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Homeland Security

Hurricane Katrina - Week 2

Hurricane Katrina - Monday 05 September 2005

A week after the hurricane struck, search and rescue efforts continued, with stranded storm victims being plucked one by one off rooftops in the hard-hit city of New Orleans. Hundreds-of-thousands of people are displaced, and many towns are piles of rubble and debris.

US Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Mike Rogers said it will take many more days of hard work to get all the floodwater out of the city. "Our maximum number right now is 80 [days], after the pumps are repaired," he said. "If we get more capability, that number will be shorter. We are doing everything we can to get the maximum capability from around the world to pump the water out."

A week after Hurricane Katrina struck city of New Orleans, the US Army Corps of Engineers plugged the levee break that swamped much of the city and floodwaters began to recede, but drainage will take nearly three months in some neighborhoods.

Sheets of metal and repeated helicopter drops of 3,000-pound sandbags along the 17th Street canal leading to Lake Pontchartrain succeeded Monday in plugging a 200-foot-wide gap, which opened at the height of the hurricane and flooded 80 percent of the city up to 20 feet deep. The water was being pumped from the canal back into the lake. Once the canal level is drawn down two feet, Pumping Station 6 can begin pumping water out of the bowl-shaped city.

Some parts of the city already showed slipping floodwaters as the repair neared completion, with the low-lying Ninth Ward dropping more than a foot. In downtown New Orleans, some streets were merely wet rather than swamped.

Many of the 460,000 residents of suburban Jefferson Parish waited in a line of cars that stretched for miles to briefly see their flooded homes, and to scoop up soaked wedding pictures, baby shoes and other cherished mementoes.

Since many New Orleans streets are still filled with stagnant, fetid waters smelling of garbage and raw sewage, the military was considering using planes to spray for mosquitoes. Standing water could become a breeding ground for the mosquitoes, which could lead to a widespread outbreak of diseases such as the West Nile virus.

Some 15,000 people have filled up the Houston Astrodome in Texas. There are estimates of a quarter of a million displaced people in that southwestern state. Despite concerns by local and federal officials about providing care for so many people, a steady caravan of buses continues to arrive in Houston. Many of those who have already sought shelter there, but are well enough to travel, are being relocated to other cities, such as Phoenix, Arizona. Several planes began arriving there Sunday.

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin warned that "it wouldn't be unreasonable to have 10,000" dead in the city. Between 400 and 500 officers of New Orleans' 1,600-member police force were unaccounted for. Some were thought to have fled the city with their families. New Orleans Deputy Police Superintendent W.J. Riley estimated fewer than 10,000 people remained in the city. He said that some of them did not want to leave their homes, - while others remained to engage in criminal activities, such as looting.

Hurricane Katrina - Sunday 04 September 2005

Thousands of soldiers, state and local police and private volunteers continue the massive effort to aid people stricken by Hurricane Katrina on the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast. The effort is especially intense in New Orleans, where the situation is complicated by flood waters contaminated by petrochemicals, sewage and dead bodies.

Police in the hurricane-stricken city of New Orleans on Sunday shot several armed men who fired on workers who were trying to repair levees. More than two hundred officers from the 1,700-person police force had walked off the job and many others were too tired or demoralized to work effectively. At least two officers had committed suicide in recent days. Recovery crews are operating out of several staging areas around the city and tens of thousands of evacuees are crowded into shelters in those areas and all across the region.

Recovery crews are going in and out of the city trying to get people out and help those still there, close to 60 thousand people, according to Mayor Ray Nagin. Many of the evacuees are being taken to neighboring states. Nearly 100,000 have found shelter in Texas, while relief workers are bringing in beds for the displaced in Louisiana and Mississippi, the two states hardest hit.

Federal officials have acknowledged what state and local officials have been saying in recent days: that the death toll in New Orleans is likely to be in the thousands. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said the death toll from Hurricane Katrina will likely be in the thousands. Mr. Leavitt, who gave the estimate in an CNN television interview, is the first Bush administration official to acknowledge the death toll from Katrina might be that high.

