Everybody leads with the chaos in New Orleans, where at least tens of thousands of residents are stranded. With the mayor issuing a "desperate SOS," thousands of people without food and water milled around outside the convention center—where refugees are now being sent instead of the Superdome. The police chief said "armed thugs" have taken control of a shelter near the city center. "We have individuals who are getting raped," the chief told reporters. "We have individuals who are getting beaten." One sniper was shooting at police and others and prevented the evacuation of a hospital. (According to early-morning reports, there was a "large explosion" somewhere in the city, possibly from a railcar.)
City officials ripped the feds. "This is a national disgrace," said the head of emergency operations. "FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control." Another official begged, "We need personnel, law enforcement. This has turned into a situation where the city is being run by thugs."
Helicopters tried to land near the city center but were bum-rushed by a crowd and just pushed out supplies while hovering. The papers mention reports of helicopters being fired on, and the Los Angeles Times quotes witnesses. But the FAA says it keeps track of such things and hasn't received any reports like that.
A squad of nearly 100 officers tried to make it to the convention center but couldn't get through, either because of the commotion (LAT) or because they were turned back by armed thugs ( New York Times). The NYT mentions that everyone in the Superdome was ordered outside after a small fire. Meanwhile, Houston's Astrodome has taken in 11,000 refugees and was deemed full. (It had been projected to house 25,000 people.)
The NYT mentions an open field just a bit north of the city center where a few thousand refugees have been dropped off and also now have "no food, water, sanitation or any sense of where they were headed next." The Washington Posttalks to Coast Guard pilots who describe large numbers of people still stuck on roofs.
One U.S. congressman told the Times-Picayune that about 100 people died at a slip outside New Orleans after having been rescued from rooftops. Reportedly, 1,500 people have been stuck at the slip without food or water.
New Orleans' WWLTV interviewed the head of Louisiana's police, who acknowledged that "some" city cops have turned in their badges: "They indicated that they had lost everything and didn't feel that it was worth them going back to take fire from looters and losing their lives." (This morning, CNN is reporting that in "some" precincts "20 percent or more" of police are AWOL.)
Most of the papers report on Charity Hospital, where doctors contacted the Associated Press saying they're nearly out of food and are being threatened by looters. "We have been trying to call the mayor's office, we have been trying to call the governor's office ... we have tried to use any inside pressure we can. We are turning to you. Please help us." Charity is a public hospital. The private hospital across the street has been evacuated.
Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff talked to NPR about "isolated incidents" of crime. He also said he hadn't heard anything about the situation at the convention center. The WP's Dana Milbank notices that the White House deflected all Katrina questions and instead offered up Chertoff.
Pleas for help from people with family in New Orleans are being posted on a section of the Times-Picayune Web site. They include addresses, telephone numbers, and have headlines like, "Brother trapped in Algiers by armed mob" and "HELP! Parents dying at home in French Quarter!!!" (I hope authorities are aware of the page.)
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