From all corners of this country, hundreds of would-be rescuers are wending their way to the beleaguered Gulf Coast in buses, vans and trailers. But government red tape has hampered many who ache to help Katrina's victims.
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, California, 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.
From the first hours of the disaster, FEMA has been using the National Incident Management System, a command structure to get millions of dollars worth of government resources and thousands of workers ranging from firefighters to public health teams to places in need. FEMA also has teams designed to support smaller communities.
FEMA is urging individuals and corporations to contact nonprofit organizations if they want to volunteer or donate.
It was FEMA's management system that brought in members of the Nebraska Air National Guard to deliver 66,000 meals and extra fuel to hard-hit areas, and rescuers from Hamilton County, Ohio to search the rubble of Gulfport, Mississippi for survivors.
And it was that system that dispatched a nine-member Disaster Medical Assistance Team from Hawaii to the New Orleans Airport where they triaged people evacuated from hospitals, nursing homes, the Convention Center and the Superdome.
The federal government actually wrote a ''How To'' book for national catastrophes after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks. The 426-page document, called the National Response Plan, was released in December, 2004.
Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University, said Hurricane Katrina is the first real test of the plan, and has exposed its strengths and weaknesses.
''Quite honestly, at the federal level, the coordination was quite robust,'' he said. ''It's just the interface between federal, state and local where clearly we need to look to ways to improve the process.''