Rescue workers say their focus now is on the living, not the dead. Officials say no one knows how many people were killed in the disaster, but they are prepared for fatalities in the range of one thousand to two thousand.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said there will be more grisly signs of Katrina's devastation in the days to come. "I think we need to prepare the country for what's coming. What's going to happen when we de-water and remove the water from New Orleans is, we are going to uncover people who have died, maybe hiding in houses, got caught by the flood, people whose remains are going to be found in the streets. There is going to be pollution. It is going to be about as ugly a scene as you can imagine," he said.

Hurricane Katrina - Saturday 03 September 2005

Military vehicles with food and supplies continued to flow into New Orleans, as the exodus continues from the city devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Local officials continue to criticize the pace of the federal response, and President Bush promised more help.

Federal officials urged patience, but frustrations ran high in New Orleans, where many who were too poor to leave the city at their own expense are still waiting to be bussed out. Thousands remain at several sites, including the city's convention center, where many are spending their fifth day.

In a radio address Saturday, President Bush acknowledged problems and promised more help. He said more than 21,000 National Guard troops are in Louisiana and Mississippi, and that 7,000 more troops are being dispatched to the region. He spoke of the scope of the challenge.

"The magnitude of responding to a crisis over a disaster area that is larger than the size of Great Britain has created tremendous problems that have strained state and local capabilities," said George W. Bush. "The result is that many of our citizens simply are not getting the help they need, especially in New Orleans, and that is unacceptable."

Thousands of angry, exhausted and desperate storm victims gained a measure of deliverance as the evacuation of New Orleans continued and troops poured in to restore order after almost a week of near-anarchy. By evening, significant progress had been made clearing the Superdome and the city's convention center, two potentially dangerous flash points of anger where as many as 50,000 people had spent five grueling days since Hurricane Katrina struck.

Having largely emptied the cavernous Superdome, which had become a squalid pit of misery and violence, officials turned their attention to the convention center, where people waited to be evacuated as corpses rotted in the streets. The death toll in the city is not known, but the dying continues as people succumb to illness, exhaustion and days without food and water.

Search-and-rescue operations continued throughout New Orleans. State officials said thousands more remained trapped in the city and a full evacuation could take weeks. Almost 13,000 Coast Guard personnel were in the city performing search-and-rescue operations and another 3,000 were expected to join them Monday [05 September 2005]. At the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, about 1,000 people - tired and dirty from living for days on the sidewalks outside the center - were loaded into air-conditioned buses in the first two hours of the evacuation operation Saturday morning. An estimated 25,000 people had been waiting for help outside the center.

Louis Armstrong International Airport served as a massive clearing house for some of the storm's sickest victims Saturday. Military and Coast Guard helicopters flew a steady stream of evacuees from hospitals and rooftops to the airport southwest of downtown. Inside the four triage tents, medical personnel tended to people who had gone for days without their medication, some of whom were not lucid enough to describe their ailments.

Officials say 42,000 people were evacuated on Saturday, including everyone who had gathered at New Orleans' football stadium and convention center. But thousands of people remain trapped in buildings surrounded by floodwaters, six days since the hurricane hit. Meanwhile, corpses have been sighted on porches, sidewalks, and flooded streets, sparking fears of an epidemic. Some 200 New Orleans police have quit their jobs because of the dire conditions and slow government response to the tragedy.

Hurricane Katrina - Friday 02 September 2005

To cries of "Thank you, Jesus!" and catcalls of "What took you so long?," a National Guard convoy packed with food, water and medicine rolled through axle-deep floodwaters Friday into what remained of New Orleans and descended into a maelstrom of fires and floating corpses.

More than four days after the storm hit, the caravan of at least three-dozen camouflage-green troop vehicles and supply trucks arrived along with dozens of air-conditioned buses to take refugees out of the city. President Bush also took an aerial tour of the ruined city, and answered complaints about a sluggish government response by saying, "We're going to make it right."

