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AP/Reuters articles

New Orleans collects its dead in 'ugly' search

By Mark Egan and Mark Babineck

2 hours, 26 minutes ago [5:45 pm Sunday]

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - New Orleans turned to the horrific task of collecting its dead on Sunday with rescue teams scouring the toxic waters flooding streets and homes to find survivors and recover thousands of bloated corpses.

A full six days after Hurricane Katrina ripped up the U.S. Gulf Coast and sent flood waters pouring into New Orleans, no one knows how many people were killed, but government officials say the number is surely in the thousands.

"When we remove the water from New Orleans, we're going to uncover people who died hiding in houses, who got caught by the flood. People whose remains will be found in the street," U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said. "It is going to be about as ugly a scene as you can imagine."

Under fire for its slow response to the flooding, the Bush administration tried to save face on Sunday by sending top officials down to the disaster zone and pledging to do whatever it takes to clean up New Orleans and help its refugees.

Battered and sickened survivors made no attempt to disguise their anger: "We have been abandoned by our own country," Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish just south of New Orleans, told NBC's Meet the Press.

"For God sakes, shut up and send somebody," a tearful and anguished Broussard said of promises not kept by Washington, adding that "bureaucracy has committed murder" in New Orleans.

After a nightmare confluence of natural disaster and political ineptitude that al Qaeda-linked Web sites called evidence of the "wrath of God" striking America, National Guard troops and U.S. marshals patrolled the city, stricken in the days after the hurricane by anarchic violence and looting.

Coast Guard helicopters hovered over devastated neighborhoods and continued to pluck survivors from roofs. Some brave residents joined the rescue efforts and spoke of horrors in the deep and muddy waters.

Alfred Thomas, a 43-year-old resident of the Hollygrove neighborhood, has used his small flatboat to shuttle food and water in and out since the storm hit.

CORPSES SEEN AND UNSEEN

He said he has seen 17 bodies floating around in the streets and that many others are inside houses. "You go down some streets and you can smell them, but you can't see them. You know they are in their homes somewhere."

In New Orleans' notoriously poor 9th district, police launched search missions with small speed boats to find both the living and the dead.

The tips of roofs poked out from the water, which bubbled from burst gas mains. Several bodies were seen floating.

Officials said they had assembled facilities capable of handling 1,000 bodies immediately and were expanding them.

Dr. Louis Cataldie, Louisiana's emergency response medical director, declined to speculate on how high the death toll might go. "It's not about numbers," she said. "Each death is enough. This is horrific."

Louisiana's official death toll stood at just 59 on Sunday but officials said they knew it would rise dramatically.

Except for rescue workers and scattered groups of people, streets in the once-vibrant capital of jazz and good times were all but abandoned after the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees into neighboring Texas and other states.

Government and emergency officials insisted it was not the right time to assign blame for the botched rescue efforts, and instead warned of major challenges ahead.

"We're going to have to go house to house in this city. We're going to have to check every single place to find people who may be alive and in need of assistance." Chertoff said.

He said the extremely unsanitary conditions mean emergency services would not allow residents to stay in their homes while flooded areas were being pumped out.

President George W. Bush has, in a rare admission of error, conceded the relief efforts were unacceptable, and this weekend ordered 7,200 extra active-duty troops to the disaster zone.

Newsweek reported former Louisiana Democratic Sen. John Breaux (news, bio, voting record), whom it called a close ally of President Bush, rejected Bush's claim that nobody anticipated the failure of New Orleans' levees, saying he talked to Bush about it last year.

POOR AND BLACK IN NEW ORLEANS

Most of Katrina's victims were black and poor, and some black leaders have alleged the federal government would have moved much quicker if rich, white people were suffering.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected the claim on a tour of Mobile, Alabama. "Nobody, especially the president, would have left people unattended on the basis of race."

But it looked different from the disaster zone.

"For those who were alone in the water, alone on the roof, you might ask 'What did we do to deserve this?"' Rev. Lowell Case told his congregation at St. Francis Xavier Church in Baton Rouge. "A lot of us think being black may have had something to do with it, being poor and black in New Orleans."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld toured a medical facility at New Orleans' international airport on Sunday. He spoke and shook hands with military and rescue officials but walked right by a dozen refugees lying on stretchers just feet away from him, most of them extremely sick or handicapped.

A total of 54,000 military personnel are now committed to relief efforts, including around 40,000 National Guard.

After days of broken promises, the rescue effort kicked into top gear on Saturday with tens of thousands of people evacuated in helicopters, planes, buses and trains.

But the death toll has continued to rise as evacuees succumbed to illness and exhaustion before and after arriving at emergency shelters, most of them in Texas.

