By ALLEN G. BREED, Associated Press Writer
New Orleans descended into anarchy Thursday as corpses lay abandoned
in street medians, fights and fires broke out, cops turned in their
badges and the governor declared war on looters who have made the city
a menacing landscape of disorder and fear.
"They have M-16s and they're locked and loaded," Gov. Kathleen Blanco
said of 300 National Guard troops who landed in New Orleans fresh from
duty in Iraq. "These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are
more than willing to do so, and I expect they will."
Four days after Hurricane Katrina roared in with a devastating blow
that inflicted potentially thousands of deaths, the fear, anger and
violence mounted Thursday.
"I'm not sure I'm going to get out of here alive," said Canadian
tourist Larry Mitzel, who handed a reporter his business card in case
he goes missing. "I'm scared of riots. I'm scared of the locals. We
might get caught in the crossfire."
The chaos deepened despite the promise of 1,400 National Guardsmen a
day to stop the looting, plans for a $10 billion recovery bill in
Congress and a government relief effort President Bush called the
biggest in U.S. history.
New Orleans' top emergency management official called that effort a
"national disgrace" and questioned when reinforcements would actually
reach the increasingly lawless city.
About 15,000 to 20,000 people who had taken shelter at New Orleans
convention center grew ever more hostile after waiting for buses for
days amid the filth and the dead. Police Chief Eddie Compass said
there was such a crush around a squad of 88 officers that they
retreated when they went in to check out reports of assaults.
"We have individuals who are getting raped, we have individuals who
are getting beaten," Compass said. "Tourists are walking in that
direction and they are getting preyed upon."
Col. Henry Whitehorn, chief of the Louisiana State Police, said he heard of
numerous instances of New Orleans police officers -- many of whom from
flooded areas -- turning in their badges.
"They indicated that they had lost everything and didn't feel that it
was worth them going back to take fire from looters and losing their
lives," Whitehorn said.
A military helicopter tried to land at the convention center several
times to drop off food and water. But the rushing crowd forced the
choppers to back off. Troopers then tossed the supplies to the crowd
from 10 feet off the ground and flew away.
In hopes of defusing the situation at the convention center, Mayor Ray
Nagin gave the refugees permission to march across a bridge to the
city's unflooded west bank for whatever relief they could find. But
the bedlam made that difficult.
"This is a desperate SOS," Nagin said in a statement. "Right now we
are out of resources at the convention center and don't anticipate
At least seven bodies were scattered outside the convention center, a
makeshift staging area for those rescued from rooftops, attics and
highways. The sidewalks were packed with people without food, water
or medical care, and with no sign of law enforcement.
An old man in a chaise lounge lay dead in a grassy median as hungry
babies wailed around him. Around the corner, an elderly woman lay dead
in her wheelchair, covered up by a blanket, and another body lay
beside her wrapped in a sheet.
"I don't treat my dog like that," 47-year-old Daniel Edwards said as
he pointed at the woman in the wheelchair.
"You can do everything for other countries, but you can't do nothing
for your own people," he added. "You can go overseas with the
military, but you can't get them down here."
The street outside the center, above the floodwaters, smelled of urine
and feces, and was choked with dirty diapers, old bottles and garbage.
"They've been teasing us with buses for four days," Edwards
said. "They're telling us they're going to come get us one day, and
then they don't show up."
Every so often, an armored state police vehicle cruised in front of
the convention center with four or five officers in riot gear with
automatic weapons. But there was no sign of help from the National
At one point the crowd began to chant "We want help! We want help!"
Later, a woman, screaming, went on the front steps of the convention
center and led the crowd in reciting the 23rd Psalm, "The Lord is my
"We are out here like pure animals," the Issac Clark said.
"We've got people dying out here -- two babies have died, a woman
died, a man died," said Helen Cheek. "We haven't had no food, we
haven't had no water, we haven't had nothing. They just brought us
here and dropped us."
Tourist Debbie Durso of Washington, Mich., said she asked a police
officer for assistance and his response was, "'Go to hell -- it's
every man for himself.'"
"This is just insanity," she said. "We have no food, no water ... all
these trucks and buses go by and they do nothing but wave."
FEMA director Michael Brown said the agency just learned about the
situation at the convention center Thursday and quickly scrambled to
provide food, water and medical care and remove the corpses.
Speaking on CNN's "Larry King Live," Homeland Security Secretary
Michael Chertoff said the evacuation of New Orleans should be
completed by the end of the weekend.
At the hot and stinking Superdome, where 30,000 were being evacuated
by bus to the Houston Astrodome, fistfights and fires erupted amid a
seething sea of tense, suffering people who waited in a lines that
stretched a half-mile to board yellow school buses.
