City's endurance put to the test

Survivors: In New Orleans, some await rescue from homes and highways while others try to cope with life in the Superdome

Katrina's Wake

September 01, 2005|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - On the flooded streets and in the steamy confines of the Superdome, the remaining residents of this dissolving city were nearing the edge of their endurance yesterday.

"We're just trying to keep people from killing each other right now," said one New Orleans police officer outside the French Quarter. He would not give his name.

Throngs of people on foot poured onto the city's Interstate 10, an elevated highway that offered relief from the fetid water. Residents still trapped in attics and second floors screamed out for rescue workers. And armed gangs roamed the streets, menacing those trying to flee.

Seeking shelter

Inside the Superdome, where an estimated 15,000 were seeking shelter from the flooding, conditions grew nearly intolerable.

On the dome's playing field, the line for bottled water had already formed at 2 p.m. even though drinks wouldn't be given out until 5. People slept sitting up in chairs, and the stale stench of the building that has had no electricity since Monday was everywhere.

Storm water outside the Superdome - filled with oil, filth, debris and dead animals - was about three feet high by yesterday afternoon. And some of it was seeping inside along a section of the dome's ground level.

Stephanie Gibson, who lives in New Orleans 9th Ward - one of the areas hardest hit by flooding - had set up blankets to sleep in a perimeter area outside the dome because she said the smell from the bathrooms was too much to bear.

"The conditions are very deplorable," she said. "But it's not [the fault] of the people who gave us the space. It's the people who's utilizing the space."

Lydia Dorosh, who lives in the city's Garden District and was staying in the Superdome, said she was rationing her water to keep from having to use the filthy bathrooms.

City within a city

In the past three days, the dome has turned into a humid city within a city. Two babies have been born there, two elderly people have died and one man committed suicide, jumping to his death from a ledge, said U.S. Army National Guard Maj. Ed Bush, the chief public affairs officer for the Louisiana National Guard who was stationed at the Superdome.

Guns and drugs were confiscated as people entered the dome. Bush said there had been no shootings or assaults.

But Peter Thomas, a Garden District resident who sought shelter there, said his sons "have had to fight off gangs."

Outside the dome

Refugees continued to arrive there yesterday as more people were plucked from rooftops in flooded neighborhoods. And those who couldn't get to the dome sought high ground on Interstate 10.

Sharone Johnson and her family - including her mother, pregnant sister, brother, sister-in-law and several of the family's children - slept on I-10 Tuesday night after hearing on the radio they should evacuate.

"We had to walk I don't know how many miles, then we had to sleep on concrete with four toddlers and a newborn," she said.

Rescuers used one of the interstate's ramps to dock their boats as they searched for residents still trapped in their homes.

Some rescuers, including volunteers, worked from 2:30 a.m. through the next morning, until they ran out of gas.

They reported seeing dogs swimming around, sewage in the water and some people in the second stories of their homes refusing to leave.

Rescuers

Dickie Hamilton and Barry Miley with the ExxonMobil volunteer fire department in Baton Rouge drove a boat to a white house with red and gray trim, where they helped 20 people out of the second story.

On one trip out, it was eerily quiet except for yells from various houses for help.

"Thank you, Jesus," one man said when he landed on the boat.

When they got to the interstate ramp, Hamilton told them to walk to the highway where more help would eventually come.

"Be patient," Hamilton said to them. "The entire city looks like this."

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