Over a week after Hurricane Katrina pounded the Gulf of
Mexico leaving New Orleans inundated with water, rescue
forces are still trying to reach thousands of people waiting
in the attics or on the rooftops of their homes. They will
also have to bury the thousands who are believed to have died
and whose remains have not yet been recovered. However, US
Army engineers did manage to close up two levees that had
been breached by the storm using hundreds of bags filled with
cement, sand and pieces of ruined roadways, and they began
pumping water out of the city of New Orleans.
The US Army Corps of Engineers says it will take up to
another two-and-a-half months before the city is dry. Twenty-
four enormous pumps have been set up in the eastern parts of
the city to remove all the water there and put it back in
Lake Pontchartrain where it belongs.
Local officials estimate that thousands of people still
remain in the devastated city despite the evacuation of
hundreds of thousands before the hurricane struck and tens of
thousands more by National Guards and other agencies during
the past week. Many of them may be trapped in their homes,
the officials said. Officials pleaded with everyone to
"We still have thousands of people inside the city. We are
rescuing people from rooftops and attics," said City
Councilor G. Clarkson.
"Approximately 3,000 people have been evacuated from the city
by helicopter in the past 24 hours," said National Guard Lt.
Gen. Michael Fleming on Sunday.
Top New Orleans Police officials said they have been
receiving 1,000 calls by citizens requesting emergency
assistance, but they say the skiffs used for the rescue
operation cannot respond to every call.
No one really knows how many died. The mayor of New Orleans
has guessed that the number may be as many as 10,000.
It began as Tropical Depression 12, yet another swirl of
tropical turbulence in the southeastern Bahamas that are
common at this time of year. But each step of the way,
Hurricane Katrina seemed to overachieve. It hit Florida with
more power than expected, killing nine people and knocking
out electricity for a million more. Then it crossed back into
the Gulf of Mexico, intensifying into one of the strongest
storms on record as it passed directly over the "loop
current," a great, deep whorl of hot seawater that flows in
the Caribbean in between Mexico's Yucatan and Cuba each year
and then stays south of Louisiana into late summer. Often,
storms weaken as they suck up cool water that lies beneath
the warm surface. But in the loop current, even the depths
"We are facing a storm that most of us have long feared,"
said Mayor C. Ray Nagin in the days before the storm hit.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event."
Many of the 1.3 million people in the metropolitan area left,
paralyzing traffic along major highways.
But many did not. In a 2003 poll conducted by Louisiana State
University, 31 percent of New Orleans residents said they
would stay in the city even if a Category 4 hurricane
Many stayed because they felt they had no choice,
particularly the poor and the elderly. The survey found that
those who said they would stay tended be poor, less educated,
disabled, older, childless or isolated, or had lived in the
city for a long period. Also, many of those who stayed were
Twenty-eight percent of the population of New Orleans lives
below the poverty line, compared with 9 percent nationwide,
according to census figures. Twenty-four percent of its
adults are disabled, compared with 19 percent nationwide. An
estimated 50,000 households in New Orleans do not have
But Chester Wilmot, an L.S.U. civil engineering professor who
studies evacuation plans, said the city successfully
improvised. He said witnesses described seeing city buses
shuttle residents to the Superdome before Hurricane Katrina
Experts said that the evacuation of New Orleans residents
with cars went well. They said a new emergency plan, which
used all lanes of I-10 for outbound traffic, relieved
congestion that snarled traffic for hours during a voluntary
evacuation of the city during Hurricane Ivan in 2001.
"What you're going to find is that everyone who wanted to get
out, got out," said Professor Wolshon. "Except for the people
who didn't have access to transportation."
New Orleans was maintained and protected by a system of
levees sufficient to protect against a Category 3 storm,
which statistics estimate might strike New Orleans once in
200 years. Hurricane Betsy in 1965, the last comparable
storm, was roughly of Category 3 force.
From 1970 until 1995 there were relatively few hurricanes in
the area. But recently studies found that after 1995, an
Atlantic air and water cycle switched from a pattern that
stifles storms to one that nurtures them. Other studies
suggested an increase in storm intensity from human- caused
The response of authorities to the storm became very
controversial. For a disaster of this magnitude, the Federal
government — the national government based in
Washington — is expected to do much of the work. In the
past the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) took
charge. However after the terror attacks of 9/11, FEMA became
part of the Department of Homeland Security and critics
charge that its focus was shifted to responding to terrorism
and away from natural disasters.
The US response to the disaster seemed confused and
ineffectual. President Bush declared it a disaster right
away, but he did not take strong action. The US National
Guard, whose troops are often mobilized for disaster relief,
is stretched thin by the war in Iraq. It was several days
before significant numbers of soldiers arrived to restore
order, and by then there were widespread reports of a general
breakdown in New Orleans, including looting and even sniper
Critics expressed shock at the weak response. There was also
shame that the world's sole remaining superpower did not
respond faster and more forcefully to a disaster that had
been among its own government's worst-case possibilities for
President Bush faced increasingly bitter complaints from
local and state officials in the battered Gulf Coast region
as he struggled to exert control.
The New Orleans mayor, C. Ray Nagin, said matters were
improving but remained a "disgrace."
A local official in Louisiana warned that Americans, already
horrified by scenes of misery and chaos in New Orleans,
should brace for worse.
"I think we need to prepare the country for what's coming,"
he said. As waters recede, "we're going to uncover people who
died, maybe hiding in houses, you know, got caught by the
flood, people whose remains are going to be found in the
streets," he said.
"It's going to be about as ugly a scene as I think you can
imagine. Certainly as ugly of a scene as we've seen in this
country, with the possible exception of 9/11."
In Washington, some Republicans have warned that the much-
assailed White House response could undermine Bush's
authority and his legislative agenda, including plans to
overhaul the tax code, Social Security and immigration