NEW ORLEANS—President Bush sent in the cavalry Saturday, ordering 7,000 soldiers and Marines from elite units into New Orleans and the storm-splintered upper Gulf Coast as relief efforts gained traction as thousands of increasingly frail victims awaited rescue, relief and relocation.
"Many of our citizens simply are not getting the help they need and that is unacceptable ...," Bush said in an address from the White House Rose Garden. "We will not rest until we get this right and the job is done."
On the sixth day of disaster and despair, an urgent new problem erupted: disease. A suspected outbreak of dysentery compelled authorities in Biloxi, Miss., to hurriedly evacuate hundreds of people from a shelter. Medical experts have warned of epidemics sweeping through crowded, unsanitary shelters.
Authorities along the coast also complained of continuing neglect by the federal government. Donovan Scruggs, the director of community development for Ocean Springs, just east of Biloxi, said his city still didn't have a FEMA contact.
"Outside assistance from FEMA has been pretty much nonexistent," he said.
In New Orleans, significant progress was evident.
Thousands of evacuees finally left by air, bus and even train. Soon, a fleet of festively named cruise ships—including the Holiday, Sensation and Ecstasy of Carnival Cruise Lines—will join the operation, serving as the floating homes of about 8,000 evacuees for up to six months.
But daunting challenges persisted—and in many cases intensified.
Hundreds of people still squatted outside the Superdome, waiting for buses. Some people remained inside the battered, squalid arena, too ill to walk or even crawl out.
Thousands also remained outside the convention center, waiting for buses or for helicopters that landed every 10 minutes in a Vietnam-style evacuation operation. A new fire raged on a wharf perilously close to the French Quarter, raising another acrid pillar of smoke over the city.
Even those who boarded buses, choppers and ultimately trains from Amtrak or jetliners from major airlines did so without spare clothing, other possessions and, in some cases, relatives who became separated along the way. They also didn't know their destinations.
"Are we going to leave this hellhole to go to a similar hellhole? We don't know," said Tim Washington, a resident of the 9th Ward, who was watching over six nieces and nephews, an elderly woman and her 6-year-old niece outside the Superdome.
Worse, reports surfaced of buses packed with evacuees being turned away from shelters outside the disaster area.
New Orleans Council President Oliver Thomas said he spent the night with 200 people who were rejected by three shelters. "They were told, `Don't even get off the bus,'" he said.
The numbers are huge: 360,000 people in the region fed by the American Red Cross; an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 evacuees in the Houston area alone; at least 60,000 people requiring rescue in the disaster area.
An unknown number of victims remained trapped in the ruins of their homes—no food, no water—nearly a week after catastrophe struck a region nearly as large as the United Kingdom.
In one of many such episodes, officers from Louisiana's fish and wildlife agency rescued 125 people from a building next to Tulane University Hospital on Saturday. Five were critically ill and were airlifted out.
"The elderly people, they smiled with tears in their eyes and they said, `Thank you,'" said D. Hamilton Peterson, a federal official who rode with rescuers. "You could see the sense of relief in their eyes."
Other authorities spoke of an unrelenting torrent of the needy. Each time a group was shuttled out, another group appeared.
"More people continue showing up in places they (rescuers) weren't aware there were people," said Army Brig. Gen. Mark Graham, a leader of the federal task force. "There are people in apartment buildings and hotels. You can't count them until you start seeing them."
Across the nation, the ripple effects spread.
Gasoline stations in many states experienced panic buying or simply ran out of fuel. Many refiners and wholesalers rationed deliveries during a holiday weekend traditionally associated with automobile excursions.
And in the impact zone, new sights—awful sights—still materialized.
In Diamondhead, Miss., about halfway between Slidell, La., and Biloxi, Jimmie Brewer, an employee of the (Biloxi) Sun Herald, found this:
"The gated community of close to 9,000 residents is a scene of almost complete devastation. Neighbors are sharing generators, accounting for people and belongings as they can. ... To the south, a sheriff's department employee told me about pulling 15 bodies from homes on the south side of I-10."