After a traffic jam kept buses from arriving for nearly four hours, a
riot broke out in the scramble to get on the buses that finally did
show up, with a group of refugees breaking through a line of heavily
armed National Guardsmen.
One military policeman was shot in the leg as he and a man scuffled
for the MP's rifle, police Capt. Ernie Demmo said. The man was
Some of those among the mostly poor crowd had been in the dome for
four days without air conditioning, working toilets or a place to
bathe. An ambulance service airlifting the sick and injured out of the
Superdome suspended flights as too dangerous after it was reported
that a bullet was fired at a military helicopter.
"If they're just taking us anywhere, just anywhere, I say praise God,"
said refugee John Phillip. "Nothing could be worse than what we've
By Thursday evening, 11 hours after the military began evacuating the
Superdome, the arena held 10,000 more people than it did at
dawn. National Guard Capt. John Pollard said evacuees from around the
city poured into the Superdome and swelled the crowd to about 30,000
because they believed the arena was the best place to get a ride out
As he watched a line snaking for blocks through ankle-deep waters, New
Orleans' emergency operations chief Terry Ebbert blamed the inadequate
response on the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"This is not a FEMA operation. I haven't seen a single FEMA guy," he
said. He added: "We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami
victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans."
FEMA officials said some operations had to be suspended in areas where
gunfire has broken out, but are working overtime to feed people and
A day after Nagin took 1,500 police officers off search-and-rescue
duty to try to restore order in the streets, there were continued
reports of looting, shootings, gunfire and carjackings - and not all
the crimes were driven by greed.
When some hospitals try to airlift patients, Coast Guard
Lt. Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesan said, "there are people just taking potshots
at police and at helicopters, telling them, `You better come get my
Outside a looted Rite-Aid drugstore, some people were anxious to show
they needed what they were taking. A gray-haired man who would not
give his name pulled up his T-shirt to show a surgery scar and
explained that he needs pads for incontinence.
"I'm a Christian. I feel bad going in there," he said.
Earl Baker carried toothpaste, toothbrushes and deodorant. "Look, I'm
only getting necessities," he said. "All of this is personal
hygiene. I ain't getting nothing to get drunk or high with."
Several thousand storm victims had arrived in Houston by Thursday
night, and they quickly got hot meals, showers and some much-needed
Audree Lee, 37, was thrilled after getting a shower and hearing her
teenage daughter's voice on the telephone for the first time since the
storm. Lee had relatives take her daughter to Alabama so she would be
"I just cried. She cried. We cried together," Lee said. "She asked me
about her dog. They wouldn't let me take her dog with me. ... I know
the dog is gone now."
While floodwaters in the city appeared to stabilize, efforts continued
to plug three breaches that had opened up in the levee system that
protects this below-sea-level city.
Helicopters dropped sandbags into the breach and pilings were being
pounded into the mouth of the canal Thursday to close its connection
to Lake Pontchartrain, state Transportation Secretary Johnny Bradberry
said. The next step called for using about 250 concrete road barriers
to seal the gap.
In Washington, the White House said Bush will tour the devastated Gulf
Coast region on Friday and has asked his father, former President
George H.W. Bush, and former President Clinton to lead a private
fund-raising campaign for victims.
The president urged a crackdown on the lawlessness.
"I think there ought to be zero tolerance of people breaking the law
during an emergency such as this -- whether it be looting, or price
gouging at the gasoline pump, or taking advantage of charitable giving
or insurance fraud," Bush said. "And I've made that clear to our
attorney general. The citizens ought to be working together."
Donald Dudley, a 55-year-old New Orleans seafood merchant, complained
that when he and other hungry refugees broke into the kitchen of the
convention center and tried to prepare food, the National Guard chased
"They pulled guns and told us we had to leave that kitchen or they
would blow our damn brains out," he said. "We don't want their
help. Give us some vehicles and we'll get ourselves out of here!"
Associated Press reporters Adam Nossiter, Brett Martel, Robert Tanner and
Mary Foster contributed to this report.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: And so, desite working all day and
night to evacuate people, at the end of the day they wind up with _ten
thousand more people_ than they started out with that morning. It
seems like someone (Mister Mayor -- Ray Nagin -- perhaps) may have
miscalculated how many people heeded the original 'mandatory'
evacuation request last weekend. And a terribly sad part of this story
was on a video tape Thursday evening on WWL-Channel 4 (with its 24
hour per day continuous coverage of the spectacle): Four young children,
the oldest age eight) wandering around at the SuperDome with their
mother missing; apparently when the kids were rescued the rescuers
somehow missed getting (or did not find) the mother. The oldest child,
the eight year old boy was watching so protectively over his three
younger siblings, who were all crying. PAT]