setembro 01, 2005

KATRINA / Superdome airlift on hold over gun concerns

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NEW ORLEANS - The evacuation of the Superdome was disrupted Thursday after at least one shot was reported fired at a military helicopter and arson fires broke out outside the arena. No injuries were immediately reported.

An air ambulance service official said helicopter transfers of the sick and injured were suspended.

Able-bodied evacuees were still being moved by bus to Houston's astrodome, the National Guard said, correcting a Guard official who said that operation was on hold as well.

However, the scene at the Superdome became increasingly chaotic, with thousands of people rushing from nearby hotels and other buildings, hoping to climb onto the buses taking evacuees from the arena, officials said. Paramedics became increasingly alarmed by the sight of people with guns.

The helicopter operation was suspended “until they gain control of the Superdome,” said Richard Zuschlag, head of Acadian Ambulance, which was handling the evacuation of sick and injured people.

He said the National Guard told him that it was sending 100 military police officers to gain control. “That’s not enough,” Zuschlag. “We need a thousand.”

Medics were calling him and crying for help because they were so scared of people with guns at the Superdome, he added.

Zuschlag said shots were fired at a military helicopter over the Superdome before daybreak, but a National Guard officer said he had a report of just one shot being fired at the helicopter.

Zuschlag added that when another evacuation helicopter tried to land at a hospital in the outlying town of Kenner overnight, the pilot reported that 100 people were on the landing pad, and some of them had guns.

“He was frightened and would not land,” Zuschlag said.

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