Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Hurricane Katrina Devastates the Gulf Coast

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NEW ORLEANS - The second day brought more horror, greater despair: The death toll exceeded 100 - in just one county.

Rescuers acrobatically plucked thousands from the crests of roofs. Levees failed, and panic flared and spread.

New, terrifying floods swept through the heart of New Orleans. Water swamped 80 percent of the city. And yet fires raged, fed by leaking gas.

Medics transformed part of the Superdome into a triage center, but water lapped at the edges of the arena. Looters roamed. Martial law was declared and the governor worked on plans to shut New Orleans - a place very close to ruin - and remove everyone still there.

``We've lost our city,'' said Marc Morial, a former mayor of New Orleans, now serving as president of the National Urban League. ``I fear it's potentially like Pompeii.''

The awful panorama of Hurricane Katrina's devastation stretched across four coastal states, and a rag-tag, numbed army of refugees searched desperately for the bare necessities of life - water, food, shelter and, to escape from it all, gasoline.

``There's nowhere, nowhere to go,'' said Robert Smith, a truck driver who fled New Orleans with his family of six and ended up stranded on Interstate 10 near Gulfport, Miss. ``There's nowhere to eat, get gas or stay.''

Water surrounded the road, and it was getting deeper. Closer to New Orleans, over Lake Pontchartrain, the highway lay crumbled, ruined.

More than 55 people were dead, killed by the worst hurricane to strike the United States in memory, and the number seemed certain to rise. Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said he believed 80 people died in just one county.

In Biloxi, Miss., authorities and volunteers pulled bodies from 12-foot piles of rubble while hearses and trucks cruised Howard Avenue, assigned to carry the corpses. Five bodies were recovered in five blocks in only a few hours.

``I've never seen anything like this in my life,'' said resident David McCaleb.

In Biloxi, New Orleans and across the vast expanse of disaster, Coast Guard, National Guard and other crews saved countless victims, sometimes by boat, frequently by air.

Like angels, the rescuers floated, fluttered, sailed from the clouds, embraced the needy, lifted them to safety.

The experience was electric, the vista heartbreaking.

``To be elevated and have a bird's eye view of the neighborhood that I grew up in and love was awful,'' said Gene Daymude, a local art dealer carried over floods and into a helicopter by a wire basket........


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