The Scenes Rescuers Are Seeing

A man on his roof waves to a passing New Orleans Police Department SWAT rescue boat Monday, Aug. 29, 2005, in New Orleans after flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina. (AP Photo/Houston Chronicle, Melissa Phillip)
Rescue crews across the Gulf coast are in a race against time.

Officials say hundreds, if not thousands of people remain stranded in the floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina.

Daring rescues already number in the thousands, and the work is nowhere near done.

Capt. Bruce Jones, the commander of the Coast Guard Air Station in New Orleans, told The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm Monday that rescuers are confronted with "utterly devastating" scenarios.

"Nothing can prepare you for the sights we've seen in the last few days," Jones says. "We're focusing all of our efforts on saving the lives we can save and assisting those we can assist right now, and not trying to focus on the devastation.

Jones says a typical scene when flying over of a flooded area of several blocks is to have five or six arms waving, handkerchiefs coming out of windows and fingers coming out of cracks in rooftops.

"In many cases, (we see) infants, pregnant women, elderly people who are becoming dehydrated quickly, ill people, injured people," he says. "Some of the hoists are very difficult because you can't simply throw an elderly, sick or injured person into a basket. You have to really take your time and take care of them during the hoist."

Those being rescued often have only the clothes on their backs.

"They're very upset, crying," Jones says. "In some cases, dazed. In some cases, not talking at all. The ones who are injured, we try to get them to medical care at the hospitals. Unfortunately, the hospitals are already overwhelmed.

"We can't take any more injured patients to the hospitals unless they're literally on death's door. So we're dropping them off at staging points around the city and hoping to get heavy aircraft to airlift medical supplies, food and water today that we can start distributing to these people who are staged around the city."

Pilot fatigue is also a big concern, Jones says.

"We're taking great efforts to make sure our crews are rotated," he says. "We fly them into what we call 'the bag' when they exceed their limits for the day, and get them into some rest areas here."

Coast Guard aircraft are being joined by some from the Navy, National Guard, and U.S. Customs, Jones says.