Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Escape from New Orleans

And then it got worse.

Again, from the AP:

With law officers and National Guardsmen focused on saving lives, looters around the city spent another day brazenly ransacking stores for food, clothing, appliances — and guns.

Thieves commandeered a forklift and used it to push up the storm shutters and break the glass of a pharmacy. The crowd stormed the store, carrying out so much ice, water and food that it dropped from their arms as they ran. The street was littered with packages of ramen noodles and other items.

Looters also chased down a state police truck full of food. The New Orleans police chief ran off looters while city officials themselves were commandeering equipment from a looted Office Depot. During a state of emergency, authorities have broad powers to take private supplies and buildings for their use.

Officials tried to balance security needs with saving lives.

"We're multitasking right now," said New Orleans Police Capt. Marlon Defillo. "Rescue, recovery, stabilization of looting, we're trying to feed the hungry."

Gov. Kathleen Blanco said she has asked the White House to send more people to help with evacuations and rescues, thereby freeing up National Guardsmen to stop looters.

"We need to free up the National Guard to do security in the city," Blanco said.

New Orleans' homeland security chief, Terry Ebbert, said looters were breaking into stores all over town and stealing guns. He said there are gangs of armed men moving around the city. At one point, officers stranded on the roof of a hotel were fired at by criminals on the street.

The Times-Picayune newspaper reported that the gun section at a new Wal-Mart had been cleaned out by looters.

Authorities said an officer was shot in the head and a looter was wounded in a shootout. The officer was expected to survive.

Authorities planned to send more than 70 additional officers and an armed personnel carrier into the city.

In the meantime, city authorities were putting a higher priority on rescuing victims and repairing a levee breach that was spilling water into the streets.

"One of our fears is if we don't stop the breach, that we will put good people's lives in jeopardy," the governor said. "We are concerned about essentials. We are asking for more military presence in the city to control the situation better.

On New Orleans' Canal Street, dozens of looters ripped open the steel gates on clothing and jewelry stores and grabbed merchandise. In Biloxi, Miss., people picked through casino slot machines for coins and ransacked other businesses. In some cases, the looting was in full view of police and National Guardsmen.

The historic French Quarter appeared to have been spared the worst flooding, but its stores were getting the worst of human nature.

"The looting is out of control. The French Quarter has been attacked," Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson said. "We're using exhausted, scarce police to control looting when they should be used for search and rescue while we still have people on rooftops."

Sen. Mary Landrieu's helicopter was taking off Tuesday for a flyover of the devastation and she watched as a group of people smashed a window at a gas-station convenience store and jumped in.

At a drug store in the French Quarter, people were running out with grocery baskets and coolers full of soft drinks, chips and diapers. Other looters were seen leaving a store with armfuls of tennis shoes and football jerseys.

We could really use the Justice League right about now...