Taking flood victims into your home?
Murder and mayhem in New Orleans' miserable shelter
Fri Sep 2, 2005 11:45 PM ET
By Mark Egan
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - With the rotors of President George W. Bush's helicopter sounding overhead, New Orleans' poor and downtrodden recounted tales of murder, rape, death threats and near starvation since Hurricane Katrina wrecked this city.
Ending days of abandonment since the hurricane struck on Monday, the U.S. National Guard handed out military rations and a bottle of water to thousands of evacuees -- the first proper meal most had eaten in days.
But as the masses lined up outside, herded by Army troops toting machine guns, inside the convention center where these people slept since Monday was the stench of death and decay.
Leroy Fouchea, 42, waited in the sweltering heat for an hour to get his ration -- his first proper food since Monday -- and immediately handed it over to a sickly friend.
He then offered to show reporters the dead bodies of a man in a wheelchair, a young man who he said he dragged inside just hours earlier, and the limp forms of two infants, one just four months old, the other six months old.
"They died right here, in America, waiting for food," Fouchea said as he walked toward Hall D, where the bodies were put to get them out of the searing heat.
He said people were let die and left without food simply because they were poor and that the evacuation effort earlier concentrated on the French Quarter of the city. "Because that's where the money is," he spat.
A National Guardsman refused entry.
"It doesn't need to be seen, it's a make-shift morgue in there," he told a Reuters photographer. "We're not letting anyone in there anymore. If you want to take pictures of dead bodies, go to Iraq."
As rations were finally doled out here on the day President Bush visited the devastated city, an elderly white woman and her husband collapsed from the heat.
"I had to walk two blocks to get here and I have arthritis and three ruptured discs in my back," said Selma Valenti, 80, as her husband lay beside her, being revived by a policeman in riot gear. The two had eaten nothing since Wednesday.
Valenti and her husband, two of very few white people in the almost exclusively black refugee camp, said she and other whites were threatened with murder on Thursday.
"They hated us. Four young black men told us the buses were going to come last night and pick up the elderly so they were going to kill us," she said, sobbing. "They were plotting to murder us and then they sent the buses away because we would all be killed if the buses came -- that's what the people in charge told us this morning."
Other survivors recounted horrific cases of sexual assault and murder.
Sitting with her daughter and other relatives, Trolkyn Joseph, 37, said men had wandered the cavernous convention center in recent nights raping and murdering children.
She said she found a dead 14-year old girl at 5 a.m. on Friday morning, four hours after the young girl went missing from her parents inside the convention center.
"She was raped for four hours until she was dead," Joseph said through tears. "Another child, a seven-year old boy was found raped and murdered in the kitchen freezer last night."
Several others interviewed by Reuters told similar stories of the abuse and murder of children, but they could not be independently verified.
Many complained bitterly about why they received so little for so many days, and they had harsh words for Bush.
"I really don't know what to say about President Bush," said Richard Dunbar, 60, a Vietnam veteran. "He showed no lack of haste when he wanted to go to Iraq, but for his own people right here in Louisiana, we get only lip service."
One young man said he was not looking forward to another night in the convention center and wondered when conditions would improve. "It's been like a jail in there," he said. "We've got murderers, rapists, killers, thieves. We've got it all."