NEW ORLEANS - Fights and fires broke out, corpses lay out in the open, and rescue helicopters and law enforcement officers were shot at as flooded-out New Orleans descended into anarchy Thursday. "This is a desperate SOS," the mayor said.
Anger mounted across the ruined city, with thousands of storm victims increasingly hungry, desperate and tired of waiting for buses to take them out.
"We are out here like pure animals. We don't have help," the Rev. Issac Clark, 68, said outside the New Orleans Convention Center, where corpses lay in the open and he and other evacuees complained that they were dropped off and given nothing — no food, no water, no medicine.
The plea from Mayor Ray Nagin came even as National Guardsmen poured in to help restore order and put a stop to the looting, carjackings and gunfire that have gripped New Orleans in the days since Hurricane Katrina plunged much of the city under water.
About 15,000 to 20,000 people who had taken shelter at the convention center to await buses were growing angry and restless in what appeared to be a potentially explosive situation. In hopes of defusing it, the mayor gave them permission to march across a bridge to the city's unflooded west bank for whatever relief they can find.
In a statement to CNN, he said: "This is a desperate SOS. Right now we are out of resources at the convention center and don't anticipate enough buses. We need buses. Currently the convention center is unsanitary and unsafe and we're running out of supplies."
In Washington, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the government is sending in 1,400 National Guardsmen a day to help stop looting and other lawlessness in New Orleans. Already, 2,800 National Guardsmen are in the city, he said.
But across the flooded-out city, the rescuers themselves came under attack from storm victims.
"Hospitals are trying to evacuate," said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesan, spokesman at the city emergency operations center. "At every one of them, there are reports that as the helicopters come in people are shooting at them. There are people just taking potshots at police and at helicopters, telling them, `You better come get my family.'"
Some Federal Emergency Management rescue operations were suspended in areas where gunfire has broken out, Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said in Washington. "In areas where our employees have been determined to potentially be in danger, we have pulled back," he said.
A National Guard military policeman was shot in the leg as the two scuffled for the MP's rifle, police Capt. Ernie Demmo said. The man was arrested.
"These are good people. These are just scared people," Demmo said.
Outside the Convention Center, the sidewalks were packed with people without food, water or medical care, and with no sign of law enforcement. Thousands of storm refugees had been assembling outside for days, waiting for buses that did not come.
At least seven bodies were scattered outside, and hungry people broke through the steel doors to a food service entrance and began pushing out pallets of water and juice and whatever else they could find.
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 with 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. "I buried my dog." 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."
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.
People chanted, "Help, help!" as reporters and photographers walked through. The crowd got angry when journalists tried to photograph one of the bodies, and covered it over with a blanket. A woman, screaming, went on the front steps of the convention center and led the crowd in reciting the 23rd Psalm.
John Murray, 52, said: "It's like they're punishing us."
The Superdome, where some 25,000 people were being evacuated by bus to the Houston Astrodome, descended into chaos as well.
Huge crowds, hoping to finally escape the stifling confines of the stadium, jammed the main concourse outside the dome, spilling out over the ramp to the Hyatt hotel next door — a seething sea of tense, unhappy, people packed shoulder-to-shoulder up to the barricades where heavily armed National Guardsmen stood.
Fights broke out. A fire erupted in a trash chute inside the dome, but a National Guard commander said it did not affect the evacuation. After a traffic jam kept buses from arriving at the Superdome for nearly four hours, a near-riot broke out in the scramble to get on the buses that finally did show up.
The first of hundreds of busloads of people evacuated from the Superdome arrived early Thursday at their new temporary home — another sports arena, the Houston Astrodome, 350 miles away.
But the ambulance service in charge of taking the sick and injured from the Superdome suspended flights after a shot was reported fired at a military helicopter. Richard Zuschlag, chief of Acadian Ambulance, said it was too dangerous for his pilots.
The military, which was overseeing the removal of the able-bodied by buses, continued the ground evacuation without interruption, said National Guard Lt. Col. Pete Schneider. The government had no immediate confirmation of whether a military helicopter was fired on.
