A week after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans on Monday searched for growing numbers of its dead from the city’s worst catastrophe and had not given up on finding more of the living.
As emergency teams scouted flooded homes and streets for bodies, authorities said Louisiana’s official death toll of 59 could rise into the thousands.
Rescuers in boats and helicopters were still pulling hundreds of people from rooftops, homes and buildings and police said they were getting 1,000 or more emergency calls for help each day, many from people still trapped in their homes and attics by floodwaters.
Local officials believe thousands remain in the once-vibrant city despite mass evacuations before and after Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf Coast last Monday, hammering an area the size of Britain in one of the biggest natural disasters in American history. Well over 100 deaths have been confirmed in Mississippi, with many people unaccounted for.
Authorities were slowly regaining control of New Orleans after days of murder, rape and looting that horrified America and the world.
The much-beloved Southern city, which lies below sea level, fell into chaos after being swamped by floodwaters when Katrina’s force burst protective levees.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it was making progress toward pumping out the city but still expected it would take 80 days or more to complete the job.
President George W. Bush planned to visit relief efforts in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Poplarville, Mississippi, on Monday — his second trip to the devastated region in less than a week.
His administration, criticized heavily for its slow response to the flooding, sent top officials to the disaster zone on Sunday and pledged to do whatever it took to clean up New Orleans and help its evacuees.
Some battered survivors could not contain their anger.
“We have been abandoned by our own country,” Aaron Broussard, president of Jefferson Parish just south of New Orleans, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Bush has conceded the relief efforts were unacceptable and has ordered 7,200 extra active-duty troops to the disaster zone.
‘HOUSE TO HOUSE’
Government and emergency officials said it was not the time to assign blame for the troubled rescue efforts but to focus on the challenges ahead.
“We’re going to have to go house to house in this city. We’re going to have to check every single place to find people who may be alive and in need of assistance,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said.
Chertoff warned of grim times ahead in the rescue and recovery mission.
“When we remove the water from New Orleans, we’re going to uncover people who died hiding in houses, who got caught by the flood, people whose remains will be found in the street.
“It is going to be about as ugly a scene as you can imagine.”
Signs of hope were emerging for the stricken city. Lights began to go on in some neighborhoods when the local power company began restoring electricity.
National Guard troops and U.S. marshals patrolled once chaotic streets, while some residents joined the Coast Guard in rescue efforts.
In New Orleans’ notoriously poor 9th district, police launched search missions with small speed boats to find bodies and survivors.
The tips of roofs poked out from water bubbling from burst gas mains, and, in one spot, a swelling corpse floated on floodwaters.
PICKING UP THE PIECES
Hundreds of thousands of internal refugees from the disaster in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama were dispersing to states across the country as they confronted how to rebuild shattered lives.
Texas alone was accommodating 139,000 in public shelters, while 100,000 others were in hotels. Many more were in private shelters run by churches and other groups or with Texas family and friends.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry said he was seeking to airlift some of the refugees to other states such as Utah, Michigan, Iowa and New York.
“As Texas provides food, shelter and medicine to more than 230,000 evacuees, we are concerned about our capacity to meet this great human need as thousands more arrive by the day,” Perry said in a statement.
“There are shelters set up in other states that are sitting empty while thousands arrive in Texas by the day, if not the hour.”
Most of Katrina’s victims were black and poor, and some black leaders have said the federal government would have moved much more quickly if rich, white people were suffering.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the administration’s highest-ranking black, rejected the accusation on a tour of Mobile, Alabama on Sunday, saying, “Nobody, especially the president, would have left people unattended on the basis of race.”
(Additional reporting by Erwin Seba, Paul Simao in New Orleans, Jim Loney in Baton Rouge, Adam Tanner in Houston, Matt Daily in Biloxi, Steve Holland and John Whitesides in Washington)