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Mayor: Katrina May Have Killed Thousands / Governor: Everyone Must Leave New Orleans

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Cars are piled up among debris from Hurricane Katrina Wednesday, Aug. 31, 2005 in Gulfport, Miss.

Mayor: Katrina May Have Killed Thousands
 
By BRETT MARTEL, Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS - The mayor said Wednesday that Katrina probably killed thousands of people in New Orleans _ an estimate that, if accurate, would make the storm by far the nation's deadliest hurricane in more than a century.

"We know there is a significant number of dead bodies in the water," and other people dead in attics, Mayor Ray Nagin said. Asked how many, he said: "Minimum, hundreds. Most likely, thousands."

The frightening estimate came as Army engineers struggled to plug New Orleans' breached levees with giant sandbags and concrete barriers, while authorities drew up plans to clear out the tens of thousands of people left in the Big Easy and all but abandon the flooded-out city.

There will be a "total evacuation of the city. We have to. The city will not be functional for two or three months," Nagin said.

Most of those storm refugees _ 15,000 to 20,000 people _ were in the Superdome, which had become hot and stuffy, with broken toilets and nowhere for anyone to bathe. "It can no longer operate as a shelter of last resort," the mayor said.

Nagin estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people remained in New Orleans, a city of nearly half a million people. He said 14,000 to 15,000 a day could be evacuated.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, began mounting one of the largest search-and-rescue operations in U.S. history, sending four Navy ships to the Gulf Coast with drinking water and other emergency supplies, along with the hospital ship USNS Comfort, search helicopters and elite SEAL water-rescue teams. American Red Cross workers from across the country converged on the devastated region in the agency's biggest-ever relief operation.

The death toll from Hurricane Katrina has reached at least 110 in Mississippi alone. But the full magnitude of the disaster had been unclear for days; Louisiana has been putting aside the counting of the dead to concentrate on rescuing the living, many of whom were still trapped on rooftops and in attics.

If the mayor's estimate holds true, it would make Katrina the nation's deadliest hurricane since 1900, when a storm in Galveston, Texas, killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people.

A full day after the Big Easy thought it had escaped Katrina's full fury, two levees broke and spilled water into the streets Tuesday, swamping an estimated 80 percent of the bowl-shaped, below-sea-level city, inundating miles and miles of homes and rendering much of New Orleans uninhabitable for weeks or months.

"We are looking at 12 to 16 weeks before people can come in," Nagin said on ABC's "Good Morning America, "and the other issue that's concerning me is we have dead bodies in the water. At some point in time the dead bodies are going to start to create a serious disease issue."

With the streets awash and looters brazenly cleaning out stores, authorities planned to move at least 25,000 of the New Orlean's storm refugees to the Houston Astrodome, 350 miles away, in a vast, two-day convoy of some 475 buses.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco said the situation was desperate and there was no choice but to clear out.

"The logistical problems are impossible and we have to evacuate people in shelters," the governor said. "It's becoming untenable. There's no power. It's getting more difficult to get food and water supplies in, just basic essentials."

Around midday, officials with the state and the Army Corps of Engineers said the water levels between the city and Lake Pontchartrain had equalized, and water had stopped rising in New Orleans, and even appeared to be falling, at least in some places. But the danger was far from over.

The Army Corps of Engineers said it planned to use heavy-duty Chinook helicopters to drop 20,000-pound sandbags Wednesday into the 500-foot gap in the failed floodwall. But the agency said it was having trouble getting the sandbags and dozens of 15-foot highway barriers to the site because the city's waterways were blocked by loose barges, boats and large debris.

Officials said they were also looking at a more audacious plan: finding a barge to plug the 500-foot hole.

"The challenge is an engineering nightmare," the governor said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

As the sense of desperation deepened in New Orleans, hundreds of people wandered up and down Interstate 10, pushing shopping carts, laundry racks, anything they could find to carry their belongings. Dozens of fishermen from up to 200 miles away floated in on caravans of boats to pull residents out of flooded neighborhoods.

