Two days after Hurricane Katrina engulfed the Gulf Coast with wind, water and debris, the situation in many areas, including New Orleans, is chaotic and growing more grim all the time.
Today New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin said hundreds, and possibly thousands, in the city were killed by the storm and its aftermath. He said there were a number of corpses visible in the rising flood waters and the likelihood of many more dead in their homes. Nagin indicated that while up to a million people evacuated the city in advance of the strom, a “couple hundred thousand” were trapped there still.
Mayor Nagin said up to 80% of the city was submerged, in some places in water 20ft deep. “The water will rise to try and equal the water level of the lake, which is 3ft above sea level,” Mayor Nagin said. “I’m on the 27th floor of a very un-air conditioned building looking out over the city. And I’m looking uptown and where there was dry land, there is now several feet of water.” Water from Lake Pontchartrain is pouring into New Orleans after failed attempts to plug breaches in the levees that are supposed to protect the city.
The US Army Corps of Engineers said it could take a month or more to clear the flood waters, and emergency management officials are appealing to residents of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama who evacuated in advance of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall not to return to their homes.
“This hurricane has caused catastrophic devastation across areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama,” said Michael D. Brown, Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency Preparedness and Response and head of FEMA. “FEMA, along with our federal, state and local partners, is working around the clock to get live-saving assistance into the hardest hit areas. We need everyone’s cooperation to keep passable roads clear and to prevent those returning from placing additional burdens on the limited shelter, food and water in the heavily impacted areas.”
“We know people are anxious to return home, but we are asking for everyone’s patience in waiting for the all clear,” said Brown. “Our greatest concern is the safety of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama residents, first responders and rescue workers.”
Authorities are planning to evacuate the up to 23,000 people who have taken shelter in the Superdome, where water is rising inside, there is no electricity and toilets are overflowing. Four people died in the stadium overnight. An armada of buses is beginning to carry the Superdome refugees the 350 miles to Houston’s Astrodome.
And there is looting. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco acknowledged the looting problem, but said officials had to focus on finding those who were still alive. “We don’t like looters one bit, but first and foremost is search and rescue,” she said.
“It’s a lot of chaos right now,” Louisiana state police Director H.L. Whitehorn said.
President Bush ended his vacation in Crawford, Texas, to return to Washington with the promise to put together an aid package for recovery and cleanup. On his journey, Air Force One flew low enough for the president to view the destruction across the stricken Gulf region.
Early damage estimates from the storm have reached $25 billion. Please consider donating to the American Red Cross Hurricane Relief Fund via Blogcritics here.