By ALAN SAYRE, Associated Press Writer
New Orleans turned much of its attention Sunday to gathering up and
counting the dead across a ghastly landscape awash in perhaps
thousands of corpses. "It is going to be about as ugly of a scene as
I think you can imagine," the nation's homeland security chief warned.
Air and boat crews also searched flooded neighborhoods for survivors,
and federal officials urged those still left in New Orleans to leave
for their own safety.
To expedite the rescues, the Coast Guard requested through the media
that anyone stranded hang out brightly colored or white linens or
something else to draw attention. But with the electricity out though
much of the city, it was not known if the message was being received.
With large-scale evacuations completed at the Superdome and Convention
Center, the death toll was not known. But bodies were everywhere:
floating in canals, slumped in wheelchairs, abandoned on highways and
medians and hidden in attics.
"I think it's evident it's in the thousands," Health and Human
Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said Sunday on CNN, echoing
predictions by city and state officials last week. The U.S. Public
Health Service said one morgue alone, at a St. Gabriel prison,
expected 1,000 to 2,000 bodies.
In the first official count in the New Orleans area, Louisiana
emergency medical director Louis Cataldie said authorities had
verified 59 deaths - 10 of them at the Superdome.
"We need to prepare the country for what's coming," Homeland Security
Secretary Michael Chertoff said on "Fox News Sunday." "We are going to
uncover people who died, maybe hiding in houses, got caught by the
flood. ... It is going to be about as ugly of a scene as I think you
Chertoff said rescuers have encountered a number of people who said
they did not want to evacuate.
"That is not a reasonable alternative," he said. "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. ... The
flooded places, when they're de-watered, are not going to be
In addition to civilian deaths, New Orleans' police department has had
to deal with suicides in its ranks. Two officers took their lives,
including the department spokesman, Paul Accardo, who died Saturday,
according to W.J. Riley, police superintendent. Both shot themselves
in the head, Riley said.
"I've got some firefighters and police officers that have been pretty
much traumatized," Mayor Ray Nagin said. "And we've already had a
couple of suicides, so I am cycling them out as we speak. ... They
need physical and psychological evaluations."
The strain was apparent in other ways. Aaron Broussard, president of
Jefferson Parish, dropped his head and cried on NBC's "Meet the
"The guy who runs this building I'm in, emergency management, he's
responsible for everything. His mother was trapped in St. Bernard
nursing home, and every day she called him and said, "Are you coming,
son? Is somebody coming?" And he said, "And yeah, Momma, somebody's
coming to get you. Somebody's coming to get you on Tuesday. Somebody's
coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody's coming to get you
Thursday. Somebody's coming to get you on Friday" - and she drowned
Friday night. She drowned on Friday night," Broussard said.
"Nobody's coming to get her, nobody's coming to get her. The
secretary's promise, everybody's promise. They've had press
conferences -- I'm sick of the press conferences. For God's sakes,
shut up and send us somebody."
Hundreds of thousands of people already have been evacuated, seeking
safety in Texas, Tennessee and other states. The first group of
refugees who will take shelter in Arizona arrived Sunday in
Phoenix. With more than 230,000 already in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry
ordered emergency officials to begin preparations to airlift some of
them to other states that have offered help.
What will happen to the refugees in the long term was not known.
Back in New Orleans, walk-up stragglers at the Convention Center were
checked by Navy medics before they were evacuated. Lt. Andy Steczo
said he treated people for bullet wounds, knife wounds, infections,
dehydration and chronic problems such as diabetes.
"We're cleaning them up the best we can and then shipping them out,"
One person he treated was 56-year-old Pedro Martinez, who had a gash
on his ankle and cuts on his knuckle and forearm. Martinez said he was
injured while helping people onto rescue boats. "I don't have any
medication and it hurts. I'm glad to get out of here," he said.
In a devastated section on the edge of the French Quarter, people went
into a store, whose windows were already shattered, and took out
bottles of soda and juice.
A corpse of an elderly man lay wrapped in a child's bedsheet decorated
with the cartoon characters Batman, Robin and the Riddler. The body
was in a wooden cart on Rampart Street, one shoe on, one shoe off.
Rene Gibson, 42, driving a truck while hunting for water and ice, said
people are not going to leave willingly. "People been all their
life. They don't know nothing else," he said.
Amid the tragedy, about two dozen people gathered in the French
Quarter for the Decadence Parade, an annual Labor Day celebration,
normally attended by thousands of GLBT people nationwide. Matt Menold,
23, a street musician wearing a sombrero and a guitar slung over his
back, said: "It's New Orleans, man. We're going to celebrate."
In New Orleans' Garden District, a woman's body lay at the corner of
Jackson Avenue and Magazine Street -- a business area with antique
shops on the edge of blighted housing. The body had been there since
at least Wednesday. As days passed, people covered the corpse with
blankets or plastic.
By Sunday, a short wall of bricks had been built around the body,
holding down a plastic tarpaulin. On it, someone had spray-painted a
cross and the words, "Here lies Vera. God help us."
Associated Press reporters Dan Sewell and Robert Tanner contributed to this
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.
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