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Stories of heartbreak and hope in Katrina's wake

New Orleans airport housing medical patients

This woman at the New Orleans airport said she can't find her newborn baby.



New Orleans (Louisiana)
Disasters and Accidents

Posted: 5:28 p.m. ET
CNN's Ed Lavandera in Kenner, Louisiana

There are about 25 helicopters ferrying people back and forth between the New Orleans airport and the city of New Orleans. The airport is becoming a military airfield.

Equipment normally used to move luggage around is being used to move people instead. Inside the terminal of the airport, the FEMA medical teams are overwhelmed with the number of people here.

We have seen many critical patients who have been pulled from area hospitals and brought here. We saw one body taken off a plane on the back of one of these luggage racks.

It is a tense scene inside. I came across a maternity ward of women holding their newborn babies. Every woman was holding a newborn baby except for one woman who had only a picture of her child.

She said her baby had been taken to the intensive care unit. As she was readying to board an aircraft for Ft. Worth, Texas, she told me she didn't know where to find her baby.

The plan is to move a lot of these people out of the airport on fixed-wing aircraft presumably either to Houston or Ft. Worth or other parts of Louisiana as well.

I've also been told by one FEMA official who said they're doing a nationwide bed count of hospitals, perhaps looking for any kind of place that might be able to handle all of these people.

Police struggle to maintain order

Posted: 5:18 p.m. ET
CNN's Chris Lawrence in New Orleans, Louisiana

Police tell us that someone did go by the New Orleans Convention Center and fire at some of the people standing outside. We believe they have that person in custody, although it is hard to get information. The police are very, very tense right now. So it's a little difficult to have them stop and explain what happened.

They're literally riding around with full assault weapons and in full tactical gear in pickup trucks.

It's tough to verify from our vantage point here, but one of the officers said that some of the inmates at the Orleans Parish jail may have taken control of the prison. From what we are hearing, the prisoners have weapons. They have not left the jail. They can't get out. But we heard that they have control of weapons inside the jail.

I never want to compare anything to what's happening in Iraq, but there is one similarity in that the ability to move about as reporters is slowly becoming compromised. To be as safe as possible, we have to sacrifice some of our ability to go out and confirm information and verify stories. And right now, with this safety situation in the city of New Orleans, that's just not possible.

Shots fired at evacuated patients

Posted: 3:18 p.m. ET
CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Doctors told me that while trying to evacuate critical patients from Charity Hospital in New Orleans, two of the evacuation vehicles came under fire. The doctors said they were able to get all but one of the patients out of the hospital.

Who was shooting at these vehicles? The doctor I spoke to had no idea. He said a person in a white shirt from a high building started firing upon them as they were trying to evacuate.

Charity Hospital is one of the bigger hospitals in downtown New Orleans. It has a lot of indigent patients. As the doctors were describing it to me, the hospital is overflowing with patients right now and has poor resources.

Doctors said there is lots of water in Charity Hospital's hallways. There's poor electricity and poor resources.

They are trying to move their patients down to Tulane's hospital.

The doctors were frightened for their lives. There was no police presence except for the private armed guards. There was no U.S. military presence. They were very concerned about this. (See the video report of a sniper's attack at the hospital -- 1:06)

This is shocking as a doctor. As a human being, it's unbelievable.

Right now, I'm sitting at this airstrip in Baton Rouge waiting for a helicopter that is coming to evacuate infants. But they are indefinitely delayed because they think it is too dangerous to go in there and land a helicopter and bring these infants to Houston.

I've been in Iraq and Sri Lanka. It is remarkable that this is happening at hospitals here where patients are trying to be evacuated.

Calm prevails amid Mississippi devastation

Posted: 2:20 p.m. ET
CNN's Ted Rowlands in Biloxi, Mississippi

It is a heartbreaking situation in Biloxi, Mississippi, but it pales in comparison to what is happening in New Orleans. There is calm here. There is little unrest.

Additionally, there are some signs that help has arrived. But it is a huge endeavor to clean this area. Most of the structures along the coast have been completely demolished.

The clear difference between Biloxi and New Orleans is that the bodies that are turning up here have been dead for a number of days. They are being found in houses. They were killed in the initial rush of the storm. ( Watch the video detailing corpse recovery in Mississippi -- 3:28)

It isn't bodies in streets. The destruction isn't in a concentrated area. We are talking about pockets of pain in a hundred mile stretch of shore.

Guard gathering in Baton Rouge

Posted: 1:20 p.m. ET
CNN's Deborah Feyerick in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

Right now, the main priority is to restore order to New Orleans.

