency power lines.
Why? FEMA has not explained. But the outraged Broussard said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the agency needs to bring in all its "force immediately, without red tape, without bureaucracy, act immediately with common sense and leadership, and save lives."
The government says it is doing the best it can in the face of a massive and complicated disaster.
"Even as progress is being made, we know that victims are still out there and we are working tirelessly to bring them the help they need," said Michael Brown, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Some of the delays can be explained by the need to control a volatile situation. Long lines of volunteers are being stopped on freeways on their way into New Orleans.
"Anyone who self-responded was not being put to work. The military was worried about having more people in the city. They want to limit it to the professionals," said Kevin Southerland, a captain with Orange Fire Department in Orange County, Calif., a member of one of eight 14-member water rescue teams sent to New Orleans at FEMA's request.
Even skilled volunteers with the best intentions can be more trouble than help if they arrive needing food, shelter or fuel, some say.
"Our biggest problem has been trying not to put more stress on the community, particularly with regards to gasoline. We want to make sure we've got enough gas for chain saws and transportation," said Larry Guengerich of the Mennonite Disaster Service, a Pennsylvania-based relief organization that has three small crews currently working along the Gulf Coast, cutting and clearing downed limbs and covering damaged roofs.
There are, at this point, several federal emergency command centers, as well as state and local command centers where coordinators are working to match nonstop requests with the appropriate nonstop offers of help.