Police in the hurricane-stricken city of New Orleans on Sunday shot several armed men who fired on workers who were trying to repair levees. Recovery crews are operating out of several staging areas around the city and tens of thousands of evacuees are crowded into shelters in those areas and all across the region.
A week after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast there are definite signs of progress. Electrical power has returned to some parts of downtown and the world-famous French Quarter. Several communities near the city also have power now and some people who initially left those areas are now trying to return.
Officials say the breach in New Orleans' 17th Street canal will be closed completely in the coming hours and that workers will then concentrate on pumping water back out into Lake Ponchartrain.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Mike Rogers says it will take many more days of hard work to get all the floodwater out of the city. "Our maximum number right now is 80 [days], after the pumps are repaired," he said. "If we get more capability, that number will be shorter. We are doing everything we can to get the maximum capability from around the world to pump the water out."
Giant pumps designed to move water out quickly were damaged by the flood and will not be functioning for another week. Much of New Orleans lies below sea level, in some areas as much as three meters below. When the levees broke after Katrina passed, water flowed into those areas, trapping thousands of residents who were either unable or unwilling to leave before the storm arrived.
Even after the water is removed, health officials say the city will remain hazardous. Many areas are clogged with debris, including stranded vehicles, downed trees and items abandoned by evacuees. There are dead bodies visible along streets, and authorities believe hundreds more will be found in buildings throughout the city.
Removing the water will allow recovery crews freer access to damaged infrastructure and also allow a complete assessment of the damage. One piece of good news for the city is that some of its most popular tourist destinations, such as the French Quarter and Garden district, are on higher ground and sustained little damage.
New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin says President Bush promised him the city would get the support it needs to rebuild. For now, however, the mayor says he is concentrating on immediate problems, including the effort to aid people still stranded in the city and to help police and firefighters, many of whom are exhausted and demoralized after nearly a week of constant duty.
More than two hundred officers from the 1,700-person police force have walked off the job and many others are too tired or demoralized to work effectively. At least two officers have committed suicide in recent days.