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Home >> World
UPDATED: 11:32, September 03, 2005
Troops head for stranded New Orleans
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US troops made their way to New Orleans on Friday with shoot-to-kill orders to scare off looting gangs so rescuers can help thousands of people stranded by Hurricane Katrina find the dead and clean up the carnage.

Faced with a growing threat of anarchy after a natural disaster that may have killed thousands of people, the US military sent in National Guard reinforcements.

Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said 14,000 Guard troops were on the ground and he expected 30,000 there in the coming days.

The federal government's response to the disaster has been criticized as slow and Brown blamed poor communications.

Brown told the CBS "Early Show" the agency failed to anticipate "the total lack of communication, the inability to hear and have good intelligence on the ground about what was occurring there."

Armed looters have had the run of this famed city of jazz musicians and French Quarter bars since Katrina pounded the US Gulf Coast on Monday, but they were warned not to push their luck.

"These troops are battle-tested. They have M-16s and are locked and loaded," Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco said on Thursday night of one group of 300 National Guard troops being deployed here after recent duty in Iraq. "These troops know how to shoot and kill and I expect they will."

Most residents are desperate for an end to the violence, and a crackdown on looters was ordered when it became clear the looting and gunfire were hurting relief efforts.

At least one explosion was heard in the southwest of New Orleans in the morning, apparently involving several railroad cars, CNN reported.

Bodies rotted away on busy streets, gunmen opened fire on troops and rescue workers, and seriously ill people braved the floodwaters in wheelchairs to search for help.

Death toll unknown

Officials said the death toll was certainly in the hundreds and probably in the thousands, but details remained sketchy.

"Call it biblical. Call it apocalyptic. Whatever you want to call it, take your pick," said 46-year-old Robert Lewis.

He was rescued as floodwaters invaded his home and endured two days of atrocious conditions at a shelter before finally being evacuated to Houston.

"There were bodies floating past my front door. I've never seen anything like that," he said, near tears from apparent emotional exhaustion.

Pentagon officials said 3,000 regular Army soldiers may also be sent in to help National Guard troops tackle the armed gangs that have looted stores across New Orleans.

"We will not tolerate lawlessness, or violence, or interference with the evacuation," Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff said.

The reinforcements mean nearly 50,000 part-time National Guard and active-duty military personnel are being used in the biggest domestic relief and security effort in US history.

But the deployment has so far failed to guarantee an effective rescue plan, and many of Katrina's victims are increasingly frustrated at being left to fend for themselves.

Under pressure from some Democrats for allegedly acting too slowly and for cutting federal funding for improvements to New Orleans' levees, US President George W. Bush was to visit the city on Friday.

The US Senate approved his request for US$10.5 billion in emergency disaster relief late on Thursday, with billions more in aid seen passing Congress in coming weeks.

Health threats

The help cannot come quick enough in New Orleans, known to those who love it as the Big Easy.

Flooded city hospitals had no electricity and critically ill patients were dying because they no longer had access to oxygen, insulin or other medicines.

Doctors worked around the clock to keep patients alive and evacuate them but logistical arrangements were chaotic and made worse by the violence. At one hospital, one evacuation was called off when a gunman opened fire on doctors and soldiers.

Shelters set up to care for thousands of evacuees in New Orleans were still without food and water early on Friday and families slept near corpses and piles of human waste.

Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said the standing water and heat are posing a huge health threat.

UN offers help

The United Nations has created a special task force ready to dispatch disaster experts to the United States, the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Friday.

"We are on standby, the alert has been given," said Elizabeth Byrs, a spokeswoman at the UN office known as OCHA. "We have created a task force to ensure a fast and efficient response."

Byrs said OCHA had alerted the worldwide members of its UN Disaster Assessment and Co-ordination Centre or UNDAC to tell them that they might be deployed within the next hours.

OCHA's alert comes several hours after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan offered to help the United States with the victims of Katrina.

The UN's children fund, one of the UN agencies involved in the task force, said it was particularly worried about the children in areas struck by Katrina. UNICEF said there could be as many as 400,000 children who may remain without shelter for a few weeks or even months.

Source: China Daily

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