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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 September 2005, 03:44 GMT 04:44 UK
Patrolling the 'Venice from Hell'

By Matthew Davis
BBC News, New Orleans

In a small boat chugging round the streets of eastern New Orleans, the surreal scene dumbfounds even seasoned rescuers.

US marines on patrol in New Orleans
Seasoned rescuers have been dumbfounded by the scenes

Road signs crane above the stagnant waters, power lines hang inches above head height.

Beneath the surface, cars have become the twisted equivalent of sandbanks.

Our boat passes rows of houses marked with red spray paint - signs that show the building has been checked, and which tell of the fate of their occupants.

Brown lines along the wooden walls of properties show the high water mark, now just inches from its peak despite days of effort to get the waters to recede.

On the roof of one house, its former occupants scrawled a desperate plea to rescuers hovering over the city: "Help, Mayday".

A small hole in one end of the building shows how they smashed out of the home that became a prison.
On patrol in New Orleans

In the middle of one road, a car has been driven onto a raised central reservation, giving it the appearance of floating on water.

A forlorn dog barks on the balcony of one partially submerged villa.

Metres away, the bloated body of a man lies on top of a car.

Police - who have yet to remove the corpse - believe he died after the effort of reaching his temporary haven.

Staying put

The scene has been described as a "Venice from Hell".

Amazingly, some are determined to stay.

Captain Bill Cox, of the Missouri State Water Patrol, says many people clinging on to their former lives are ignorant of the severity of their situation.

"They really don't realise just how bad it is," he says.

"Numerous people we have taken out, they thought the water would recede in two or three days.

"They don't accept the fact that it will keep getting worse - soon disease is really going to be a factor."

Kenneth Jackson and two friends crowd onto the iron staircase which once led to a second floor flat - but which now descends beneath the water.

Men sitting out the floods in New Orleans
Kenneth Jackson and his friends are putting faith in God

Captain Cox visited them this morning but they will not leave - despite the fact that rescuers will soon be moving to a new sector of the city.

Their reasons are part stubbornness, part security and part the optimistic hope that life will soon be normal.

"This is my last bit of stuff here," says Mr Jackson. "My wife and kids were evacuated, I decided to stay back.

"We just about lost everything. Looters have been in homes down the road - but we trust in God."

Inside, the men are living in a perfectly habitable house. His wife's computer stands proudly on Mr Jackson's desk.

There are enough beds for the three of them - and a couch covered with duvets and pillows. The men have cigarettes, bottles of water, soft drinks and boiled sweets - all from the rescue boats.

For now they have enough candles to provide light when the darkness falls.

A flooded house in New Orleans
Desperate people scrawled messages on their roofs

Troy Vaughan says: "We listen to the radio, to the news and the gospel - we are making it.

"A week ago Mr Jackson saved me from the water. It came in so fast. When we were in here the house was shaking in the wind, blowing like a freight train. Our lives were in the air."

Bill Cox wishes them well and tells them to scrawl on the roof if they need help from rescuers.

Returning to the highway ramp that is a makeshift launch pad for scores of rescue boats, our boat meets another team from Missouri, escorted by US marines with machine guns.

A gang is rumoured to be holed up in a property a few streets away - no one is taking any chances in the hunt for survivors.

Patrolman David Wall shouts across: "Right now we are concentrating on people who are alive.

"All we can do is encourage them that it would be best for them to leave. If it was my home and all I had, I probably wouldn't want to go either."


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the squalid living conditions for the survivors



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