ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina is becoming clearer by the hour. Over a hundred people are missing and presumed dead in Mississippi. New Orleans' mayor said today he fears the death toll in his city could be in the thousands. The relief effort now under way is likely to be one of the largest, if not the largest, in American history. Navy ships are heading to the Gulf Coast, and the Pentagon has mobilized 21,000 National Guardsmen. President Bush spoke earlier today in the Rose Garden.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: The folks on the Gulf Coast are going to need the help of this country for a long time. This is going to be a difficult road. The challenges that we face on the ground are unprecedented. But there's no doubt in my mind we're going to succeed.
SIEGEL: As living conditions worsen, authorities in New Orleans have decided to completely evacuate the city. NPR's John Burnett has our report.
JOHN BURNETT reporting:
The images from this shattered city today look like something from a refuge crisis in a faraway nation. From every side of the city, they came in long, ragged lines dragging suitcases, pushing shopping carts, carrying babies, trudging for miles through waist-deep floodwater, walking along elevated highways.
Ms. DANIELLE CLAYBORN(ph): I'm walking from New Orleans east.
BURNETT: Danielle Clayborn is a 29-year-old medical assistant whose house in the 8th Ward is flooded. She and a large group of friends and family were slowly making their way toward the Superdome, where they hope to be evacuated.
Ms. CLAYBORN: We went across the river. They told us not to come across the river; to go to the Superdome to catch the bus to go to Texas. Now they're telling us that we can't come into the Superdome and to go back to where we came from. This is three different stories. We're tired. We are walking. We're hot.
BURNETT: Trailing behind the group was Brenda Smith, a heavyset woman sweating under the tropical sun.
Ms. BRENDA SMITH: I have a bad heart. I ain't got no business traveling like this.
BURNETT: Even in the past 24 hours, conditions have deteriorated sharply. This morning all water pressure in the city failed, meaning there is now no water for drinking, flushing, bathing or fire protection. The power grid has been dead since Monday morning when the hurricane hit. Cell phones and many land lines are out. Even police in New Orleans and throughout southeastern Louisiana report difficulty communicating across precincts.
Lataya Solomon(ph) and 13 members of her extended family had just left her flooded home on Liberty Street in uptown New Orleans. She walked along St. Charles Avenue between huge live oak limbs lying on the street.
Ms. LATAYA SOLOMON: Look at our tree. Now I don't have nothing to look at. We need some help. They need to do something. This ain't going to work. We can't even survive. We don't have nothing to drink, nothing to eat, nowhere to go, nothing to do. What are we supposed to do? I mean, they gotta do something.
Unidentified Woman: And they turned the water off in the house.
Ms. SOLOMON: I mean, the water's off, the light's off. Everything's flooded. Everything's soaking wet. We can't eat, we can't cook. No stores ain't open.
BURNETT: Though most of the storm refugees are poor, Hurricane Katrina had a leveling effect. Anybody left in the city faced the same conditions. Even if they had money, there was no place to spend it for food, water or a ride to Baton Rouge an hour away, where the lights are on. Patrick O'Keefe, a 55-year-old maritime lawyer, was walking down Magazine Street carrying a black suitcase and looking for a way out of the city.
Mr. PATRICK O'KEEFE (Maritime Lawyer): The advice is getting to be clearer and clearer that we're going to have to get out because the city will have to be abandoned in the near term. I don't think--from what I've been hearing, I don't think it's going to be inhabitable for another month or two. And that means no air conditioning, no power, no telephone, no water, no food, pretty much subsistence living in sort of a tribal fashion.
BURNETT: This morning Lake Pontchartrain, the immense brackish lake north of New Orleans, finally stopped draining out of a two-block-long breach in a levee. Residents say the water rose a foot or two overnight, but now it's finally leveled off. The climbing water level prompted officials to evacuate three downtown hospitals, whose emergency generators were reportedly swamped. The phone company also faced an emergency. At midmorning Nick DiGiovanni(ph), area manager for engineering at BellSouth, stood downtown at the corner of Poydras and Barone looking at a new urban canal.
Mr. NICK DiGIOVANNI (BellSouth): We have several of our workers who stayed to maintain the switches for BellSouth. And now the water has gotten so deep that it's overwhelmed the sump pumps, and now we have to get them out.
BURNETT: One of the rescuers he would depend on was Marty Bordelon, a 55-year-old oil industry worker from Marksville, Louisiana. He had pulled his 15-foot fishing boat from the city of Lafayette early this morning, along with scores of other sportsmen turned rescuers.
Mr. MARTY BORDELON: I mean, I ain't never seen so many boats and stuff in one parking lot. And so here we are just trying to help, man. You know, you always see a disaster and you always say, `Well, if I could just help somebody.' And my wife told me yesterday--she says, `Dear,' she says, `if you can go and just help one person, just one person,' she said, `it's worth it.' I said, `Well, then we're going.'
BURNETT: The state police announced yesterday that it was sending special forces into New Orleans to curtail the widespread looting. One Jefferson Parish police officer, who wouldn't give his name, said he personally would not stop anyone from breaking into a supermarket because people are desperate and hungry. There were, however, pickups spotted racing through the streets carrying television sets and other non-essential survival items. As one resident said, somebody better do something because things are getting medieval here. John Burnett, NPR News, New Orleans.
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