2 September 2005

From Ryan Parry, Us Correspondent, Inside The New Orleans Superdome
BRITISH students told yesterday how they stepped out of the horror of Hurricane Katrina into the hell of their Superdome "shelter".

A place of refuge became a terrifying trap, where knives and guns, crack cocaine use, threats of violence and racial abuse were rife.

Jamie Trout, 22, who kept a record of his four days there, said: "It was like something out of Lord of the Flies - one minute everything is calm and civil, the next it descends into chaos."

In one diary entry, he said: "A man has been arrested for raping a seven-year-old in the toilet, this place is hell, I feel sick. The smell is horrendous, there are toilets overflowing and people everywhere."

As the evacuation of the 70,000- capacity arena continued yesterday, the swamped city of New Orleans descended into near barbarism.

The looting and carjacking of recent days showed no sign of slowing. Gunfire was aimed at police and helicopters attempting to ferry the sick from hospitals, accompanied by shouts of: "You better come get my family."

Ten thousand National Guardsmen were sent in from across the US to the flood-ravaged Gulf coast.

At least seven bodies lay unclaimed in the streets around the New Orleans Convention Centre - one a woman in a wheelchair covered by a blanket.

Daniel Edwards, 47, pointed at her and said: "I don't treat my dog like that...I buried my dog."

Amid criticism of government inaction, he added: "You can do everything for other countries but you can't do nothing for your own people.

"You can go overseas with the military but you can't get them down here."

Thousands of storm refugees massed outside the convention building, waiting for buses that never came. They had no food, water or medicines.

The Rev Issac Clark, 68, said: "We are out here like pure animals. We don't have help."

In what may be America's worst natural disaster for a century, 80 per cent of a city of 500,000 people was under water up to 20ft deep. Thousands could be dead.

At the Superdome, at least 25,000 people were moved out yesterday as New Orleans Mayor Nagin vowed: "Come hell or high water we will evacuate people today, I'll march them out if I have to." Soldiers with M16 assault rifles and grenade launchers tried to control crowds desperate to get out.

At least one person died in the arms of a soldier. A National Guardsman was wounded in the leg by his own gun in a struggle with two men and a military helicopter was shot at while ferrying away a casualty.

Brit diary-writer Jamie had been coaching football to disabled children as part of the Camp America scheme.

Jamie, who was with two friends, said: "We were in Miami for three or four days when Katrina first hit.

"We rode that storm out and then decided to go to New Orleans. We didn't realise the storm was heading that way."

He said of his eventual Superdome refuge: "There was a lot of heat from the people in there, people shouting racial abuse about us being white.

"The army warned us to keep our bags close to us and to grip them tight."

Jamie, an economics student from Sunderland, said he saw crack cocaine being used in the filthy toilets, youngsters breaking into soft drink machines and men brawling. Urine and excrement spilled into corridors where they were sleeping.

At one point, up to 30 British students gathered in the dome were so terrified of attack when the power went down that they set up a makeshift security cordon.
Zoe Smith, 21, from Hull, said: "All us girls sat in the middle while the boys sat on the outside, with chairs as protection.

"We were absolutely terrified, the situation had descended into chaos, people were very hostile and the living conditions were horrendous.

"We had to wash with tiny bottles of water, the sink was blocked and full of gunk. Even when we offered to help with the cleaning, the locals gave us abuse."

Some students said they saw an 18-inch knife confiscated from one man and many others had guns and other weapons.

Marisa Haigh, 23, from Guildford, who is studying at Birmingham University, and Claire Watkins, 23, a student from Bradford, had arrived in New Orleans last Saturday after a trip across the US.

Claire said: "We went out drinking on Saturday night and had an awesome time.

"On Sunday we had hangovers and hadn't heard or read anything about the hurricane coming in. We only realised there was something wrong when we went out in the street and no one was around, everywhere was shut or boarded up."

They were in the Superdome when Katrina hit. Marisa said: "There was a series of almighty bangs when the roof went and a panel flew off.

"There was a woman screaming, 'We're gonna die, we're all gonna die'."

Eventually many of the students were moved to the nearby basketball arena, thanks to Sgt Garland Ogden, a full-timer with the National Guard.

Jane Wheeldon, 20, said: "He went against a lot of rules to get us moved."

Yesterday Texas was ready to house 50,000 flood refugees - 25,000 of them in the Houston Astrodome, 350 miles away. The rest will go to San Antonio.

Rescue in some areas was suspended as looters ran amok.

Coast Guard Lt Cmdr Cheri Ben-Iesan said at emergency HQ: "Hospitals are trying to evacuate. At every one of them, there are reports that as the helicopters come in people are shooting at them, telling them, 'You better come get my family'. City leader Mitch Landrieu toured stricken areas and was besieged by rescued people begging him to pass information to their families.

His pocket was full of scraps of paper on which he had scribbled down their phone numbers.

He contacted a woman whose father had been saved and told her: "Your daddy's alive, and he said to tell you he loves you."

Landrieu added: "She just started crying. She said, 'I thought he was dead'."

In Britain, worried relatives of the Superdome students were told by the Mirror their loved ones were safe.

From details given to our reporters at the scene, we passed on messages to families nationwide.

Zoe Smith's mother Sharon said in Hull: "That's brilliant. It's been horrendous not knowing what on earth has happened to her. I have barely slept."

Fine art publisher Janet Murray, 55, from Frome, Somerset, whose daughter Hannah was stranded, said: "I had not heard anything, thanks so much for letting me know."

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Dear David and all...

