New Orleans

Looting, Fires And a Second Evacuation

Levees in New Orleans are designed to keep water several feet higher than the city, which rests below sea level. As levee walls have been breached, water is pooling in without an outlet. About 80 percent of the Crescent City is submerged.
Levees in New Orleans are designed to keep water several feet higher than the city, which rests below sea level. As levee walls have been breached, water is pooling in without an outlet. About 80 percent of the Crescent City is submerged. (By David J. Phillip -- Associated Press)

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By Peter Whoriskey and Sam Coates
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 31, 2005

NEW ORLEANS, Aug. 30 -- This exodus was even more desperate than the first.

As murky water surged around their homes from levee breaks undetected in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, families that had hunkered down for Monday's storm were forced Tuesday to climb first to their attics and then to their roofs in the hope of rescue by boat or helicopter.

In the streets, cars filled with fleeing residents -- pet cages and luggage in tow -- stalled in chest-deep water. Scores of people could be seen trudging west on foot along deserted Interstate 10, lugging small packages of belongings, headed for refuge from the water that now covers 80 percent of this city.

"I have nothing but me, the children and what we have on our backs," said Molly Moses, a mother of five who was rescued from the roof of her two-story house four miles from the center of New Orleans. About daybreak, as the waters reached the attic, her fiance punched a hole in the roof, where she was found about 10 a.m. Tuesday clutching her 9-month-old daughter.

"We were just too busy trying to save our lives."

Rising floodwaters led to a second mass evacuation Tuesday from this low-lying metropolis of terrified residents who had avoided the storm's most direct destruction when it veered slightly to the east.

As the floods isolated even dry neighborhoods from authorities Tuesday, a sense of chaos enveloped much of the city. Looters smashed windows and dashed in unpursued. Smoke from two fires, apparently difficult for emergency crews to reach, rose on the horizon. Even the city's major daily newspaper had to bail out. Scores of employees of the Times-Picayune rushed out like refugees on the back of circulation trucks and wound up, after a long, sweaty ride, in Baton Rouge.

Hundreds of houses could be seen with water up to the eaves. Occasionally the tops of cars were visible, bobbing to the surface.

Fleets of speedboats, airboats and other water-going vessels were launched to patrol the inundated streets, searching for survivors. But the rescue teams were instructed to ignore bodies because there were no facilities to deal with them.

"Our main thrust is to get people out of the water. It's going to get up into the nineties today, and get oppressively hot," said W. Parke Moore III, an assistant secretary of the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, who is helping coordinate the effort. "They don't have sewage facilities or water to drink. We need to get them to a safe haven, and then the Louisiana National Guard will provide shelter."

After Hurricane Katrina passed Monday, many residents had been relieved to find their neighborhoods at least partially above water. But by late Monday, long after the rains had subsided, residents realized the floodwaters were still rising.

An emergency management flight Monday afternoon had discovered a break in one of the levees that protect this city from flooding, but its significance was not immediately known. On Tuesday, two levees were found to have been breached, and the saucer-shaped city was filling with water.


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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