Katrina's impact was felt across the United States as gas prices rose to more than $3 a gallon after its 140 mph (225 kph) winds shut eight oil refineries and crippled others.


Five men shot by New Orleans police, four dead
55 minutes ago [6:05 pm Sunday]

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - New Orleans police shot and killed four men and wounded one on Saturday after looters fired on officers, a policeman said.

The incident on Saturday morning, as the city began to clean up from the devastation of hurricane Katrina, resulted in four fatalities and one person in critical condition, said one policeman who asked not to be named. No police were wounded.

"Five men who were looting exchanged gunfire with police. The officers engaged the looters when they were fired upon," said superintendent of New Orleans police, Steven Nichols.

Asked for more details, he said only, "The incident is under police investigation."


States Struggling With Katrina Refugees
By TODD LEWAN, Associated Press Writer

28 minutes ago [7:30 pm Sunday]

HOUSTON - With a shattered New Orleans all but emptied out, an unprecedented refugee crisis unfolded across the country Sunday, as governors and emergency officials rushed to feed, clothe and shelter more than a half-million people dispossessed by Hurricane Katrina.

In Texas, where nearly a quarter-million refugees have filled the state's relief centers, Gov. Rick Perry ordered emergency officials to airlift some evacuees to other states willing to take them. Among the states that have offered help are West Virginia, Utah, Oklahoma, Michigan, Iowa, New York and Pennsylvania.

"There are shelters set up in other states that are sitting empty while thousands arrive in Texas by the day, if not the hour," Perry said. "To meet this enormous need, we need help from other states."

Around the country, social service agencies, businesses, volunteer groups, military bases and other refugee shelters raced to help Katrina's multitudes find jobs, obtain their Social Security checks, receive their medicines, get their mail, locate missing relatives and pets, and enroll their youngsters in school.

"We want to get the children back in school as quickly as possible, whether they are staying with relatives, or friends or in a shelter," said Caron Blanton, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Education. Mississippi, like Alabama, Florida, Texas and other states, has pledged to open its schools to displaced children and waive normal entry requirements such as immunization records and proof of residency.

In Fort Chaffee, Ark., relief workers turned the post where Elvis Presley entered the Army in 1958 into a processing center for refugees. There, the homeless were registered by the Social Security Administration, checked by doctors and given post office boxes.

Marion Landry, 84, held onto the walker of her sister, Fay Roberts, 81, as the bedraggled pair went through the registration process. They appreciated the need for paperwork — but really wanted a shower.

"I've worn the same set of clothes for three days," Roberts said. "My hair is sweaty. I don't look like this. Normally I'm very nice."

A military base near Battle Creek, Mich., was transforming itself into a welcome station.

Up to 500 evacuees were headed for the Fort Custer Training Center, where volunteer cooks were readying meals at a mess hall. Tables were stacked with towels, toiletries, T-shirts and other clothing and essentials. Medical personnel stood by to help, and clergy and attorneys were on call.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm said the refugees are welcome to stay permanently, if they wish. "Michigan is going to welcome these victims, these evacuees, with open arms and show them some Northern hospitality," she said.

The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, at the government's request, announced a hot line and Web site for reuniting family members separated by the storm. By noon Monday, people will be able to get help at 1-888-544-5475 or at http://www.missingkids.com.

In New Mexico, Gov. Bill Richardson declared a state of emergency and released about $1 million to help victims of Katrina as the first of up to 6,000 evacuees arrived Sunday. He also relaxed certain state transportation rules to speed up the building of temporary housing for the refugees.

Refugees also began arriving in Arizona, which has agreed to take up to 2,500. They were greeted on the runway by Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon.

Several people had to be helped off the plane and down the stairway to the tarmac, where pink, yellow, teal and black flip-flops had been set out for them.

Then, carrying garbage bags, backpacks and brown shopping bags with their only belongings, the evacuees were led into the airport for physicals before boarding buses to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

"We'll take care of them," Gordon said. "We'll make sure they know that the city cares."

In Denver, Qwest Communications set up a bank of at least 50 phones at a processing center so refugees could call their loved ones. Colorado state Rep. Debbie Stafford said she was trying to arrange long-term shelter for the storm's victims, and also reunite people with their cats and dogs.

State and local officials in Texas, Tennessee, Georgia and other states with a refugee influx began setting up programs to link refugees with employers. Business owners are trying to help, too.

In Richland, Miss., a fast-food restaurant hung fliers offering jobs at a shelter. A steel company sent employees to a shelter at the Mississippi Coliseum in Jackson to recruit new workers. And Craigslist, the Internet-based classified advertising service, was filled with job offers for victims willing to relocate.

