A city stunned and paralyzed, with the water rising

New Orleans

Portraits Of A Catastrophe

September 04, 2005|By STACY HIRSH

The water was everywhere. Dirty, rancid, deep.

It started creeping up Monday morning.

At first, it was only knee-high along parts of Canal Street, which runs along the edge of this city's famous French Quarter. As the week went on, though, the water rose and, with it, the panic, chaos and filth.

By Tuesday, there were reports of dead bodies floating in the water in some parts of the city. On Canal Street, looters were running rampant through it, using windows broken by Katrina as their entrance into shops to steal sneakers, jeans and liquor.

By Wednesday, the water outside the Superdome, where an estimated 15,000 had gone for shelter, had reached about three feet.

The stench, as I waded in, was stale and rotten. Glass crunched under my feet and debris slapped against my legs. The best way to move was to slide my feet as I walked. The water seemed easier to push through that way.

When I reached the dome, soaked, it was water more than anything that the refugees there said they needed. Water to drink. Water for toilets that had been used by thousands and not flushed in days. Water for washing, since no one there had showered in days, either.

But not this water. My legs itched from the murky, grimy stew that had cooked in the southern heat for days, that had become a pool for dead birds, sewage, gas and oil.

Katrina's winds battered this city. But water, in the end, beat it.

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