Total evacuation of New Orleans planned

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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

A state of emergency has been enacted in New Orleans in the U.S. state of Louisiana today, after the devastating Hurricane Katrina made landfall on Monday. There were earlier erroneous reports by the news media that martial law had been imposed. Mayor Ray Nagin fears that there may be "thousands" of fatalities in his city alone.

New Orleans, Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina showing Interstate 10 at West End Boulevard, looking towards Lake Pontchartrain. The 17th Street Canal is just beyond the left edge of the image. The breach in the levee of that canal was responsible for most of the flooding of the city in the hours after the hurricane.

Many hospital staff are struggling without power and supplies. As many as 2,500 patients from hospitals in Orleans Parish were to be evacuated, according to US Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, but where they could be sent was still uncertain.

Looters are roaming the city and have already ransacked the city's upscale shopping district on Canal Street. They have been seen on news reports carrying huge bags of stolen goods. Governor Kathleen Blanco announced plans to completely shut down New Orleans and move everybody left there out of the area. A rescue helicopter was shot at, temporarily halting all rescue operations.

Former mayor Marc Morial summed up his view by saying; "We've lost our city, I fear it's potentially like Pompeii."

Two of the city's levees on Lake Ponchartrain failed; one with a football-field size breach. Emergency workers dropped sandbags from helicopters into the levee's breaches, but the water kept coming.

"It appears that now the bowl is beginning to fill -- not rapidly but slowly," said Walter Maestri, an emergency operations manager. New floods swept through the center of New Orleans and water now covers 80 percent of the city with broken gas lines feeding raging fires. In some locations the water is now at a depth of 20 feet (six meters).

The famous French Quarter, initially less affected by flooding, finally also succumbed.

"Get out of town if you can." said Ed Freytag, a city worker at the temporary City Hall complex. "We're damn close right now to that worst-case scenario," said Dave Cohen, a local radio host.

For those that were staying in the Superdome, officials have begun moving them to the long-vacant Astrodome in Houston, Texas.

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This audio file was created from the text revision dated 2005-08-31 and may not reflect subsequent text edits to this report. (audio help)