As chaos and lawlessness continued to devastate New Orleans in Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath, President Bush addressed the media on Friday afternoon, saying he has heard the cries of the displaced residents and urged them to remain patient.
“People in this part of the world need to understand that there are a lot of people working hard and they’re making good progress,” he said from the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport after taking an aerial tour of the affected areas along the Gulf Coast.
He also stressed that Americans should continue to give cash to aid relief agencies, especially the Red Cross and Salvation Army.
Bush ended the address by trying to cast an optimistic light on the dire situation.
“I believe the great city of New Orleans will rise again and be an even greater city,” Bush said.
Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco — who took aim at roving lawbreakers earlier in the day — thanked the president for his support and said the state’s citizens are “a strong people, a determined people, and we will rebuild.”
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Earlier in the day, the president spoke to a crush of reporters gathered outside the White House, assuring “millions of gallons of water and millions of tons of food” were being shipped to the region, and acknowledged that the relief effort’s results were, thus far, “not acceptable.”
In the meantime, corpses remained strewn across streets, armed masses looted abandoned stores, fires and fights broke out, more than half of the city’s police force failed to report for duty, and tens of thousands of National Guardsmen actively patrolled the flood-ravaged city to reclaim command from heavily armed looters.
New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin attacked federal relief efforts in an interview with local radio station WWL-AM, characterizing the response as sluggish and inadequate, leading to unnecessary deaths throughout the region.
“Someone needs to get their ass on a plane and get down here and figure it out,” he said, calling on President Bush to be more responsive to the crisis that’s taken hold of his city. “Excuse my French, everybody in America, but I am pissed. They are feeding the people a line of bull, and they are spinning and people are dying. They don’t have homes. They don’t have jobs. The city of New Orleans will never be the same.”
Nagin said he needs more troops to help defend the city from the outbreak of violence, as well as hundreds of buses to get people out (see “New Orleans Evacuates As Mayor Issues ‘Desperate SOS’ “ ).
Governor Blanco took aim at the roving lawbreakers who are taking advantage of the city’s crippled state, announcing Thursday evening that 300 soldiers, “fresh back from Iraq,” were headed for New Orleans, in addition to the “40,000 extra troops” that she’s demanded, according to CNN.
“They have M-16s, and they’re locked and loaded,” Blanco said. “I have one message for these hoodlums: These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so if necessary, and I expect they will.”
CNN reports that at one police precinct in New Orleans, officers had barricaded themselves inside, while snipers stationed on its roof exchanged bullets throughout the night with armed bands of looters. The news organization is also reporting that there was a large explosion in the city’s southwest district Friday morning, which triggered a chemical fire in a building along the Mississippi River. A hazardous-materials team had been dispatched to the area. At press time it was not known what caused the explosion.
The city’s police department is dwindling, creating an increased need for National Guard troops; several police officers have informed CNN that a large number of officers have stopped reporting for duty, reducing the police presence in some areas of the city by 20 percent or more.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday that at least some relief was on the way for law-enforcement officials — in the form of 4,200 National Guard troops, trained as military police, who will arrive in New Orleans over the next three days.
Thousands of evacuees have been pouring into Texas to escape New Orleans’ violent anarchy and threat of potentially epidemic disease. Many were directed to the Houston Astrodome, a stadium that filled fast, forcing officials to turn away thousands late Thursday night after capacity hit 25,000, CNN reports. About 100 combat-ready military police officers arrived there late Thursday.
Nearby Reliant Arena has opened its doors to those left homeless by Hurricane Katrina, the damage from which could top out at $50 billion, according to estimates released by credit-rating agency Standard & Poor’s.
Texas Governor Rick Perry announced plans on Thursday to take in nearly 75,000 evacuees into the state. In addition to Houston, 25,000 evacuees would be housed at the Reunion Center in Dallas and at a former Air Force base in San Antonio. State officials estimated that up to 100,000 people displaced by the storm were staying at hotels in the area.
Meanwhile the thousands remaining at the New Orleans Superdome rejoiced as a slew of military convoys finally made their way through the city’s flooded streets on Friday to deliver food, bottled water and medicine to the needy evacuees.
“The cavalry is and will continue to arrive,” Lieutenant General Steven Blum of the National Guard told The Associated Press.
The U.S. Army announced Friday afternoon it may take as long as 80 days to drain the city’s floodwaters, which at its worst point had nearly 80 percent of New Orleans underwater.
Circumstances at the downtown convention center have been rapidly deteriorating for days, leaving the masses suffering in dying conditions with no air conditioning, clean water or sanitation. Outside the building, dead bodies lay abandoned on the sidewalks.
“The people of our city are holding on by a thread,” Mayor Nagin said in a statement to CNN. “Time has run out. Can we survive another night? And who can we depend on? Only God knows.”
While thousands evacuate the dangers of New Orleans, others have started spilling in from neighboring towns. Mayor Nagin issued a statement saying that, while “we are overwhelmed and out of resources, we welcome them with open arms and will figure this out together.”
According to the New Orleans Times-Picayune, House Speaker Dennis Hastert questioned the practicality of rebuilding New Orleans on Thursday — comments he later tried to clarify.
“It doesn’t make sense to me,” Hastert was quoted as saying. “And it’s a question that certainly we should ask.” His words followed news that Congress would cut its summer recess short to push through a $10.5 billion emergency aid package.
President Bush, who said he would sign the bill by day’s end on Friday, called the $10 billion a “down payment” and the first of several federal relief packages to come.
“We help replace, we help relieve disaster. But I think federal insurance and everything that goes along with it, we ought to take a second look at that,” Hastert added. His office issued a statement Thursday night, reports the Chicago Sun-Times, saying, “I am not advocating that the city be abandoned or relocated,” only that “it is important that when we rebuild this historic city, that we consider the safety of the citizens first.”
Meanwhile, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue said that it seemed unlikely the New Orleans Saints would be playing their home games in New Orleans this season, according to ESPN. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis said he’d prefer that the team play this season’s home schedule in Louisiana, and was considering Louisiana State University’s Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge as a temporary home for the team.
To find out what you can do to help provide relief to victims of Katrina, head to think MTV’s hurricane relief page.
[This story was originally published at 9:08 a.m. ET on 09.02.2005]