By ALLEN G. BREED, Associated Press Writer
[11:00 am CST]
NEW ORLEANS - Thousands of National Guardsmen with food, water and weapons streamed into Louisiana on Friday to bring relief to New Orleans' suffering multitudes and put down the looting and violence. "The cavalry is and will continue to arrive," said one general.
The assurances came amid blistering criticism from the mayor and others who said the federal government had bungled the relief effort and let people die in the streets for lack of food, water or medicine.
In Washington, President Bush admitted "the results are not acceptable" and pledged to bolster the relief efforts with a personal trip to the Gulf Coast on Friday.
"We'll get on top of this situation," he said before setting out, "and we're going to help the people that need help."
Earlier Friday, an explosion at a warehouse rocked a wide area of New Orleans before daybreak and jolted residents awake, lighting up the sky and sending a pillar of acrid gray smoke over a ruined city awash in perhaps thousands of corpses, under siege from looters, and seething with anger and resentment.
A second large fire erupted downtown in an old retail building in a dry section of Canal Street.
There were no immediate reports of injuries. But the fires deepened the sense of total collapse in the city since Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore Monday morning.
The explosion took place along the Mississippi River about 15 blocks from the French Quarter. It was about two miles from both the Louisiana Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center, the two spots where tens of thousands of hungry, desperate and hostile refugees awaited buses to deliver them from their misery. The cause of the blast was under investigation.
Lt. Gen. Steven Blum of the National Guard said 7,000 National Guardsmen arriving in Louisiana on Friday would be dedicated to restoring order in New Orleans. He said half of them had just returned from assignments overseas and are "highly proficient in the use of lethal force." He pledged to "put down" the violence "in a quick and efficient manner."
"But they are coming here to save Louisiana citizens. The only thing we are attacking is the effects of this hurricane," he said. Blum said that a huge airlift of supplies was landing Friday and that it signaled "the cavalry is and will continue to arrive."
As he left the White House for his visit to the devastated area, Bush said 600 newly arrived military police officers would be sent to the convention center to secure the site so that food and medicine could get there.
City officials have accused the government — namely the Federal Emergency Management Agency — of responding sluggishly.
"Get off your asses and let's do something," Mayor Ray Nagin told WWL-AM Thursday night in a rambling interview in which he cursed, yelled and ultimately burst into tears. At one point he said: "Excuse my French — everybody in America — but I am pissed."
Across the city, law and order broke down. Police officers turned in their badges. Rescuers, law officers and medical-evacuation helicopters were shot at by storm victims. Fistfights and fires broke out Thursday at the hot and stinking Superdome as thousands of people waited in misery to board buses for the Houston Astrodome. Corpses lay out in the open in wheelchairs and in bedsheets. The looting continued.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco called the looters "hoodlums" and issued a warning to lawbreakers: Hundreds of National Guardsmen hardened on the battlefield in Iraq have landed in New Orleans.
"They have M-16s and they're locked and loaded," she said. "These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so, and I expect they will."
At the Superdome, group of refugees broke through a line of heavily armed National Guardsmen in a scramble to get on to the buses. And about 15,000 to 20,000 people who had taken shelter at the convention center grew ever more hostile after waiting for buses for days amid the filth and the dead, including at least seven bodies scattered outside the building.
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."
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.
"There's a lot of very sick people — elderly ones, infirm ones — who can't stand this heat, and there's a lot of children who don't have water and basic necessities to survive on," said Daniel Edwards, 47, outside the center. "We need to eat, or drink water at the very least."
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," 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."
Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said FEMA just learned about the situation at the convention center Thursday and quickly scrambled to provide food, water and medical care and remove the corpses.
By midmorning Friday, despite a constant buzzing of military helicopters overhead, there was still no sign of the relief to the tens of thousands lined up outside the convention center.
"I'm trying to keep hope alive, but slowly my hope is fading," said refugee Carl Clark. "Believe it or not, these people are human. Right now they're crowded like animals. They're trying to keep their dignity. ... I don't even know what the Red Cross looks like."
Raymond Whitfield, 51, watched a National Guard truck drive by the convention center, but like most other official vehicles, it did not stop.
"The National Guard just drives around and around. I know the police, the National Guard, they got generators, so they can sleep and eat," he said.
"Look at them," he said of the men inside the truck, "they're not even sweating."
"Everybody's on the edge right now," said 28-year-old Kenya Green. "Every day, it's `The bus is coming, The bus is coming,' but still nothing. ... They don't give us no information."
Conditions were dire at the Superdome as well. By Thursday evening, 11 hours after the military began evacuating the Superdome, the arena held 10,000 more people than it did at dawn. Evacuees from across the city swelled the crowd to about 30,000 because they believed the arena was the best place to get a ride out of town.