Terry Ebbert, head of the city's emergency operations, warned that the slow evacuation at the Superdome had become an "incredibly explosive situation," and he bitterly complained that FEMA was not offering enough help.
"This is a national emergency. This is a national disgrace," he said. "FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control. We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans."
In Texas, the governor's office said Texas has agreed to take in an additional 25,000 refugees from Katrina and plans to house them in San Antonio, though exactly where has not been determined.
In Washington, the White House said President 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."
On Wednesday, Mayor Ray Nagin offered the most startling estimate yet of the magnitude of the disaster: Asked how many people died in New Orleans, he said: "Minimum, hundreds. Most likely, thousands." The death toll has already reached at least 126 in Mississippi.
If the estimate proves correct, it would make Katrina the worst natural disaster in the United States since at least the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, which was blamed for anywhere from about 500 to 6,000 deaths. Katrina would also be the nation's deadliest hurricane since 1900, when a storm in Galveston, Texas, killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people.
Nagin called for a total evacuation of New Orleans, saying the city had become uninhabitable for the 50,000 to 100,000 who remained behind after the city of nearly a half-million people was ordered cleared out over the weekend, before Katrina blasted the Gulf Coast with 145-mph winds.
The mayor said that it will be two or three months before the city is functioning again and that people would not be allowed back into their homes for at least a month or two.
"We need an effort of 9-11 proportions," former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, now president of the Urban League, said on NBC's "Today" show. "So many of the people who did not evacuate, could not evacuate for whatever reason. They are people who are African-American mostly but not completely, and people who were of little or limited economic means. They are the folks, we've got to get them out of there."
"A great American city is fighting for its life," he added. "We must rebuild New Orleans, the city that gave us jazz, and music, and multiculturalism."
Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu toured the stricken areas said rescued people begged him to pass information to their families. His pocket was full of scraps of paper on which he had scribbled down their phone numbers.
When he got a working phone in the early morning hours Thursday, he contacted a woman whose father had been rescued and told her: "Your daddy's alive, and he said to tell you he loves you."
"She just started crying. She said, `I thought he was dead,'" he said.
An email forwarded from my mother. I have withheld the contact information, and I would prefer not to give it since I don't have direct permission to repost this, but--the email starts off with "This is a devastating report that needs to be publicized," so... I can do that. My point is, I can provide verifying/contact information if necessary.
I have never sent an email to [everyone on the company email list], however, this is a devastating report that needs to be publicized. Please forgive me if you did not wish to receive this.
I have personally verified the correctness and truth of the attached message. It is not a hoax! or an urban legend! Please pray for the victims, as well as, the healthcare workers and relief workers, and give to your denomination’s relief efforts and those of the Red Cross. All accounts point to the situation worsening before it can possibly get better!!
ArnoldSubject: FW: Neonatal Evacuation report from New Orleans
As a nurse, this is as bad as it gets. I hope I am never placed in that situation. Please pray for all the healthcare workers trying to do their jobs in conditions like this.
Subject: Neonatal Evacuation report from New Orleans
Just to update everyone. We just returned from New Orleans to Birmingham with 4 neonatal patients at the same time on transport. We flew to New Orleans airport via jet and Lifesaver helicopter met us there with the helicopter. Lifesaver took 3 crew members from the airport to Oschner since there was no ground access due to flooding. Oschner's heliport was under water and we landed on the parking deck. With equipment in hand, we walked down 6 flights of stairs, (all of the elevators are out of service), through the hospital where there is caution tape and leaks all throughout the hallways. We then walked up two flights of stairs to the unit where they are now caring for the babies. Luckily it was now the 2nd floor instead of originally the 10th floor. All of the windows were blown out of the 10th floor by the storm. On the flight into the airport all you could see is destruction and water everywhere, I thought "Truly a saddening sight", then with the flight on the helicopter it got worse. We were much closer at that point and could see more destruction, more water, looters, Police/ EMS , and uncontrolled fires all over.