In what looked like a scene from a Third World country, some people threw their arms heavenward and others nearly fainted with joy as the trucks and hundreds of soldiers arrived in the punishing midday heat. But there were also profane jeers from many in the crowd of nearly 20,000 outside the convention center, which a day earlier seemed on the verge of a riot, with desperate people seething with anger over the lack of anything to eat or drink.

The soldiers' arrival-in-force came amid angry complaints from the mayor and others that the federal government had bungled the relief effort and let people die in the streets for lack of food, water or medicine. By nightfall Friday, the mayor's tone had changed. Nagin returned from a meeting with President Bush a picture of calm. A day earlier, the mayor erupted in tears during a radio interview and told the government to "get off your asses and let's do something."

The president took a land and air tour of hard-hit areas of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, and admitted of the relief effort: "The results are not enough." Congress passed a $10.5 billion disaster aid package, and Bush quickly signed the measure.

What were perhaps the first signs of real hope for recovery came on a day that was ushered in with a thunderous explosion before daybreak and scattered downtown building fires that only confirmed the sense that New Orleans was a city in utter collapse.

The explosion at a warehouse along the Mississippi River about 15 blocks from the French Quarter jostled storm refugees awake and sent a pillar of acrid gray smoke over a city that the mayor has said could be awash with thousands of corpses. Other large fires fire erupted downtown.

At the broken levee along Lake Pontchartrain that swamped nearly 80 percent of New Orleans, helicopters dropped 3,000-pound sandbags into the breach and pilings were being pounded into place to seal off the waters. Engineers also were developing a plan to create new breaches in the levees so that a combination of gravity and pumping would drain the water out of the city, a process that could take weeks.

Law and order all but broke down in New Orleans over the previous few days. Storm refugees reported being raped, shot and robbed, gangs of teenagers hijacked boats meant to rescue them, and frustrated hurricane victims menaced outmanned law officers. Police Chief Eddie Compass admitted even his own officers had taken food and water from stores. Officers were walking off the job by the dozens.

The Department of Energy worked quickly to approve requests of loans from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to oil refineries. Within 48 hours of the request, the oil was on its way to the refineries. (as of 09.02.05 - 9.1 million barrels of oil from SPR to refineries). To meet obligations as a member of the IEA, the United States olanned to release 30 million barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. This decision came in addition to the 8.5 million barrels already released under loan agreements over the previous several days. This action, effective immediately, was taken in close consultation with major producing nations.

Relief flights donated by airlines began to fly into Louis Armstrong International Airport in New Orleans at a rate of about four an hour, beginning midday Friday. The planes will be bringing in supplies and leaving with people. Most of the flights will take refugees to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. The airport is now able to handle nighttime flights thanks to runway lights provided by the military.

Some of New Orleans' hospitals, facing dwindling supplies of food, water and medicine, resumed evacuations Friday. Rescuers finally made it into Charity Hospital, the city's largest public hospital, where gunfire had earlier thwarted efforts to evacuate more than 250 patients. Behind, they left a flooded morgue where residents had been dropping off bodies. After it reached its capacity of 12, five more corpses were stacked in a stairwell. Other bodies were elsewhere in the hospital.

Hurricane Katrina - Thursday 01 September 2005

The state of Texas agreed Thursday to take in three times more refugees from Hurricane Katrina than officials initially expected, bringing the total number of evacuees to nearly 75,000. Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced that 50,000 more refugees would relocate to Texas, with plans to house 25,000 each in San Antonio and Dallas. Those people would join 23,000 others who are already being sent from New Orleans to the Astrodome in Houston.

Late Thursday, however, after accepting more than 12,000 Hurricane Katrina refugees, officials said the Astrodome was full and began sending buses to other area shelters and as far away as Huntsville, about an hour north of Houston. Perry declared an emergency disaster for the state, freeing up money to provide services for hurricane victims.

