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CNN: Heartbreak and destruction in small towns and large

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

New Orleans destruction recalls past tragedies

CNN's Jeanne Meserve recounts her time spent amid the destruction in New Orleans.



New Orleans (Louisiana)
Disasters and Accidents

Posted: 4:12 p.m. ET
CNN's Jeanne Meserve in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

On the way out of New Orleans, it looked like the dust bowl. You've seen the pictures of the dust bowl, of people piled onto the backs of tracks and moving their lives. That's what is happening here. It's extraordinary to witness.

I truly believe that apart from 9/11 this is one of the most significant events that has ever hit this country. Anybody who tells you this disaster is going to be rectified in a matter of months hasn't seen the situation.

People are carrying their children, trying to get them to safety. A woman coming down to the police, close to hysterics, saying, "My elderly mother is in a building over there, she needs dialysis. She can't get it. She is dying. Can you help me?"

And the police had to say, "There is absolutely nothing we can do. We don't have a precinct house. We don't have communication. There is absolutely nothing we can do for you." (Watch the video report on the pregnant woman who swam for help for her asthmatic son 2:21)

That was amazing to me.

The other thing that struck me was the looting. The police were standing in the middle of the street and right in front of them stores were being ransacked. And they didn't even make an effort to stop it. I don't think they could, under the circumstances.

They were totally outnumbered. They couldn't call for any reinforcements. And frankly, the priority now isn't property. The priority has to be people and people's lives. The police are there protectively, I think, in case things escalate even further. But they are powerless. They're powerless in this situation. (See the video on how violence is hindering help -- 3:13)

We did see tree removal trucks, electric trucks. So help is beginning to come in. We even saw, and this was a very strong image, Air Force One, or what we believed was Air Force One.

That was a powerful image to us because we've been out of communication, unaware really of what's happening in the outside world. This was a sign that you've heard, that you've heard and listened.

New Orleans a refugee city

Posted: 3:46 p.m. ET
CNN's Jim Spellman in New Orleans, Louisiana

New Orleans has fast become a refugee city. Thousands and thousands of people are seeking shelter on the highway overpasses looking for some sort of help, some sort of information. (Watch the video of desperate masses huddled on the riverfront -- 2:54)

They are screaming out to us and anybody around for water and for help. They are looking for information and for a way to get out.

On the highway overpasses and underneath the highways as well, people are trying to find a spot for themselves. Prison buses are streaming by to evacuate prisoners and a lot of people are very, very upset that they aren't getting help, but the prisoners are.

We have seen looting all day long. We actually went right up to a Walgreens where people were trying on shoes to get the correct size. They were picking out whatever it is they wanted -- televisions, just anything they could get. The police have definitely been trying to keep it to a minimum. The police are in boats but there's really nothing they can do. I don't know where they would even take anybody. They are taking all the looted material and they are trying to keep the chaos to a minimum.

Today is the first day when I think lack of water is starting to become a problem. It's about in the 90s. It's extremely humid here. And people are just baking out on these highways. There is nowhere else for them to go.

New Orleans airport becomes makeshift hospital

Posted: 2:20 p.m. ET
CNN's Ed Lavandera in Kenner, Louisiana

I just spoke with one of the officials here who is in charge of organizing the entire logistical situation at the Louis Armstrong International Airport here in New Orleans. This is where over the last 12 hours a team of FEMA workers have been setting up a field hospital, one of about 40 or so that have been set up across the region.

To give you a sense of just how massive this operation is, consider that in the four major hurricanes that hit Florida last year there were never more than five of these field hospitals set up at any time.

This one here at the New Orleans airport will turn out probably to be one of the most effective ones. In the last hour, we've seen four Coast Guard helicopters dropping off people who need medical attention. The inside of the terminal here has been turned into a makeshift hospital. There are FedEx trucks that have been turned into pharmacies on wheels.

The head of that logistical operation is hearing rumors that as many as 20 helicopter missions will be returning here to the tarmac and bringing more patients. And just because there are 20 helicopters doesn't mean that's just 20 people. There could be dozens of people brought in.

