On our way
into the city, most of the media appeared to be gathering on
the expressway, waiting for the evacuation to begin before
PLURPLURPLURPLURPLURPLURPLUR camera. Inside the city, where
contaminated floodwater is beginning to stink in the midday
sun, a few camera crews remain. The CNN crew stands in the
middle of Canal Street, downtown New Orleans' main
thoroughfare, bargaining to buy a truck from a soon-to-be
evacuee. "How much gas does it have in it?" asks a producer.
"Will you throw in the canoe? Can we siphon some gas off
Rescue efforts did not begin in
earnest until late Wednesday afternoon, although the worst of
the storm passed mid-morning on Monday. Initially, Coast Guard
helicopters transported a few stranded flood victims to storm
shelters around the city, while camera crews beamed the images
of rooftop rescues. Mayor Ray Nagin had warned before the
storm that shelters would be places of "last resort," and in
stifling heat that reached 95 degrees, with no running water
or electricity, they became chaotic scenes of desperation.
We talk to a few of the thousands of people for
whom no shelter was provided. Tourists have been some of the
unlucky ones. "We were kicked out of our hotel several days
ago; we were thrown out onto the street with no food or
supplies or anything," says Betty Ellanson, a 60-ish woman
from Sumter County, Ga. "We're on our own. We've been told
that by law enforcement and the National Guard." Ellanson is
camping out, sleeping on a cement pedestrian bridge that runs
between the convention center and the Riverwalk shopping mall
with a makeshift clan of 50 other tourists, who had been
expelled from the same hotel for "liability reasons." They
have been scavenging the streets for food and water, hoarding
peanuts and soft drinks among their Samsonites.
Lacking any reliable source of information about how
to proceed, residents from the flooded eastern parts of the
city and stranded visitors wander westward in a state of
desperation. People shout at cars, pleading for rides to
anywhere, and ask each other where they're headed. Several
thousand residents forced from their homes line Convention
Center Avenue, where rumor has it evacuations were set to
begin. National Guard personnel say they had no immediate
plans to begin evacuations from that location.
chatting with some of the National Guardsmen, another
guardsman approaches and informs us that a woman is in the
middle of a stroke around the corner. The guardsmen shrug.
There is no emergency medical tent in the downtown area, and
many people in need of medicine have no way of getting what
they need, even inside the shelters. On our way into the
French Quarter, a wild-eyed man flags down our car, begging us
for insulin or information about where some can be found. We
cannot help him.
In contrast, some residents of the
French Quarter appear comfortable, well-fed and relaxed. About
150 New Orleans police officers have commandeered the Royal
Omni Hotel, part of the international luxury chain of Omni
hotels that is housed in an elegant 19th century building,
complete with crystal chandeliers and a rooftop pool. "All of
the officers that are here, I can tell you in a classical
sense, are gladiators," says Capt. Kevin Anderson, commander
of the Eighth District of the NOPD (French Quarter). "To be
able to put your family's concerns aside to protect the
citizens of New Orleans, it's just an awesome job," he says.
Across the street from the Royal Omni at the Eighth
District police department, several police officers keep a
wary eye on the street with shotguns at the ready, while some
fellow officers grill sausage links over charcoal barbecues.
They are under strict orders not to communicate with the
media. Capt. Anderson does confirm, however, that locations
where officers were housed came under gunfire on Tuesday
night. No officers were injured. "It is a very dangerous
situation that we're in," Anderson says.
rescue operations, the police department patrols for looters,
who have ransacked stores in virtually every part of the city.
Looters are visible on every street corner. Every kind of
business, from rundown corner markets to the Gucci storefront
on South Peters Street, has been looted.
We walk half
a block down Royal Street from the Eighth District
headquarters and come upon Brennan's Restaurant, one of New
Orleans' most venerable dining institutions. The Brennans are
a high-profile family of restaurateurs and run several of the
highest-end eateries in town. Jimmy Brennan and a crew of his
relatives are holing up in the restaurant along with the chef,
Lazone Randolph. They are sleeping on air mattresses, drinking
Cheval Blanc, and feasting on the restaurant's reserves of
haute Creole food.
The atmosphere in the French
Quarter, while relatively quiet, is decidedly tense, but
Brennan isn't worried. "We're not too concerned. The police
let us go over to the Royal Omni, to take a shower, freshen
up, and we cooked them some prime rib. We take care of them,
they take care of us," says Randolph. Two Brennan emissaries
whisk past, bearing multilayer chocolate cakes, headed toward
the precinct. "This has been working out real well for us,"
says Jimmy Brennan.
Contrary to many reports, the
French Quarter remains undamaged by flooding. The streets are
dry and damage to the 18th and 19th century buildings appears
to be minimal. Heavily pierced French Quarter denizens are
emerging slowly, almost groggily, and some are looking to
evacuate. One woman, wearing a black lace slip and fanning
herself with a souvenir fan from a production of "Les
Miserables," makes her way toward the Superdome, carrying no
"The Quarter always survives!" declares
Finnis, the owner of Alex Patout's restaurant on St. Louis
Street, who declined to give his last name. Standing in front
of his restaurant, he sips champagne with several friends,
insisting that his restaurant's gradually warming walk-in
fridges will provide them with sustenance for up to a month.
Indeed, food doesn't seem to concern those who intend
to stay through the rebuilding process. Back Uptown, Jerrell
and her sons will avail themselves of the local A&P, which
has long since had its doors broken off. It will be a long
time before it reopens, and until then its shelves will be a
lifeline for many.
While the water appears to have
ceased rising since Tuesday night, the French Quarter is
hemmed in by water on three sides. Four blocks away from the
Eighth District headquarters and Brennan's restaurant lie
mile-long stretches of the stinking floodwaters of Lake
Back on Canal Street, no one seems to
be going anywhere. Despite the city having shut off the water
supply in an attempt to force evacuation, many New Orleans
citizens don't seem intent upon leaving. Others, who wish to
leave, are in the dark as to how. With authorities saying that
services may not be restored for one to two months, the
question of what will become of these thousands of New
Orleanians remains the most unresolved issue in Katrina's
As the afternoon begins to wane, we hasten
to leave the downtown area. Nighttime is pitch-black in New
Orleans now, and martial law has not succeeded in quelling the
sense that total anarchy is just a few more hot days