I am so afraid for the people who are still in New Orleans, Bilouxi, and all along the coast. My husband tried to volunteer with FEMA and the Red Cross. He's a contractor licensed by the State of Louisiana and has a lot of tools and skills that would be valuable in this crisis. He was told that they weren't accepting "untrained volunteers", whatever that means. However, we heard today that the local parishes and communities are trying to organize their own volunteer network, so he and my oldest son still might be going back, while I stay here with my teenage son and my grandchildren. Citizens of New Orleans would already be working to help in this recovery were we not being denied the opportunity. If nothing else, we could provide transportation to shelter for people trying to leave, as well as transporting in food and water.

I hope that anyone who reads this will call FEMA, their Congresspersons, the Red Cross and anyone they can think of to call to complain about this. People are dying of starvation, dehydration, exposure, accident and murder while the Feds sit on their thumbs. Help. Please.

My family was fortunate to get out of New Orleans when we did (husband, two sons, three grandchildren and one traumatized guinea pig who didn't survive the trip). We left most of everything we had there but are thankful to be alive. The last we heard (day before yesterday) our house was still standing with very little damage. Our neighbor, who stayed with his elderly mother even though we urged them to come with us, had the key and access to anything in our home that they needed (food, bottled water, etc.). The last time we talked to them...before the phone services were completely discontinued...Linell told us to stay where we were, that things were about to get very ugly. I don't understand why the phone lines are not functioning now, though they were two days ago after the storm. I don't have a clue how many of my friends and loved ones made it out alive. Cell phones with a 504 area code don't work, no matter what part of the country you're in. Of course, I suppose I COULD buy a new phone service in my area, but I'll be damned if I will.

The longer all this goes on, the madder I get. Most of OUR national guard is in IRAQ of all places, and they are seeing all this on the news over there and want to be home. If they were where they were TRAINED to be, guarding the nation instead of some corporate oil well, we wouldn't be in such a bad mess. Many of our guardsmen don't even know if they have family left living or homes left to go to.

I've heard all sorts of claims that gougers will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. What about the oil companies??? Record profits, profiteering from our trajedy. In my opinion, George Bush needs to be impeached, tried and hanged, along with his whole cabinet, and the corporations that have supported him through this insane administration. Their corporate and personal assets should be seized to handle this crisis...but that'll never happen. There's nothing quite like a neocon in a feeding frenzy...and they travel in packs.

We ended up in southeast Alabama, in a small town called Eufaula. The city government and all the citizens are doing everything they can to help those of us who fled with next to nothing. They exemplify the true spirit of America, which is a spirit of compassion, sacrifice and selfless giving. I can't say enough good about their efforts to help. We'll be able to get the children back in school this week, and we've been the recipients of items of furniture that we needed, clothing for the kids, food and (most important) human comfort and friendship. They're even trying to help us find work, and have made it possible for me to get my prescription meds. The Chamber of Commerce hosted a luncheon the other day and asked all us refugees to fill out a form stating our immediate needs. They've been working ever since with the local businesses and the community to get those needs filled. They exemplify how it's supposed to happen in an emergency. Our federal government could profit from the example, except that the Federal leaders need to have some spirit of compassion, which they don't.

Thanks for reading my rant.

Melinda Hoehn

Dear Mrs. Hoehn,

I am so glad to read that you are safe and somewhat secure in your SE Alabama shelter. I hope and pray that when you reestablish contact with your neighbor the news you hear will be as encouraging as that previous information that your home was intact.

I sense in your writing that the entire weight of the magnitude of the manner in which our country has been reshaped by right wing ideology has overcome you. I believe it is overcoming many other Americans as well.

For me, I have been quietly feeling helpless for several years after watching the erosion of our Constitution. On June 17, 2005 I escaped from that helpless/hopeless feeling when I discovered the website. It has been through this website that I have felt empowered to share with the many others who feel like I feel about the misdirection of our country. I never realized I was not alone in my distaste for what is happening in the United States.

I am truly sickened for all the victims of the hurricane tragedy. I am just as sickened by the errors of omission and commission by this administration which have exasperated the tragedy. Your writing is most inspirational. May your faith in the good will of true patriotic Americans carry you and your family home safely to a better life and a restored America very soon.

I also take comfort in what you have written to Melinda. Beautifully written. It is indeed a sad time.

Dear Melinda,
Thank you for your rant.I am so ashamed of what we have allowed to happen to our country. So much hatred and greed.
I've lived through the Great Depression, when a carrot and a wedge of cabbage was a treat that was shared .As a veteran of WWII witnessed the sacrifices that were made....and the recognition and appriciation of the cost of that war. If there is a hereafter, It won't be long before I will be meeting some of these men and women that gave their all......
What am I going to say to them when they ask me .....WHAT HAPPENED ??
My best wishes to you and your family and friends.

Melinda, You give me hope that some REAL Americans still exist. Our Government has failed us. They can bring food and water to foreign lands, but cannot manage to assist its own citizens. Stay safe. Some more of us out here will get help to the Gulf Coast ASAP. I guess our tax money has been spent in Iraq. The enconomy is going to suffer badly. Did the Government plan this too?

Bush is babbling on TV right now, with his Grim Reaper, Homeland Security leader beside him...'working hard' he says. He cannot do 'long term plannin' and his trip will be useless. More fuel and taxpayers money being wasted by a silly person trying to look Presidential. Congress, come on, get going and do something!!!! I wrote my elected representatives yesterday about my dissatisfaction with the inaction and ineptitude of this administration. Stop funding the IRAQ war and begin taking care of our Country.

My boss found a website where lost people are trying to contact their loved ones from the Katrina ravaged areas:

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