Guard Brings Food, Medicine to Big Easy
By ROBERT TANNER, AP National Writer
[6:25 pm CST]
NEW ORLEANS - To cries of "Thank you Jesus!" and catcalls of "What took you so long?," a National Guard convoy packed with food, water and medicine rolled through axle-deep floodwaters Friday into what remained of New Orleans and descended into a maelstrom of fires and floating corpses.
"Lord, I thank you for getting us out of here!" Leschia Radford shrieked amid a throng of tens of thousands of storm victims outside the New Orleans Convention Center.
More than four days after the storm hit, the caravan of at least three-dozen camouflage-green troop vehicles and supply trucks arrived along with dozens of air-conditioned buses to take refugees out. President Bush also took an aerial tour of the ruined city, and answered complaints about a sluggish government response by saying, "We're going to make it right."
In what looked like a scene from a Third World country, some people threw their arms heavenward and others nearly fainted with joy as the trucks and hundreds of soldiers arrived in the punishing midday heat.
But there were also profane jeers from many in the crowd of nearly 20,000 outside the convention center, which a day earlier seemed on the verge of a riot, with desperate people seething with anger over the lack of anything to eat or drink.
"They should have been here days ago," said 46-year-old Michael Levy, whose words were echoed by those around him yelling, "Hell, yeah!"
"We've been sleeping on the ... ground like rats," Levy added. "I say burn this whole ... city down."
The soldiers' arrival-in-force came amid angry complaints from the mayor and others that the federal government had bungled the relief effort and let people die in the streets for lack of food, water or medicine.
"The people of our city are holding on by a thread," Mayor Ray Nagin warned in a statement to CNN. "Time has run out. Can we survive another night? And who can we depend on? Only God knows." Earlier, in a rambling radio interview, Nagin erupted in tears and anger, saying, "Get off your asses and let's do something."
The president took a land and air tour of hard-hit areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and admitted of the relief effort: "The results are not enough." Congress quickly passed a $10.5 billion disaster aid package, and Bush said he would sign it by day's end.
What were perhaps the first signs of real hope for recovery came on a day that was ushered in with a thunderous explosion before daybreak and scattered downtown building fires that only confirmed the sense that New Orleans was a city in utter collapse.
The explosion at a warehouse along the Mississippi River about 15 blocks from the French Quarter jostled storm refugees awake and sent a pillar of acrid gray smoke over a city that the mayor has said could be awash with thousands of corpses. Other large fires fire erupted downtown.
With a cigar-chomping general in the convoy's lead vehicle, the trucks rolled through muddy water to reach the convention center. Flatbed trucks carried huge crates, pallets and bags of relief supplies, including Meals Ready to Eat. Soldiers in fatigues sat in the backs of open-top trucks, their rifles pointing skyward.
Guardsmen carrying rifles also arrived at the Louisiana Superdome, where a vast crowd of bedraggled people — many of them trapped there since the weekend — stretched around the entire perimeter of the building, waiting for their deliverance from the heat, the filth and the gagging stench inside the stadium.
"The cavalry is and will continue to arrive," said Lt. Gen. Steven Blum, commander of the National Guard. He said 7,000 Guardsmen would be in the city by Saturday.
But another commander warned it may yet be days more before evacuations from the convention center begin, because the first priority is bringing in food and water.
"As fast as we can, we'll move them out," said Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore said. "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."
Within minutes of the soldiers' arrival at the convention center, they set up six food and water lines. The crowd was for the most part orderly and grateful for the first major supply convoy to reach the arena.
Diane Sylvester, 49, was the first person through the line, and she emerged with two bottles of water and a pork rib meal. "Something is better than nothing," she said as she mopped sweat from her brow. "I feel great to see the military here. I know I'm saved."
Angela Jones, 24, began guzzling her water before she even cleared the line.
"Like steak and potatoes!" she said of the cool water. "I didn't think I was going to make it through that."
A rag shielding her from the searing heat and a cart holding her only belongings, 70-year-old Nellie Washington asked: "What took you so long? I'm extremely happy, but I cannot let it be at that. They did not take the lead to do this. They had to be pushed to do it."
With Houston's Astrodome already full with 15,000 storm refugees, that city opened two more giant centers to accommodate an additional 10,000. Dallas and San Antonio also had agreed to take refugees.
One group of Katrina's victims lurched from one tragedy to another: A bus carrying evacuees from the Superdome overturned on a Louisiana highway, killing at least one person and injuring many others.
At the broken levee along Lake Pontchartrain that swamped nearly 80 percent of New Orleans, helicopters dropped 3,000-pound sandbags into the breach and pilings were being pounded into place to seal off the waters. Engineers also were developing a plan to create new breaches in the levees so that a combination of gravity and pumping and would drain the water out of the city, a process that could take weeks.
Law and order all but broke down in New Orleans over the past few days. Storm refugees reported being raped, shot and robbed, gangs of teenagers hijacked boats meant to rescue them, and frustrated storm refugees menaced outmanned law officers Police Chief Eddie Compass admitted even his own officers had taken food and water from stores. Officers were walking off the job by the dozens.
