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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Mississippi: This is our Tsunami - 100's feared dead..

New Orleans Mayor: Entire City Could Flood

Mississippi Official: 100 Feared Dead In Coastal County

UPDATED: 9:10 pm PDT August 30, 2005

About 80 percent of New Orleans is underwater after two of the levees designed to keep the city safe were breached by rising water in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

The entire city could soon be flooded after attempts to fix a levee failed, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said.

"The sandbagging that we had hoped would happen didn't materialize (Tuesday), so the water continued to rise at that particular location," the mayor told New Orleans television station WDSU.

Nagin said rescue boats are bypassing the dead in search of survivors, many of whom have been stranded on the roofs of their homes since Monday afternoon.

The Coast Guard said it has used boats to rescue 1,200 stranded people.

It appears the death toll from the storm will be high. One survivor after another told of friends and loved ones who floated off or disappeared as the floodwaters rose around them.

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said there's a plan in the works to evacuate those who are left in the city of New Orleans -- including the thousands who've taken shelter at the Louisiana Superdome and elsewhere.

Blanco said the devastation "is greater than our worst fears." She described it as "totally overwhelming."

There are no casualty figures yet, but the governor said "many lives have been lost."

National Guard troops are evacuating 300 patients from Charity Hospital in New Orleans, which is surrounded by water. There's no working plumbing or electricity at Charity, but patients keep coming.

Nurses held flashlights and ventilated patients by hand. Doctors wearing green scrubs used canoes to ferry supplies between the city's four downtown hospitals.

As a boat pulled up carrying a man doubled over in pain, nursing supervisor Ray Campo said it's like running into a burning building looking for shelter.

Ambulance helicopters took babies to hospitals all around Louisiana and airlifted doctors into New Orleans.

The governor said the storm severed a major water main, leaving the city without drinkable water.

Mississippi Official: 100 Feared Dead In Coastal County

Mississippi authorities said at least 100 people have died in a coastal county slammed by Hurricane Katrina.

An official in Harrison County, home of Biloxi and Gulfport, said he's "very, very worried" that the number of dead could "go double or triple the latest toll."

Authorities had said earlier that at least 30 residents were killed when Katrina wiped out an apartment building.

A woman who survived the destruction of the Mississippi apartment complex described how she managed to escape as the complex fell apart in the rising waters from Katrina.

"The water got higher and higher. It pushed all the doors open and we swam out," Joy Schovest said. "We grabbed a lady and pulled her out the window and then we swam with the current."

Schovest was in tears as she described the ordeal. She said she's sure her family thinks she's dead, because cell phones aren't working.

She would not say why she stayed behind, despite orders to evacuate.

The head of homeland security for New Orleans said dying is a "hard way to learn a lesson" about evacuating in the face of a dangerous hurricane like Katrina. Terry Ebbert said that for some people who stayed, "it was their last night on Earth."

One man who was in a New Orleans boarding house said he saw the bodies of two other residents in the rising water.

Miss. Mayor: 'This Is Our Tsunami'

Amid what Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour called "enormous" devastation, rescuers in boats and helicopters searched for survivors of Hurricane Katrina along Mississippi's Gulf Coast.

Harrison County coroner Gary Hargrove had this advice for rescuers who encounter bodies: "If they're dead, they're dead. We've got the living to take care of."

The death toll could rise, considering that emergency officials said they have not yet been able to reach many of the hardest-hit areas.

Barbour said damage to casinos deals an enormous blow to the state's pocketbook, but he vowed, "We're going to rebuild, whatever it costs."

The CEO of Treasure Bay Casino said it's a "total loss." He said it will cost more than $100 million to replace it.

At least two of the floating casinos were washed over U.S. 90, which is a major four-lane street that follows the beach. An AP reporter said the casinos' barges are in tatters, adding, "You can see inside them."

There's a ditch on U.S. 90 that's filled with water and slot machines.

As for hotels nearby, they were damaged but not destroyed.

"This is our tsunami," said the mayor of Biloxi.

Survivors Joining Thousands At Superdome

More than 10,000 people are enduring a second day inside the Superdome, where the air conditioning has been off since Hurricane Katrina came ashore Monday.

Rising water has sent patients from one hospital to the domed stadium. A knee-deep moat surrounds the stadium and downtown streets are swamped. The water is fouled with gasoline, debris and floating islands of red ants.

Despite very poor conditions at the Superdome, National Guard troops have brought in more refugees who are trying to escape rising water elsewhere in New Orleans.

Eight of the people who arrived Tuesday had spent Monday night in the attic of a flooded beauty salon. They had to hack through the ceiling to reach the attic as the water rose.

Another man had spent the night in his own attic -- and said he "almost died" in the water.

They've now reached safety -- but not comfort. The air conditioning has been out since power was lost Monday morning. The bathrooms are filthy and barrels are overflowing with trash.

One refugee kept the discomfort in perspective. She said if the facility hadn't been opened, there would have been "a lot of people floating down the river."

Nagin said a death that took place at the Superdome appears to be an accident. Officials from the company that runs the Superdome said two people have died there since Sunday, but he offered no details.

