Last are gone from main shelters

Bush calls up 17,000 more troops to Gulf Coast

Federal government takes lead

New Orleans' Superdome, convention center emptied

Katrina's Wake

September 04, 2005|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - The last of thousands of hurricane survivors were evacuated yesterday from the Superdome and the convention center here, leaving behind the images of filth, anger, violence and death that became flash points of national outrage over the slow response to a horrifying natural disaster.

Bus caravans, helicopter sorties, military cargo planes and commuter trains left New Orleans nearly empty yesterday, the floodwater and vacant houses concealing who knows how many dead. Thousands of people cast adrift by the storm and the levee failure were gone, while the streets swelled with so many troops it seemed a military occupation was under way.

On the sixth day after Hurricane Katrina battered the Gulf Coast, the recovery gained momentum as President Bush and administration officials sought to demonstrate a fresh sense of urgency.

Bush delivered his customary Saturday radio address from the Rose Garden, using the occasion to order 7,000 more active duty troops to the Gulf Coast, joining the 4,000 called up. He also ordered in 10,000 more National Guard troops to join the 21,000 keeping order, aiding rescue efforts and distributing supplies between New Orleans and Pensacola, Fla.

"We will not rest until we get this right and the job is done," Bush said, standing at the lectern in the Rose Garden flanked by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and General Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"Many of our citizens are still not getting the help they need," Bush said, continuing a theme he started Friday morning in saying that the federal effort was "not acceptable."

In a briefing later, Chertoff said the administration is "going to move heaven and Earth" to rescue and shelter hurricane survivors.

He said the administration had shifted to a new footing in which the federal government will take the lead in the recovery operation, rather than following the traditional role of acting to assist state and local authorities. He said that would allow the National Guard to play a stronger role in law enforcement.

Across the political spectrum, editorial writers and politicians slammed the administration for allowing thousands to go without basic provisions at the Superdome and the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center while they waited days to be rescued from a squalor of litter, rotting food, excrement and the bodies of those who died waiting for help.

"Shame of a Nation" was yesterday's headline in the Daily News of New York, usually well to the right of The New York Times, whose editorial yesterday referred to the administration's "slo-mo bumblings."

Even the reliably conservative editorial page of the New Hampshire Union Leader lambasted Bush this week for being slow to grasp the gravity of the catastrophe. In place of the intuitive leadership Bush showed after Sept. 11, the Union Leader wrote, there is "a diffident detachment unsuitable for the leader of a nation facing war, natural disaster and economic uncertainty."

Since early Friday, television news has moved from images of unrelenting despair and disorder to scenes that might have been lifted from a war movie: the sky full of helicopters, troop convoys rolling through flooded streets.

Supplying the character color is the man in charge of the military operation, Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, a Louisiana native spotted on New Orleans streets in sunglasses and beret with three-star array, cigar in his mouth, barking at soldiers to keep their rifles pointed down.

"You're delivering food," he yelled at one soldier riding with his rifle aimed skyward astride a truck loaded with boxes.

In remarks to CNN, Honore let it be known that he's annoyed with criticism that the military was slow to respond.

"We're on it; it just took time," he said. "It's coming together."

By nightfall yesterday, the troops had evacuated several hospitals struggling to treat patients without power and running water.

They were continuing search and rescue operations by boat and helicopter that had saved about 9,000 people. Since the evacuations began Wednesday, troops and police moved more than 40,000 people, most of them from the Superdome and convention center, where conditions deteriorated quickly in darkness, heat and without working toilets.

Police and citizens reported that at least one homicide, a suicide and several rapes occurred at the Superdome. People made their way to the sports arena through streets that for several days had fallen into the hands of armed gangs breaking into stores and assaulting people.

The Superdome emptied by midafternoon yesterday, and then the convention center, the last stragglers boarding yellow school buses bound for a nearby parish. State officials later said about 1,000 people still to be evacuated remained near the convention center.

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