The horror took its toll in countless ways.
Two New Orleans police officers shot and killed themselves, one Friday, one Saturday, according to Capt. Marlo Defillo, a police spokesman. "They're all taxed," he said. "But we're still going strong."
Bush, who's come under sharp attack by critics who slammed the relief effort as slow, uncoordinated and grossly insufficient, said that 21,000 National Guardsmen and 4,000 active- duty troops already were in the region.
On Saturday, he mustered 7,000 soldiers and Marines from the Army's 1st Calvary Division from Fort Hood, Texas, and 82nd Airborne Division from Fort Bragg, N.C., and the Marines' 1st Expeditionary Force from Camp Pendleton, Calif., and 2nd Expeditionary Force from Camp Lejeune, N.C.
All the units have seen extensive service in Iraq or Afghanistan in the last year.
Their new marching orders, here in the United States: Hit the ground within 72 hours, restore order and assist in efforts to recover from Hurricane Katrina, in nearly every way the worst natural disaster ever to strike the United States.
They'll be assigned first to New Orleans, then extend their influence elsewhere in the region that includes the shattered Mississippi cities of Biloxi and Gulfport, and many others.
"The enormity of the task requires more resources," Bush said. "In America we do not abandon our fellow citizens in their hour of need."
About 40,000 National Guard troops are on the ground or on the way.
Elsewhere across the stricken coast, relief efforts also intensified but still fell far short of meeting the needs of thousands of homeless people.
Agencies trying to assist hurricane victims were hampered by fuel shortages.
A day after the president stood in Biloxi and promised help, no government agency was there to erect tents for the homeless, and many officials criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agency, saying it seemed to focus on New Orleans at the expense of other areas.
"We've been running the show, but nobody here has any experience managing a disaster," said Scruggs, the official in Ocean Springs.
On the fuel front, a day after America's allies pledged 30 million barrels of gasoline and crude oil during the next 30 days, the federal government offered some better news on offshore oil production in the Gulf of Mexico.
The gulf accounts for about 10 percent of U.S. oil production or 2 million barrels a day. Katrina immediately knocked out all but 5 percent of the regional production, but facilities are coming back online daily and about 20 percent of the normal production was reported Saturday.
In a statement Saturday, Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said he's approved loans for 12.6 million barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the nation's emergency stockpile of about 700 million barrels of crude oil. The oil is already on the way to refineries, he said.
In New Orleans, scores of Army National Guard troops, fully armed and in full riot gear, patrolled the streets outside the convention center. New Orleans police, also in full battle gear, also were evident.
National Guard troops distributed bottles of water, military Meals Ready to Eat and other prepared food packets to the displaced residents. Some private volunteers arrived with vans full of help.
"We came here on our own and brought water and candy for the children," said Mark Kyle, 48, of Austin, Texas. "We brought 400 cases of bottled water. When we run out we'll go back and get some more."
Donna Bland, a New Orleans resident, said conditions had improved.
"I've been out here for four days," said Bland, 42, as she ate a military-issued meal of chicken soup and applesauce. "Things are getting better here, but it took them long enough to get here."
For others outside the convention center, waiting for a ride to take them away, it all still amounted to hell on earth. The body of a dead man draped in a black velvet sheet remained in the middle of the street outside the facility.
"I just want to leave here," said Shantrice Coleman, 23. "It's filthy, nasty and very unorganized."
What will happen next?
"I think I've seen the worst," said Beatrice Carter, 44, "but there's more to come."
(Nesmith of The Miami Herald and Douglas of Knight Ridder Newspapers' Washington Bureau reported from New Orleans; Merzer of The Miami Herald reported from Washington.
Also contributing to this report were Chris Adams of the Washington Bureau in New Orleans; Frances Robles of The Miami Herald in Baton Rouge, La; the staff of the Sun Herald in Biloxi and Gulfport; and Drew Brown, Frank Greve and Kevin Hall of the Washington Bureau.)
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): WEA-KATRINA
GRAPHIC (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20050903 KATRINA aid
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