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"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Sunday, September 04, 2005

New Orleans collects dead as officials dodge blame

New Orleans collects dead as officials dodge blame

By Mark Egan

Reuters


New Orleans began the gruesome task of collecting its thousands of dead on Sunday as the Bush administration tried to save face after its botched rescue plans left the city at the mercy of Hurricane Katrina.

Except for rescue workers and scattered groups of people, streets in the once-vibrant capital of jazz and good times were all but abandoned after a mass exodus of hundreds of thousands of refugees into neighboring Texas and other states.

Battered and sickened survivors made no attempt to disguise their anger: "We have been abandoned by our own country, " Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish, just south of New Orleans, told NBC's Meet the Press.

"It's not just Katrina that caused all these deaths in New Orleans," Broussard said. "Bureaucracy has committed murder here in the greater New Orleans area, and bureaucracy has to stand trial before Congress now."

After a nightmare confluence of natural disaster and political ineptitude that al Qaeda-linked Web sites called evidence of the "wrath of God" striking America, National Guard troops and U.S. marshals patrolled the city, stricken in the days after the hurricane by anarchic violence and looting.

Local and federal officials said they expected to find thousands of corpses still floating in flood waters or locked inside homes and buildings destroyed by the devastating storm that struck the U.S. Gulf coast last Monday.

"When we remove the water from New Orleans, we're going to uncover people who died hiding in houses, who got caught by the flood. People whose remains will be found in the street," U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff told Fox News.

AS UGLY AS YOU CAN IMAGINE

"There'll be pollution. It is going to be about as ugly a scene as you can imagine."

Later, Chertoff flew into New Orleans and said the search for storm victims would be arduous. "Let me be clear: we're going to have to go house to house in this city," he said. "This is not going to happen overnight."

President George W. Bush, who in a rare admission of error, conceded on Friday that the results of his administration's relief efforts were unacceptable, said on Saturday he would send 7,200 more active-duty troops over three days.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld toured a medical facility at New Orleans' international airport on Sunday. He spoke and shook hands with military and rescue officials but walked right by a dozen refugees lying on stretchers just feet away from him, most of them extremely sick or handicapped.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was touring the Mobile, Alabama, area, in her native state.

A further 10,000 National Guard troops were being sent to storm-hit Louisiana and Mississippi, raising the total to 40,000. A total of 54,000 military personnel are now committed to relief efforts.

Lawmakers promised to allocate more relief money in coming weeks after Bush signed a $10.5 billion aid package for Gulf Coast areas hit by Katrina.

LOOKING FOR THE DEAD

Towns along the Gulf Coast ripped apart by Katrina were beginning the enormous task of reconstruction and accounting for the dead. In hard-hit Biloxi, Mississippi, homes and cars still lay piled up on each other or under trees, and power lines dangled everywhere.

Well over 100 deaths had been confirmed in Mississippi and "we are finding new casualties in the debris," Biloxi town spokesman Vincent Creel said on Saturday.

The living told tales of horror in stricken New Orleans.

"There were bodies floating everywhere. Lots of them. Some had bullets in them," said Michael Davis, 18, as he described his escape from a neighborhood immersed in more than 10 feet (3 metres) of water last week. He ultimately found refuge at a domed arena in Lafayette, Louisiana.

Mississippi largely escaped the turmoil in New Orleans but officials warned of a serious risk of dysentery and other diseases from contaminated water.

"It's not a disaster, it's a catastrophe," Harrison County's health director, Bob Trabnicek, said in Biloxi.

"Why they don't try to get us out of here, I don't know," said Ella Robertson, 51, as she paced back and forth on a debris-lined Biloxi street. "Waiting, that's all we can do."

The storm's impact was felt across the United States as gas prices rose to well over $3 a gallon after Katrina's 140-mph (225-kph) winds shut eight oil refineries and crippled others.

'TWO CATASTROPHES'

Defending the administration's response and disaster planning, Chertoff said the hurricane and flood in New Orleans were "two catastrophes" that presented an unprecedented challenge.

"That perfect storm of combination of catastrophes exceeded the foresight of the planners and maybe anybody's foresight," the homeland security chief said.

Critics have said the Federal Emergency Management Agency has lost its effectiveness since it became part of the Homeland Security Department in a post-September 11 reorganization.

Rice was slammed by critics on the Internet after she attended a New York performance of the Monty Python musical "Spamalot" on Wednesday, a day after New Orleans flooded.

After returning to Washington, she defended the administration against charges the slow government response and prolonged suffering of New Orleans' predominantly black storm victims were signs of racial neglect.

"That Americans would somehow in a color-affected way decide who to help and who not to help, I just don't believe it," said Rice, the administration's highest-ranking black official.

The Washington Post reported on Sunday that Bush administration officials were blaming state and local authorities for the disaster response problems. The newspaper said the administration was rebuffed in an effort to take control of police and National Guard units reporting to Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco, a Democrat.

(Additional reporting by Kerry Wutkoski and Phil Barbara in Washingon; Mark Babineck in New Orleans; Erwin Seba, Paul Simao and Jim Loney in Baton Rouge, Peter Cooney and Adam Tanner in Houston, Matt Daily in Biloxi, Steve Holland, Charles Aldinger, John Whitesides and Eric Walsh in Washington)



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