Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New Orleans Mayor: Hundreds, Maybe Thousands Dead, City Uninhabitable


NBC, MSNBC and news services
Updated: 4:52 p.m. ET Aug. 31, 2005

NEW ORLEANS - In a shocking assessment of Hurricane Katrina’s lethal
destruction, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said Wednesday he feared that thousands had died in his city alone and that the entire city would have to be evacuated.

The grim estimate came as Army engineers struggled to plug New Orleans’
breached levees with giant sandbags and concrete barriers, and the Pentagon
ordered 10,000 more national guard troops to the region to help with rescue and
relief efforts.

Nagin said there will be a “total evacuation of the city. We have to. The city will not be functional for two or three months.”

NBC affiliate WDSU reported that Nagin was moving all city government operations to Baton Rouge.

Nagin estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people remained in New Orleans. He said 14,000 to 15,000 could be evacuated in a day.

Refugees to be moved to Houston

Most of the refugees still in the city — 15,000 to 20,000 people — were
in the Superdome, which had become hot and stuffy, with broken toilets and
nowhere for anyone to bathe. Those people were to be taken to Houston's
Astrodome on hundreds of buses.

The mayor's estimate of the number of dead was far higher than those of other public officials and there was no immediate way to confirm its accuracy. In Mississippi, officials said that at least 100 people were killed by the storm and indicated the toll will almost certainly go much higher.

“We know there is a significant number of dead bodies in the water,” Nagin told reporters, adding that there are others dead in attics.

Asked for a number, he said, “Minimum, hundreds. Most likely, thousands.”

Public health emergency

Shortly before Nagin's remarks, the Bush administration declared a public health emergency across the Gulf Coast.

U.S. Health Secretary Michael Leavitt told reporters that experts will be sent to monitor potential disease outbreaks.

The Pentagon's announcement to deploy 10,000 more National Guard soldiers to the region will supplement some 11,000 guard soldiers on state duty in the four states, according to the Guard.

475 buses to be used

Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco told NBC's "Today" show Wednesday
that she wanted the Superdome evacuated within two days.

But floodwaters surround the Superdome, so getting buses to the ramps will be difficult, if not impossible. That could mean using boats to ferry evacuees to the buses.

Officials in Houston later said those evacuees would be sent on 475 buses to the Texas city, 350 miles away. The Houston Astrodome's schedule was cleared through December to accommodate them.

Blanco said that trying to fix the levees has been “an engineering nightmare.”

At the same time, sections of Interstate 10, the only major freeway leading into New Orleans from the east, lay shattered, dozens of huge slabs of concrete floating in the
floodwaters. I-10 is the only route for commercial trucking across southern Louisiana.

“This is a nightmare,” Blanco said, “but one that will give us an opportunity for rebirth.”

Good God, if the mayor of New Orleans is correct and thousands are dead in the city, the death toll would surpass 9/11.

Again, unfathomable.

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