Upon entering the make-shift nursery, the first two staff were on phones crying their eyes out talking to someone on the other end trying to cope. All of the staff in the unit were overjoyed to see that someone had come to help. They had requested help from all over but they told us we were the only ones to show up today. They thought we were coming for only one patient and when we told them we had the resources to transport 4, they were shocked to say the least. Then we said maybe we can help more tomorrow and to our surprise they all were even more excited that we would come back again to help. The nurse practioner in the unit pulled me aside and asked me "How bad is it out there looking from the air? I mean really, is it as bad as they say?" With tears running down her face and tears in my eyes I said "Yes Ma'am it is, maybe worse and my heart is broken for all of you down here". With that she had to walk away.
All of the staff are working in t-shirts, shorts and flip flops due to the lack of ventilation. It was at least 110-120 degrees in the unit. They had all of the babies in open cribs or warmers that were off and all were down to their diapers, some with elevated temps still. All of the staff have been there since Saturday and said they don't think they will be able to leave until the 5th of September. With that said, many have nothing to go home to.
Tonight all 4 babies came back to UAB RNICU but they have at least two more babies for us to transport tomorrow and Dr. Prince here in Birmingham said we could bring one back to TCH and one to UAB. Plans may change by tomorrow.
New Orleans is in a total state of destruction and chaos and my heart is broken so badly. I didn't have good words to make them feel better but made sure they all knew they were in my thoughts and prayers.
I'm sorry to have been so chatty but I had to release somewhat.
Respectfully and mentally/emotionally drained,
Thank you so much for all the links and suggestions--I may try to compile them in a laundry list later, but right now, crickets_lj has been collecting the legwork of several other people, and we're discussing some kind of "top four or five basic can't-go-wrong" donation links. I'm giving you the link so you can go through what other people have come up with as well, which include:
oulangi's entry on making sure you get a reputable charity. More on her journal.
(While we're here: why you should donate money instead of goods. Short version: by the time they've spent money to ship the goods down there, they could have spent the money more efficiently on goods in bulk more locally.)
Charity Navigator: "America's premier independent charity evaluator, works to advance a more efficient and responsive philanthropic marketplace by evaluating the financial health of America's largest charities."
Several good, reputable charity links at dark_christian, a link I just got in my email. Notable: they list charities of different religions and denominations (Lutheran, Mennonite, and Tzu Chi were among the ones I saw).
Major charities, in no particular order:
1. The Red Cross: I mentioned having issues with the Red Cross, which Crickets mentions at that link as well, but the fact is that, despite their overhead, they are possibly the the best-prepared to go down there and help. You can: 1) donate blood at your local Red Cross; 2) contribute money a) via 1-800-HELP-NOW, b) their website, or c) mailing a check/money order to:
American Red CrossBlack Phoenix Alchemy Lab has also posted a shitload of new oil blends, and several of those--see the Limited Edition section, I think?--will benefit the Red Cross as well.
P.O. Box 37243
Washington, DC 20013
ETA: The Better Business Bureau's report on the Red Cross. (Thanks, verse.) It makes me feel a little better.
2. Second Harvest: "America’s Second Harvest—The Nation’s Food Bank Network, the nation's largest charitable hunger-relief organization has activated its disaster mode in response to Hurricane Katrina. Learn more about how we work ..."
3. United Way: "100% of your gift will be used for Hurricane Katrina long-term recovery efforts. United Way and its partners will cover all associated fees regarding processing of credit cards and other administrative costs."
4. The Salvation Army: You may have issues with the "salvation" part, as I'm hearing they push that a bit. I'm also hearing that they're very good in crises, though. This being the South, the "salvation" part may not be as intrusive an issue as it might be elsewhere.
5. The Humane Society: I hadn't realized this before, but you can't take pets to shelters. People either had to abandon pets and just pray for the best, or stay and face the hurricane with them. There's no telling if some of these pets will ever see home or their owners again, and no telling how many owners have been separated from their pets--by evacuation, or literally by flood waters pulling them away. In the same vein: Noah's Wish: A not-for-profit animal welfare organization that keeps animals alive during disasters.
I want to do something towards raising funds, but I don't know what yet. It may be more useful to do something later, when the initial wave of generosity has been exhausted but there's still need out there.