Plucked From Rooftops

Video from a TV helicopter has been showing a Coast Guard chopper plucking people from rooftops in one area where floodwaters nearly cover the homes.

One by one, the hurricane survivors are being placed in a basket and lifted up to the hovering helicopter.

One man said he and his fiancée sat on their roof for three hours before being taken to safety. Bryan Vernon said the water "kept rising and rising and rising."

With bridges destroyed and roads washed out by Hurricane Katrina, the federal government is turning to the Navy to ferry supplies.

Three ships are leaving from Norfolk, Va., for the Gulf Coast in the next few days. They're loaded with water and other critical items.

Meanwhile, the Navy is extending the evacuation of bases in Gulfport and New Orleans. Officials said personnel who left should stay away unless they are specifically contacted to help with recovery.

Looters Take Advantage Of Devastation

In two of the cities hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina, looters are running rampant.

An AP reporter along the beach in Biloxi, Miss., said it "looks like a free-for-all," as looters rushed out of souvenir shops, loaded down with merchandise. He saw two men riding go-carts taken from an amusement park near the beach.

Two men were pushing a large plastic garbage can with wheels, so full that it took both of them to drag it down the street.

"People are just casually walking in and filling up garbage bags and walking off like they're Santa Claus," said the owner of the Super Eight motel in Biloxi.

There was a similar scene in downtown New Orleans, where looters were floating garbage cans filled with clothing and jewelry down the street.

Some of the looting has been taking place in full view of police and National Guard troops. One man with an armload of clothes even asked a police officer if he could borrow his car.

At a Walgreen's drug store in the French Quarter Tuesday morning, people were running out with grocery baskets and coolers full of soft drinks, chips and diapers.

When police finally showed up, a young boy stood at the door and shouted a warning, and the crowd scattered.

A tourist from Philadelphia compared the scene to "downtown Baghdad."

She said the scene was insane as she stood and snapped pictures in amazement.

"I've wanted to come here for 10 years. I thought this was a sophisticated city. I guess not," Denise Bollinger said.

Another person described it as a chance for "oppressed" people to "get back at society."

One man walked down Canal Street with a pallet of food on his head. His wife insisted they weren't stealing from the nearby supermarket. She said she had eight grandchildren to feed.

"It's about survival right now," she said.

Nearby, looters ripped open the steel gates on the fronts of stores on Canal Street. They filled industrial-sized garbage cans with clothing and jewelry and floated them down the street on bits of plywood and insulation.

Bush Cuts Vacation Short

President George W. Bush is cutting short his August vacation in Texas, to return to Washington and oversee the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. Aides said Bush will spend Tuesday night in Texas before heading back to Washington Wednesday.

He's calling on Americans to donate to the Red Cross and the Salvation Army to help hurricane victims.

Bush said the Gulf Coast faces "trying times" -- and there's "a lot of work to do" to recover from Katrina.

In a speech marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II, Bush said he knows Gulf Coast residents want to return to their homes, but it's not possible right now. He said search-and-rescue operations continue, and the priority must be on saving lives.

Bush said federal, state and local authorities are working closely to help those in need.

Katrina Marches Through Dixie

Meanwhile, Katrina has battered parts of Georgia with heavy rain, high winds and tornadoes.

Scores of homes have been damaged in Carroll, Heard and Polk counties.

At least one death is blamed on the storm. There was a fatal traffic accident in Carroll County as heavy weather moved through the area Monday afternoon.

In Mobile, Ala., antebellum mansions are flooded. One man said many of the homes are worth $1 million.

"At least they were yesterday," he said.

Katrina, now downgraded to a tropical depression, has also knocked out power to more than 1 million people from Louisiana to Florida's Panhandle. Officials said restoring power could take months.

Forecasters warned that the storm isn't going away and is still producing heavy rains.

At 10 p.m. CDT, the center of Tropical Depression Katrina was located near latitude 39.4 north, longitude 84.0 west or about 12 miles west of Wilmington, Ohio.

The depression is moving toward the north-northeast near 24 mph and this motion is expected to continue during the next 24 hours with an increase in forward speed.

Maximum sustained winds are near 30 mph with higher gusts. Katrina is expected to become extratropical during the next 12 to 24 hours.

Additional rainfall accumulations of 2 to 4 inches, with isolated maximum amounts of 6 inches, will accompany Katrina across the Ohio Valley, the lower Great Lakes, and into northern New England.

Help Coming, But Recovery May Be Slow

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said the government has known for a long time how vulnerable New Orleans would be in a major hurricane like Katrina.

Michael Brown, the head of FEMA, said Hurricane Katrina had a "catastrophic effect" on Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

Brown said he's sending more medical personnel to treat evacuated hospital patients. He said FEMA has already sent medical teams, rescue squads and volunteers into disaster areas, but that it will be "quite a while" before people who ran from the storm will be able to return.

Recovery could be a long-term thing. Brown said restoring electricity could become a "block to block, house to house" reconstruction effort, and some people may be without power for weeks.
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