Ray Nagin, Mayor of New Orleans

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Hurricane Katrina

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Ray Nagin re-elected Mayor
Latest reports from New Orleans
New Orleans slides into chaos
New Orleans will not be functional for three months
National Guard ordered in to stop New Orleans looting
New Orleans under seven metres of water
30 people believed dead in collapsed apartment building
Casualties of Hurricane Katrina
New Orleans threatened by Hurricane Katrina

National Guard unable to prevent looting
as New Orleans slides further into chaos

New Orleans, 1 September 2005:
State, local and federal authorities are grappling with the immense scope of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. The situation is particularly acute in New Orleans, where desperation and anger have contributed to a growing climate of lawlessness. National Guard troops streamed into New Orleans Thursday as the once-proud city slipped further into chaos in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Gunfire and looting broke out at points around the city as residents who stayed behind to ride out the storm found themselves in increasingly desperate straits. Acute shortages of such basic commodities as food and drinking water strained people to the breaking point.

Hurricane Katrina cut a deadly path across Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama as it came ashore Monday morning. Whole coastal communities were wiped out. The breadth of the destruction has caused some commentators to dub it the "American tsunami" because of its resemblance to the terrible havoc of last year's disaster in Asia.

The situation was underscored at the New Orleans Superdome, the sports complex where some 25,000 people who took refuge from the storm wait in deteriorating conditions to be evacuated to Houston, Texas. Keith Simon of Acadia Ambulance, which is handling medical aspects of the evacuation, told VOA its medical personnel asked to be airlifted out because the mood in the Superdome had turned ugly.

"Our 20 medics, doctors, and nurses, that were at the Superdome felt very uncomfortable about the situation and asked to be removed," he said. "So we moved our people out of the Superdome."

He said they will return when additional National Guard troops arrive and restore order. An additional 10,000 Guardsmen are being deployed to New Orleans and other storm-afflicted areas in addition to the 18,000 already in place.

President Bush expressed sharp anger over the growing lawlessness. In an interview on ABC-TV's Good Morning America, Mr. Bush said there should be what he called "zero tolerance" for looting and price-gouging by people trying to capitalize on others' misfortune. The president plans to visit the hurricane-afflicted areas Friday.

Convoys bearing emergency supplies were moving into New Orleans, a city that is now 80 per cent under water. But the city's remaining residents complained supplies were not reaching them fast enough.

Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday the federal government was working to rescue people stranded in the flooding and provide emergency relief.

"The Department of Homeland Security will continue to work with federal, state, and local partners to support efforts on the ground in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida," said Michael Chertoff. "We are working tirelessly to make sure that federal resources are being applied where they are needed all across the Gulf [of Mexico]."

The New Orleans flooding occurred when sections of levees holding back the waters that surround the city broke. Hugh Kaufman, a senior policy analyst at the Environmental Protection Agency with long experience in environmental disaster response, says the fetid water presents a major health and environmental hazard.

"You have a tremendous amount of water that contains sewage, industrial wastewater, hazardous materials, oil, gas, a whole host of hazardous materials that has inundated the whole New Orleans area that has to be dealt with," said Hugh Kaufman.

Officials say they cannot even begin to calculate the human and property damage until the water is removed. (Report by Gary Thomas, VOA)

New Orleans will not be functional
for two to three months, says Mayor

New Orleans, 31 August 2005:
During a plea for immediate and substantial assistance, New Orleans (Louisiana) Mayor Ray Nagin said he thought that Hurricane Katrina had killed hundreds and maybe thousands of people in the city. The Mayor also announced that the city would be totally evacuated and that it could be several months before residents could expect to return to their homes. “The city will not be functional for two to three months,” Mayor Nagin said. A spokesman for the Louisiana Office of Homeland Security added that there was nothing in New Orleans to sustain people. “There is no water, no electricity, no food, no sanitation. People cannot live in the city,'' he said.

There are believed almost 100,000 people left in New Orleans. They will be evacuated at a rate of 15,000 a day. Emergency services will also evacuate the 20,000 people who sought shelter in the city’s Superdome. Most of the evacuees will be taken by a fleet of 500 buses to the Astrodome in Houston, Texas, some 500 kilometres away. “The Astrodome can house at least 25,000 people,” said Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Meanwhile, as President Bush, who cut short his 5-week holiday, flew over the devastated area on his way back to Washington, civil engineers tried to plug the breaches in the flood defences, which caused 80 per cent of New Orleans to be flooded.

Mississippi authorities warned that the current death toll in the state of 110 is likely to climb much higher. It is thought that in Biloxi, where 30 people died when an apartment building collapsed, there were still more than 100 people unaccounted for.

National Guard ordered in to stop
widespread looting in New Orleans

New Orleans, 31 August 2005:
When on Monday, 29 August, Hurricane Katrina veered off its predicted course, many thought New Orleans had had a lucky escape. But by midday the following day it became clear that this was not the case. Water levels were rising and there was widespread looting in the city’s tourist and business districts.

Midday on Tuesday, eighty per cent of the city was under water and, with flood defences breached at two points, there is now a real danger of the whole of New Orleans being flooded. Mayor Ray Nagin said that a significant amount of water was flowing into the bowl-shaped city. “Sections of New Orleans now dry could be under three metres of water within hours,” the Mayor warned.

