Hope Arrives Too Little, Too Late:
United States - New Orleans: Under a searing sun obscured by acrid smoke, thousands of refugees lined the street outside this city's convention centre yesterday, weak, begging for help and accusing their government of leaving them here to die.
Instead of their federal government stepping in, they said, they had been saved by looters who smashed windows of abandoned stores and distributed food and water to those left with nothing.
Four days after Hurricane Katrina turned this tourist destination into a seething refugee camp where power is wielded at gunpoint and huge fires burned, food and water began arriving.
Thousands cheered, danced and praised Jesus when New Orleans police superintendent Eddie Compass hung outside a huge emergency truck moving slowly down the boulevard and told them by bullhorn that help was on the way.
"We've got food and water on the way," he said. "We've got medical attention on the way. We're going to get you out of here safely. We're going to get all of you."
As a National Guard convoy packed with food, water and medicine rolled in to the city, people shouted: "What took you so long?"
Food distribution began by late afternoon and the crowd outside the convention centre obeyed orders to form lines, as a huge contingent of police stood with guns, ready to maintain orders.
"Something is better than nothing," said 49-year-old Diane Sylvester as she came back with two bottles of water and a pork rib.
"It's great to see the military here. I know I've been saved.''
About 6,500 heavily armed National Guard troops began pouring into the city to restore order, prepared to use lethal force to restore control.
About half had just returned from Iraq and were "highly proficient" in the use of lethal force, their commander said.
Katrina has unleashed a refugee crisis as hundreds of thousands of homeless pour into communities seeking power and a roof over their heads, but those communities cannot cope.
In Baton Rouge, La., about 100 kilometres north of New Orleans, the population is expected to swell by 500,000.
U.S. President George W. Bush, after touring Alabama, Mississippi and New Orleans, said the devastation was "beyond imaginable" and conceded his government's response was inadequate.
Republican Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts called the government's response "an embarrassment."
Black congressmen in Washington accused the Republican administration of a scandalously slow response, but stopped just short of claiming racism.
Yesterday, chaos and desperation still ruled New Orleans.
Many police officers ? 50 per cent of the force by some estimates ? turned in their badges in disgust and desperation. Compass said his officers were urinating and defecating in a casino basement because they had nowhere else to go and no time off. He also admitted some of his officers have resorted to looting.
Mayor Ray Nagin broke down and wept during a radio interview. "Get off your asses and do something," he said. "Excuse my French, America, but I am pissed."
He said he wasn't sure his city could survive another night.
"God only knows," he said.
Outside the convention centre, where the overwhelming number of refugees were poverty-stricken blacks, there was nothing but venom and anger directed at Bush, and fury that the country could invade Iraq but could not mobilize to save its own citizens.
These are people who could not respond to a mandatory evacuation order because they did not have cars or gas to leave the city, or didn't even hear the warnings because they have no television.
Many are convinced they are suffering because they are black and dispensable.
"Write this down," said Ronald Herber. "You tell our president he can kiss my ass."
Most wanted to thank journalists for telling their story because they felt abandoned.
"I've been praying and crying every night," said Virgil Walker, a bouncer who has lived in New Orleans all his life. "And I don't cry."
Many ran up to reporters yesterday to describe conditions inside the convention centre, saying the site was putrid with human waste and cries of agony.
Outside, babies clung to mothers who fanned them with cardboard.
One man held his mother, a diabetic, saying she was delirious.
People said there were as many as five corpses inside the convention centre, and one story ? impossible to corroborate ? making the rounds yesterday was that a young girl had been raped and her throat slit.
Panic set in one night when a rumour floated through the stifling darkness that the flood waters were approaching.
Some people, including many elderly, were reportedly trampled on, as people stampeded away from the front of the building.
"People were screaming `the water is coming,'" said Lesha Radford, who has spent three days here. "They panicked."
There was also rage that New Orleans police were cracking down on looters.
"They are Robin Hoods," said Efian Walker, who has been sleeping on an Interstate overpass.
"This guy who was doing the stealing was bringing us stuff, he was helping our children.
"He wasn't asking for money. They should release all the looters. They are saving us. Without them, we would be dead.''
Zachry Harris, legless and in a wheelchair, said people are dying among the feces and other waste inside the centre.
"Our government doesn't care. They can send people to Iraq in 14 hours, but they can't bring anybody in here to help us," he said.
"They just don't care about us."
Othello Hamilton said he was not much into politics, but he couldn't understand why state and federal officials had forsaken him.
"For our government leaders to leave us like this, I just don't understand," he said.
"At least you could drop some first aid kits in here. We've got some sick people in there.
"I don't know, I guess we voted the wrong people into office."
African-Americans who had the financial means to flee smouldered with rage as they saw what was happening to those left behind.
"This is race. Do you think if this was happening in Idaho that they would let people starve?" asked Kernell Goudia, who has taken refuge in a Baton Rouge hotel.
"Even after Sept. 11, parts of New York functioned. Nobody let an entire city disappear.
"Our president came in here for three hours to say, `I'm leaving soon.' He's kissing and hugging black kids. Man, that's bull----."
Moneshea Davis swept the sidewalk in front of the convention centre as she spoke of how she had been fed only cupcakes for the past five days and wondered where her mother had gone.
"I'm trying to keep the faith,'' she said.
"We're just trying our best, but the only reason we are looting is we have nothing, and they (police officials) are treating us like homeless people.''
Michael Moses asked that a journalist help find his mother, Leah Moses.
They were sleeping on the street in front of the Marriott Hotel when they awoke in the inky darkness to the sound of gunfire and fled in different directions. They have not seen each other since Monday night.
An explosion at a chemical depot rocked the city in the morning and orange fireballs and thick black smoke enveloped parts of downtown.
Across from the luxurious W Hotel, a building burned out of control, unattended by firefighters as armed police stood guard.
Police patrolled the downtown core with their weapons visible and pointing outside their vehicles, and citizens walked the streets with pistols in their hands.
"Are you armed?" asked one man. "If you're not armed, you better get yourself a gun before you come in here."
In suburban Kenner, the reporters watched as police took down a looter at the Kash N' Karry variety store.
Two blocks away a trailer burned. Local residents said the man inside had torched it himself and had committed suicide.
While it burned, enraged and distraught neighbours screamed that he had endangered those around him who were already suffering in Katrina's wake.
Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan told Bush that a U.N. task force was already at work in anticipation of U.S. requests for assistance and expertise. At its first meeting, the task force determined that U.N. agencies are ready to provide water storage tanks, water purification tablets, high-energy biscuits, generators, planes, tents and other emergency supplies as well as experienced staff members, said U.N. deputy spokesperson Marie Okabe.