Hunger and rage
NY DAILY NEWS | September 2nd, 2005
By TAMER EL-GHOBASHY
NEW ORLEANS - A great city has descended into chaos.
In much of New Orleans yesterday, food and water remained in short supply. Medical help was nowhere to be found. And answers were impossible to come by.
Then hope ran out and it was the biggest loss of all.
At the city's convention center, a frustrated and angry mob rioted, furious that they had been dumped at a place where there was no food, no water and no one in charge.
At the Superdome, fights broke out in the huge crowd that assembled on an upper parking deck. The crowd jostled for position and hoped eventually to get on a bus to somewhere - anywhere.
A man who asked for a cigarette got beaten with a pipe.
"People are hysterical. I'm scared. I'm upset," said Gloria Charles, 53, a school custodian.
Charles had walked to the Superdome in waist-high water with her five daughters, six grandkids, six nieces and nephews. They took turns keeping her mother, a 72-year-old amputee, afloat on an air mattress.
Her mother was taken away a day earlier for medical treatment.
"Now we're going to Houston" to the Astrodome, said Charles. "Where will she be?"
As if things weren't bad enough, a rumor soon shot through the crowd that another hurricane was brewing in the Atlantic. It even had a name: Hurricane Leo.
The anxious lines of people pushed against a National Guard barricade, sweaty and screaming and wishing it was all a bad dream.
But compared to the convention center, the Superdome was at least controlled chaos.
Daily News photographer Mike Appleton and I heard there was a riot under way at the convention center and headed over there.
As we walked past the Windsor Court hotel, we were stopped by a female state trooper. "Y'all came over here without guns? Don't go there. Don't go there unless you have a machine gun around your neck. We pulled our troops out because the civilians have taken over. We don't have the manpower to deal with them," she said.
But Mike and I decided to press on. This is a story the world needs to hear.
We passed a family next - three women and two men - frying chicken on a street corner. One of the men, wearing a 9-inch knife on his belt, wished us luck.
"Y'all better be strapped," he said as we walked by - strapped being slang for armed. The scene at the convention center was wild; the fury palpable. The people looked far more desperate and far more desolate than those at the Superdome.
"There's nobody of authority here," said A.G. Norton, 48. "They left us here under the impression that they weren't going to put us in the Dome because of the conditions there. But what about the conditions here?"
There was no food or water and not a cop or a soldier to be seen. And overnight, I was told, 10 people had died.
I was skeptical of the claim and a man took me to a massive refrigerator in the center's kitchen.
Eight bodies were inside, though there was no power to keep the refrigerator on. I found the other two corpses around the back, on a loading dock.
The body of an elderly woman sat in a wheelchair covered with a red-and-blue checkered cloth. Her feet stuck out and had blood on them. Next to her was a woman wrapped in a white sheet.
A little while later, we heard the thump-thump-thump of a helicopter and a Black Hawk dropped from the gray sky into the parking lot. The mob rushed the copter, swarming it before it even had a chance to land.
The soldiers inside opened the doors and pushed out cases of water and boxes of MREs - meals ready to eat. People pushed. People yelled. The old folks and kids grabbed what they could. The young men made out best, though some were willing to share their bounty. Others just kept what they had claimed and shouldered their way through the crowd.
Claudia Sims, 54, watched from the side, her six grandkids all around her. They hadn't eaten in 24 hours.
"I can't compete with these people," she said.
One of her little granddaughters waded into the throng and came back with a smile on her face.
"Grandma, I got food!"
In her tiny hand was her bounty - a single MRE.
Three minutes after landing, the copter lifted off and rose into the air.
I have seen such scenes before, but always on television and always from faraway places. In Third World nations, but not here.
As I watched the copter go, I thought to myself:
Can this really be happening in America?