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Katrina's victims flee the destruction of a once-proud city

NEW ORLEANS—Waves of disaster cascaded into new corners of America on Friday, as torrents of Hurricane Katrina's victims poured into Texas, Georgia, Florida and elsewhere, and fuel shortages and other economic shocks rippled through the nation.

More than 100,000 Americans huddled in nearly 300 shelters in nine states, according to the American Red Cross, not including the multitudes at the Superdome and Astrodome here and in Houston. Thousands of other people still couldn't reach shelters of any sort, and some were dying.

Reacting to blistering criticism of the relief effort, President Bush said: "The results are not acceptable."

National Guardsmen delivering food, water and at least the possibility of security finally streamed into pockets of the unimaginable misery that litter the sprawling region. They rolled into an environment that was hostile in every way, through angry groups of victims, under smoke from uncontrollable fires that veiled parts of the ravaged city with an acrid haze.

At one point and place in what increasingly resembled a war zone, a long convoy of military trucks—accompanied by armed soldiers in Humvees—navigated deeply flooded streets to reach thousands of defeated people trapped in the city's chaotic convention center.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we've got food and water on the way," Police Superintendent Eddie Compass told the restless crowd. "We need everybody to be gracious and cooperative."

Some of the needy shouted: "Thank you, Jesus." Others hurled slurs and insults.

At the city's Louis Armstrong International Airport, medical workers struggled to cope with thousands of sick and frail patients who found their way to terminals there. Some eventually were sent to distant hospitals, but hundreds remained on the floor, awaiting care and transfer.

Many died, and the airport's Concourse D—until Monday the local home of Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines—was converted into a makeshift morgue.

In an unprecedented move, federal officials mobilized more than a dozen airlines to deliver food to New Orleans and airlift up to 25,000 evacuees from the city to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.

The displaced arrived at the airport aboard helicopters that served as airborne ferries from the swamped city. The airlifts out of the area began at midday Friday and were expected to continue through the weekend.

"I spent the night without any sleep here at all," said Gerry Kaigler, 82, who found a spot in front of the JetBlue ticket counter. "It was not comfortable."

Said Michael Rieger, a spokesman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency: "They're coming in faster than we can get them out."

Escape didn't always mean the end of danger. A bus carrying evacuees overturned on Interstate 49 about 130 miles west of New Orleans. One man died; many people were injured.

With food and water scarce, if available at all, people across four states grew even more frantic and critics blasted the federal relief effort, calling it anemic, uncoordinated and agonizingly slow and tardy.

Four days after the Category 4 hurricane probably killed thousands, essentially destroyed New Orleans, bulldozed Biloxi, Gulfport and much of coastal Louisiana and Mississippi, and rendered millions homeless, President Bush toured the region and acknowledged the criticism.

"We have a responsibility to clean up this mess," he said during a stop in Mobile, Ala. "What is not working right, we're going to make it right."

The cleanup will take a long time. Engineers said they'd need more than two months just to drain the sweeping, muddy floods.

In Washington, Congress approved $10.5 billion in emergency hurricane relief. The development came as FEMA reported that it was spending more than $500 million a day on the response.

But the words and appropriations didn't immediately ease the situation, comfort the needy or silence the critics.

"It's too little too late," New Orleans Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson said. "This is our 9/11. Where's the world? C'mon, world."

The same resentment roiled among lines of people who were waiting to evacuate the Superdome.

"We fault the president," said Albert Sumlin, 45, who lost his home to floodwaters. "If something happened in Florida, he's going to fly in and help his brother, Jeb Bush. He would have made five trips, like he always does in Florida."

During a stop in east Biloxi, where Katrina leveled homes and stripped away all possible sources of shade, Bush disputed suggestions that the war in Iraq has stretched federal resources too thin.

"I just completely disagree with that," the president said. "We have a job to do with the war on terrorism and a job to do helping people on this coast. We'll do both. We've got what it takes to do more than one thing."

In nearby Gulfport, Red Cross and other relief workers were advised to bypass some of the hardest-hit areas because the danger was too great.