We understand these could be people who are literally just being plucked from their homes. There are people who are trapped in hospitals or other shelters who need immediate medical attention who also are being brought in. A lot of that is going on.

Since we've been here, we've seen helicopters landing. We've seen a couple planes land as well. But by no means does this mean that just anybody can come flying into the New Orleans airport. I think it is kind of obvious, but the aviation director here at the airport was telling me that for the next several weeks the only people probably allowed to land at this airport will be those that are involved in the humanitarian mission here, the rescue mission and the relief mission.

It could be as long as two months before this airport returns to normal for regular civilian air traffic.

New Orleans getting worse by the hour

Posted: 1:03 p.m. ET
CNN's John Zarella in New Orleans, Louisiana

We are part of a convoy of CNN personnel who left the city. We left the hotel this morning. As we did so, we helped evacuate people from it.

We drove on the sidewalks to stay high enough out of the water so the cars would not bog down until we made it over to Canal Street. Canal Street was dry in the middle. We stopped where the police were and I told one of the officers that we had these evacuees from the hotel and that we were told to drop them off there with him. He said, "Well, we're not going anywhere. We're only here because we can't get back to our station. Everything's flooded under water."

So they're sitting in the middle of Canal Street. We took the evacuees to another area by another hotel and dropped them off there.

We wound our way through the city this morning through back streets and side streets, downed power lines, around downed industries. We were driving on the wrong side of the road periodically, up along the Mississippi bank, along the levee and finally made it over the Huey P. Long Bridge on Highway 90. We are making our way up to Baton Rouge now. Highway 90 is a steady stream of traffic.

In New Orleans, there's no sanitation any longer. The knee-deep water in the hotel lobby is just full of stench. It is a miserable, deteriorating situation in the city and it is growing worse by the hour and the water is rising.

The fact of the matter is this bowl, as they call it, is filling up. The estimates of time that it's going to take to get the water out of the bowl are three to six months. You could be sitting there in absolutely untenable conditions, in water that is filled with disease and germs, for months to come, walking through it, slogging through it.

With the looting that's going on and with the deteriorating sanitation conditions, it is a situation where you can't cover the story because you can't venture out from the hotel. It's so dangerous, one, because the water is getting higher, and two, because of the disease factor that is beginning. There's no food, there's no water.

Shreveport hospital in dire need

Posted: 12:36 p.m. ET
CNN's Deborah Feyerick in Shreveport, Louisiana

We had a conversation with one family who had left New Orleans. They are desperately trying to get in touch with their sister. She is a college nurse at the Memorial Medical Hospital on Napoleon Street. The story they told us of what is going on at that hospital is quite dramatic.

According to their sister, looters are trying to get into the hospital. There's no electricity. The nurses, the doctors and their families have virtually locked themselves into the medical center and they don't know when they are going to be able to get out.

The story they were telling us is that the hospital administration was telling the staff there it would be five days until they might be able to be rescued. They are telling us that people in the hospital are dying because there's no electricity.

One nurse walked outside to get a breath of fresh air. She was robbed at gunpoint. There were National Guard that was around the hospital, but apparently we are told they pulled out in order to help with the prisoner uprising that happened yesterday.

And according to the story they are telling the people who are in that hospital simply don't know how they are going to get out. They want their sister to try to meet them in Shreveport. Right now they can't get in touch with her. We tried to call her. We can't get in touch with the hospital either. It's a desperate situation.

Homes flattened in Biloxi

Posted: 12:15 p.m. ET
CNN's Ted Rowlands in Biloxi, Mississippi

Many structures along the Mississippi coast have been literally flattened by Hurricane Katrina.

It is difficult for search and rescue crews to wade through this. This is expanded over miles and miles, including some larger cities like Biloxi and smaller cities and townships.

Vast stretches have been flattened by Hurricane Katrina. The death toll continues to rise here. People have been trickling in against the advice of authorities to see if their homes withstood the hurricane.

Most folks here in Biloxi have come away with very bad news, finding out that their homes have been completely destroyed. There is no electricity and no water. It is a health hazard to have people coming in. The odds of them finding their house in one piece are low. Coming back now does absolutely no good.

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