New Orleans was slowly turning back the floodwaters Tuesday as engineers fixed a major break in the protective levees ruptured by Hurricane Katrina, a calamity the mayor says may have killed 10,000.
Survivors living outside New Orleans got their first look at homes pounded by Katrina, which tore across the US Gulf Coast eight days ago with 225 kilometre-per-hour winds and a huge storm surge, exacting a grim toll in death and destruction.
More than a million people may have been driven from their homes - many perhaps permanently - with hundreds of thousands of evacuees taking refuge in shelters, hotels and private homes across the country following one of America's worst natural disasters.
US President George W. Bush, facing a political crisis amid the outcry over the sluggish federal response to the crisis, promised Katrina victims in Louisiana and Mississippi on Monday the country would "do what it takes" to help people get back on their feet.
The storm devastated New Orleans after the city's levees gave way a week ago and sent floodwaters pouring into the historic city, which is built below sea level.
The US Army Corps of Engineers said it plugged a big gap in the levees on Monday and was pumping water out of the city, a task it expects will take up to 80 days.
The Corps was also working to plug another major breach in the levees built to keep out the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, which nearly surround the city, spokesman John Hall said.
"We are proceeding very gently," Hall said. Engineers want to ensure the water being pumped out does not further damage the levee system and create a new breach.
Officials expected Louisiana's death toll to climb dramatically in coming days as bodies are found inside flooded New Orleans homes. In Mississippi, well over 100 deaths from Katrina had been confirmed, with many people unaccounted for.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said "it wouldn't be unreasonable" for his city's death toll to rise to 10,000. "I said thousands, some computer models said 10,000. I don't know what the number is but it's gonna be big and it's gonna shock the nation," he added Tuesday.
'This city has been destroyed'
Rescue teams in New Orleans were going house to house in boats, helicopters and military vehicles seeking people still stranded in their homes by floodwaters.
Police urged survivors who had not gotten out in mass evacuations before and after Katrina to leave the city, a long-time tourist mecca.
"There are no jobs. There are no homes to go to, no hotels to go to, there is absolutely nothing here," Deputy Police Chief Warren Riley said. "We advise people that this city has been destroyed, it has completely been destroyed."
Authorities were regaining control of New Orleans after days of violence and looting that shocked people in the United States and around the world. But the deputy police chief said only about 1,000 of the force's 1,641 officers were accounted for.
At least 240,000 people from Louisiana were taking shelter in neighbouring Texas, where Governor Rick Perry said the state could not handle any more of the influx and asked that new evacuees be airlifted to other states.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, harshly criticized for its response to Katrina, said Tuesday it would transport evacuees waiting at the New Orleans airport to five air bases across the country that had 4,000 beds available because of troops gone to Iraq. A spokesman said FEMA Director Michael Brown would assess the availability of more bases Tuesday.
Two cruise ships based in Galveston, Texas, were scheduled Tuesday to begin housing more than 4,000 evacuees staying at the Astrodome in Houston.
Pressure on Bush
Bush, who had admitted the results of early relief efforts were unacceptable, promised on Monday during his second trip to the devastated region: "If it's not right, we're going to fix it, and if it is right, we're going to keep doing it. And this is just the beginning of a huge effort."
Bush's fellow Republican, Senator Trent Lott of Mississippi, who lost his coastal Mississippi house in the hurricane, complained red tape was hampering relief efforts in his state.
Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada backed calls for a commission, like the one that examined the September 11, 2001, attacks, to study how the hurricane response went wrong.
Aaron Broussard, Jefferson Parish president, said Tuesday there were people still at risk in his community.
"Bureaucracy has murdered people in the greater New Orleans area and bureaucracy needs to stand trial before Congress today," he said." "So I'm asking Congress please investigate this now."
Ninety-six Britons missing
Ninety-six Britons are unaccounted for after last week's hurricane in the United States but there have been no confirmed reports of British casualties, the British Foreign Office said Tuesday.
British diplomats in the United States have flown to the southern states to assist Britons caught up in the disaster.
New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz, attracts many foreign tourists. Some have already returned to Britain, describing difficult conditions in the city after it was submerged.
Source: China Daily