With conditions in the hurricane-ravaged city of New Orleans rapidly deteriorating, Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Tuesday that everyone still in the city, now huddled in the Superdome and other rescue centers, needs to be evacuated.I work within a Louisiana state run hospital and attended an emergency meeting this afternoon. There are reports of nursing home residents stranded on rooftops. 'Big Charity' hospital in New Orleans almost immediately lost their generators and the first floor is now completely submerged. The tentative plan is to try and evacuate patients via boat to Baton Rouge and from there Airforce transport planes are going to fly patients to waiting hospitals. Many of these patients were in critical condition to begin with.
"The situation is untenable," Blanco said, pausing to choke back tears at a news conference. "It's just heartbreaking."
The breach of two levees Tuesday meant the city was rapidly filling with water and the prospect of having power was a long time off, the governor said. She said the storm also severed a major water main, leaving the city without drinkable water.
"The goal is to bring enough supplies to sustain the people until we can establish a network to get them out," Blanco said.
FEMA is considering putting people on cruise ships, in tent cities, mobile home parks, or so-called floating dormitories, boats FEMA normally uses to house its own employees, said Coordinating Director Bill Lokey.
Lokey said he anticipated FEMA will set up a permanent office in the area.
Recovery will take so long, he said, that some workers could spend their entire career working on Katrina.
"This is the most significant natural disaster to hit the United States," Lokey said.
The devastation was enormous. One of the twin spans of Interstate 10 was broken into dozens of pieces between the pylons, stretched out across rising water like puzzle pieces. Only rooftops were visible in several neighborhoods and the occasional building was on fire. In relatively lucky neighborhoods, residents waded in the empty streets in knee-deep water.
Blanco, Lokey and others spoke to reporters after officials flew to New Orleans with FEMA director Mike Brown and other officials. They stopped at the Superdome, where Mayor Ray Nagin outlined the dire situation: hundreds, if not thousands, of people may still need rescuing from rooftops and attics, he said.
Blanco described the dedication of rescue workers who at midnight were told to take a break.
"They refused. They couldn't do it," Blanco said.
Blanco said rescuers were unable to get to people stranded, but safe, in one tall building because so many other people were "calling to them and jumping from rooftops" into the water to be rescued first.
Things were so bad, Nagin said, that rescue boats are bypassing the dead.
"We're not even dealing with dead bodies," Nagin said. "They're just pushing them on the side."
Maj. Gen. Bennett C. Landreneau, adjutant general for the Louisiana National Guard, said search and rescue teams were still picking up people throughout the city, leaving them on highway overpasses-turned-islands and on the Mississippi River levee to wait until they could be moved again.
They will eventually end up in the Superdome, where he estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people already have taken refuge and where rising water is threatening the generators.
Among the evacuees are 5,000 inmates from New Orleans and suburbs that need to be moved. Officials were trying to figure out how.
As the FEMA helicopter left, with Sen. Mary Landrieu looking out the window, a group of looters smashed a window at a convenience store off the interstate in Metairie and jumped inside.
Nagin described the looters as drug addicts ransacking drug stores and people looking for food.
Police chief Eddie Compass said police are mainly focused on search and rescue.
"We'll deal with looting afterward," Compass said. "Human life is our top priority."
Nagin confirmed one person died at the Superdome attempting to jump from one level to a lower one.
Nagin said 75 to 80 percent of the New Orleans area is flooded.
Nagin said there are two major breaks in levees -- one at Florida Avenue in New Orleans East and another on the 17th Street Canal, where two or three blocks of concrete levee blew out.
Because of the 17th Street Canal break, Lake Pontchartrain water is pouring into the city. Nagin said the pumps that normally protect the city are working, but since they send water into the lake it does no good.
He said the Corps of Engineers is trying to sandbag the break but he had no timeline for their efforts.
Levees seem to be holding everywhere else, he said.
Blanco asked residents to spend Wednesday in prayer.(emphasis mine)
Imagine being sick or old and completely displaced to places with no friends or family whatsoever. I've had colleagues who've lost everything. It is all very, very sad.
Keep Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana in your prayers. I'll try to update when possible.