Friday, September 02, 2005

Guardsmen greeted with applause, anger

The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Four days after Hurricane Katrina struck, the National Guard arrived in force Friday with food, water and weapons, churning through the floodwaters in a vast truck convoy with orders to retake the streets and bring relief to the suffering.

"The cavalry is and will continue to arrive," said Lt. Gen. Steven Blum of the National Guard.

At the New Orleans Convention Center, some of the thousands of storm victims awaiting their deliverance applauded, threw their hands heavenward and screamed, "Thank you, Jesus!" as the camouflage-green trucks and hundreds of soldiers arrived in this increasingly desperate and lawless city.

"Lord, I thank you for getting us out of here," said Leschia Radford.

But there was also anger and profane catcalls.

"Hell no, I'm not glad to see them. They should have been here days ago. I ain't glad to see 'em. I'll be glad when 100 buses show up," said 46-year-old Michael Levy, whose words were echoed by those around him yelling, "Hell, yeah! Hell yeah!"

"We've been sleeping on the ... ground like rats," Levy said. "I say burn this whole ... city down."

The soldiers' arrival-in-force came amid blistering criticism from the mayor and others who said the federal government had bungled the relief effort and let people die in the streets for lack of food, water or medicine.

"The people of our city are holding on by a thread," Mayor Ray Nagin warned in a statement to CNN. "Time has run out. Can we survive another night? And who can we depend on? Only God knows."

The military said its first priority was delivering food and water, after which it would begin evacuating people — something that could take days.

"As fast as we can, we'll move them out," said Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore. "Worse things have happened to America," he added. "We're going to overcome this, too. It's not our fault. The storm came and flooded the city."

In Washington, President Bush admitted "the results are not acceptable" and pledged to bolster the relief efforts. He visited the stricken Gulf Coast later in the day, and pledged in Mobile, Ala.: "What is not working right, we're going to make it right."

With a cigar-chomping general in the convoy's lead vehicle, the trucks rolled through muddy water up to their axles to reach the convention center, where 15,000 to 20,000 hungry and desperate refugees had taken shelter — many of them seething with anger so intense that it seemed ready to erupt in violence at any moment.

National Guardsmen carrying rifles and wearing camouflage gear also arrived at the Louisiana Superdome, walking in a long line past a vast crowd of bedraggled people fanning themselves miserably in the heat, waited to rescued from the heat, the filth and the gagging stench inside the stadium.

Flatbed trucks carried huge crates, pallets and bags of relief supplies. Soldiers sat in the backs of open-top trucks, their rifles pointing skyward.

At the convention center, New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass got a hero's welcome as he rode down the street on the running board of a box truck and announced through a bullhorn to thunderous applause: "We got 30,000 people out of the Superdome and we're going to take care of you."

"We've got food and water on the way. We've got medical attention on the way. We're going to get you out of here safely. We're going to get all of you," he said.

As he came down the road, elderly people gave thanks and some nearly fainted with joy. Compass also warned that if anyone did anything disruptive, the troops would have to they would have to stop distributing the food and water and get out.

On Thursday, at the convention center, corpses lay abandoned outside the building, and many storm refugees complained bitterly that they had been forsaken by the government. And at the Superdome, fights and fires broke out and storm victims battled for seats on the buses taking them to the Houston Astrodome.

Blum of the National Guard said 7,000 National Guardsmen arriving in Louisiana on Friday would be dedicated to restoring order in New Orleans. He said half of them had just returned from assignments overseas and are "highly proficient in the use of lethal force." He pledged to "put down" the violence "in a quick and efficient manner."

"But they are coming here to save Louisiana citizens. The only thing we are attacking is the effects of this hurricane," he said. Blum said that a huge airlift of supplies was landing Friday and that it signaled "the cavalry is and will continue to arrive."

As he left the White House for his visit to the devastated area, Bush said 600 newly arrived military police officers would be sent to the convention center to secure the site so that food and medicine could get there.

Earlier Friday, an explosion at a warehouse rocked a wide area of New Orleans before daybreak and jolted residents awake, lighting up the sky and sending a pillar of acrid gray smoke over a ruined city awash in perhaps thousands of corpses, under siege from looters, and seething with anger and resentment.
A second large fire erupted downtown in an old retail building in a dry section of Canal Street.

There were no immediate reports of injuries. But the fires deepened the sense of total collapse in the city since Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore Monday morning.

The explosion took place along the Mississippi River about 15 blocks from the French Quarter. It was about two miles from both the Louisiana Superdome and the New Orleans Convention Center. The cause of the blast was under investigation.

City officials have accused the government — namely the Federal Emergency Management Agency — of responding sluggishly.

"Get off your asses and let's do something," the mayor told WWL-AM Thursday night in a rambling interview in which he cursed, yelled and ultimately burst into tears. At one point he said: "Excuse my French — everybody in America — but I am pissed."