Pene Long, who owns a spa in Richland, said she had given a stylist's job to a woman whose home in Biloxi was devastated. Long said she was going to hire nine more displaced people.

"I was getting ready to put a big ad in the paper, and I said, `Why would I do that?' There are tons of people out here looking for work," she said.

At the Houston Astrodome, evacuees were issued jeans, T-shirts, underwear, socks, hats, sneakers, sandals and other clothes, along with toiletries, aspirin, towels and other items. They were allowed to make free long-distance phone calls, courtesy of SBC Communications.

Torres Smith, 42, a machine operator at a New Orleans seafood plant before Katrina hit, was evacuated along with his wife and four children and is now sleeping on a cot in what used to be centerfield in the Astrodome.

"As far as I can tell, this is going to be our new home for a long time," he said. "I'll do anything — cut grass, wash windows, wax floors. I can't just sit around here, looking at people lying in their cots. I feel like I have to be a part of something positive."

Simon Henderson, 47, an electrician, carpenter and plumber who stepped off a refugee bus from New Orleans a week ago, is now helping out other refugees at his new residence, the Reliant Center across the street from the Houston Astrodome.

On Saturday, he helped relief workers build 16 new shower stalls. On Sunday, he was helping a team of paramedics.

"They're feeding me. They're housing me," he said, while rushing bags of batteries for blood pressure gauges and hearing aids into the center. "This is the least I can do."


New Orleans police kill looters in shoot-out
By Mark Egan

2 hours, 57 minutes ago [8:30 pm CST Sunday]

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - New Orleans police killed four looters who had opened fire on them on Sunday as rescue teams scoured homes and toxic waters flooding streets to find survivors and recover thousands of bloated corpses.

A fifth looter was in critical condition but no more details were available about the incident in a city where authorities are slowly regaining control after a wave of looting, murders and rapes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

"Five men who were looting exchanged gunfire with police. The officers engaged the looters when they were fired upon," said New Orleans superintendent of police, Steven Nichols.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractors working on a levee breach were fired on by gunmen but no one was hurt, said the Corps' Mike Rogers. It was not clear if the two incidents were connected.

Six days after Katrina ripped up the Gulf Coast and sent flood waters pouring into New Orleans, no one knows how many people were killed, but government officials say the number is in the thousands.

"When we remove the water from New Orleans, we're going to uncover people who died hiding in houses, who got caught by the flood, people whose remains will be found in the street," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said. "It is going to be about as ugly a scene as you can imagine."

Under fire for its slow response to the flooding, the Bush administration tried to save face on Sunday by sending top officials down to the disaster zone and pledging to do whatever it takes to clean up New Orleans and help its refugees.

President George W. Bush was to visit relief efforts in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Poplarville, Mississippi, on Monday -- his second trip to the devastated region in less than a week.

Battered and sickened survivors made no attempt to disguise their anger: "We have been abandoned by our own country," Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish just south of New Orleans, told NBC's Meet the Press.

"For God sakes, shut up and send somebody," a tearful and anguished Broussard said of promises not kept by Washington, adding that "bureaucracy has committed murder" in New Orleans.

NIGHTMARE CONFLUENCE

But in a sign that a return to normality, while still far off, was at least a possibility, lights began to go back on in parts of the beleaguered city, as Electric company Entergy Corp. started to restore power.

After a nightmare confluence of natural disaster and political ineptitude that al Qaeda-linked Web sites called the "wrath of God" striking America, National Guard troops and U.S. marshals patrolled streets stricken in the days after the hurricane by anarchic violence and looting.

Coast Guard helicopters hovered over devastated neighborhoods and continued to pluck survivors from roofs. Some brave residents joined the rescue efforts and spoke of horrors in the deep and muddy waters.

In New Orleans' notoriously poor 9th district, police launched search missions with small speed boats to find both the living and the dead.

The tips of roofs poked out from the water, which bubbled from burst gas mains, and, in one spot, a swelling corpse floated on flood waters. Law enforcement officials advised reporters not to go close.

"It's about to pop at any minute. And you don't want to be there when that happens," one officer said.

Officials said they had assembled facilities capable of handling 1,000 bodies immediately and were expanding them.

Dr. Louis Cataldie, Louisiana's emergency response medical director, declined to speculate on how high the death toll might go. "It's not about numbers," she said. "Each death is enough. This is horrific."

Louisiana's official death toll stood at just 59 on Sunday but officials said it would rise dramatically.

While the city's human population suffered enormously, its famous Audubon Zoo managed to take good care of its charges. Only three of its 1,400 animals died, officials said, adding that they had planned for years for a catastrophic storm.

Except for rescue workers and scattered groups of people, streets in the once-vibrant capital of jazz and good times were all but abandoned after the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees into neighboring Texas and other states.

