I don't often disagree with Clayton Cramer, but he recently posted that New Orleans' refugees should be helping more and relieving soldiers and I don't think that would work very well.
As I was watching news coverage of the rescue operations, I was struck by something: how much of the labor moving water and food was being done by soldiers. I know that many of those who were stuck in New Orleans were elderly, and others are just children, but why don't we see large numbers of these refugees involved in moving relief supplies? This is just a little disturbing. You might almost get the impression that the reason so many were stuck in New Orleans when the hurricane hit was a certain unwillingness to do anything for themselves.
In this case, I think there are several factors at work preventing more refugee involvement.
1. The soldiers know how to work with each other and with their vehicles and equipment.
2. How could one determine which refugees were trustworthy to take possession of supplies and distribute them?
3. The refugees often have entire families to care for with no home and no communication.
4. The refugees are generally the least educated, least able-bodied ex-citizens of the city, and probably the least capable of assisting with relief efforts.
So, I agree with the sentiment, but I think it would be a short matter of time before refugee volunteers started falling out of helicopters, getting crushed under trucks, or absconding with supplies. In fact, Mr. Cramer posted earlier on the reasons some people didn't evacuate.
There's a lot of reasons.
Some career criminals didn't leave, I suspect, because they were looking forward to the chance to loot the city.
I would expect that many of the mentally ill (of which New Orleans, like any big city, has a lot) did not leave because they either didn't get the message, or were too fearful to accept transportation even if it had been offered.
Some stayed because they were hospitalized.
Some stayed because they didn't see any need for it--New Orleans has been hit by hurricanes before.