New Orleans awash in corpses
September 4, 2005
Troops patrolled the streets, rescuers hunted for stragglers and New Orleans looked like a wrecked ghost town on Sunday as the evacuation of the city neared completion and authorities turned to the grim task of collecting bodies in a ghastly landscape awash in perhaps thousands of corpses.In a city wracked by violence for a week, there was yet another shootout on Sunday. Contractors for the Army Corps of Engineers came under fire as they crossed a bridge to work on a levee, and police escorts shot back, killing three assailants outright and a fourth in a later gunfight. A fifth suspect was wounded and captured. There was no explanation for it, only the numbing facts.The larger picture of death was just as murky. No one could say how many died in the hurricane or waiting to be rescued after the city’s levees burst. Hundreds were missing in nearby Chalmette. In Baton Rouge, state officials said the official Louisiana death toll stood at 59, but most said that thousands was a more realistic figure. More than 125 were known dead in Mississippi. Seven days after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, the New Orleans known as America’s vibrant capital of jazz and gala Mardi Gras celebrations was gone. In its place was a partly submerged city of abandoned homes and ruined businesses, of bodies in attics or floating in deserted streets, of misery that had driven most of its 500,000 citizens into a modern-day Diaspora of biblical proportions.As the effects of the crisis spread across the nation, 20 states have opened their shelters, homes and schools to the refugees. But moving the population of New Orleans to other parts of America has created overcrowding and strains. In Texas, where nearly half the refugees are jamming stadiums, civic centers and hotels, Gov. Rick Perry said the state’s capacity was almost exhausted. And there were no quick solutions. Making New Orleans habitable again was expected to take many months, even a year.And there were holdouts in New Orleans – unknown numbers of people who refused to go. They were being urged to leave for their own safety. Officials warned of an impossible future in a destroyed city without food, water, power or other necessities, only the specter of cholera, typhoid or mosquitoes carrying malaria or the West Nile Virus.While helicopter and boat crews searched flooded neighborhoods for survivors on Sunday and officials focused for the first time on finding, collecting and counting the dead, Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security, warned that America must brace itself for some gruesome sights in the days ahead.”We need to prepare the country for what’s coming,” Chertoff said on the “Fox News Sunday” television program. “We are going to uncover people who died hiding in the houses, maybe got caught in the floods. It is going to be as ugly a scene as you can imagine.”Stung by critics who have charged that its sluggish response had compounded the suffering and cost lives, the Bush administration rolled out a public-relations offensive on Sunday. Chertoff made the rounds of Sunday television talk shows to give status reports and defend the government’s response.Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld went to the stricken states on Sunday to assess the damage and pledge relief, and President Bush planned another visit to New Orleans and Mississippi today. He flew over the area on Wednesday as he returned to Washington from an extended vacation at his Texas ranch, and made an inspection tour on Friday.The administration’s problems in the crisis seemed crystallized in a dramatic appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” by Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish near New Orleans. Sobbing, he told of an emergency management official and his mother, who, trapped in a nursing home, pleaded day after day for rescue. Assured by federal officials, the man promised her repeatedly that help was on the way.”Every day she called him and said, “Are you coming, son? Is somebody coming?'” Broussard related. “And he said, ‘Yeah, Mama, somebody’s coming to get you.’ Somebody’s coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody’s coming to get you on Friday. And she drowned Friday night. She drowned Friday night.”Broussard angrily denounced the leadership of America. “We have been abandoned by our own country,” he said. “It’s not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans here. Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now.”Congress, returning from a summer recess, is widely expected to undertake a series of investigations into the causes of and reaction to the crisis, and even some Republicans warned that the government’s response, widely viewed as slow and ineffectual, could further undermine Bush’s authority at a time when he is lagging in the polls, endangering his congressional agenda.