Government and emergency officials insisted it was not the right time to assign blame for botched rescue efforts, and instead warned of challenges ahead.

"We're going to have to go house to house in this city. We're going to have to check every single place to find people who may be alive and in need of assistance," Chertoff said.

EMERGENCY SERVICES

He said unsanitary conditions meant emergency services would not allow residents to stay in their homes while flooded areas were pumped out.

In a rare admission of error, Bush conceded the relief efforts were unacceptable, and this weekend ordered 7,200 extra active-duty troops to the disaster zone.

Newsweek reported that former Louisiana Democratic Sen. John Breaux (news, bio, voting record), whom it called a close ally of Bush, rejected the president's claim that nobody anticipated the failure of New Orleans' levees, saying the two talked about it last year.

Most of Katrina's victims were black and poor, and some black leaders have said the federal government would have moved much more quickly if rich, white people were suffering.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected the claim on a tour of Mobile, Alabama. "Nobody, especially the president, would have left people unattended on the basis of race."

But it looked different from the disaster zone.

"For those who were alone in the water, alone on the roof, you might ask 'What did we do to deserve this?"' Rev. Lowell Case told his congregation at St. Francis Xavier Church in Baton Rouge. "A lot of us think being black may have had something to do with it, being poor and black in New Orleans."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld toured a medical facility at New Orleans' international airport. He spoke and shook hands with military and rescue officials but walked right by a dozen refugees lying on stretchers just feet away from him, most of them extremely sick or handicapped.

A total of 54,000 military personnel are now committed to relief efforts, including around 40,000 National Guard.

U.S. oil refineries in the Gulf area and offshore oil and gas platforms were slowly recovering from Katrina's impact, which has pushed gasoline prices to more than $3 a gallon.


Civilian helicopter crashes in New Orleans
Sun Sep 4, 8:53 PM ET

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (Reuters) - A civilian helicopter that was not involved in rescue operations crashed in New Orleans on Sunday and the two people on board were slightly injured, a state official said.

The helicopter crashed in the area of the Danziger Bridge, said Mark Smith, spokesman for the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

"The helicopter came down hard and rolled over on its side and broke its blades off and broke its tail off," Smith told reporters in Baton Rouge.

"There were two civilians on the helicopter. Both sustained cuts and scrapes," he said.

It was not known why the helicopter was in the area, Smith said.

The U.S. military and Coast Guard have conducted hundreds of helicopter flights in the New Orleans area in recent days searching for Hurricane Katrina survivors and have rescued thousands of storm victims.

Early media reports said the crashed aircraft was a Coast Guard helicopter.

Live television footage from the scene showed the red helicopter lying on the ground near a roadway, with smoke drifting from its cockpit. The ground around the wreck was blackened and churned up by the aircraft's rotor blades.

Smith said he did not know if shots had been fired at the helicopter. Gunfire has been reported on numerous occasion in the New Orleans area in recent days.

"It could have been mechanical failure," he said.


Miss. Motels Under Miserable Conditions
By VICKI SMITH, Associated Press Writer

Sun Sep 4, 4:54 PM ET

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. - For thousands stranded along the Mississippi coast since Hurricane Katrina, the damaged hotels where they took refuge have become almost uninhabitable.

From one motel to the next, the conditions are the same — hot, smelly, soggy and dark. Toilets won't flush. Water won't run. Boredom won't end. Carpets are caked in mud and the concrete outside is often more inviting than the beds in the fetid rooms.

Just off Interstate 10 near Bay St. Louis, at what used to be a Waffles Plus restaurant and motel, Joanna Dubreuil and her two sons are luckier than most. Within the wreckage that surrounds them is an artesian well. The pump was carried away, so water now gurgles nonstop from a white plastic pipe jutting from the ground.

Dubreuil washes sheets in it but, fearing contamination, tries to keep a toddler from drinking it.

Ten people are living at the Waffles Plus, where vehicles passed by for five days without stopping. On the sixth morning, a church group pulled in and handed them a box of food — the first they had received.

Jimmy Dubreuil, 23, had tried earlier in the week to enter a Dollar Store several miles away but says he was chased out by a police officer who pistol-whipped him. A fresh gash on his close-cropped head has been stapled shut.

"They started telling us we're thieves," he says. "We're not thieves. We just wanted to feed the babies."

Muneer Ahmed, who owns the Economy Inns, sleeps outdoors like everyone else. His children, instead of attending classes at Bay High School, have been sweeping mud and carrying debris from the office and their first-floor kitchen.

His rooms are soaked and stink of mildew. The business he spent $300,000 building is in shambles.

"When I came here, my heart was broke, because this is the only business I got," he says.

