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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Under Prepared - Chaos begins

The disaster is much larger and more ominous than most might want to think about. The human toll alone is enormous - incredibly hard to fathom. Even in the main shelter death and destruction surrounds all. Desperation is the norm. Fear grows and chaos creeps in. Sadly this is just the beginning for America's new refugees.

      LA TIMES: Trapped in an Arena of Suffering
By Wednesday, it had degenerated into horror. A few hundred people were evacuated from the arena Wednesday, and buses will take away the vast majority of refugees today.

"We pee on the floor. We are like animals," said Taffany Smith, 25, as she cradled her 3-week-old son, Terry. In her right hand she carried a half-full bottle of formula provided by rescuers. Baby supplies are running low; one mother said she was given two diapers and told to scrape them off when they got dirty and use them again.

At least two people, including a child, have been raped. At least three people have died, including one man who jumped 50 feet to his death, saying he had nothing left to live for.


One man tried to escape Wednesday by leaping a barricade and racing toward the streets. The man was desperate, National Guard Sgt. Caleb Wells said. Everything he was able to bring to the Superdome had been stolen. His house had probably been destroyed, his relatives killed.

"We had to chase him down," Wells said. "He said he just wanted to get out, to go somewhere. We took him to the terrace and said: 'Look.' "

Below, floodwaters were continuing to rise, submerging cars.

"He didn't realize how bad things are out there," Wells said. "He just broke down. He started bawling. We took him back inside."


There is a local legend that sports teams that have called the Superdome home have fared poorly because the facility, which broke ground in 1971, was built atop a cemetery. Perhaps, some said Wednesday, the curse is real.

Inside, a man coughed up blood and his shoulders quaked as he was wheeled through the halls. Thousands clutched their meager belongings, sitting in seats normally used for football games or lying on the artificial turf, its end zones painted with the word "Saints."


"People started shooting last night," said Stacey Bodden, 11.


Her uncle David Rodriguez, 28, said he heard at least seven shots Tuesday night and saw one man running past him with a gun. "Don't shoot," he told the man, who didn't.

"This is a nuthouse," said April Thomas, 42, who fled to the Superdome with her 11 children. She has enlisted the older boys to take turns walking patrols at night as the rest of the family sleeps.

"You have to fend people off constantly," she said. "You have to fight for your life. I wake up in the morning and the first thing I say is: Where are my babies? Is everyone here?"

There's a thriving black market; the most popular items are cigarettes, which sell for $10 a pack, and anti-diuretics, which allow people to avoid using the bathroom for as long as possible.


One man was lying partway on a cot, his legs flopped off the side, a forgotten blood pressure monitor attached to his right arm. Some people had wrapped plastic bags on their feet to escape the urine and wastewater seeping from piles of trash. Others, fearing the onset of disease, had surgical masks over their mouths. An alarm had been going off for more than 24 hours and no one knew how to turn it off.

Suddenly, incongruously, the first notes of Bach's Sonata No. 1 in G minor," the Adagio, pierced the desperation.

Samuel Thompson, 34, is trying to make it as a professional violinist. He had grabbed his instrument — made in 1996 by a Boston woman — as he fled the youth hostel Sunday where he had been staying in New Orleans for the last two months.

"It's the most important thing I own," he said.


"These people have nothing," he said. "I have a violin. And I should play for them. They should have something."

Did we really have a plan?
Why were we so clearly under-prepared?
Where is the HELP now?

Will a Real Leader step up?