NEW ORLEANS HELD HOSTAGE, Day 7: Blogging the Hurricane on Sunday, With Frequent Updates

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By: Greg Mitchell

Relief pours in, at last, but not nearly enough, as many still require rescue and anger rises over the failure to respond days ago. Check back here for frequent updates. The latest: Actor Sean Penn beats President Bush to Baton Rouge.


11:55 PM ET. From The New York Times:

“Under the command of President Bush’s two senior political advisers, the White House rolled out a plan this weekend to contain the political damage from the administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina.

“It orchestrated visits by cabinet members to the region, leading up to an extraordinary return visit by Mr. Bush planned for Monday, directed administration officials not to respond to attacks from Democrats on the relief efforts, and sought to move the blame for the slow response to Louisiana state officials, according to Republicans familiar with the White House plan.

“The effort is being directed by Mr. Bush’s chief political adviser, Karl Rove, and his communications director, Dan Bartlett. It began late last week after Congressional Republicans called White House officials to register alarm about what they saw as a feeble response by Mr. Bush to the hurricane, according to Republican Congressional aides.”

10:55 PM ET. From Monday’s New York Times:

“Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld arrived in Louisiana today and toured a medical facility at the New Orleans international airport.

“‘As the president said, it is a natural disaster of historic proportion,’ Mr. Rumsfeld said in televised remarks to reporters after the tour. ‘No one can come up with anything that approximates this in the history of our country,’ he said, adding it would take many months or years for the area to fully recover.

“Upon his arrival at the airport, Mr. Rumsfeld spoke to and shook hands with military and rescue officials, but he walked right by a dozen refugees lying on stretchers just feet away from him, most of them extremely sick or handicapped, Reuters reported.”


9:25 PM ET. From the Times-Picayune:

“Police spokesman Capt. Marlon Defillo said Sunday that
‘about a dozen’ corpses were being taken out of the
Superdome. The convention center ‘has not been swept
yet,’ he said.

Apart from the deaths, Mayor Nagin said people needlessly
suffered, particularly at the Dome. ‘There was suffering at an unprecedented level in this city, at this place and at the convention center,’ he said. ‘This is one of the richest countries in the world. I’m looking at my city and I see death and destruction, and I see a lot of it. And I’m pissed.’

“Asked whether he himself bore responsibility for the
debacle, Nagin responded: ‘I’ll take what
responsibility I have to take.'”


6:45 PM ET. From various sources, some sort of major shooting took place, with two or more killed in New Orleans, possibly gunmen firing on contractors or police, but about four different versions so best to leave vague.


5:30 PM ET. From the Washington Post:

“The storm and the rescue efforts have taken a toll on New Orleans police and firefighters, Mayor Ray Nagin said Sunday, according to the Associated Press. ‘I’ve got some firefighters and police officers that have been pretty much traumatized,’ he said. ‘And we’ve already had a couple of suicides so I am cycling them out as we speak, but we have a problem. I can get them to Baton Rouge, but once I get them to Baton Rouge there’s no hospitals. They need physical and psychological evaluations.'”


1:25 PM ET. From the Chicago Tribune:

“While federal and state emergency planners scramble to get more military relief to Gulf Coast communities stricken by Hurricane Katrina, a massive naval goodwill station has been cruising offshore, underused and waiting for a larger role in the effort.

“The USS Bataan, a 844-foot ship designed to dispatch Marines in amphibious assaults, has helicopters, doctors, hospital beds, food and water. It also can make its own water, up to 100,000 gallons a day. And it just happened to be in the Gulf of Mexico when Katrina came roaring ashore.

“‘Could we do more?’ said Capt. Nora Tyson, commander of the Bataan. ‘Sure. I’ve got sailors who could be on the beach plucking through garbage or distributing water and food and stuff. But I can’t force myself on people….I figured we would be a big help in New Orleans. We’ve got electricity, and the police could have charged up their radios. We’ve got water, toilets. We’ve got food.'”


11:45 AM ET. From Gannett News Service:

“President Bush, who toured the heavily damaged coastal area by air Friday, is expected to return to Louisiana Monday. Actor Sean Penn beat Bush to Baton Rouge, showing up at the state Office of Emergency Preparedness about 6 p.m. today before departing to see the damage in New Orleans for himself. He declined to be interviewed.

From the Times-Picayune:

“Actor Sean Penn arrived Sunday at the New Orleans Police Department staging area at Harrah’s casino, announcing that he was ready to help in any way he could. Penn, who recently spent time in the New Orleans area while filming ‘All the King’s Men,’ was being escorted by historian and author Douglas Brinkley.”


Apparently Penn is out searching, in a boat, with rescuers, looking for friends in the city he has not heard from.


11:15 AM ET. In a remarkable TV moment this morning, Tim Russert on Meet the Press talked with Aaron Broussard, president of hard-hit Jefferson Parish, immediately after Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff defended the federal response to the tragedy. An angry Broussard called for the firing of top officials responsible for the poor response, saying “the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will go down as one of the worst abandonments of Americans on American soil ever in U.S. history.”

But his appearance ended with the man in tears and even Russert barely able to keep it together, when Broussard said:

“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, ‘Yeah, Mama, somebody?s coming to get you.’ Somebody?s coming to get you on Tuesday. [Broussard begins sobbing.] Somebody?s coming to get you on Wednesday. Somebody?s coming to get you on Thursday. Somebody?s coming to get you on Friday…and she drowned Friday night!

“She drowned Friday night! [Sobbing] Nobody?s coming to get us! Nobody?s coming to get us.”

Broussard also recounted:

“We had Wal-Mart deliver three trucks of water, trailer trucks of water. FEMA turned them back. They said we didn’t need them. This was a week ago. FEMA–we had 1,000
gallons of diesel fuel on a Coast Guard vessel docked in my parish. The Coast Guard said, ‘Come get the fuel right away.’ When we got there with our trucks, they got a word: ‘FEMA says don’t give you the

“Yesterday–yesterday–FEMA comes in and cuts all of our
emergency communication lines. They cut them without notice. Our sheriff, Harry Lee, goes back in, he reconnects the line. He posts armed guards on our line and says, ‘No one is getting near these lines.'”

11:05 AM ET. From a readers’ forum at the Times-Picayune today:

“The refugees have not all been evacuated as the front page of your website indicates. My brother is stranded in the French Quarter of New Orleans and has been this way all week. He can only contact us sporadically from a cell phone. He tried to leave to go to the Superdome or Convention Center but the national guard told him not to go until those people were evacuated. Now, the NOPD says that no more buses are coming and that they are stuck unless someone comes to get them. Who, may I ask, can get them? The city is closed. The city is flooded. They have no car. They have little food and water. They need help. My brother is a New Orleans musician who was pictured in a recent Lagniappe section playing the clarinet at Fritzel’s club on Bourbon – he is the featured weekend act there. In fact, your writer indicated that he is a rarity – a clarinet player on Bourbon. Why is no one helping him? Why is no one helping the other stranded French Quarter residents? Why are they not important? He is located at 719 St. Ann #2.”

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