Meanwhile, Louisiana state authorities had to call in the National Guard to prevent looting in the city’s French Quarter and downtown business district. Eyewitnesses described how hundreds of looters broke shop windows taking away clothes, computers and even jewellery. Mayor Nagin said one police officer was shot as he tried to scatter looters. Near the Superdome sport stadium, where some 20,000 people found shelter, police reported a string of car thefts. There were also reports of gunfire and at least one large building was ablaze.

On Tuesday night, the total death toll of Hurricane Katrina reached 70. But Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco said that the authorities actually had no idea how many people had lost their lives. “At the moment the focus continues to be on rescuing those who have survived,” she added.

New Orleans Mayor says it could be weeks or
months before evacuees could return home

New Orleans, 30 August 2005:
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin told a local TV station that 80 per cent of the city was underwater following the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina on Monday, 29 August. “In some areas of our city the water is as deep as seven metres,” the Mayor said. On Sunday the Mayor issued a mandatory order for everyone to evacuate the city. Nevertheless, thousands defied the Mayor’s order, preferring to stay in their homes fearing looters. However, while police arrested some looters, there is no evidence of widespread looting.

While the Mayor told reporters he had no good news to share, there was some good news. New Orleans’ historic French Quarter escaped the worst of the Hurricane’s fury. Local homeland security chief Terry Ebbert said the French Quarter had survived nature’s onslaught better than any other of the city’s neighbourhoods.

Mayor Nagin said that he feared a significant number of fatalities in New Orleans. “Bodies have been seen floating in the water,” the Mayor added. The Mayor also confirmed that the city’s airport was underwater and warned that there would be no electricity in the city for four to six weeks. He also urged his fellow citizens not to attempt to return to their flooded homes. “There is nothing but water,” he described the situation. He also said it could be weeks or even months before evacuees could come home.

30 people believed dead in
collapsed apartment building

New Orleans, 30 August 2005:
“This is our tsunami,” said Biloxi Mayor A J Holloway when Mississippi emergency services discovered some 30 people dead at a beach apartment development in the city. Biloxi, situated some 100 kilometres east of New Orleans was one of the worst affected communities when Hurricane Katrina hit the US Gulf shoreline midday (GMT), 29 August. “While New Orleans seems to have been spared the worst of the Hurricane, Biloxi was right in the centre of the storm,” said one city official. The economic loss to the city, which in recent years has become a successful casino resort, is estimated to run into tens of millions of dollars.

Mississippi and Alabama emergency services confirmed that at least 55 people had died as Hurricane Katrina swept through northeast through the two states. The number of casualties is certain to rise when rescue workers survey the most devastated areas at daybreak on Tuesday.

In New Orleans, Mayor Ray Nagin said that at least 20 buildings in the city had collapsed, including a small apartment block. While floodwater breached two levees and some pumps had failed, there was little flooding in the city’s historic French Quarter. The Mayor said that he was grateful that the damage was not worse but he urged residents not to return to homes in flooded areas. ''Please be patient,'' Mayor Nagin pleaded. ``There's nothing for you to come back to right now. There's water everywhere.''

Meanwhile, New Orleans Police confirmed that a number of people had been arrested for looting.

In the US states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida some 1.3 million people are without electricity. Utility companies said it would take several days before power was restored to everyone. First estimates reckon that the hurricane will cost the US $26 billion, making it the most expensive storm in the country’s history.

Hurricane Katrina tears into New Orleans
and Mississippi with winds of 240 km/h

New Orleans, 29 August 2005:
Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans at midday GMT, with winds of up to 240 kilometres an hour. Parts of the roof of the city’s Superdome, where thousands of people had taken refuge, were torn apart. However, State Governor Kathleen Blanco said the Superdome was not in any danger and people were safe as long as they stayed in designated areas. There was some damage to buildings in the French Quarter of the city but the main early impact of the hurricane was felt further west along the Mississippi coastline. Storm surges of seven metres were recorded in Bay St Louis.

Earlier, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin had urged all citizens to leave the city, anticipating that Hurricane Katrina would cause massive flooding and damage to many neighbourhoods, some of which lie below sea level. The Mayor said that the problem with this storm was that it might produce storm surges that will overwhelm our flood defences. “There will be lots of water in the city of New Orleans,” he added. Meanwhile US President Bush added that the government can’t stress enough the danger this hurricane poses to the US Gulf Coast communities. “I urge all citizens to put their own safety and the safety of their families first by moving to safe ground,” the President stressed.

On Sunday night (28 August) Hurricane Katrina had been downgraded to a category 4 storm. A category 5 storm would have been a very rare event in the US. Only three such storms have been recorded. In 1922, a category 5 storm killed 43 people in Florida and caused US$31 billion in damage. As a Category 4 storm, Katrina is expected to produce surges of up to 5.5 metres. Rainfall is likely to be 25 centimetres.

Early on Monday morning (29 August) the streets of New Orleans were all deserted. City authorities estimate that more than 80 per cent of the city 485,000 residents had moved inland. New Orleans last suffered major destruction when Hurricane Betsy hit the city in the mid-1960s. Then 74 people were killed in three US states bordering onto the Gulf of Mexico. The city’s flood defences are only designed to protect against a category 3 storm.

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