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Sunday, September 04, 2005

New Orleans In Flood Of Tears

The Rescue Sevice Is The Real Disaster

As the American Commander-in-chief George W. Bush tries to quell the political backlash, and the rescue service finally speeds up, mothers scrape out their babies' nappies so they may be used again.

At the New Orleans' Superdome stadium, refugees describe piles of faeces, knee-high, after the toilets overflowed and people were forced to relieve themselves on staircases.

At least seven bodies are scattered outside the city's convention centre.

People sheltering at New Orleans' main refuges say they have been robbed of their humanity.

"We pee on the floor. We are like animals," 25-year-old Taffany Smith told the Los Angeles Times, cradling her three-week-old son in the Superdome stadium.

Up to 20,000 refugees from the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Katrina have been corralled into each building.

This is where they were told to come, but the authorities were woefully unprepared for the arrival of such numbers, who include the very young, the very old, and the very infirm.

Most of the tens of thousands that took shelter at the Superdome have now been taken to safety, but tales are being leaked of rape, murder and suicide.

Faith In A Proud Nation Left Bedraggled By The Storm

For days the refugees have been without adequate electricity, sanitation, or food supplies waiting to be taken from what many describe as a scene from hell.

All who have been inside the Superdome speak of the pervading stench of human waste.

Amid the deteriorating conditions at both refuges, horrific stories are emerging.

At the Superdome there were two reports of rape, one involving a child, while police at the convention centre said there had been similar reported incidents.

British tourist Peter Henry, 20, recently rescued and evacuated to Texas, tearfully told BBC news of threats of rape and violence. Peter described his five days of hell in the Superdome at New Orleans.

"By Tuesday night, you'd heard of suicides....I honestly didn't think I'd wake up Wednesday morning." Clearly traumatised, he spoke of sweeping up blood and helping the infirm.

His father, who flew to America from England to be runited with his son claims that they had been deserted by the British Consulate.

Others described what it was like to live among the dead.

"We got dead bodies sitting next to us for days. I feel like I am going to die. People are going to kill you for water," Thomas Jessie, a 31-year-old roofer, told the AFP news agency after spending the night in the convention centre.

Across an area that spans larger than Great Britan, help eventually came, but many say a little too late. Things are getting better, but it would be foolish to think that the problems are solved. Concerns have also been raised about the lack of effort to restore law and order.

The very nature of the region is changing as the world watches the two very different faces of America. Showing the wide division between the "haves" and the "have nots", the mainly white middle classes easily rescued themselves, while the mostly black poor Americans holed up in evacuation hostels waited for a rescue which came nearly a week later.

It does seem the administration was unbelievably slow. People in the richest country in the world were still starving 4 days after the hurricane, compared to the tsunami disaster last year when food aid was being dropped to the worst regions 48 hours after the disaster struck.

The slow evacuation has only contributed to tensions. The head of the city's emergency operations, Terry Ebbert, warned it had become an "incredibly explosive situation".

"This is a national emergency. This is a national disgrace," he said.

At the Superdome, fighting and gunshots broke out in the long desperate line of people waiting for the chance to board one of the school buses deployed to take them away.

Medical evacuations from the Superdome on Thursday were temporarily disrupted after a gun shot was fired at a rescue helicopter.

Meanwhile people continued to arrive, many wading through water to get there. Their homes destroyed, they have nowhere else to go.

By Thursday evening, 11 hours after the evacuation began, the stadium had 10,000 more people than it did at dawn.

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