Ahmed's guests are staying for free, sleeping on the concrete in front of their doors and squatting behind the buildings to relieve themselves.

Despite the discomfort, guests like Noel Rowell stay put. He has no gas and no money, so he, his girlfriend and three children do the only thing they can: "We're sitting back, waiting for the United States of America to take care of us."

It is unclear when emergency officials will be able to help stuck guests leave, by providing gas or a ride. Until then, they rely on each other.

"We are all sharing and living like one family," Ahmed says.


Katrina response prompts questions of race in U.S
By Jason Webb

Mon Sep 5, 7:50 AM ET

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Despite strenuous official denials, delays in helping victims of Hurricane Katrina have fed African-American suspicions the government cares more about the lives of wealthy white people than poor blacks.

In a country where a recent survey indicated many blacks were probably predisposed to believe the government was out to get them, many have asked if the race of most of the victims was a factor in the painfully slow relief effort and the lack of preparation to prevent the disaster.

Officials, straining to explain how so much havoc could result from a storm that experts say had been predicted for years, said they were simply taken by surprise by the magnitude of the disaster when Katrina burst the walls holding back Lake Pontchartrain from a city built below sea level.

They have admitted that the poverty of many of the victims, who simply did not have enough money to obey evacuation orders, was a factor in bringing scenes that viewers around the world would more readily have associated with Sierra Leone than the United States.

But, with blacks more likely to be poor, that explanation was not enough for everyone.

"If this hurricane had struck a white, middle-class neighborhood in the Northeast or the Southwest, his ( President George W. Bush's) response would have been a lot stronger," wrote Calvin Butts, president of the Council of Churches of the City of New York, in the British newspaper The Observer on Sunday.

Rapper Kanye West was more direct in a live outburst during an NBC benefit concert for Katrina victims last week, saying, " George Bush doesn't care about black people."

Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson drew on some of the most emotive language in the American political vocabulary when he compared the condition of evacuees to "Africans in the hull of a slave ship."

"The issue of race as a factor will not go away," he warned.

CONSPIRACY THEORIES

Despite enormous progress since the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and the growth of a prosperous and well-educated black middle class, many blacks in the United States remain at the bottom of the social pile and suspect society conspires to keep them there.

A survey by researchers from Oregon State University and the Rand Corporation released earlier this year found 16 percent of African-Americans thought AIDS was created by the government to control the black population.

While many would dismiss such beliefs as ridiculous, they arise in a society where almost one in five black men can expect to spend time in prison, compared with just one in 16 white men.

Conspiracy theories also sprouted among Hurricane Katrina evacuees camping out at Houston's Astrodome. Several told Reuters they suspected black residential areas were flooded purposely in an effort to divert water from white housing.

Among administration officials headed to the disaster zone following criticism of government aid efforts was Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. As a Southern black woman, she is herself a powerful symbol of change in a nation just four decades distant from racial segregation laws.

"I don't believe for a minute anybody allowed people to suffer because they are African-Americans. I just don't believe it for a minute," Rice said.

While the victims were mainly black, the sight of many of them being helped by whites sent a positive message to some.

"Before this whole thing, I had a complex about white people. This thing changed me forever," said Joseph Brant, 36, a black man who said he escaped New Orleans by hitching a ride in a van carrying white people.


Warning: discussion of suicides. La. Parish Locals Allowed to Return Home
By DOUG SIMPSON, Associated Press Writer

58 minutes ago [8:45 am CST Monday]

METAIRIE, La. - One week after Hurricane Katrina turned the region into a disaster of biblical proportions, miles-long lines of vehicles crawled into Jefferson Parish on Monday as residents were allowed to return for brief inspections of what's left of their homes.

The traffic began moving into the parish west of New Orleans at about 6 a.m., and officials planned to allow traffic in for 12 hours, though they encouraged residents to inspect their property, pick up personal items and leave.

Among those returning was Diane Dempsey, a 59-year-old retired Army lieutenant colonel who stopped at the water's edge less than a mile from the house where she grew up and where her aunt lives.

"I'm going to pay someone to get me back there, anything I have to do," she said, sobbing while standing amid boats beached on Veterans Highway. "A lot of these people built these houses anticipating some flood water but nobody imagined this."

Most of the single-story bungalow homes in the neighborhood had water nearly to the rooflines.

The suburban parish, which has 460,000 residents, has been closed since a mandatory evacuation just before Katrina hit. Wide portions of Metairie and Kenner suffered heavy flooding, and authorities said thousands of homes were damaged.

In New Orleans, Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Monday that fewer than 10,000 people remained in the city, based on aerial reconnaissance.

