New Orleans looked all but empty Sunday after the final evacuation of battered survivors of Hurricane Katrina, while top Bush administration officials, stung by anger at their relief efforts, were fanning out across the afflicted region.
Rescuers in a vast eight-hour operation cleared New Orleans' Superdome football stadium and the convention centre of thousands who had taken shelter there during the catastrophic storm only to fall prey to wretched conditions.
Hundreds of buses and helicopters carried evacuees to the airport where military cargo planes delivered them from the misery left in the city by Katrina, which struck the US Gulf Coast last Monday, possibly killing thousands and leaving many more homeless. Many evacuees were taken to Texas.
The streets were mostly calm - and deserted - in the once-vibrant capital of jazz and good times. National Guard troops and US marshals patrolled the flooded city, stricken in recent nights by almost anarchic violence and looting.
It was difficult to determine how many civilians remained in New Orleans, which had a population before Katrina of more than 500,000. Many had locked themselves in their houses. Others were still trapped in homes stranded by floodwaters.
US troops, who took days to appear in force as many thousands waited desperately for help, began moving emergency supplies.
President George W. Bush, who admitted on Friday the results of his administration's relief efforts were unacceptable, said he would send 7,200 more active-duty troops over three days.
A further 10,000 National Guard troops were being to storm-afflicted Louisiana and Mississippi, raising the total to 40,000. A total of 54,000 military personnel are now committed to relief efforts.
"Many of our citizens are not getting the help they need, especially in New Orleans, and that is unacceptable," said Bush.
Bush, who rarely concedes errors, spoke a day after touring the destruction amid blistering criticism of the federal response. He will tour the area again today.
He has signed a US$10.5 billion relief package for Gulf Coast areas hit by Katrina, and lawmakers said they planned to allocate more money in the coming weeks.
Senior officials on the way
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said on Saturday he would spend several days in the New Orleans area to help integrate the military and civilian rescue efforts.
Defending the administration's response and disaster planning, he said the hurricane and flood that followed in New Orleans after protective levees broke were "two catastrophes" that presented an unprecedented challenge.
Critics have said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has lost its effectiveness since it became part of the Homeland Security Department in a post-September 11 reorganization.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will tour the Mobile, Alabama, area, in her native state.
Rice was slammed by critics on the Internet after she attended a New York performance of the Monty Python musical "Spamalot" on Wednesday, a day after New Orleans flooded.
On returning to Washington, she defended the administration against charges the slow response and the prolonged suffering of New Orleans' predominantly black storm victims were signs of racial neglect.
"That Americans would somehow in a colour-affected way decide who to help and who not to help, I just don't believe it," said Rice, the administration's highest-ranking black official.
Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld also planned to visit New Orleans.
The Washington Post reported Sunday that Bush administration officials were blaming state and local authorities for the disaster response problems. The newspaper said the administration was rebuffed in an effort to take control of police and National Guard units reporting to Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat.
Many people in New Orleans were angry at the government.
"They have us living here like animals," said Wyvonnette Grace-Jordan, who was at the New Orleans convention centre with five children. "We have only had two meals, we have no medicine and now there are thousands of people defecating in the streets. This is wrong. This is the United States of America."
Perhaps up to 200,000 Louisiana evacuees had fled to Houston and were staying in public shelters, hotels and private homes. Many said conditions at the Astrodome and Houston convention centre were far better than the New Orleans shelters.
The impact of the storm was felt across the United States as gas prices rose to more than US$3 a gallon after Katrina's 225-kph winds shut eight oil refineries and crippled others.
EU governments said on Friday that Europe would dip into its emergency stocks of gasoline to help the United States.
Source: China Daily