Some of New Orleans' hospitals, facing dwindling supplies of food, water and medicine, resumed evacuations Friday. Rescuers finally made it into Charity Hospital, the city's largest public hospital, where gunfire had earlier thwarted efforts to evacuate more than 250 patients.
Behind, they left a flooded morgue where residents had been dropping off bodies. After it reached its capacity of 12, five more corpses were stacked in a stairwell. Other bodies were elsewhere in the hospital.
Administrator Don Smithburg said his numbed staff was forced to subsist on intravenous sugar solutions.
"Some of them are on the brink of unable to cope any longer," he said.
Dear Michael Moore: I forgive you for that "fictition" crap at the Oscars that year.
Dear Mr. Bush:
Any idea where all our helicopters are? It's Day 5 of Hurricane Katrina and thousands remain stranded in New Orleans and need to be airlifted. Where on earth could you have misplaced all our military choppers? Do you need help finding them? I once lost my car in a Sears parking lot. Man, was that a drag.
Also, any idea where all our national guard soldiers are? We could really use them right now for the type of thing they signed up to do like helping with national disasters. How come they weren't there to begin with?
Last Thursday I was in south Florida and sat outside while the eye of Hurricane Katrina passed over my head. It was only a Category 1 then but it was pretty nasty. Eleven people died and, as of today, there were still homes without power. That night the weatherman said this storm was on its way to New Orleans. That was Thursday! Did anybody tell you? I know you didn't want to interrupt your vacation and I know how you don't like to get bad news. Plus, you had fundraisers to go to and mothers of dead soldiers to ignore and smear. You sure showed her!
Warning: FEMA Directing Donations to Pat Robertson
BBC Correspondents' Log
Wonkette: "Ray Nagin for President, Anderson Cooper for Secretary of Take No Shit"
I linked to an mp3 of Nagin's emotional interview in the previous entry (transcript here). Here's Cooper, who previously cut a back-patting senator into tiny little pieces:
KING: Anderson Cooper in Biloxi, Mississippi and you were an angry man today, Anderson, at what?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I wouldn't say I'm angry, you know. I think I'm tired of hearing the politicians say that, you know, they understand the frustration of people down here. To me, you know, it's not frustration. It's not that people are frustrated.
It's that people are dying. I mean there are people dying. They're drowning to death and they drown in their living rooms and their bodies are rotting where they drowned and there are corpses in the street being eaten by rats and this is the United States of America.
My friend Marcus, another New Orleans citizen:
hey since a billion people read you, please let them know this:
Okay, just to stress for people not from NOLA. DO NOT BELIEVE CLAIMS OF RACISM in regards to rescuing. The fact of the matter is, this is created partly from anger of the stranded citizens and partly by the media. The fact is, The LARGE majority (i'd wager 90-95%) of the people who didn't/couldn't evacuate are poor black people. New Orleans is in impoverished city. Are black people dying because they're not rescued in time? Yes. Sadly. Very sadly, yes. Are white people being saved because they're white? HELL NO. Why? Because white people could afford to get out of town. I am not stressing the superiority of a race over another. It's just simple facts. NOLA is divide along poverty lines and those lines double as racial. It's a very unfortunate situation. How many white people have you seen rescued from rooftops? MAYBE 1? Probably elderly? That's because the neighborhoods hardest hit by flooding were unfortunately prominently black, poor neighborhoods. Remember, 70% of the population of New Orleans is non-white.
I hate that these people are dying and stranded, especially because they could do nothing to help themselves. They just couldn't get out. But these media accusations are baseless and are bold faced lies. And they only worsen the situation.
The big disconnect on New Orleans
The official version; then there's the in-the-trenches version
Friday, September 2, 2005; Posted: 5:17 p.m. EDT (21:17 GMT)
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- Diverging views of a crumbling New Orleans emerged Thursday, with statements by some federal officials in contradiction with grittier, more desperate views from the streets. By late Friday response to those stranded in the city was more visible.
But the conflicting views on Thursday came within hours, sometimes minutes of each of each other, as reflected in CNN's transcripts. The speakers include Michael Brown, chief of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, evacuee Raymond Cooper, CNN correspondents and others. Here's what they had to say:
Conditions in the Convention Center
FEMA chief Brown: We learned about that (Thursday), so I have directed that we have all available resources to get that convention center to make sure that they have the food and water and medical care that they need. (See video of Brown explaining how news reports alerted FEMA to convention center chaos. -- 2:11)
Mayor Nagin: The convention center is unsanitary and unsafe, and we are running out of supplies for the 15,000 to 20,000 people. (Hear Nagin's angry demand for soldiers. 1:04)
CNN Producer Kim Segal: It was chaos. There was nobody there, nobody in charge. And there was nobody giving even water. The children, you should see them, they're all just in tears. There are sick people. We saw... people who are dying in front of you.
