The floodwaters are finally receding in New Orleans, but health concerns are mounting as water continues to blanket more than half the city, creating a toxic mix of garbage, feces and rotting human corpses — a virtual breeding ground for deadly infections and disease that could farther ravage an already beaten population.
New Orleans official revealed to CNN on Tuesday (September 6) that the flood waters were found to contain E. coli bacteria, which comes from human and animal waste and can fester in untreated sewage. If ingested, it could lead to grave illness and even death.
The discovery prompted New Orleans Mayor C. Ray Nagin to order a mandatory evacuation of the devastated city late Tuesday and issue orders for the removal of thousands of people who refuse to leave what’s left of their homes. “It is not safe,” he told reporters. “Mosquitoes that are biting dead people are starting to fly.”
Deputy Police Chief Warren Riley told reporters that stragglers have been advised “that this city has been destroyed. It has been completely destroyed.”
“We are working with them to try to convince them that there is no reason — no jobs, no food — no reason for them to stay,” Riley told CNN.
Nagin issued a grim warning this weekend that Hurricane Katrina’s death toll could top out at 10,000, and he said it could take up to 10 years for the metropolis to be restored. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco estimated the death toll in Baton Rouge could reach “several thousand.”
The Louisiana Superdome, which served as shelter for thousands of displaced Gulf Coast residents for days after Katrina hit, has sustained irreparable damage to its facilities and will likely be destroyed, CNN reported. Elsewhere progress, while sluggish, has been steady, as a main levee crack has been repaired and the city has begun to pump out flood water.
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More than a week after Hurricane Katrina first carved a path of devastation through the battered region, the search for survivors continues in New Orleans. Rescue and recovery teams are scouring the city looking for those who have been stranded by the storm, while helicopters deliver provisions and pluck trapped residents off rooftops (see “President Bush Says Progress Being Made In Chaotic New Orleans” ).
More than 50,000 troops — including 13,000 active-duty soldiers — have been dispatched to the area to patrol the city’s streets, restoring order following last week’s chaotic atmosphere of lawlessness. “We feel as though the city is very secure,” Riley told reporters. “We moved from chaos to organized chaos.”
Meanwhile, repair crews managed to plug a 300-foot crack in a levee along the 17th Street Canal over the weekend, and a massive pump-out operation to drain the city’s streets of flood waters is in full swing; officials predict it could be three months before full drainage is achieved, CNN reports.
The levee system’s collapse in the wake of Katrina left close to 80 percent of the city submerged in water up to 20 feet deep.
Tuesday afternoon, New Orleans and New York firefighters battled a blaze that eventually consumed two apartment buildings. National Guard officials told CNN the conflagration was ignited by a candle left in the basement of one of the two buildings in the city’s historic Garden District. The fire consumed both buildings, but with help from helicopters called in to douse the flames with buckets of lake water, fire officials were able to contain the fire before it could spread to other buildings.
The initial federal response to Katrina has faced substantial criticism over the last week (see “Jay-Z, Diddy, Others Reach Out To Disaster Victims; Kanye West Attacks Bush During Telethon” ), with Nagin being one of the most vocal (see “New Orleans Evacuates As Mayor Issues ‘Desperate SOS’ “ ). On Monday, former President Bill Clinton also condemned the response as too lethargic, saying the government “failed” Katrina’s victims. He suggested that an investigation into the matter be launched once the immediate needs of the region are met, according to CNN.
President Bush met with Blanco and others in Baton Rouge on Monday and stopped by a church that has been housing a number of hurricane evacuees. Bush has also visited Mississippi, where 161 bodies have been recovered, to praise relief workers for their efforts.
On Tuesday a plan to move close to 4,000 evacuees from Houston’s Astrodome and Reliant Complex into a pair of cruise ships, anchored in nearby Galveston, was put on hold — because no one wanted to board the boats. Many of the victims wanted instead to concentrate on locating lost relatives and loved ones, according to CNN.
Meanwhile, the number of universities opening their doors to the thousands of college students displaced by Katrina continues to rise. Several schools in the California State University system are offering evacuees the same tuition cost as in-state residents — slashing the bill substantially from $13,000 to $3,000 — at the Bakersfield, Chico, Dominguez Hills, East Bay, Humboldt, Los Angeles and Sacramento campuses. UCLA is also welcoming displaced students into its UCLA Extension program for the quarter beginning September 24.
New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic, the nation’s oldest technological institute, has announced it will provide a free ride for 100 Tulane and Xavier University students (see “Gulf Coast Colleges, Students Grapple With Disaster” and “Several Colleges Offering To Take In Students Displaced By Katrina” ), forgoing tuition, fees, and room and board for the fall semester.
Early Tuesday afternoon, President Bush consulted his Cabinet to go over the relief efforts. CNN reports that Vice President Dick Cheney would arrive in the region in the next few days to supervise the situation and the progress of the relief efforts. Bush also plans to lead an investigation into just “what went right and what went wrong” in the first few critical days after Hurricane Katrina hammered the area.
In addition to the $10.5 billion in federal funds already allocated for disaster relief, Bush plans on seeking some $40 billion more for the next phase of recovery, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee launched a preliminary review Tuesday afternoon into the government’s response, one numerous lawmakers have characterized as lax — the latest being Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. The Democrat wondered “why the hell” officials didn’t rush to the aid of the storm’s victims more immediately.
Be sure to watch “MTV News Special: After the Storm,” which premieres Saturday, September 10 at 7:30 p.m. ET.
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 09:27 a.m. ET on 9.6.05]