Though New Orleans was spared from some of the worst that had been feared for it by Hurricane Katrina, the Big Easy still suffered greatly and other Gulf regions are even worse off.
“The devastation down there is just enormous,” Mississippi governor Haley Barbour said this morning on NBC’s Today show. He said the death toll in Harrison County alone could reach as high as 80. Harrison County emergency operations center spokesman Jim Pollard said late last night that an estimated 50 people had died in the county, with perhaps 30 dead at an ocean front apartment complex in Biloxi.
Rescuers worked through the night to reach hundreds of people stranded across the Gulf Coast where countless homes were destroyed and more than a million people were left without power in three states.
And New Orleans certainly has problems of its own. Mayor Ray Nagin said there have been reports of bodies floating in the floodwaters. “My heart is heavy tonight,” Nagin told CNN. “I don’t have any good news to share.” Nagin said that about 80 percent of the city was flooded and that some areas were under 20 feet of water. Water poured into the city from Lake Pontchartrain after a two-block-long breach opened in a section of a levee that protects the low-lying city.
Katrina also shut down oil and natural gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico, which represents about 8 percent of U.S. refining capacity or about 1 million barrels. Speaking of the record, administration officials said President Bush was expected to authorize a loan of at least some oil from the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman said, “Over the next few days, we will continue to gain more information on the specific needs and then be able to make a better determination on how we can help.” The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent medical teams, rescue squads and groups prepared to supply food and water into the disaster areas, and other agencies sent baby formula, communications equipment, generators, and ice.
This morning, Michael Brown, director of FEMA, said the damage from Katrina is “very, very sobering. And of course the flooding is just everywhere … New Orleans, all through Mississippi and Alabama. This storm is really having a catastrophic effect,” Brown said on CBS’ The Early Show. “It’s the parishes and wards south and east of New Orleans, it’s Biloxi, Miss., and the region,” Brown added on NBC’s Today show. “All those low-lying areas are just devastated.”
In New Orleans, a number of the 10,000 or seeking emergency shelter in the Superdome, slept on the walkway outside the building as conditions worsened inside the 77,000-seat stadium. With the power out since Monday morning and no air conditioning, the air inside is thick with humidity, the smell of garbage and human waste.
“Oh God, fresh air, it’s so wonderful. It’s the first time I’ve wanted to breathe all day,” Robin Smith, 33, told AP. “When you think what we could’ve gone through, it’s not too bad in there. But it’s certainly not as wonderful as this.”
“This is just too hot, too primitive, too uncomfortable for the patients and too hard to work in for the medical people,” said Dr. Kevin Stephens Sr., head of the medical shelter in the Superdome, where two patients have reportedly died.
Elsewhere, the FAA said airports were closed in New Orleans and Baton Rouge; Biloxi, Miss.; Mobile, Ala.; Pensacola, Fla., and Eglin Air Force Base in Florida
Below is a list of emergency and relief resources:
Red Cross – 1-800-HELP-NOW
Episcopal Relief & Development – 1-800-334-7626
United Methodist Committee on Relief – 1-800-554-8583
Salvation Army – 1-800-SAL-ARMY
Catholic Charities – 1-800-919-9338