"This is not a city under siege," he told NBC's "Today" show. "This city needs help from the big people in America and its technology to get back on its feet. We are focused on the future. We have to finish the search-and-rescue and provide food and water from an area from Mobile (Ala.) to the east side of New Orleans, up to I-20 in Mississippi. This is a pig big piece of terrain. There are people there that need help. We will do the best we can to get it to them."

On Sunday, as authorities struggled to keep order across New Orleans, gunmen opened fire on a group of contractors on a bridge, rescues of stranded residents continued and the flood waters began to recede, leaving the grisly task of collecting bodies.

The state's largest newspaper lashed out at the federal government's response.

Federal officials urged those still left in New Orleans to leave for their own safety. Large-scale evacuations were completed at the Superdome and Convention Center.

The death toll across the Gulf Coast was not known. But bodies were everywhere: floating in canals, slumped in wheelchairs, abandoned on highways and medians and hidden in attics.

"I think it's evident it's in the thousands," Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said Sunday on CNN, echoing predictions by city and state officials last week.

The Times-Picayune, in an open letter to President Bush, called for the firing of every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, saying they failed to rescue thousands of citizens stranded by Katrina. [See link on previous journal entry.]

"We're angry, Mr. President, and we'll be angry long after our beloved city and surrounding parishes have been pumped dry," the editorial said. "Our people deserved rescuing. Many who could have been were not. That's to the government's shame."

"Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially," the letter said. "No expense should have been spared. No excuses should have been voiced."

In neighboring Jefferson Parish, residents were allowed back in briefly Monday — as long as they showed a valid ID proving residency, had food, had a full tank of gas and didn't drink the water.

Parish President Aaron Broussard warned residents that they would find all traffic signals destroyed, no open stores and a dusk-to-dawn curfew. He recommended that women not come alone.

Among those returning was Jack Rabito, 61, a restaurant-bar owner, who bought his home in 1965, and like Dempsey didn't have flood insurance. "I won't be getting inside today unless I get some scuba gear," he said, waiting with Dempsey for a ride in a boat to get to his home.

Violence boiled over when 14 contractors on their way to help plug the breech in the 17th Street Canal came under fire as they traveled across a bridge under police escort, said John Hall, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers. Police shot at eight people carrying guns, killing five or six, Deputy Police Chief W.J. Riley said. None of the contractors was injured, authorities said.

Besides the lawlessness, civilian deaths and uncertainty about their families, New Orleans' police have had to deal with suicides in their ranks. Two officers took their lives, including the department spokesman, Paul Accardo, who died Saturday, according to Riley. Both shot themselves in the head, he said.

"I've got some firefighters and police officers that have been pretty much traumatized," Mayor Ray Nagin said. "And we've already had a couple of suicides, so I am cycling them out as we speak. ... They need physical and psychological evaluations."

At two of the city's damaged levees, engineers continued making repairs that would allow pumps to begin draining the floodwaters. "The water is receding now. We just have a long ways to go," Mike Rogers, a disaster relief coordinator with the Army Corps of Engineers, said Sunday.

Hundreds of thousands of people already have been evacuated, seeking safety in Texas, Tennessee and other states. With more than 230,000 already in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry ordered emergency officials to begin preparations to airlift some of them to other states that have offered help.

What will happen to the refugees in the long term was not known.

Amid the tragedy, about two dozen people gathered in the French Quarter for the Decadence Parade, an annual Labor Day gay celebration. Matt Menold, 23, a street musician wearing a sombrero and a guitar slung over his back, said: "It's New Orleans, man. We're going to celebrate."

In New Orleans' Garden District, a woman's body lay at the corner of Jackson Avenue and Magazine Street — a business area with antique shops on the edge of blighted housing. The body had been there since at least Wednesday. As days passed, people covered the corpse with blankets or plastic.

By Sunday, a short wall of bricks had been built around the body, holding down a plastic tarpaulin. On it, someone had spray-painted a cross and the words, "Here lies Vera. God help us."


Bush Flies to La. for Inspection Tour
By JENNIFER LOVEN, Associated Press Writer
57 minutes ago [11:30 am CST Monday]

BATON ROUGE, La. - President Bush flew to Louisiana Monday for another ground inspection tour of Gulf States pummeled by Hurricane Katrina, acknowledging at his first stop "we've got work to do" so long as the suffering continues.

On his arrival here, Bush went to the Bethany World Prayer Center, a huge hall half covered with pallets and half filled with dining tables. Several people ran up to meet him as he and first lady Laura Bush wandered around the room. But just as many hung back and just looked on.

"I'm not star-struck. I need answers," said Mildred Brown, who has been there since Tuesday with her husband, mother-in-law and cousin. "I'm not interested in hand-shaking. I'm not interested in photo ops. This is going to take a lot of money."

