Along Gulf, Aiding the Living and Counting the Dead

Helicopters, trucks and boats were visible throughout New Orleans in attempts to reach holdouts and those missed in earlier evacuations.
Helicopters, trucks and boats were visible throughout New Orleans in attempts to reach holdouts and those missed in earlier evacuations. (Michael Robinson-chavez - Twp)
By Timothy Dwyer and Michael A. Fletcher
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 6, 2005

NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 5 -- Federal officials opened a vast morgue to collect the dead and health officials scrambled to create a health care network to help the living, while states across the country struggled to find housing and other provisions for the more than 1 million people driven from their homes by Hurricane Katrina.

Although the storm's announced death toll was just over 200 on Monday, officials began to brace themselves and the public for a body count that could reach well into the thousands.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it had closed gaps in levees damaged by the hurricane and had begun pumping water out of the city and into Lake Ponchartrain. The flood in the swamped Ninth Ward had dropped by a foot, and downtown streets were wet instead of inundated.

The vast scope of the calamity triggered by the storm was still emerging. officials estimated that more than 1 million people -- many of whom fled with only the clothes on their back and a few prized possessions stuffed in a bag -- have been forced from their homes, most likely for many months.

Amid mounting recriminations about the slow pace of the government response to the calamity unleashed by last week's storm, President Bush visited the stricken area for the second time in four days, and his administration appointed a federal official to assume control of recovery efforts in storm-ravaged New Orleans.

Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff tapped Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad Allen to coordinate the government's relief efforts in the city. Allen will report to beleaguered FEMA Director Michael D. Brown, who will keep responsibility for the rest of the Katrina-affected Gulf Coast region.

Bush also declared a state of emergency in eight states -- as far away as Utah and West Virginia -- bringing to 13 the number eligible for special federal aid as a result of the hurricane.

Federal agents, troops and law enforcement officers from around the country continued to pour into New Orleans, and police officials expressed confidence the city was mostly safe from the marauding gangs that had terrorized citizens in the storm's chaotic aftermath.

The rapidly growing scale of the effort was evident in the official statistics of federal personnel involved as of midday Monday: 38,000 National Guardsmen, 6,000 FEMA responders and 4,000 from the U.S. Coast Guard, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The USS Iwo Jima, an amphibious assault ship, pulled into New Orleans port Monday and will assist in aid efforts.

Across the state, doctors and nurses worked feverishly to cobble together a new health care network, transforming abandoned stores, basketball arenas and other spaces into hospitals to treat the hurricane's victims.

The relief effort even grew to include counterfeit clothes, 100,000 items of which were taken from U.S. Customs Service storehouses and distributed to evacuees in Houston's Astrodome. Two cruise ships anchored in Galveston, Tex., were to begin taking on evacuees as well -- as many as 2,600 each.

About 990,000 customers remained without power Monday because of Hurricane Katrina, the Energy Department said, down from 1.3 million on Sunday.

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