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Monday, September 05, 2005

In The Wake of Katrina

America's Shoot To Kill Policy On Its Own Citizens

At least five people have reportedly been shot dead by police in the US city of New Orleans, where a massive effort is underway to aid hurricane survivors.

The incident started when contractors escorted by officers were shot at while crossing a bridge.

The US government earlier announced it had restored order in New Orleans, six days after Hurricane Katrina brought flood waters and anarchy to the city.

The government has been accused of acting too slowly to save lives.

US Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt has said the death toll from Katrina would be in its thousands - the first such acknowledgement by a federal official.

New Orleans Deputy Police Chief WJ Riley said the shooting took place while 14 contractors were crossing the Danziger Bridge under police escort.

The contractors came under fire from a group of armed thugs and police officers shot back, killing at least five of them.

None of the contractors was killed.

Security forces have moved to restore security in New Orleans, following a breakdown of law and order in the wake of Katrina.

New Orleans had descended into anarchy as corpses lay abandoned in street medians, fights and fires broke out, cops turned in their badges and the governor declared war on looters who have made the city a menacing landscape of disorder and fear.

"They have M-16s and they're locked and loaded," Gov. Kathleen Blanco had said of 300 National Guard troops who landed in New Orleans fresh from duty in Iraq last Thursday. "These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so, and I expect they will."

Images of mostly white police officers and soldiers standing back emotionlessly and watching the starving black population struggling to find the most basic of amentities, while on the other hand actively shooting down looters is an image America will be hard pressed to forget.

America Calls For Help

The US has given the EU and Nato a list of specific emergency aid it needs for the relief operation.

American officials have asked for blankets, first aid kits, water trucks and food.

An EU Environment Commissioner said the union was ready to offer whatever assistance it could, while Nato said it too was ready to help.

'Ugly scene'

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said troops had secured the city and full relief operations were underway.

In a series of interviews, Mr Chertoff defended the government's response to the disaster amid allegations that it reacted too slowly.

Even though the topic of a Category 4 type hurricane hitting New Orleans had been discussed as a "Doomsday" scenario, and there had been drills last year, it seems that such preparations had not been enough. The issue of logistics and communication via the states and the federal government will need to be re-thought.

He said the magnitude of the hurricane and flood was beyond all expectations, and had "exceeded the foresight of the planners and maybe anybody's foresight".

As an eerie silence falls over New Orleans, the search for bodies moved to the forefront following rescue operations that have seen thousands evacuated from the city, Mr Chertoff warned of grim days ahead, with house-to-house searches.

"It is going to be about as ugly a scene as you can imagine," he told Fox News.

He said that with the additional National Guard and regular troops sent to New Orleans, there was "no question... we've secured the city", following an outbreak of lawlessness that saw looting and reports of murders and rapes of young boys, girls and women.

City Deserted

Thousands of people have finally been evacuated from the New Orleans Superdome complex, a rallying point for survivors that saw thousands left for days in squalid and dangerous conditions.

Up to 40 aircraft flew around the clock to move the survivors to safety.

The BBC's James Coomarasamy in New Orleans says huge swathes of the city remain completely submerged describing it as a "Venice from hell" while, in other areas, the streets are deserted.

He says on the main inter-state highway, convoys of speeding emergency vehicles share space with small groups of people pushing their belongings in shopping trolleys and hoping for a lift to safety.

More than one million people are said to have been displaced from their homes in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Most of them are in Texas, Tennessee, Indiana and Arkansas.

New Orleans evacuee Phillip Holt, 51, summed up his anger against a government he believes failed him badly. "The first few days were a natural disaster, the last four days were a man-made disaster," he said.

Images courtesy of BBC News.

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