The flow of refugees to the Houston Astrodome was temporarily halted overnight after about 11,000 people had arrived — less than half the estimated 23,000 people expected.
"We've actually reached capacity for the safety and comfort of the people inside there," American Red Cross spokeswoman Dana Allen said. She said people were "packed pretty tight" on the floor.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced that Dallas would host 25,000 more refugees at Reunion Arena and 25,000 others would relocate to a San Antonio warehouse at KellyUSA, a city-owned complex that once was home to an Air Force base. Houston estimated as many as 55,000 people who fled the hurricane were staying in area hotels.
While floodwaters in New Orleans appeared to stabilize, efforts continued to plug three breaches in the levees that protect this bowl-shaped, below-sea-level city, which is wedged between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River.
Helicopters dropped sandbags into the breach and pilings were being pounded into the mouth of the canal Thursday to close its connection to the lake.
Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, said engineers are developing a plan to create new breaches in the levees so that a combination of pumping and the effects of gravity will drain the water out of the city. Removing the floodwaters will take weeks, he said.
The 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," Col. Henry Whitehorn said.
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.'"
FEMA officials said some operations had to be suspended in areas where gunfire had broken out.
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," he said. "I feel bad going in there."
Hospitals struggled to evacuate critically ill patients who were dying for lack of oxygen, insulin or intravenous fluids. But 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 family.'"
"Get off your asses and let's do something":
"I've been out there man. I flew in these helicopters, been in the crowds talking to people crying, don't know where their relatives are. I've done it all man, and I'll tell you man, I keep hearing that it's coming. This is coming, that is coming. And my answer to that today is BS, where is the beef? Because there is no beef in this city. "
Nagin said, "Get every Greyhound bus in the country and get them moving."
Nagin called for a moratorium on press conferences "until the resources are in this city."
"They're feeding the people a line of bull, and they are spinning and people are dying," he said.
"I don't know whether it's the governor's problem, or it's the president's problem, but somebody needs to get ... on a plane and sit down, the two of them, and figure this out right now," Nagin said.
National Guardsmen Reach New Orleans
By ALLEN G. BREED, Associated Press Writer
[1:00 pm CST]
NEW ORLEANS - Four days after Hurricane Katrina struck, the National Guard arrived in force Friday with food, water and weapons, churning through the floodwaters in a vast truck convoy with orders to retake the streets and bring relief to the suffering.
"The cavalry is and will continue to arrive," said Lt. Gen. Steven Blum of the National Guard.
At the New Orleans Convention Center, some of the thousands of storm victims awaiting their deliverance applauded, threw their hands heavenward and screamed, "Thank you, Jesus!" as the camouflage-green trucks and hundreds of soldiers arrived.
"Lord, I thank you for getting us out of here," said Leschia Radford.
But there was also anger and profane catcalls.
"Hell no, I'm not glad to see them. They should have been here days ago. I ain't glad to see 'em. I'll be glad when 100 buses show up," said 46-year-old Michael Levy, whose words were echoed by those around him yelling, "Hell, yeah! Hell yeah!"
"We've been sleeping on the ... ground like rats," Levy said. "I say burn this whole ... city down."
The Guard said its first priority was delivering food and water, after which it would begin evacuating people — something that could take days.
"As fast as we can, we'll move them out," said Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore. "Worse things have happened to America," he added. "We're going to overcome this, too. It's not our fault. The storm came and flooded the city."
Even Republicans are criticizing Bush and his administration for the sluggish relief effort:
"I think it puts into question all of the Homeland Security and Northern Command planning for the last four years, because if we can't respond faster than this to an event we saw coming across the Gulf for days, then why do we think we're prepared to respond to a nuclear or biological attack?" said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
For the first time, however, he stopped defending his administration's response and criticized it. "A lot of people are working hard to help those who've been affected. The results are not acceptable," he said. "I'm heading down there right now." Bush hoped that his tour of the hurricane-ravaged states would boost the spirits of increasingly desperate storm victims and their tired rescuers, and his visit was aimed at tamping down the ever-angrier criticism that he has engineered a too-little, too-late response. Amid the lowest approval ratings of his presidency, Bush has other problems besides the hurricane: Gasoline prices have soared past $3 a gallon in some places, and support is ebbing for the war in Iraq.
Can't believe I forgot this: The Hunger Site is giving food to Katrina victims. "Your click on the 'Give Free Food' button funds food for the hungry, paid for by site sponsors whose ads appear after you click and provided to people in need around the world through the efforts of Mercy Corps and America's Second Harvest."
ETA: Download this.