Food and hope finally arrive in devastated New Orleans

National Guard convoys bring in supplies, step up evacuation of survivors

City is `holding on by a thread'

Governor orders troops to quell lawless violence

Katrina's Wake

September 03, 2005|By Douglas Birch and Arthur Hirsch | Douglas Birch and Arthur Hirsch,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - The National Guard arrived in force in New Orleans yesterday, stepping up evacuations and bringing desperately needed food and water to thousands of hurricane survivors stranded in a besieged city that Mayor C. Ray Nagin said is "holding on by a thread."

Armed troops rolled in a camouflage-green truck convoy through flooded streets, trailing wakes like so many cabin cruisers. When they converged on the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center carrying huge crates, pallets and bags of relief supplies, the thousands gathered there "erupted, clapping, crying," Tishia Walters told CNN.

"They're bringing food, they're bringing water. They're bringing a lot of hope," she said.

They also brought rifles and instructions from Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco to restore order in a city slipping toward chaos, even if it meant shooting looters.

Beatings, rapes, shootings and carjackings have been reported in the past few days as police seemed to abandon the streets to thugs. The calamity was compounded yesterday by fires breaking out in homes and commercial buildings across the city.

"As fast as we can, we'll move them out," said Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore. "Worse things have happened to America. ... We're going to overcome this, too."

But President Bush, the subject of a barrage of bipartisan criticism for overseeing a tardy, inadequate relief effort, acknowledged that the federal performance up to that point was "not acceptable."

Troops appeared as Bush toured the Gulf Coast devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, plane-hopping west from Washington to Mobile, Ala., to Biloxi, Miss., and ending up in New Orleans, where he avoided the areas of town jammed with ill-fed, angry - and occasionally violent - survivors of the floodwaters. He alighted from his helicopter briefly to talk with workers fixing one of the damaged levees, where water had gushed through to submerge 80 percent of the city.

Congress passed a $10.5 billion hurricane aid bill yesterday, and Bush said he would sign it before day's end.

Air Force One landed early in the afternoon outside New Orleans at Louis Armstrong International Airport, transformed over the last couple of days into a combination field hospital and evacuation point.

Gen. Mark Graham of the Kentucky Army National Guard said in an afternoon briefing in Baton Rouge that plans were being made to open a second airfield at a naval air station just south of New Orleans and possibly a third near Lafayette, more than 100 miles to the west.

Large evacuation

Coast Guard and National Guard helicopters filled the skies over New Orleans throughout the day, ferrying stranded people and hospital patients from the city to the airport.

Thousands of storm victims were being moved by bus and plane to shelters in Louisiana and states as far away as Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming and Michigan. Texas alone had offered to accept more than 50,000 evacuees in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio, among other cities.

American Red Cross President Marty Evans said last night that the organization was sheltering just under 100,000 people in 275 locations in nine states. But, by some estimates, 50,000 people were still awaiting evacuation from New Orleans.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus took particular exception, pointing out that most of those left in New Orleans after the storm hit were African-Americans living in poverty, many of whom did not have a car or other means to heed last weekend's evacuation orders.

Another mix-up

In a mix-up that seemed to typify the confusion dogging relief operations, the Astrodome was closed to evacuees late Thursday night after accepting about 15,000 people, or 9,000 fewer than officials said could be accommodated there.

Buses were turned away and later sent to shelters at Houston's convention center and an exhibition hall at the Reliant Center sports facility.

Inside the Astrodome, doctors had trouble keeping up with everyone needing treatment, as patients streamed in suffering various states of exhaustion, dehydration and more serious illness.

"We have a crisis in there," said Dr. Steven Glorsky, who had treated evacuees for heart attacks, open wounds and diabetes.

While the Astrodome was at least air-conditioned and had some working showers, evacuee David White told CNN that the accommodations were hardly ideal.

"People are at their breaking point" inside, he said, adding that he woke up yesterday morning to find that "my clothes were stolen."

Another death

Yesterday afternoon, one bus with about 50 evacuees from the Superdome swerved across a highway median and flipped over near Opelousas, La., about 130 miles northwest of New Orleans. At least one person was reported killed and many others injured.

No precise hurricane casualty count has been made, but with corpses floating in fetid New Orleans flood waters, Louisiana state officials estimated the death toll in their state would be in the thousands. In Mississippi, the death toll was put unofficially at more than 180.

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