Bush praised the volunteers and churches who have been working to take care of storm refugees. "The response of the country has been amazing," he said.

Bush spent about an hour at the shelter, which was visited at the same time by Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Like estranged in-laws at a holiday gathering, the Republican president and Democratic governor — each facing criticism for a slow response to the disaster — kept their distance as they walked around talking to people.

"All levels of the government are doing the best they can," Bush told reporters. "So long as any life is in danger, we've got work to do," he said.

"Where it's not going right," he promised, "we're going to make it right."

Bush hasn't gone a day without a public event devoted to the storm and its aftermath. But none of those trips so far — nor appearances by several Cabinet members in the region — has quieted complaints that Washington's response to the disaster has been sluggish.

Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, just south of New Orleans, broke down on NBC's "Meet the Press" when he talked about people who waited for help.

"They were told like me, every single day, the cavalry's coming, on a federal level. The cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming, the cavalry's coming. I have just begun to hear the hoofs of the cavalry ...," Broussard said.

"They've had press conferences — I'm sick of the press conferences. For God's sakes, shut up and send us somebody."

It was Bush's third inspection tour, the second by ground. Last week, he had his pilot lower Air Force One, the presidential jet, to an altitude of about 2,500 feet as he flew over the area. Last Friday, he walked a neighborhood in Biloxi on Mississippi's coast and stopped at the airport and a breached levee in New Orleans.

By contrast, Baton Rouge, about 80 miles northwest of New Orleans, largely escaped damage. Its population, however, has swelled dramatically with displaced people and is experiencing clogged roads and supply shortages.

Poplarville, where Bush was to meet with state and local officials at the Pearl River Community College, is about 45 miles inland. But the area was in the path of Katrina's eye and devastation in the town and surrounding rural areas was enormous.

"The world saw this tidal wave of disaster descend upon the Gulf Coast," Bush said Sunday during a visit to the Red Cross disaster operations center in Washington, where he urged Americans to donate money, time and blood to the relief effort. "Now they're going to see a tidal wave of compassion."

In Houston earlier Monday, former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton announced a nationwide fundraising campaign to help the hurricane victims. Teaming up again after working for tsunami relief earlier this year, they said that the new Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund will send proceeds to governors in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to help with disaster relief.

Federal officials, meanwhile, confirmed the local officials' worst fears and agreed the death toll will skyrocket. "I think it's evident it's in the thousands," said Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt.

The Red Cross said that by Monday morning, 75,000 names were on its "family links registry" for disaster victims and their relatives. Victims go on the list when they are registered at shelters.

Red Cross spokeswoman Tracy Gary said the relief agency was caring for 135,000 survivors across 14 states. At least 470 shelters were operating by Monday and Red Cross chapters across the country were alerted to find additional locations as victims are sent out of the Gulf Coast.

More than 5,000 Red Cross volunteers made their way to the disaster areas any way they could get there, joining thousands of volunteers from the affected areas. The agency has raised more than $400 million so far.

Bush has come under fire for waiting until two days after Katrina hit — and a day after levee breaks drowned New Orleans and turned it into a place of lawless misery — to return to Washington from his August break in Texas to oversee the federal response.

It ended up taking several days for food and water to reach the tens of thousands of desperate New Orleans residents who took shelter in the increasingly squalid and deadly Superdome and city convention center. Outlying areas, though receiving less nationwide attention, suffered some of the same problems.

Officials are now reporting some progress, and some new worries.

The leader of the air component of the military's task force said rescuers have plucked tens of thousands of terrified residents in readily visible locations, but is just starting on a door-to-door search that will take weeks, if not months.

Hundreds of federal health officers and nearly 100 tons of medical supplies were on their way to the Gulf Coast to try to head off disease outbreaks, feared because of the hot weather, mosquitos and standing water holding human waste, corpses and other contaminants.


Some in La. Return Home to Inspect Damage
By DOUG SIMPSON, Associated Press Writer

25 minutes ago [12 pm CST Monday]

METAIRIE, La. - One week after Hurricane Katrina devastated the region, miles-long lines of vehicles crawled into Jefferson Parish on Monday as residents were allowed to return to salvage what was left of their homes. New Orleans' mayor warned that 10,000 people may have died.

President Bush began his second trip to the region since the storm hit, landing in Baton Rouge late in the morning to start another inspection tour and consultations with federal and local officials.

Traffic began moving into the parish west of New Orleans at about 6 a.m. A curfew was set for 6 p.m., and residents were told they could stay until Wednesday.

Among those returning was Diane Dempsey, a 59-year-old retired Army lieutenant colonel who stopped at the water's edge less than a mile from the house where she grew up and where her aunt lives.

