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Home >> World
UPDATED: 12:31, September 05, 2005
New Orleans police kill looters in shoot-out
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New Orleans police killed four looters who had opened fire on them on Sunday as rescue teams scoured homes and toxic waters flooding streets to find survivors and recover thousands of bloated corpses.

A fifth looter was in critical condition but no more details were available about the incident in a city where authorities are slowly regaining control after a wave of looting, murders and rapes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

"Five men who were looting exchanged gunfire with police. The officers engaged the looters when they were fired upon," said New Orleans superintendent of police, Steven Nichols.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contractors working on a levee breach were fired on by gunmen but no one was hurt, said the Corps' Mike Rogers. It was not clear if the two incidents were connected.

Six days after Katrina ripped up the Gulf Coast and sent flood waters pouring into New Orleans, no one knows how many people were killed, but government officials say the number is in the thousands.

"When we remove the water from New Orleans, we're going to uncover people who died hiding in houses, who got caught by the flood, people whose remains will be found in the street," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said. "It is going to be about as ugly a scene as you can imagine."

Under fire for its slow response to the flooding, the Bush administration tried to save face on Sunday by sending top officials down to the disaster zone and pledging to do whatever it takes to clean up New Orleans and help its refugees.

President George W. Bush was to visit relief efforts in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Poplarville, Mississippi, on Monday -- his second trip to the devastated region in less than a week.

Battered and sickened survivors made no attempt to disguise their anger: "We have been abandoned by our own country," Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish just south of New Orleans, told NBC's Meet the Press.

"For God sakes, shut up and send somebody," a tearful and anguished Broussard said of promises not kept by Washington, adding that "bureaucracy has committed murder" in New Orleans.

NIGHTMARE CONFLUENCE

But in a sign that a return to normality, while still far off, was at least a possibility, lights began to go back on in parts of the beleaguered city, as Electric company Entergy Corp. started to restore power.

After a nightmare confluence of natural disaster and political ineptitude that al Qaeda-linked Web sites called the "wrath of God" striking America, National Guard troops and U.S. marshals patrolled streets stricken in the days after the hurricane by anarchic violence and looting.

Coast Guard helicopters hovered over devastated neighborhoods and continued to pluck survivors from roofs. Some brave residents joined the rescue efforts and spoke of horrors in the deep and muddy waters.

In New Orleans' notoriously poor 9th district, police launched search missions with small speed boats to find both the living and the dead.

The tips of roofs poked out from the water, which bubbled from burst gas mains, and, in one spot, a swelling corpse floated on flood waters. Law enforcement officials advised reporters not to go close.

"It's about to pop at any minute. And you don't want to be there when that happens," one officer said.

Officials said they had assembled facilities capable of handling 1,000 bodies immediately and were expanding them.

Dr. Louis Cataldie, Louisiana's emergency response medical director, declined to speculate on how high the death toll might go. "It's not about numbers," she said. "Each death is enough. This is horrific."

Louisiana's official death toll stood at just 59 on Sunday but officials said it would rise dramatically.

While the city's human population suffered enormously, its famous Audubon Zoo managed to take good care of its charges. Only three of its 1,400 animals died, officials said, adding that they had planned for years for a catastrophic storm.

Except for rescue workers and scattered groups of people, streets in the once-vibrant capital of jazz and good times were all but abandoned after the mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees into neighboring Texas and other states.

Government and emergency officials insisted it was not the right time to assign blame for botched rescue efforts, and instead warned of challenges ahead.

"We're going to have to go house to house in this city. We're going to have to check every single place to find people who may be alive and in need of assistance," Chertoff said.

EMERGENCY SERVICES

He said unsanitary conditions meant emergency services would not allow residents to stay in their homes while flooded areas were pumped out.

In a rare admission of error, Bush conceded the relief efforts were unacceptable, and this weekend ordered 7,200 extra active-duty troops to the disaster zone.

Newsweek reported that former Louisiana Democratic Sen. John Breaux (news, bio, voting record), whom it called a close ally of Bush, rejected the president's claim that nobody anticipated the failure of New Orleans' levees, saying the two talked about it last year.

Most of Katrina's victims were black and poor, and some black leaders have said the federal government would have moved much more quickly if rich, white people were suffering.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice rejected the claim on a tour of Mobile, Alabama. "Nobody, especially the president, would have left people unattended on the basis of race."

But it looked different from the disaster zone.

"For those who were alone in the water, alone on the roof, you might ask 'What did we do to deserve this?"' Rev. Lowell Case told his congregation at St. Francis Xavier Church in Baton Rouge. "A lot of us think being black may have had something to do with it, being poor and black in New Orleans."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld toured a medical facility at New Orleans' international airport. He spoke and shook hands with military and rescue officials but walked right by a dozen refugees lying on stretchers just feet away from him, most of them extremely sick or handicapped.

A total of 54,000 military personnel are now committed to relief efforts, including around 40,000 National Guard.

U.S. oil refineries in the Gulf area and offshore oil and gas platforms were slowly recovering from Katrina's impact, which has pushed gasoline prices to more than $3 a gallon.

Source: CRI/Reuters


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