On some of the few roads that were still passable, people waved at passing cars with empty water jugs, begging for relief. Hundreds of people appeared to have spent the night on a crippled highway.

In one east New orleans neighborhood, refugees were being loaded onto the backs of moving vans like cattle, and in one case emergency workers with a sledgehammer and an ax broke open the back of a mail truck and used it to ferry sick and elderly residents.

Police officers were asking residents to give up any guns they had before they boarded buses and trucks because police desperately needed the firepower: Some officers who had been stranded on the roof of a motel said they were being shot at overnight.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press


Floodwaters from Hurricane Katrina cover a portion of New Orleans, La., Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005, a day ...

Governor: Everyone Must Leave New Orleans
 
By BRETT MARTEL, Associated Press Writer

NEW ORLEANS - The governor of Louisiana says everyone needs to leave New Orleans due to flooding from Hurricane Katrina. "We've sent buses in. We will be either loading them by boat, helicopter, anything that is necessary," Gov. Kathleen Blanco said. Army engineers trying to plug New Orleans' breached levees struggled to move giant sandbags and concrete barriers into place, and the governor said Wednesday the situation was growing more desperate and there was no choice but to abandon the flooded city.

"The challenge is an engineering nightmare," Gov. Kathleen Blanco said on ABC's "Good Morning America."

As the waters continued to rise in New Orleans, the Pentagon began mounting one of the biggest search-and-rescue operations in U.S. history, sending four Navy ships to the Gulf Coast with drinking water and other emergency supplies, along with the hospital ship USNS Comfort, search helicopters and eight swift-water rescue teams. Red Cross workers from across the country converged on the devastated region.

The Army Corps of Engineers said it planned to use heavy-duty Chinook helicopters to drop 3,000-pound sandbags Wednesday into the 500-foot gap in the failed floodwall. But the agency said it was having trouble getting the sandbags and dozens of 15-foot highway barriers to the site because the city's waterways were blocked by loose barges, boats and large debris.

Officials said they were also looking at a more audacious plan: finding a barge to plug the 500-foot hole.

The death toll from Hurricane Katrina reached at least 110 in Mississippi alone, while Louisiana put aside the counting of the dead to concentrate on rescuing the living, many of whom were still trapped on rooftops and in attics.

The Red Cross reported it had about 40,000 people in 200 shelters across the area in one of the biggest urban disasters the nation has ever seen.

A full day after the Big Easy thought it had escaped Katrina's full fury, two levees broke and spilled water into the streets Tuesday, swamping an estimated 80 percent of the bowl-shaped, below-sea-level city, inundating miles and miles of homes and rendering much of New Orleans uninhabitable for weeks or months.

"We are looking at 12 to 16 weeks before people can come in," Mayor Ray Nagin said on ABC's "Good Morning America, "and the other issue that's concerning me is we have dead bodies in the water. At some point in time the dead bodies are going to start to create a serious disease issue."

Blanco said she wanted the Superdome _ which had become a shelter of last resort for about 20,000 people _ evacuated within two days, along with other gathering points for storm refugees. The situation inside the dank and sweltering Superdome was becoming desperate: The water was rising, the air conditioning was out, toilets were broken, and tempers were rising.

At the same time, sections of Interstate 10, the only major freeway leading into New Orleans from the east, lay shattered, dozens of huge slabs of concrete floating in the floodwaters. I-10 is the only route for commercial trucking across southern Louisiana.

The sweltering city of 480,000 people _ an estimated 80 percent of whom obeyed orders to evacuate as Katrina closed in over the weekend _ also had no drinkable water, the electricity could be out for weeks, and looters were ransacking stores around town.

"The logistical problems are impossible and we have to evacuate people in shelters," the governor said. "It's becoming untenable. There's no power. It's getting more difficult to get food and water supplies in, just basic essentials."

