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Conditions 'unfathomable'

Editor's Note: CNN correspondents report back on what they are seeing in New Orleans and other Gulf Coast communities hit by Hurricane Katrina.

'The smell is unbearable'

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New Orleans (Louisiana)
Mississippi
Disasters and Accidents
Weather

CNN's Gary Baumgarten in New Orleans, Louisiana
Posted: 6:00 p.m. ET

I'm standing on an overpass looking down on a neighborhood where the homes are still covered with water almost to the gutters. And looking down on this exit ramp, I see two bodies. One has been put into a body bag and left there, and the other is covered up with a piece of quilt, but it's not fully covered so it's still there in open view and bloating.

The rescue workers are still using the freeway ramps to launch boats, and they're looking for people and animals to rescue and recover.

We can't stay on this overpass because the smell is unbearable -- a mix of decaying bodies and petroleum products and fecal matter. One really has to wonder what would cause people to stay in their homes under these conditions. It's just unfathomable. And yet people are doing that even though they've been told of the dangers.

I cannot believe that this far into this event, we're standing at an overpass looking down at two bodies like that, and nobody's bothered to recover them.

Some residents willing to stay put

CNN's Jeff Koinange in New Orleans, Louisiana
Posted: 3:07 p.m. ET

We went out most of Friday morning from neighborhood to neighborhood, following policemen and armed forces who are trying to convince people to leave the city. It's almost like pulling teeth.

A lot of people don't want to leave. But some people have had it. They're emaciated; they've run out of food and water.

But there are those stragglers, people who are simply adamant about leaving. We were into one area where the water was up to the knees. It's such a terrible situation. There's going to be a standoff where the police or armed forces will have to force people out of the city because the water situation is getting worse and there's a fear of an outbreak of disease.

We've followed quite a few different units as they go from neighborhood to neighborhood. They've told us they aren't going to force anybody, but will try to convince them to leave. They've succeeded to a point, but there are just those people who don't want to leave the city. Some have pets in the house and homes they aren't sure will be secure when they leave. The bottom line: They are going to stay for as long as it takes.

'We survived the storm'

Posted: 9:52 a.m. ET
CNN's Matt Sloane in Biloxi, Mississippi

This was my first time covering a hurricane and it would prove to be one of the deadliest hurricanes in history. We arrived in Biloxi, Mississippi, the day before the storm, and prepared to "batten down the hatches." From that point on, it was an experience I could never forget.

I spent the first hours of the storm in my hotel room bathtub, but when the roof started to disappear, I thought I'd be safer down in the lobby. We all spent the next five or six hours riding out the 120-plus mph winds in the lobby, and by 5 or 6 p.m., the winds began to die down.

First hurdle cleared -- we survived the storm. (See video of the damage in Biloxi, Mississippi, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina -- 2:03)

But that's when the real shock came. My photographer, my sound technician and I were the first media crew to cross the I-110 bridge from our hotel in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, into downtown Biloxi. I was definitely not prepared for what I was about to see. Trees across the highway were only the beginning. We saw large boats in people's front lawns, and as we got closer to the beach, the destruction got worse.

I was amazed at the kind of catastrophic damage that wind and water could cause. There was a large pile of 40 or 50 cars stacked three high. The entire bottom floor of an apartment building was gutted. And the casinos, which only days before were the center of commerce for southern Mississippi, were badly damaged.

Two images in particular will stick with me forever. Tuesday morning about 2 a.m., only hours after the winds had died down, we were driving around Gulfport, Mississippi, heading back toward Biloxi.

The town was pitch black, and as we drove out, I looked up to the sky. There was a line of clouds going from east to west, as far as I could see in both directions. And behind it was a crystal clear, black night sky with thousands of stars. Hurricane Katrina had finally moved out -- almost 24 hours after it came barreling in, and it gave me the sense that, "OK, now the destruction is done. The cleanup can begin."

At that point, I didn't know what my colleagues stationed west of us in New Orleans were experiencing. The destruction had only just begun.

The other thing I will never forget is the St. Charles Apartment Complex. We had received reports that 30 or more people had died in this one complex, so we drove to the location to see what we could find out. After hiking over what seemed like an endless pile of rubble, every inch of which had rusty nails sticking out of it, we reached the site where the complex had been. What was left of it was a concrete slab, and a few mementos of better days in Biloxi.

The survivors we came across were extraordinary. They could not have been more gracious and friendly. They had lost everything, and were offering us cold drinks and a place to get out of the sun!

We never did go to New Orleans, and as bad as the damage was in Biloxi and Gulfport, I can't even imagine what New Orleans looked like on the ground. Many kudos and thanks to all of our correspondents, producers, photographers, technicians, engineers and everyone else we worked with for putting themselves in harm's way to tell the stories that came out of this deadly storm.

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