The National Guard arrived in force after law and order had all but broken down.

Over the past few days, police officers turned in their badges. Rescuers, law officers and medical-evacuation helicopters were shot at by storm victims. Fistfights and fires broke out at the hot and stinking Superdome as thousands of people waited in misery to board buses for the Houston Astrodome. Corpses lay out in the open in wheelchairs and in bedsheets. The looting continued.

Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said FEMA just learned about the situation at the convention center Thursday and quickly scrambled to provide food, water and medical care and remove the corpses.

Some of New Orleans' most troubled hospitals, facing dwindling supplies of food, water and medicine, resumed evacuations Friday. Rescuers finally made it into Charity Hospital, the largest public hospital and trauma center in the city, where gunshots thwarted efforts on Thursday to evacuate more than 250 patients.

"We moved all of the babies out of Charity this morning," said Keith Simon, spokesman for Acadian Ambulance Service.

While floodwaters in New Orleans appeared to stabilize, efforts continued to plug three breaches in the levees that protect this bowl-shaped, below-sea-level city, which is wedged between Lake Pontchartrain and the Mississippi River.

Helicopters dropped sandbags into the breach and pilings were being pounded into the mouth of the canal Thursday to close its connection to the lake.

Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, said engineers are developing a plan to create new breaches in the levees so that a combination of pumping and the effects of gravity will drain the water out of the city. Removing the floodwaters will take weeks, he said.


Associated Press reporters Adam Nossiter, Brett Martel, Emily Wagster Pettus, Robert Tanner and Mary Foster contributed to this report.

Snoopitorial: Lack of Common Damm Sense!

How many of you out there saw this disaster coming. Oh, let’s get real, you might have taken a glance at the TV as it passed South Florida, but you did not give a shit.
As it churned throughout the Gulf of Mexico did any of you have a clue, were you paying attention?
C’mon, some of you claim to be so damm smart, worldly in your knowledge, supremely confident that your I.Q could surpass the average human being.
But after some self assessment you might (if you’re honest) find that shit!, I’m not as smart as I think I am. I do not know as much about this world or this country its pitfalls and shortcomings. And most of all how hopelessly divided we still are as a nation.
Hmmmm, how come the government did not react faster? Because the government is you stupid!
Government is only going to perform to the level of expectation that we set for it.
Yes, our standards are not very high. However, if you are going to focus on Bush you had better go all the way down the chain of command on this one.
Now we have all of this hand wringing blaming the President, particularly the idiot governor of Louisiana and the Mayor who has not been seen since this disaster occurred.
This fucken coward abandoned his city and his constituents. Governor Blanco has been seen crying on TV, whining and engaging in partisan politics blaming the Bush administration for what you see unfolding.
I posted the series of items below to illustrate that this disaster was not a shock or surprise. Everybody in the chain of command knew this would happen. Every presidential administration, State, Parish, City official over the last 30 plus years KNEW this day would come.
And some of you semi functioning idiots are out there saying that Bush pulled this Hurricane out of his ass, and HE is responsible. Lack of simple common sense.
I am certainly not defending Bush, but I have enough fucken common sense to know that he can’t do a damm thing without his advisors telling him what needs to be done.
Yes heads should roll, every damm where, that is a given. What is unfolding down there is embarrassing.
However, the same level of apathy some of you engage in every damm day is the same kind of apathy and idiocy that is prevalent throughout our various government entities today.
Yes we set our sites on the Prez because he is an easy target. However, those of you focusing so much at the prez better be taking a more critical look at the State of Louisiana.
You better be paying closer attention to your own hometown and state government officials.
Could this level of dereliction of duty manifest itself in your hometown or state?
On the other hand, let’s get real. Do you even know who your mayor is, county officials, state representative, state Senator?
Oh shit you are NOT as smart as you thought.

'To Me, It Just Seems Like Black People Are Marked'

By Wil Haygood
Washington Post Staff Writer

BATON ROUGE, La., Sept. 1 -- It seemed a desperate echo of a bygone era, a mass of desperate-looking black folk on the run in the Deep South. Some without shoes.

It was high noon Thursday at a rest stop on the edge of Baton Rouge when several buses pulled in, fresh from the calamity of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

Hundreds piled out, dragging themselves as if floating through some kind of thick liquid. They were exhausted, some crying.

"It was like going to hell and back," said Bernadette Washington, 38, a black homemaker from Orleans Parish who had slept under a bridge the night before with her five children and her husband. She sighed the familiar refrain, stinging as an old-time blues note: "All I have is the clothes on my back. And I been sleeping in them for three days."

