In New Orleans, Floods and Looting Spread Flood waters are rising in New Orleans, which remains without power after being hit by Hurricane Katrina Monday. Phone service is also largely down, and looting is taking place in several areas. Fallout from the storm has prompted President Bush to return to the White House two days ahead of schedule.
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In New Orleans, Floods and Looting Spread

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In New Orleans, Floods and Looting Spread

In New Orleans, Floods and Looting Spread

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

The storm clouds are gone, and the sun came out today along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Mississippi. What the light revealed was the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina. Whole communities have been wiped out, and there are varying estimates of the death toll. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour spoke a short time ago to reporters on a conference call. He said as many as 80 people have died in one county alone. One thing everyone agrees on is that the numbers will grow. Earlier in the day Governor Barbour flew over the Gulf region to survey damage.

Governor HALEY BARBOUR (Republican, Mississippi): Just cannot imagine the destruction, particularly between the beach and the railroads. I would say 90 percent of the structures between the beach and the railroad in Biloxi, Gulfport, Long Beach, Pass Christian are totally destroyed. They're not severely damaged; they're simply not there.

BLOCK: The city of Gulfport is littered with cargo containers and other debris that came in from the harbor. Rescue crews spent the day pulling hundreds of people from rooftops. We'll have an update from Mississippi in a few minutes.

SIEGEL: First to New Orleans, where the situation has gone from bad to worse. Yesterday city officials expressed relief that the city had not been inundated, but today they realized the crisis may be just beginning as the waters began to rise and kept on rising. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco says the devastation is greater than her worst fears.

Governor KATHLEEN BLANCO (Democrat, Louisiana): This is not going to be an easy time for any of our citizens who've been affected in southeast Louisiana by the dimension--by this storm. The dimensions are unfathomable.

SIEGEL: Levees have been breached, and officials say residents who remain in the city should get out while there is still a road to safety. NPR's Greg Allen is in downtown New Orleans.

GREG ALLEN reporting:

That the water is still rising was something many residents in New Orleans this morning had already figured out for themselves. Late yesterday and again today authorities and the emergency radio station operating in the city heard time and again from people who said their neighborhoods, dry through the worst of the hurricane, were now beginning to flood. Albertine Arseneau(ph) lives in the B.W. Cooper Housing Project, an aging complex of two-story brick buildings. She was one of many out this morning surveying the rising floodwaters.

Ms. ALBERTINE ARSENEAU (New Orleans Resident): Last night when I went to bed, I didn't have no water in front of my door.

Unidentified Woman #1: We didn't have no water out here.

Unidentified Woman #2: At all. No water.

Ms. ARSENEAU: This morning when I woke up my house has water in it. I'm in the next block, the 3600 block. I have water.

Unidentified Woman #3: What floor are you on?

Ms. ARSENEAU: I'm on the first--my apartment is--like, it's the first and second. I'll have to spend the night on the second floor if I stay the night. I don't know how to swim.

Unidentified Man: (Shouting) Nick! Nicholas! Oh, Nicholas!

ALLEN: Today many residents who weathered Katrina were gathering their belongings and their children, doing whatever they could to get out of the city. Emergency officials said those who can't get out of the city should evacuate to the Superdome, where thousands of people have gathered since Sunday night for shelter. But some, like Gloria Simms, said no matter what authorities say, they're not leaving their homes.

Ms. GLORIA SIMMS (New Orleans Resident): I've never evacuated. This is a strong project. It's a strong development, you know? And these bricks hold up good. So I don't intend to go anywhere. You know, what's going to happen going to happen anyway. I don't think it's going to rise two stories high.

ALLEN: Jefferson Parish emergency management chief Walter Maestri says because of the two levees that have been breached, water is pouring in from a canal and from Lake Pontchartrain. Engineers are trying to determine where else water may be coming from and how to deal with it. One part of the problem, Maestri says, is that so much of the pumping system which New Orleans depends on is still offline.

Mr. WALTER MAESTRI (Jefferson Parish Emergency Management Chief): This community lives in a bowl. The bowl didn't fill immediately with the storm because the tidal surge was slightly to the east of us, the major tidal surge. However, it appears that now the bowl is beginning to fill, not rapidly but slowly.

ALLEN: Throughout New Orleans the scene is one of almost total chaos. There's no power. Trees, debris and rising water make many roads impassable. Police and emergency officials are overwhelmed. On Earhart Boulevard, not far from the Superdome, a man lay on the side of the road today dead, his body covered by plastic sheeting. Residents said police said they'd handle it later. Throughout the city looting is rampant.

(Soundbite of shouting and a dog barking)

ALLEN: At the Walgreens Drug Store at Felicity and St. Charles Avenue, a man smashed the plate glass door. People lined up to get in. Many emerged carrying toilet paper, diapers and other goods. Nearby a man pushed a shopping cart filled with groceries; on top was a case of beer. Elsewhere, some bars stood open, and people sat inside pouring themselves drinks.

Some residents and parish officials complained yesterday that aid agencies had not yet arrived on the scene. Officials with the Red Cross said they were responding with their largest mobilization ever for a natural disaster. Louisiana's governor, Kathleen Blanco, said there was no count yet of how many are dead, but it's certain that many lives were lost. The biggest priority, she said, remains search and rescue. For Louisiana, she said, Hurricane Katrina was a tragedy greater than many had ever seen in their lifetimes.

With rising floodwaters, a concern motivating many in New Orleans is that there may soon no longer be a way by land out of the city. The causeway over Lake Pontchartrain was destroyed, and bridges on Interstate 10 going east were also knocked out by the hurricane. That leaves just one route out, and today many in New Orleans are scrambling to take it. Greg Allen, NPR News, New Orleans.

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