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The New Orleans mayor calls for more help as the first convoys arrive to aid hurricane victims

By Stephen M. Silverman
Updated September 02, 2005 03:00 PM
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Aiming to relieve those 15,000 to 20,000 hungry and desperate refugees trapped in New Orleans’s shelters, a convoy of military vehicles carrying food, water and medical supplies arrived Friday as President Bush toured the three states hit by Hurricane Katrina.

At the New Orleans Convention Center, some of the thousands of victims applauded and screamed, “Thank you, Jesus!” as the trucks and soldiers arrived in what has become an increasingly desperate and lawless city. “Lord, I thank you for getting us out of here,” said Leschia Radford, the Associated Press reported.

While the president promised, “Where it’s not right, we’re going to make it right,” criticism of the government’s sluggish response to the disaster continued to mount.

“The people of our city are holding on by a thread,” New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin warned in a statement to CNN. “Time has run out. Can we survive another night? And who can we depend on? Only God knows.”

One of the victims of the storm also criticized the relief effort even as soldiers arrived. “They should have been here days ago,” said Michael Levy, 46. “I ain’t glad to see ’em. I’ll be glad when 100 buses show up. We’ve been sleeping on the ground like rats.”

Because of the lawlessness in New Orleans – where looting, raping and beatings by roaming thugs have been reported – the commanding general in charge of the city’s relief effort, Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, directed the operation from a street corner – instructing National Guardsmen to keep their guns down, reports CNN.

“He stopped a truck full of National Guard Troops … and said, ‘Point your weapons down, this is not Iraq,'” according to CNN’s Barbara Starr who is traveling with the general.

But despite the arriving help, the city is still in peril. Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Elijah Cummings said the government’s response was insufficient and called on President Bush and private industry to step up aid.

“We cannot allow it to be said that the difference between those who lived and those who died in this great storm and flood of 2005 was nothing more than poverty, age or skin color,” Cummings said at a news conference Friday. “To the president of the United States I say God cannot be pleased with our response.”

The city’s mayor also had harsh words for the president, which he expressed Thursday, one day before President Bush’s second visit to the devastated areas. Bush initially viewed the damage while flying over the region Wednesday en route to Washington after cutting short his Texas vacation by two days.

On WWL Radio Nagin said that he has informed the president that “we had an incredible crisis here and that his flying over in Air Force One does not do it justice.”

On Friday, Bush visited Biloxi, Miss., where he embraced two women as they recounted their ordeal and talked to other people in the neighborhood.

In New Orleans overnight, police snipers were stationed on the roof of their precinct, trying to protect it from gunmen and looters who were roaming through the city.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco called people who committed such crimes “hoodlums” and issued a warning to lawbreakers: Hundreds of National Guard “have M-16s and they’re locked and loaded,” she said. “These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so, and I expect they will.”

Early Friday, a chemical explosion at a warehouse rocked a wide area of New Orleans and jolted residents awake, lighting up the sky and sending gray smoke over a ruined city. A second large fire erupted downtown in an old retail building in a dry section of Canal Street.

While there were no immediate reports of injuries, the fires deepened the sense of total collapse in the city since Katrina’s 145-mph winds slammed ashore Monday morning.

Despite a $10.5 billion recovery bill in Congress and a relief effort President Bush called the biggest in U.S. history, the situation remained desperate – and accusations continued that preventive measures were ignored, including the bolstering of New Orleans’s levees.

At the steamy and stench-filled Superdome, where tens of thousands were being evacuated to Houston, fistfights and fires have erupted amid a seething sea of tense, suffering people who waited in lines for up to four hours to board yellow school buses.

From Texas came further disheartening news: By late Thursday, the admittance of refugees to the Houston Astrodome was halted once 11,325 were accommodated – less than half the estimated 23,000 people expected.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced that Dallas would host 25,000 more refugees at Reunion Arena, and 25,000 others would relocate to a city-owned San Antonio warehouse that once was home to an Air Force base. Houston estimated as many as 55,000 people who fled the hurricane were staying in area hotels.