agosto 31, 2005

KATRINA / New Orleans fears thousands dead

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NEW ORLEANS - Authorities all but surrendered the streets of New Orleans to floodwaters, looting and other lawlessness Wednesday as the mayor called for a total evacuation and warned the death toll from Hurricane Katrina could reach into the thousands.

The grim estimate came as desperation deepened in the city, with gunfire crackling sporadically and looters by the hundreds roaming the streets and ransacking tiny shops and big-box stores alike with impunity.

“We know there is a significant number of dead bodies in the water,” and other people dead in attics, Mayor Ray Nagin said. Asked how many, he said: “Minimum, hundreds. Most likely, thousands.”

That would make Katrina the deadliest natural disaster in the United States since at least the 1906 San Francisco earthquake.

With most of the city under water, Army engineers prepared to plug New Orleans’ breached levees with giant sandbags, and authorities drew up plans to clear out the tens of thousands of people left in the Big Easy and practically abandon the below-sea-level city. Most of the evacuees — including thousands now suffering in the hot and muggy Superdome — will be moved to the Astrodome in Houston, 350 miles away.

There will be a “total evacuation of the city. We have to. The city will not be functional for two or three months,” Nagin said. And he said people would not be allowed back into their homes for at least a month or two.