"There are gas leaks and stuff rotting all over the place," said Lt. Col. Johnny Sellers of the Mississippi National Guard. "We've got to get in here and clean it up before we can let the Red Cross in. People should not be living here."

But they were.

All of this could happen again. Soon.

Private hurricane expert William Gray, a professor at Colorado State University, noted that this particularly active hurricane season is only at the halfway point.

He predicted five named storms—four of which grow into hurricanes, including two major hurricanes with winds above 110 mph—during this month alone.

"Unfortunately, we are continuing the bad news by predicting above-average activity for September and October," Gray said.

On Friday, Tropical Storm Maria—the 14th named storm of the still-young season—formed in the distant Atlantic. It posed no immediate threat to land. The six-month season doesn't end until Nov. 30.

Meanwhile, areas Katrina had spared previously found themselves swept up in the storm's aftermath:

_In Houston, city officials prepared to open two convention centers to handle the overflow of evacuees who arrived at the Astrodome. Thousands of the newly displaced were diverted to San Antonio, Huntsville and Dallas. Elsewhere in Texas, officials in Austin and Fort Worth leapt into action.

_In Baton Rouge, La., officials feared that the city would burst at the seams, as more people arrived at shelters already filled beyond capacity. City officials said more than 40,000 people were in American Red Cross or private shelters. The population of East Baton Rouge Parish could rise from 415,000 to more than 600,000 and possibly even double, officials said.

_In Florida, the American Red Cross counted 1,114 storm-displaced residents in six shelters, and state officials said dozens of other shelters stood ready. Children from the impact zone streamed into Florida schools. In one day, the number registered for Florida schools doubled from 298 to more than 600.

Even as far away as Plantation, Fla., near Fort Lauderdale, evacuees ended up at Plantation United Methodist Church. Some were Gulf Coast residents who were on vacation in South Florida and now had no homes to which they could return.

Throughout the nation, the price of gasoline and other refined fuel products soared, and shortages flared in many places. Americans thousands of miles from the Gulf Coast canceled holiday weekend travel plans and worried about having enough fuel to get to work and school.

Federal officials prepared to release nearly a million barrels of oil a day from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to deal with the fuel situation, and—in a reversal of traditional roles—the nation's allies pledged to release at least 30 million barrels of their emergency reserves.

Some analysts said Katrina would slow the economy for the rest of the year, but then the rebuilding effort could stimulate the economy.

On the other hand, hurricane-related damages to farm-related businesses alone will cost more than $2 billion and could trigger an increase in food prices, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

In Louisiana, about 7,000 National Guardsmen, many of them just back from assignments in Iraq and elsewhere overseas, rolled in. Their primary mission: Restore order in a city that has descended into anarchy, with armed thugs roaming at will.

A commander noted that the troops were "highly proficient in the use of lethal force" and would use it if necessary. New Orleans police officers said they'd shot at least one looter Friday.

In one microcosm of the human suffering that seemed everywhere, one man shuffled around the Superdome, shoeless, his feet covered with plastic sleeves from military Meals Ready to Eat.

In another, a woman's body sprawled facedown in a puddle of water near the Superdome. She was wearing black shorts, a flowery-patterned top and a clip in her hair. No one knew how she died.

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(Bolstad of The Miami Herald and Douglas of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported from New Orleans and Merzer of The Miami Herald reported from Washington. Contributing to this report were Oscar Corral and Susannah A. Nesmith of The Miami Herald in New Orleans; Geoff Pender of The (Biloxi) Sun Herald in Biloxi; David Ovalle of The Miami Herald and Jay Root of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram in New Orleans; Bill Miller and David Wethe of the Star-Telegram in Houston; Gary Estwick of the Akron Beacon Journal in Louisiana; Mary Ellen Klas of The Miami Herald in Tallahassee; Diana Moskowitz of The Miami Herald in Plantation; and Kevin G. Hall.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): WEA-KATRINA

GRAPHICS (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): KATRINA

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