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A City of Despair and Lawlessness

Residents Wait to be Evacuated
New Orleans residents wait to be evacuated by helicopter from floodwater in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. (Smiley N., The Dallas Morning News via AP)

Zuschlag said his company, with 25 civilian choppers, rescued 500 patients from New Orleans hospitals Thursday. He said that an estimated 1,500 remained at three more medical facilities and that rescue operations were being severely hampered by security issues.

"Both mornings, we have tried to go to Charity Hospital by boat and each time we have been shot at, so we determined it wasn't safe. The doctor there has 500 people inside his hospital and he is going berserk."

Ninety miles away in Baton Rouge, officials scrambled to accommodate hundreds of thousands of refugees expected to make their way to Louisiana's capital. Police have implemented a 10 p.m. curfew for fuel purchases, and there have been reports of attempted carjackings at gas stations. Officials are struggling with widespread power outages and water shortages from the storm.

In Texas, officials announced they could accommodate as many as 75,000 refugees from Katrina, including thousands being bused to Houston from New Orleans's Superdome and others to be housed in Dallas and San Antonio.

At a briefing for reporters, Army Lt. Gen. Russel L. Honore, commander of a hastily formed military unit called Task Force Katrina, said National Guard forces -- now numbering 4,700 in Louisiana and 2,700 in Mississippi -- will be strengthened to a combined 24,000 over the next three days. Eventually, 30,000 troops should be in the region, officials said.

A total of about 7,200 active-duty troops have been dispatched, most of them Navy personnel aboard seven ships. Early Thursday, yesterday, the Pentagon announced that among the ships would be an aircraft carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman, to serve as a floating command center for relief operations. Additional assets that defense officials said might be sent include field hospitals, reconnaissance aircraft and more evacuation vehicles.

But it is Guard troops who are central to law enforcement aspects of the relief effort because of legal constraints on active-duty forces performing such functions. By late Thursday, the number of Guard troops in Louisiana and Mississippi was due to top 13,000. Another 12,000 are expected by the weekend.

But among those complaining about the pace of National Guard efforts was a top Salvation Army official, Maj. Dalton Cunningham. He warned that some people still trapped by floodwaters in the organization's building in New Orleans could die if the timetable for rescuing them did not change.

Cunningham said a Guard representative told the group Thursday afternoon that it could be days before they would evacuate the 200 or so people stranded in the Salvation Army building on South Claiborne Avenue.

"They said they're doing it by quadrant and we'll just have to take a number and get in line," Cunningham said. "They are there without food. Some were on dialysis and needed medical attention. . . . Their lives are threatened. I'm not even sure they'll be alive when we get there."

Eggen reported from Washington. Staff writers Peter Slevin in New Orleans; Ann Gerhart and Jacqueline L. Salmon in Baton Rouge, La.; Christopher Lee in Biloxi, Miss.; and Peter Baker, Justin Blum, Bradley Graham, Guy Gugliotta, Michael Laris and Dafna Linzer in Washington contributed to this report.

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