While hundreds of thousands of people have been dislocated by Hurricane Katrina, the images that have filled the television screens have been mainly of black Americans -- grieving, suffering, in some cases looting and desperately trying to leave New Orleans. Along with the intimate tales of family drama and survival being played out Thursday, there was no escaping that race had become a subtext to the unfolding drama of the hurricane's aftermath.

"To me," said Bernadette Washington, "it just seems like black people are marked. We have so many troubles and problems."

"After this," her husband, Brian Thomas, said, "I want to move my family to California."

He was holding his 2-year-old, Qadriyyah, in his left arm. On Thomas's right hand was a crude bandage. He had pushed the hand through a bedroom window on the night of the hurricane to get to one of his children.

"He had meat hanging off his hand," his wife said. They live -- lived -- on Bunker Hill Road in Orleans Parish, a mostly black section of New Orleans.

When the hurricane hit, Thomas, a truck driver, said he came home from work, looked at every one of the people he loves, and stood in the middle of the living room. Thinking. He's the Socrates in the family -- but time was running out.

"I only got a five-passenger car," he said.

"Chevy Cavalier," said his wife.

"And," Thomas continued, "I stood there, thinking. I said, 'Okay, it's 50-50 if the water will get through.' "

Within hours the water rose, and it kept rising.

"But then I said, 'If we do take the car, some of us would be sitting on one another's laps.' And the state troopers were talking about making arrests."

Instead, he pushed the kids out a window. They scooted to the roof, some pulling themselves up with an extension cord.

"The rain was pouring down so hard," Washington said. "And we had a 3-month-old and a 2-year-old."

The 3-month-old, Nadirah, was sleeping in her mother's arms. "All I had was water to give her," said Washington, her voice breaking, her other children sitting on the concrete putting talcum power inside their soaked sneakers. "She's premature," she went on, about the 3-month-old. "She came May 22. Was supposed to be here July 11. I had her early because I have high blood pressure. Had to have her by C-section."

Bernadette Washington was suddenly worried about her blood pressure medicine. She reached inside her purse. "Look," she said. "All the pills are stuck together."

Both parents had been thinking about the hurricane, the aftermath, the looting, the politicians who might come to Louisiana and who might not. And their own holding-on lives, now jangly like bedsprings suddenly snapped.

"It says there'll come a time you can't hide. I'm talking about people. From each other," Bernadette Washington said.

Thomas, the philosopher, waved his bandaged hand. He had a theory: "God's angry with New Orleans. It's an evil city. The worst school system anywhere. Rampant crime. Corrupt politicians. Here, baby, have a potato chip for daddy."

The 2-year-old, Qadriyyah, took a chip from her daddy and gobbled it up. Her face was covered with mosquito bites. But she smiled just to be in daddy's arms.

Thomas continued: "A predominantly black city -- and they're killing each other. God had to get their attention with a calamity. New Orleans ain't seen an earthquake yet. You can get away from a hurricane but not an earthquake. Next time, nobody may get out."

In the middle of the storm, little Ernest Washington, 9, had grown into a hero.

Washington and Thomas consider Ernest, Bernadette's nephew, their own now. They adopted him after his mother, Donna Marie Washington, died not long ago of AIDS.

"She was a runaway," said Washington, able to sound sorrowful for the child even in her current straits. "She had run away when she was 14. We don't know how she got the AIDS."

While Thomas was figuring his family's fate that first night, little Ernest bolted to the rooftop.

He had fashioned a white flag on a piece of stick, and began waving. "That is one courageous boy," Thomas said.

A helicopter passed them by. A National Guard unit passed them by.

"Black National Guard unit, too," piped in Warren Carter, Washington's brother-in-law.

In the South, the issue of race -- black, white -- always seems as ready to come rolling off the tongue as a summer whistle. A black Guard unit, passing them by. Something Carter won't soon forget.

Before long the whole family, watching the water rise, made it to the roof. Three men in a boat -- "two black guys and an Arab," Washington said -- rode by and left some food on the roof of a van parked nearby. Ernest went and retrieved the food.

"A little hustler he is," Thomas said.

"Child [is] something else," Washington said.

It took two days for a helicopter to fetch them. They were delivered not to some kind of shelter, but to a patch of land beneath a freeway.

"I thought we were going to die out there," Bernadette Washington said. "We had to sleep on the ground. Use the bathroom in front of each other. Laying on that ground, I just couldn't take it. I felt like Job."

Then, somehow, a bus, and then Baton Rouge. At that moment, a lady -- white -- came by the rest stop and handed her some baby items.

"Bless you," Washington said.

That exchange forced something from Warren Carter: "White man came up to me little while ago and offered me some money. I said thank you, but no thanks. I got money to hold us over. But it does go to show you that racism ain't everywhere."

Under the hot sun, Brian Thomas was staring into an expanse of open air. They expected another relative to arrive soon and assist them in continuing their exodus.