She gave no details on exactly where the refugees would be taken. But in Houston, Rusty Cornelius, a county emergency official, said at least 25,000 of them would travel in a bus convoy to Houston starting Wednesday and would be sheltered at the 40-year-old Astrodome, which is no longer used for professional sporting events.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency was considering putting people on cruise ships, in tent cities, mobile home parks, and so-called floating dormitories _ boats the agency uses to house its own employees.

Once the levees are fixed, Maj. Gen. Don Riley of the Army Corps of Engineers said, it could take close to a month to get the water out of the city. If the water rises a few feet higher, it could also wipe out the water system for the whole city, said New Orleans' homeland security chief, Terry Ebbert.

A helicopter view of the devastation over Louisiana and Mississippi revealed people standing on black rooftops, baking in the sunshine while waiting for rescue boats.

"I can only imagine that this is what Hiroshima looked like 60 years ago," said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour after touring the destruction by air Tuesday.

All day long, rescuers in boats and helicopters plucked bedraggled flood refugees from rooftops and attics. Louisiana Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu said 3,000 people have been rescued by boat and air, some placed shivering and wet into helicopter baskets. They were brought by the truckload into shelters, some in wheelchairs and some carrying babies, with stories of survival and of those who didn't make it.

"Oh my God, it was hell," said Kioka Williams, who had to hack through the ceiling of the beauty shop where she worked as floodwaters rose in New Orleans' low-lying Ninth Ward. "We were screaming, hollering, flashing lights. It was complete chaos."

Looting broke out in some New Orleans neighborhoods, prompting authorities to send more than 70 additional officers and an armed personnel carrier into the city. One police officer was shot in the head by a looter but was expected to recover, authorities said.

A giant new Wal-Mart in New Orleans was looted, and the entire gun collection was taken, The Times-Picayune newspaper reported. "There are gangs of armed men in the city moving around the city," said Ebbert, the city's homeland security chief. Also, looters tried to break into Children's Hospital, the governor's office said.

On New Orleans' Canal Street, dozens of looters ripped open the steel gates on clothing and jewelry stores and grabbed merchandise. In Biloxi, Miss., people picked through casino slot machines for coins and ransacked other businesses. In some cases, the looting took place in full view of police and National Guardsmen.

Blanco acknowledged that looting was a severe problem but said that officials had to focus on survivors. "We don't like looters one bit, but first and foremost is search and rescue," she said.

Officials said it was simply too early to estimate a death toll. One Mississippi county alone said it had suffered at least 100 deaths, and officials are "very, very worried that this is going to go a lot higher," said Joe Spraggins, civil defense director for Harrison County, home to Biloxi and Gulfport. In neighboring Jackson County, officials said at least 10 deaths were blamed on the storm.

Several of the dead in Harrison County were from a beachfront apartment building that collapsed under a 25-foot wall of water as Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast with 145-mph winds Monday. Louisiana officials said many were feared dead there, too, making Katrina one of the most punishing storms to hit the United States in decades.

Blanco asked residents to spend Wednesday in prayer.

"That would be the best thing to calm our spirits and thank our Lord that we are survivors," she said. "Slowly, gradually, we will recover; we will survive; we will rebuild."

Across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, more than 1 million residents remained without electricity, some without clean drinking water. Officials said it could be weeks, if not months, before most evacuees will be able to return.

Emergency medical teams from across the country were sent into the region and President Bush cut short his Texas vacation Tuesday to return to Washington to focus on the storm damage.

Also, the Bush administration decided to release crude oil from federal petroleum reserves to help refiners whose supply was disrupted by Katrina. The announcement helped push oil prices lower.

Katrina, which was downgraded to a tropical depression, packed winds around 30 mph as it moved through the Ohio Valley early Wednesday, with the potential to dump 8 inches of rain and spin off deadly tornadoes.

The remnants of Katrina spawned bands of storms and tornadoes across Georgia that caused at least two deaths, multiple injuries and leveled dozens of buildings. A tornado damaged 13 homes near Marshall, Va.

 

Associated Press reporters Holbrook Mohr, Mary Foster, Allen G. Breed, Adam Nossiter and Jay Reeves contributed to this report.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.

 

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