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New Orleans mayor issues 'desperate SOS'
New Orleans mayor issues 'desperate SOS'
Violence disrupts evacuation, rescue efforts
Thursday, September 1, 2005 Posted: 2223 GMT (0623 HKT)
Crowds of New Orleans residents try to get on buses at an evacuation staging area on Interstate 10.
The mayor of New Orleans issued a "desperate SOS" Thursday as violence disrupted efforts to rescue people still trapped in the flooded city and evacuate thousands of displaced residents living amid corpses and human waste.
Residents expressed growing frustration with the disorder evident on the streets, raising questions about the coordination and timeliness of relief efforts.
Video from the city's convention center showed a group chanting "we want help, we want help," as mothers tried to console their tired and hungry children. (See video on the desperate conditions -- 4:36 )
Government officials insisted they were putting forth their best efforts and pleaded for patience, saying further help was on the way.
The evacuation of patients from Charity Hospital was halted after the facility came under sniper fire, while groups of armed men wandered the streets, buildings smoldered and people picked through stores for what they could find.
Another physician at Charity Hospital said that -- despite the violence -- staff members and patients were eager to get out after three days with no water and electricity and little food. (See video on hospital attack -- 1:06)
"A single sniper or two snipers shouldn't have to shut down a hospital evacuation for two hours now," Dr. Ruth Berggren told CNN. "I look outside, I'm not seeing any military."
Mayor Ray Nagin issued his plea for the thousands of people stranded in and around the convention center with no food or water and fading hope.
Living 'like animals'
The city is "out of resources at the convention center and doesn't anticipate enough buses," the mayor said in his statement.
CNN's Chris Lawrence described "many, many" bodies, inside and outside the facility on New Orleans' Riverwalk.
"There are multiple people dying at the convention center," Lawrence said. "There was an old woman, dead in a wheelchair with a blanket draped over her, pushed up against a wall. Horrible, horrible conditions.
"We saw a man who went into a seizure, literally dying right in front of us."
Nagin said that "the convention center is unsanitary and unsafe and we are running out of supplies for [15,000 to 20,000] people."
He said the city would allow people to march up the Crescent City Connection to the Westbank Expressway in an effort to find help.
People were "being forced to live like animals," Lawrence said, surrounded by piles of trash and feces.
He said thousands of people were just lying on the ground outside the building -- many old, or sick, or caring for infants and small children.
More people were arriving at the center, walking south along Canal Street. The route north to the Superdome is blocked by chest-deep water.
The convention center was used as a secondary shelter when the Louisiana Superdome was overwhelmed.
Food drops began Thursday afternoon at the convention center, as rain also began falling.
A National Guard helicopter delivered MREs -- meals ready to eat -- and bottles of water. The amounts in the first few drops, however, were far short of enough for everyone.
State officials believe Katrina and its aftermath killed "thousands" of people in New Orleans and surrounding parishes, but no official count had been compiled, Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco said Thursday.
Evacuation points swamped with people
A Louisiana National Guard official told CNN Thursday morning that between 50,000 and 60,000 people had converged at evacuation points near the Superdome hoping to get on one of the buses out of town.
"It's no longer just evacuees from the Superdome, as citizens who were holed up in high-rise office buildings and hotels saw buses moving into the dome, they realized this is an evacuation point," Lt. Col. Pete Schneider of the Louisiana National Guard said. (Watch report on violence delaying evacuation -- 1:51)
Desperation was evident as the buses rolled out.
State Sen. Robert Marionneaux recounted a story about a woman near the Superdome who handed her 2-month-old baby to someone who had managed to get on a bus to Houston, begging her to take care of the baby. CNN could not independently verify his account.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff denied reports that rescue efforts in New Orleans had been halted for security reasons Thursday, saying those operations "are continuing in full force."
"We are going to continue to increase the tempo of that program until we've cleared people out of the Superdome and we've cleared people out of New Orleans," he said.
Chertoff said that the Coast Guard has rescued about 3,000 people from flooded areas in New Orleans and the surrounding parishes.
Buses are carrying people from New Orleans to the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, which has offered to house about 25,000 people. San Antonio, Texas, has agreed to take another 25,000 people, officials said Thursday. Schneider said that officials were looking for additional locations.
Nagin ordered his police force to leave search-and-rescue operations to the Coast Guard and concentrate on establishing order.
But officers told CNN they lacked manpower and steady communications to properly do their jobs -- and that they needed help to prevent the widespread looting and violence now prevalent in the city.
A police officer working in downtown New Orleans said police were siphoning gas from abandoned vehicles in an effort to keep their squad cars running.
The officer said police are "on their own" for food and water, scrounging up what they can from anybody who is generous enough to give them some -- and that they have no communication whatsoever. Police also told CNN they were removing ammunition from looted gunshops in an effort to get it off the streets.
Chertoff said that 4,200 National Guard military police would be deployed in New Orleans over the next three days, nearly quadrupling the overall law enforcement presence there.
Blanco said Thursday she has requested the mobilization of 40,000 National Guard troops to restore order and assist in relief efforts.
President Bush, in an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America," said that their should be "zero tolerance of people breaking the law during an emergency such as this."
He promised a rapid federal response to the disaster.
Mississippi death toll rising
The breadth of the brutality of Hurricane Katrina became clearer as more death toll figures began to filter in from Mississippi's coastal region.
Authorities said at least 185 people died in Monday's Category 4 storm.
In Hancock County alone, Sheriff Eddie Jennings put the death toll at 85, with 60 people dead in Pearlington, 22 in Waveland, two in Bay St. Louis and one body that had washed up on the beach.
In neighboring Harrison County, which is home to Gulfport and Biloxi, authorities reported 100 bodies had been found, an emergency official in the state capital, Jackson, told CNN.
Power out; gas prices rising
Katrina knocked out electricity for more than 2.3 million people in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Florida.
Meanwhile, the storm's effect on oil supplies and gas prices spread nationwide, prompting the White House to tap the U.S. Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Two major suppliers of gasoline to the Eastern Seaboard of the United States resumed partial service Thursday.
Colonial Pipeline announced that it is now operating at about 38 percent capacity after electrical power outages due to Hurricane Katrina shut down key portions of the pipeline in Louisiana on Monday.
The news came as gasoline prices surged to more than $3 a gallon in some parts of the country due to outages and bottlenecks in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. (Full story)
The flow of water into New Orleans from Lake Pontchartrain has abated, Army Corps of Engineers officials said. But engineers won't begin trying to pump out the water until the breaches are plugged. (Recovery efforts)
The Army Corps of Engineers is attempting to plug a 300-foot breach in the Industrial Canal, a 500-foot breach in the 17th Street Canal and two smaller breaches in the London Avenue Canal.
Engineers were working Thursday to correct the problem at the 17th Street Canal, the Corps' Walter Baumy said.
The plan is to close the front of the canal at the lake rather than at the breach, a job that should be completed by Thursday evening, Baumy said.
There are accessibility problems with one of the other problem areas, he said.