"I'm going to pay someone to get me back there, anything I have to do," she said, sobbing while standing amid boats beached on Veterans Highway. "A lot of these people built these houses anticipating some flood water but nobody imagined this."

Most of the single-story bungalow homes in her neighborhood had water nearly to the rooflines. Homes in the most exclusive neighborhood of the parish, Old Metaire, had little structural damage but some of the worst flooding. Along rows of palatial, six-bedroom homes, a few windows were broken and the live oaks survived but the water rippled up to front-door knobs.

The suburban parish, which has 460,000 residents, has been closed since a mandatory evacuation just before Katrina hit. Wide portions of Metairie and Kenner suffered heavy flooding, and authorities said thousands of homes were damaged.

A week after the storm, a definitive death toll remained elusive. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin warned on NBC's "Today" that "it wouldn't be unreasonable to have 10,000" dead.

Despite the grim estimate, he was more upbeat than in previous days, when he railed against the federal government and broke down sobbing during a radio interview.

"We're making great progress now, the momentum has picked up. I'm starting to see some critical tasks being completed," he told NBC.

"The 17th Street canal is about or was about 84 percent closed in yesterday afternoon. We have more troops arriving, so we're starting to make the kind of progress that I kind of expected earlier."

Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore told ABC's "Good Morning America" that fewer than 10,000 people remained in the city, based on aerial reconnaissance.

"This is not a city under siege," he added on NBC. "This city needs help from the big people in America and its technology to get back on its feet. We are focused on the future. We have to finish the search-and-rescue and provide food and water from an area from Mobile (Ala.) to the east side of New Orleans, up to I-20 in Mississippi. This is a pig-big piece of terrain. There are people there that need help. We will do the best we can to get it to them."

On Sunday, as authorities struggled to keep order across New Orleans, gunmen opened fire on a group of contractors on a bridge, rescues of stranded residents continued and the flood waters began to recede, leaving the grisly task of collecting bodies.

The Times-Picayune, Louisiana's largest newspaper, published an open letter to Bush, called for the firing of every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"We're angry, Mr. President, and we'll be angry long after our beloved city and surrounding parishes have been pumped dry," the editorial said. "Our people deserved rescuing. Many who could have been were not. That's to the government's shame."

"Every official at the Federal Emergency Management Agency should be fired, Director Michael Brown especially," the letter said. "No expense should have been spared. No excuses should have been voiced."

Violence boiled in New Orleans over when 14 contractors on their way to help plug the breach in the 17th Street Canal came under fire as they traveled across a bridge under police escort, said John Hall, a spokesman for the Army Corps of Engineers. Police shot at eight people carrying guns, killing five or six, Deputy Police Chief W.J. Riley said. None of the contractors was injured, authorities said.

A steady stream of reinforcements for police poured down the interstates toward New Orleans late Sunday and early Monday — long convoys of police cars, blue lights flashing, emblazoned with emblems from scattered police, sheriff, and other jurisdictions, in and out of state.

Nagin said Monday he was arranging to rotate out beleaguered emergency workers, who have been working virtually around the clock since before the storm hit.

He said police officers, firefighters and their families would get five or more days in cities with large numbers of hotel rooms — Atlanta and Las Vegas in particular. In addition to rest and relaxation, he said, they will have time to assess their personal situation since many lost homes and relatives. Counselors will be available, he said.

At two of the city's damaged levees, engineers continued making repairs that would allow pumps to begin draining the floodwaters. "The water is receding now. We just have a long ways to go," Mike Rogers, a disaster relief coordinator with the Army Corps of Engineers, said Sunday.

Hundreds of thousands of people already have been evacuated, seeking safety in Texas, Tennessee and other states. With more than 230,000 already in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry ordered emergency officials to begin preparations to airlift some of them to other states that have offered help.

What will happen to the refugees in the long term was not known.

In Jefferson Parish, residents were allowed back as long as they showed a valid ID proving residency, had food, had a full tank of gas and didn't drink the water.

Parish President Aaron Broussard warned residents that they would find all traffic signals destroyed, no open stores and a dusk-to-dawn curfew. He recommended that women not come alone.

Among those returning was Jack Rabito, 61, a restaurant-bar owner, who bought his home in 1965, and like Dempsey didn't have flood insurance. "I won't be getting inside today unless I get some scuba gear," he said, waiting with Dempsey for a ride in a boat to get to his home.

In Old Metairie, residents were angry that the levees were not designed to withstand a hurricane stronger than Category 3. Katrina was a Category 4 hurricane when it made landfall.

"My home didn't lose a shingle, but it's got six feet of water in it," said Bobby Patrick, a resident who returned from Houston.





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