Saturday, September 03, 2005

New Orleans to be abandoned

Thousands feared dead, New Orleans to be abandoned
UN says Katrina worst disaster ever
AP and Observer reports
Thursday, September 01, 2005

Cynthia Scott sits with her grandchildren, Dwayne Alphonse and 3-month-old twins Eric and Erin Alphonse, on an overpass next to the Superdome, yesterday, days after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. (Photo: AP)

WITH each passing hour, news of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina grows more horrific, but the US embassy in Kingston said the world's most powerful nation was not now accepting help from outside, even as the offers mount.

Yesterday, the Mayor of New Orleans said the death toll would be in the thousands in that city alone. A day ago, the toll was 50-80 with expectations it would have mounted to hundreds.

But now the authorities realise the situation is far worse.
"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."

The US acknowledges the crisis as its "worst natural disaster" in its history.

The United Nations went further to characterise it as one of the worst disasters internationally, outstripping even the damage caused by the December 26 Asian tsunami which killed 180,000.

While the destruction from the tsunami was estimated at about US$10 billion (euro8.2 billion), insurance experts estimate that Katrina will result in up to US$25 billion (euro20.5 billion) in insured losses.

Indirectly, its impact stretches internationally, pushing oil prices above US$70 per barrel yesterday, before settling at US$69.81 on reports from the US Coast Guard that at least seven rigs were seen adrift, while eight refineries have shut down.

"This is one of the most destructive natural disasters ever measured in the amount of homes destroyed, people affected, people displaced," said UN humanitarian official Jan Egeland.

"I would salute the very effective American efforts to warn the populations of the imminent danger and the very successful evacuation."

Jamaica was among the nations offering what help they could. But the Kingston embassy, while stating its appreciation for the support, politely declined the offers, saying in a statement: "The United States Government is not yet requesting international assistance at this time."

The embassy suggested, however, that persons and organisations wishing to help may still contact the US Federal Emergency Management Agency, www.fema.gov, coordinator of the recovery efforts.

The frightening estimate of deaths in New Orleans came as army engineers struggled to plug the city's breached levees with giant sandbags and concrete barriers, and authorities drew up plans to clear the city of people.

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.
Most of those refugees - 15,000 to 20,000 people - were in the Superdome, which had become hot and stuffy, with broken toilets and nowhere for anyone to bathe. "It can no longer operate as a shelter of last resort," the mayor said.

Nagin estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people remained in New Orleans. He said 14,000 to 15,000 a day could be evacuated.

The Pentagon, meanwhile, began mounting one of the largest search-and-rescue operations in US history, sending four Navy ships to the Gulf Coast with drinking water and other emergency supplies, along with the hospital ship USNS Comfort, search helicopters and elite SEAL water-rescue teams.

American Red Cross workers from across the country converged on the devastated region in the agency's biggest-ever relief operation.

The death toll from Hurricane Katrina has reached at least 110 in Mississippi alone. But Louisiana has put aside the counting of the dead to concentrate on rescuing the living, many of whom were still trapped on rooftops and in attics.
New Orleans will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

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