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US braces for the final horror | Top stories | Breaking News 24/7 – NEWS.com.au (05-09-2005)

In Uncategorized on September 5, 2005 at 1:26 am

US braces for the final horror

From: Agence France-Presse From correspondents in New Orleans

September 05, 2005

Safe … Victims are evacuated by the US Air Force / Reuters US troops have begun the final search for hurricane survivors in New Orleans, steeling themselves for the task of harvesting the dead from the city’s streets.

Days after Hurricane Katrina triggered the worst natural calamity in US history, officials prepared the country for a heavy death toll that is expected to number in the thousands across the devastated US Gulf coast.

“It is going to be about as ugly a scene as we’ve witnessed in this country, with the possible exception of 9/11,” said Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertof, referring to the 2001 terror attacks that killed nearly 3000.

“I think we need to prepare the country for what’s coming,” he said from a suburb of flooded New Orleans.

“I really want to tell people that we have got some tough days ahead of us.”

An Australian Government official has been given Senior medical officials said 59 bodies had been collected in New Orleans so far, but cautioned that was just a fraction of those killed.

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In a freak event overnight, it has been reported that up to six contractors were shot dead by troops in New Orleans after they were mistaken for an armed gang.

Up to 20 Australians are still missing and there are serious concerns for two who were believed in New Orleans when the storm hit. One was a visitor and the other an elderly permanent resident, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said today.

Before the grisly hunt for the dead began in earnest, US troops scrambled to move out thousands of survivors still eager for evacuation amid the largest refugee operation ever seen in the US.

Mr Chertoff said the troops would start a house-to-house search for trapped residents who had opted to weather Katrina at home, and suggested they would have to leave whether they wanted to or not.

“We are not going to be able to have people sitting in houses in the city of New Orleans for weeks and months while we de-water and clean this city with the hope that we’re going to continue to supply them with food and water.

“The flooded places, when de-watered, are not going to be sanitary, not healthy. There’s not going to be a way to get food and water,” he told NBC’s Meet the Press program.

Even as he spoke, residents of one New Orleans suburb were thronging police checkpoints in a bid to return to their homes.

Mr Chertoff made the rounds of talk shows as part of a public-relations blitz launched by President George W. Bush’s administration to counter widespread criticism of its response to Katrina.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have fanned out across stricken areas, while Mr Bush is planning his second tour in three days.

Mr Chertoff defended the administration’s handling of the crisis and stressed the immediate need was to deal with recovery and the needs of hundreds of thousands of refugees rather than getting bogged down in assigning blame.

“We are basically moving the city of New Orleans to other parts of the country,” he said.

Authorities have estimated it would take several months to drain the one-time bustling jazz capital and make it habitable.

“We have to shelter people, we have to feed them, we have to educate their kids, we have to get them medium-term housing and we have to give them hope,” Mr Chertoff said.

Relief and rescue efforts picked up steam over the weekend, with New Orleans’ two major refuges cleared of the last of tens of thousands of survivors who had spent nearly a week trapped in squalor and fear.

But authorities were still struggling to get on top of the situation after the hurricane that had left mostly poor and black residents fending for themselves for days.

At New Orleans airport, which was transformed into a holding pen for the elderly and infirm as well as a gateway for the departing, dozens of people from nursing homes and hospitals lay dying on stretchers on the floor.

“Their organs are shutting down. They are septic. They are storm victims,” said chaplain Mark Reeves, 43, from the federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team.

“We’ve already had 25 die here.”

The spectre of disease also haunted recovery efforts with doctors fearing the fetid waters and squalid conditions in shelters could breed cholera or typhoid, or spawn mosquitoes carrying malaria or West Nile Virus.

The authorities in the city of Biloxi, Mississippi had to evacuate hundreds of people from one shelter amid a suspected outbreak of dysentery.

In other developments:

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has denied skin colour was a deciding factor of life and death in New Orleans as tensions increased over the number of African-Americans affected by the hurricane (More)

TEXAS Governor Rick Perry warned the state was reaching its capacity having taken a quarter of a million refugees since the hurricane struck (More)

VENEZUELAN President Hugo Chavez has promised to send a million barrells of oil to the US, while Cuban leader Fidel Castro said he would send more than 1000 doctors “with perfect English” to help the relief effort (More)

AUSTRALIAN survivor Fiona Seidel said she felt she was “abandoned” by her Government in the crisis.(More)

Mr Bush ordered 7000 active duty troops to the affected Gulf Coast region to back tens of thousands of National Guardsmen deployed. Some 3000 soldiers from the elite 82nd Airborne Division entered New Orleans at the weekend.

With AAP and Agence France-Presse

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