The hurricane "has created emergency conditions in Texas that will require all available resources of both federal and state governments to overcome," Perry said. "We will do all we can as a state and a people to help our neighbors to the east who have lost so much."

A shelter was created in San Antonio in a huge warehouse at KellyUSA, a city-owned complex that once was home to an Air Force base. In Dallas, the refugees would go to Reunion Arena, the former home of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks. "Whatever we are called upon to do ... we intend to welcome these people with open arms and to try to give them some dignity which these circumstances have taken away from them," San Antonio Mayor Phil Hardberger said.

The governor asked the state Department of Housing and Community Affairs to set aside all vacant low-income housing units for refugees. So far 7,000 units have been reserved for hurricane victims. Texas will also open its schools and hospitals to some of the hurricane's most desperate refugees. The state Health and Human Services Department planned to extend office hours to help people with Medicaid, food stamps and prescription benefits.

Hurricane Katrina - Wednesday 31 August 2005

Federal emergency response efforts only kicked into high gear two days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and surged northward. Wednesday morning there seemed to be little awareness of the magnitude of the cataclysm that had befallen New Orleans.

President Bush considered tapping U.S. emergency petroleum stockpiles to ease the storm's impact on affected refineries. The storm shut down oil and natural gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico, representing about 8 percent of U.S. refining capacity or about 1 million barrels, further driving up gasoline prices. Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman said, "Over the next few days, we will continue to gain more information on the specific needs and then be able to make a better determination on how we can help." The reserves would be used to provide refineries a temporary supply of crude oil to replace interrupted shipments from tankers or offshore oil platforms affected by the storm.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency sent medical teams, rescue squads and groups prepared to supply food and water into the disaster areas. The president made emergency disaster declarations for Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Bush had spoken with the governors of those states "to make sure they were getting what they needed from the federal government."

Hurricane Katrina - Tuesday 30 August 2005

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, much of New Orleans was under water. Early news reports said that as much as 80 percent of the city was flooded after levies failed to hold Katrina's massive storm surge back. The flooding got worse as water slowly drained into the city from Lake Pontchartrain. Dark pools of water covered the eastern half of the city, and a large section of Lake Pontchartrain ballooned into the region immediately west of the city. Widespread flooding was visible elsewhere. Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Maurepas nearly blended into a single body of water, separated only by a narrow strip of land. Dark smudges lined the rivers flowing into both lakes, a sign that water covers the ground around them.

New Orleans' Louis Armstrong International Airport opened Tuesday morning for emergency operations. It had been closed to operations for relief flights due to power outages. The flights at Louis Armstrong International Airport in this storm-ravaged suburb of New Orleans will take place only during daylight hours. Operations will "be very, very restricted air service for the weeks to come," aviation director Roy Williams said. "I would hope that by the November time frame that some level of the traditional hospitality, tourism and business activities that we're known for can be under way."

Aerial photograph missions were conducted by the NOAA Remote Sensing Division on 30 August 2005. NOAA used an Emerge/Applanix Digital Sensor System, or DSS, to acquire the images from an altitude of 7,500 feet. The equipment was mounted on NOAA's Cessna Citation aircraft, which is a versatile twin-engine jet aircraft modified for acquiring coastal remote sensing imagery. The aircraft can support a wide variety of remote sensing configurations, including large format aerial photography, as well as data collection for digital cameras, hyperspectral, multispectral and LIDAR systems.

FEMA director Michael Brown initally had only limited authority to order federal agencies to act without requests from state or local officials. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff named him the "principal federal official" in charge about 36 hours after the storm hit. Chertoff -- not Brown -- was initially in charge of managing the response to a catastrophic disaster, according to the National Response Plan. Chertoff shifted responsibility to Brown late in the afternoon or early evening on 30 August 2005, about 36 hours after Katrina hit Louisiana.



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