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Last Updated: Wednesday, 31 August 2005, 18:31 GMT 19:31 UK
Growing crisis in US storm city
Man climbs on roof of church with fallen steeple
There has been billions of dollars worth of damage in the south
Flood-stricken New Orleans is overwhelmed by looting, rising waters and increasingly desperate people, two days after Hurricane Katrina struck.

Army engineers trying to plug breached barriers with sandbags said it was "like dropping them into a black hole".

The mayor of the low-lying Louisiana city warned it could be four months before people could return home.

In Mississippi, the death toll has reached 110, but there are still no official estimates for Louisiana.

State officials say they are putting off the counting of the dead until they have rescued the survivors.

The authorities are planning to evacuate up to 20,000 people from the city's Superdome stadium where conditions have sharply deteriorated. Water is rising inside, there is no electricity and toilets are overflowing.

Four people believed to be elderly or infirm died in the stadium overnight, according to reports.

Before the phones went, I was told [my family in Biloxi] had lost their roof, barn, 2 oak trees and many pines and they were letting in water
Natalie McVeigh
Oakley, England

In Mississippi, officials have warned the death toll is likely to climb further.

Harrison County bore the brunt of Hurricane Katrina as it slammed into Biloxi and Gulfport before heading inland.

"I can only imagine that this is what Hiroshima looked like 60 years ago," said the state's governor, Haley Barbour, after viewing the destruction from the air.

In the worst hit areas of Mississippi, 90% of the buildings were "totally just gone", he said.

Rising water

About a million people were evacuated from the New Orleans area before the hurricane struck, but Mayor Ray Nagin said a "couple hundred thousand" were still trapped in the city.

Water from Lake Pontchartrain is pouring into New Orleans after the failed attempts to plug breaches in the barriers which are supposed to protect the city.


The pumps which usually assist are no longer working because of the rising levels.

"The water will rise to try and equal the water level of the lake, which is 3ft (1m) above sea level," Mayor Nagin said.

"I'm on the 27th floor of a very un-air conditioned building looking out over the city. And I'm looking uptown and where there was dry land, there is now several feet of water."

Earlier he voiced his frustration with the relief effort, attacking what he saw as a lack of co-ordination.

"There is way too many frigging ... cooks in the kitchen," he said.

Looting

The BBC's Alastair Leithead in New Orleans says there is panic as vital supplies run out. Heavily armed police have been trying to impose a form of martial law to stem looting.

The search for survivors continues in New Orleans as waters continue to rise

While some looters are stealing non-essential goods, others are simply trying to find food and water.

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco acknowledged there was a severe problem with looting, but said officials had to focus on finding those who were still alive.

"We don't like looters one bit, but first and foremost is search and rescue," she said.

Survivors are being found all the time.

In Mississippi, two children who lost their parents were taken to safety. In New Orleans, people are still being winched from roofs.

Mobilising

The US Red Cross has mobilised thousands of volunteers for its biggest-ever natural disaster effort and federal emergency teams are being dispatched.

American Red Cross donations

tel (in the US): 1 800 HELP NOW

President George W Bush, whose ratings have fallen to an all-time low in the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, has cut his holiday two days short.

He is expected to chair a meeting on Wednesday evening of a White House task force set up to co-ordinate the relief effort.

Queen Elizabeth II has sent a message to Mr Bush saying she is "shocked and saddened" at the devastation caused by Katrina, and expressing her sympathy for US citizens.

Damage estimates of more than $25bn suggest it could be the US insurance industry's most expensive natural disaster ever.

The price of crude oil on the international market hit a record $70.85 a barrel due to the vulnerability of oil and gas fields in the Gulf of Mexico.

The US energy secretary has announced that oil will be released from government petroleum reserves.





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Looting breaks out in hurricane-hit areas



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