One official told us, "You can't rescue people when you're being shot at." (See the video of how violence is hindering help -- 3:13)

There are hundreds of people from the National Guard here in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We're seeing people from all the agencies. They're waiting to deploy.

Their sense is that the condition inside New Orleans is so unstable they don't want to be sending people into harm's way.

Some state officials, though, have been getting into the center of town.

One of them, for example, got in with a bus. He saw one woman who was so desperate she actually handed her 2-month-old baby to another woman and said, "Take my child. I can't get on this bus, but you've got to try to save the child."

The woman promised her she would take care of that baby.

Living like animals

Posted: 1:07 p.m. ET
CNN's Chris Lawrence in New Orleans, Louisiana

It's hard to believe this is New Orleans.

We spent the last few hours at the New Orleans Convention Center. There are thousands of people lying in the street. (See the video of people living among the dead -- 4:36 )

We saw mothers holding babies, some of them just three, four and five months old, living in horrible conditions. Diapers littered the ground. Feces were on the ground. Sewage was spilled all around.

These people are being forced to live like animals. When you look at the mothers, your heart just breaks.

Some of the images we have gathered are very, very graphic.

We saw dead bodies. People are dying at the center and there is no one to get them. We saw a grandmother in a wheelchair pushed up to the wall and covered with a sheet. Right next to her was another dead body wrapped in a white sheet.

Right in front of us a man went into a seizure on the ground. No one here has medical training. There is nowhere to evacuate these people to.

People have been sitting there without food and water and waiting. They are asking -- "When are the buses coming? When are they coming to help us?"

We just had to say we don't know.

The people tell us that National Guard units have come by as a show of force. They have tossed some military rations out. People are eating potato chips to survive and are looting some of the stores nearby for food and drink. It is not the kind of food these people need.

They are saying, "Don't leave us here to die. We are stuck here. Why can't they send the buses? Are they going to leave us here to die?"

'We have to deal with the living'

Posted: 10:49 a.m. ET
CNN's Rick Sanchez in Metairie, Louisiana

We spent the night at the New Orleans Saints' training facility. It is the encampment for the FEMA officials and National Guard troops who will deploy out to certain areas.

They just deployed a new unit out here from California. They're called swift water operation rescue units. These folks are trained to go in and get people out of the homes that they have been stuck in for days now with water all around.

We were with a unit last night on a boat. We watched as they performed many of these rescues. It's quite a sight to see. Bodies are floating along the flooded road. And I asked them, "What do you do about that?" They said, "There's no time to deal with them now. We have to deal with the living." (See the video of thousands stranded among sewage and bodies on the riverfront -- 2:54)

We went off into many communities to see if we could find people. As we were navigating through these narrow areas with power lines and all kinds of obstructions above and below us, we suddenly heard faint screams coming from homes. People were yelling, "Help! Help!"

We found one elderly woman in one home. She told us, "I've been here and I need to get out. Can you get me?" Then she said, "But there are people next door and they have babies, so leave me until morning. Get them out now."

So we contacted the swift water rescue units and they went out there. To our surprise and their surprise there were no fewer than 15 people huddled in their home. We could only hear them. We couldn't see them. We were able to assist and get the right people over there to get them out.

Just like them, there may be literally thousands that need to be rescued. It's a very daunting task for these officials.

Chaos at the convention center

Posted: 10:02 a.m. ET
CNN's Jim Spellman in New Orleans, Louisiana

I don't think I really have the vocabulary for this situation.

We just heard a couple of gunshots go off. There's a building smoldering a block away. People are picking through whatever is left in the stores right now. They are walking the streets because they have nowhere else to go.

Right now, I'm a few blocks away from the New Orleans Convention Center area. We drove through there earlier, and it was unbelievable. Thousands and thousands and thousands of people spent the night sleeping on the street, on the sidewalk, on the median.

The convention center is a place that people were told to go to because it would be safe. In fact, it is a scene of anarchy.

There is absolutely nobody in control. There is no National Guard, no police, no information to be had.

The convention center is next to the Mississippi River. Many people who are sleeping there feel that a boat is going to come and get them. Or they think a bus is going to come. But no buses have come. No boats have come. They think water is going come. No water has come. And they have no food.

As we drove by, people screamed out to us -- "Do you have water? Do you have food? Do you have any information for us?"

We had none of those.

Probably the most disturbing thing is that people at the convention center are starting to pass away and there is simply nothing to do with their bodies. There is nowhere to put them. There is no one who can do anything with them. This is making everybody very, very upset.

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