Evacuee Raymond Cooper: Sir, you've got about 3,000 people here in this -- in the Convention Center right now. They're hungry. Don't have any food. We were told two-and-a-half days ago to make our way to the Superdome or the Convention Center by our mayor. And which when we got here, was no one to tell us what to do, no one to direct us, no authority figure.
Brown: That's not been reported to me, so I'm not going to comment. Until I actually get a report from my teams that say, "We have bodies located here or there," I'm just not going to speculate.
Segal: We saw one body. A person is in a wheelchair and someone had pushed (her) off to the side and draped just like a blanket over this person in the wheelchair. And then there is another body next to that. There were others they were willing to show us. ( See CNN report, 'People are dying in front of us' -- 4:36 )
Evacuee Cooper: They had a couple of policemen out here, sir, about six or seven policemen told me directly, when I went to tell them, hey, man, you got bodies in there. You got two old ladies that just passed, just had died, people dragging the bodies into little corners. One guy -- that's how I found out. The guy had actually, hey, man, anybody sleeping over here? I'm like, no. He dragged two bodies in there. Now you just -- I just found out there was a lady and an old man, the lady went to nudge him. He's dead.
Brown: I've just learned today that we ... are in the process of completing the evacuations of the hospitals, that those are going very well.
CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta: It's gruesome. I guess that is the best word for it. If you think about a hospital, for example, the morgue is in the basement, and the basement is completely flooded. So you can just imagine the scene down there. But when patients die in the hospital, there is no place to put them, so they're in the stairwells. It is one of the most unbelievable situations I've seen as a doctor, certainly as a journalist as well. There is no electricity. There is no water. There's over 200 patients still here remaining. ...We found our way in through a chopper and had to land at a landing strip and then take a boat. And it is exactly ... where the boat was traveling where the snipers opened fire yesterday, halting all the evacuations. ( Watch the video report of corpses stacked in stairwells -- 4:45 )
Dr. Matthew Bellew, Charity Hospital: We still have 200 patients in this hospital, many of them needing care that they just can't get. The conditions are such that it's very dangerous for the patients. Just about all the patients in our services had fevers. Our toilets are overflowing. They are filled with stool and urine. And the smell, if you can imagine, is so bad, you know, many of us had gagging and some people even threw up. It's pretty rough. (Mayor's video: Armed addicts fighting for a fix -- 1:03)
Violence and civil unrest
Brown: I've had no reports of unrest, if the connotation of the word unrest means that people are beginning to riot, or you know, they're banging on walls and screaming and hollering or burning tires or whatever. I've had no reports of that.
CNN's Chris Lawrence: From here and from talking to the police officers, they're losing control of the city. We're now standing on the roof of one of the police stations. The police officers came by and told us in very, very strong terms it wasn't safe to be out on the street. (Watch the video report on explosions and gunfire -- 2:12)
The federal response:
Brown: Considering the dire circumstances that we have in New Orleans, virtually a city that has been destroyed, things are going relatively well.
Homeland Security Director Chertoff: Now, of course, a critical element of what we're doing is the process of evacuation and securing New Orleans and other areas that are afflicted. And here the Department of Defense has performed magnificently, as has the National Guard, in bringing enormous resources and capabilities to bear in the areas that are suffering.
Crowd chanting outside the Convention Center: We want help.
Nagin: They don't have a clue what's going on down there.
Phyllis Petrich, a tourist stranded at the Ritz-Carlton: They are invisible. We have no idea where they are. We hear bits and pieces that the National Guard is around, but where? We have not seen them. We have not seen FEMA officials. We have seen no one.
Brown: I actually think the security is pretty darn good. There's some really bad people out there that are causing some problems, and it seems to me that every time a bad person wants to scream of cause a problem, there's somebody there with a camera to stick it in their face. ( See Jack Cafferty's rant on the government's 'bungled' response -- 0:57)
Chertoff: In addition to local law enforcement, we have 2,800 National Guard in New Orleans as we speak today. One thousand four hundred additional National Guard military police trained soldiers will be arriving every day: 1,400 today, 1,400 tomorrow and 1,400 the next day.
Nagin: I continue to hear that troops are on the way, but we are still protecting the city with only 1,500 New Orleans police officers, an additional 300 law enforcement personnel, 250 National Guard troops, and other military personnel who are primarily focused on evacuation.
Lawrence: The police are very, very tense right now. They're literally riding around, full assault weapons, full tactical gear, in pickup trucks. Five, six, seven, eight officers. It is a very tense situation here.
Kanye West, rogue presenter. With video download.
squirrelgirl22: Just passing this on...shadbolt75 is going to give $1 to the Red Cross for each and every comment she gets here:
ETA: squirrelgirl22: "Ryan (shadbolt75) unfortunately met his donating limit midway though his posts, so I'm picking the torch and running with it. My employer will match dollar-for-dollar my total donation. I'm ready to give, but I'd love to do so on a bunch of people's behalfs as well!"