Today's Papers

The Flood

Everybody leads with the unfolding disaster in New Orleans, where two levees were breached, there was major looting, and a few reports of gunfire; the mayor guesstimated that 80 percent of the city is under water. Louisiana’s governor said everybody still in the city should leave—nobody is sure how that’s going to happen. There are at least 10,000 people in the Superdome and about waist-high water outside it. Early yesterday, a New York Timesreporter stopped to interview a top city official who responded, “Get out. I mean it.” The city government itself has moved its HQ to Baton Rouge for now.

The casualty count is also rising quickly in Mississippi’s Harrison County. The Washington Postsays there are now “more than 100” confirmed dead. “We are very, very worried that the figures will go much higher,” said one local official. “The death toll rises each time we go out.” Knight Ridder says that during the height of the storm in Harrison, “35 people swam out of their emergency operations center with life jackets on.” “We haven’t heard from them,” said an emergency-services manager.

The NYT and WP both front reports from Biloxi, where police were short of everything, including gas. “We need a ton of help. We could use National Guard units,” said one officer. There’s also extensive damage in Alabama, though only two reported deaths.

“We’re not even dealing with dead bodies,” said New Orleans’ mayor. “They’re just pushing them on the side.”

Fires were erupting from open gas lines, and looters were hitting the French Quarter and elsewhere. “It’s downtown Baghdad,” said one tourist, snapping pictures of the action. One police officer was critically wounded in a shooting. The Post calls the Superdome (overdramatically?) a “festering hellhole.” With flooding around it, the generators have gone offline, meaning there’s not even emergency lighting.

The Army Corps of Engineers is trying to plug the biggest levee break, but—there are conflicting reports—either the first attempt wasn’t successful, or there was a communications breakdown and authorities haven’t tried. The mayor said if the holes aren’t patched, the water will keep rising until this morning, at which point they’ll be level with Lake Pontchartrain. The most up-to-date info is coming from a blog set up by local TV station WWL. The station also has a feed of its live coverage. Last night, a city official told the station that the water is subsiding in a few neighborhoods, a point the NYT briefly echoes.

The Wall Street Journal has a satellite photo of the flooding in New Orleans, but it’s behind a pay-wall.

The Los Angeles Times talks to some of the looters, who unlike your average D.C.-briefer, were happy to go on-the-record. “I just took what I need,” said “Marie Brown, 36,” who grabbed cookies and shampoo from a drugstore. “Everyone you see out here, they’re just trying to survive,” she said. The LAT ends it looter-focused piece with this:

Looters and police taunted each other on Canal Street.”You want to steal something now?” shouted one police officer who toted a large shotgun.Juanita Carruth, 26, was carrying her 8-month-old daughter on her shoulders trying to wade to safety when a gun-toting police officer yelled at her to move faster.

“I’m sorry,” she said of the tears that cascaded down her face. “I can’t go any faster. I don’t know if I can go on. I am not worried about me—I am just worried about my baby.” 

Maybe TP is reading too much into that, but if the situation in New Orleans is drawing out tensions, including racial ones, then that’s worth exploring, no?

Everybody covers the city’s hospitals effectively shutting down. “We are in absolute complete darkness,” said the administrator of one major hospital that lost its backup power. Choppers were picking up critical patients, but it’s slow going since even the helipad has no lights. The Pentagon announced that it’s sending five ships to help with relief efforts, including a hospital ship.

The NYT plays up the possibility of an outbreak. But the Post plays it down, calling epidemics of cholera and typhoid “impossible because the microbes are not present in the population.”

Everybody notes thatgas futures jumped 20 percent yesterday. Katrina was “not so much a straw,” said one analyst, “but rather a large log on top of an already fully laden camel.” It’s still unclear how much damage refineries took. But with the going rate for gas futures, said another analyst, “We already have built into this market retail prices of more than $3 a gallon, that’s a certainty. The question is how quickly we get there and how long they stay there.”

In other news…  Five current and former top Lebanese officials were detained by Lebanese police—at the behest of U.N. investigators—in connection with the assassination of former President Rafik Hariri.

The Post got hold of draft federal regulations that would, according to the WP, allow power plants to pollute more. The proposed position is the opposite of the one taken by federal lawyers in a series of current lawsuits originally initiated by the Clinton administration.

Everybody notes new census figures showing the percentage of the population living below the official poverty line inching up a bit again and household income stagnated for another year. The NYT calls it the “first time on record” that household incomes failed to increase for five years in a row.