Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Nagin claims 10,000+ dead, orders New Orleans cleared of residents

Arkansas National Guardsman Mikel Brooks stepped through the food service entrance of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center Monday, flipped on the light at the end of his machine gun, and started pointing out bodies.

“Don’t step in that blood — it’s contaminated,” he said. “That one with his arm sticking up in the air, he’s an old man.” Then he shined the light on the smaller human figure under the white sheet next to the elderly man.

“That’s a kid,” he said. “There’s another one in the freezer, a 7-year-old with her throat cut.”

Three days later, efforts continue all along the Gulf Coast to assess damage and start drainage and cleanup operations. New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said that more than 10,000 are dead in his city alone, and ordered all remaining residents to leave due to obvious safety concerns, the chemicals and toxic waste under parts of the city proving more of a potential hazard than cholera at this stage.

Mike McDaniel, the state secretary of environmental quality, told CNN floodwaters had swirled through wrecked sewerage plants and were fouled by natural gas and petrochemical leaks all over south Louisiana.

He said crews found an oil spill of 68,000 barrels at a Bass Enterprise storage depot in Venice, and another of 10,000 barrels from the Murphy Oil facility in Chalmette.

“Everywhere we look there’s a spill. It all adds up,” he said. “There’s almost a solid sheen over the area right now.”

Besides the petrochemicals and human waste, officials said, the water was surely polluted by a variety of other pollutants, including pesticides and a catalogue of industrial solvents.

And there was another dreadful component: the bodies of uncounted dead humans and animals that rescuers have seen in a week of frantic life-saving efforts, but pushed aside to do higher priority work.

Officials said they did not know whether ejecting billions of gallons of foul pollutants would trigger a massive environmental disaster in the state's wetlands.

However, their evacuation is proving difficult as some are refusing to leave, even in the face of utter ruin. Downed power lines and flaming gas leaks — general all along the coast — are hampering progress in boat rescues, especially in New Orleans where some gas mains have had to remain on to allow the pump generators to function.

Temporary pumps have been put in place locally as levees are repaired more than a week after the storm: the 17th Street / Florida Avenue breach is closed; city Pumps 1 & 5 are in operation (out of a total of 148), and water levels are slowly receding. As the levels recede further, officials expect to find many bodies and a disaster mortuary has been set up that can process 140 corpses a day.

Crime has receded since National Guard and active-duty federal troops have entered the city: the first federal arrest has been made against a man who shot at a military rescue helicopter. However, a police officer has committed suicide.

Accardo — who also lost his home in the flood waters — looked like a zombie, like someone who hadn’t slept in year, Defillo said. But so did so many on the 1,600-member force.

Officials said Monday that between 400 to 500 officers were unaccounted for, many tending to their homes or looking for their families, and some dropping out. To lessen the stress, officers were being cycled off duty and given five-day vacations in Las Vegas and Atlanta, where they also would receive counseling.

Said Mayor Ray Nagin: “I’ve got some firefighters and police officers that have been pretty much traumatized.”

News also emerges that the fate of the New Orleans Superdome hangs in the balance and the building could be scrapped after it is decontaminated and examined. Whether this is due to association with the vile scenes it housed last week is unclear.

Political controversy still rages. While federal efforts continue, anger over the slow and often confused response has prompted Bush to chair an investigation into why this was so. A President chairing an investigation into something he and his key officials have been blamed for has caused yet more anger, and the investigation is not expected to be impartial. (Personally, I think it’ll be a crock of shit and they need an independent commission.)

Update 1

The water in New Orleans has just been revealed to be rather dangerous, so UAVs are being used:

12:48 P.M. [Local time] — (AP): Tiny, unmanned surveillance planes are being pressed into action for reconnaissance over Katrina-ravaged New Orleans in what defense contractors call the biggest civilian deployment ever for the technology.

Ten of the unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, have been taking turns this week flying from the New Orleans Naval Air Station and relaying photos of the devastation below to the Air Force.

[They] are being used to assess damage to oil and gas distribution, dikes, berms and other aspects of the region's infrastructure.

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