Debbie Brooks has never been to Ethiopia, but after two interminable days spent atop a stretch of Interstate 10 here, she now knows what it means to be starving under a baking sun, watching family members deteriorate by the hour.
"I have lived that experience now," she said Friday afternoon from the patch of concrete she, her father and aunt have called home since dawn Thursday. "This is like the Third World."
Barefoot children in diapers. Scraps of cheese. Soiled blankets. Elderly in wheelchairs, ankles swollen. A rusted bicycle tipped on its side. One portable toilet.
Here in this asphalt camp, more than 300 African Americans who could not escape Hurricane Katrina said they have all but run out of food, patience and, in some cases, medicine. They climbed the exit ramps that run alongside the Superdome under the mistaken impression that rescue teams were on the way.
That was two, three, even four days ago for some.
"This is the place they're supposed to be picking us up," said Rickey Brock, 43. "We couldn't evacuate. I've got a truck, but it ain't running, and I don't have insurance."
Immediately after the storm, Brock and his extended family commandeered a rowboat and paddled their way out of their neighborhood along Dorgenois Street. They headed to the Superdome but were too late. The first two nights, they slept under the interstate.
The bodies of the dead "smelled so horrible we came up here," he explained, sprawled on the roadway under a plastic tarp.
"They've been saying the buses are coming," said Brock's cousin, Lernell Watson.
On Friday, help was so close that these victims of Katrina could almost touch it. A steady stream of emergency vehicles -- ambulances, police cruisers and a 20-truck National Guard convoy -- rolled through. But instead of rescuing the displaced, they navigated around them.
Overhead, helicopters roared, some landing between the Superdome and I-10. A giant Huey military transport helicopter hung above for 15 minutes, its mission unclear. When it finally moved on, clouds of dust and debris swept over the crowd.
Many families built makeshift shanties to protect them from the blazing Louisiana sun. Some draped sheets over stacks of the blue plastic containers that typically hold 5-gallon water bottles. One group of more than a dozen stretched out in single file across I-10 to squeeze under the narrow band of shade from highway signs.
They hung laundry over the concrete barriers. They smoked and paced and slept. They recounted ghoulish -- impossible to document -- tales of floating bodies. And they pleaded with the occasional passerby to take the phone numbers of relatives and call for help.
Those with the energy seethed.
"It's like they're killing us," said Phyllis Delone, 46. "It's hot out here; people are frustrated. We're looking at old folks dying."
Brock, voicing the sentiment that the politicians cared less for poor blacks than wealthy whites, speculated that city leaders intentionally opened the levee near his neighborhood. "They got prisoners out of jail but can't get the people up here," he said.
Many directed their venom at President Bush, who toured the area by helicopter Friday. Waving a meal-ready-to-eat, Roy Castille hollered: "This is what our president sent us."
As he tried to quell tensions on the overpass, one New Orleans police officer vented his own frustration.
"President Bush didn't come to see this," muttered D.A. Pratt, snapping pictures with a disposable camera. "The police haven't had food," he said. "I just found an MRE on the side of the road, and I took it and ate it."
Still, Pratt emphasized that he had little to offer the people on the highway but one more promise that buses were on the way.