People left homeless by Hurricane Katrina told horrific stories of rape, murder and trigger happy guards in two New Orleans centers that were set up as shelters but became places of violence and terror.
Police and National Guard troops on Saturday closed down the two centers — the Superdome arena and the city’s convention centre — but them penned them in outside in sweltering heat to keep them from trying to walk out of the city.
Military helicopters and buses staged a massive evacuation to take away thousands of people who waited in orderly lines in stifling heat outside the flooded convention centre.
The refugees, who were waiting to be taken to sports stadiums and other huge shelters across Texas and northern Louisiana, described how the convention centre and the Superdome became lawless hellholes beset by rape and murder.
Several residents of the impromptu shantytown recounted two horrific incidents where those charged with keeping people safe had killed them instead.
In one, a young man was run down and then shot by a New Orleans police officer, in another a man seeking help was gunned down by a National Guard soldier, witnesses said.
Police here refused to discuss or confirm either incident. National Guard spokesman Lt. Col Pete Schneider said “I have not heard any information of a weapon being discharged.”
“They killed a man here last night,” Steve Banka, 28, told Reuters. “A young lady was being raped and stabbed. And the sounds of her screaming got to this man and so he ran out into the street to get help from troops, to try to flag down a passing lorry of them, and he jumped up on the truck’s windscreen and they shot him dead.”
Wade Batiste, 48, recounted another tale of horror.
“Last night at 8 p.m. they shot a kid of just 16. He was just crossing the street. They ran him over, the New Orleans police did, and then they got out of the car and shot him in the head,” Batiste said.
The young man’s body lay in the street by the Convention Center’s entrance on Saturday morning, covered in a black blanket, a stream of congealed blood staining the street around him. Nearby his family sat in shock.
A member of that family, Africa Brumfield, 32, confirmed the incident but declined to be quoted about it, saying her family did not wish to discuss it. But she spoke of general conditions here.
“There is rapes going on here. Women cannot go to the bathroom without men. They are raping them and slitting their throats. They keep telling us the buses are coming but they never leave,” she said through tears.
People here said there were now 22 bodies of adults and children stored inside the building, but troops guarding the building refused to confirm that and threatened to beat reporters seeking access to the makeshift morgue.
People trying to walk out are forced back at gunpoint – something troops said was for their own safety. “It’s sad, but how far do you think they would get,” one soldier said.
“They have us living here like animals,” said Wvonnette Grace-Jordan, here with five children, the youngest only six weeks old. “We have only had two meals, we have no medicine and now there are thousands of people defecating in the streets. This is wrong. This is the United States of America.”
One National Guard soldier who asked not to be named for fear of punishment from his commanding officer said of the lack of medical attention at the centre, “They (the Bush administration) care more about Iraq and Afghanistan than here.”
The Louisiana National Guard soldier said, “We are doing the best we can with the resources we have, but almost all of our guys are in Iraq.”
Across town at the Superdome, where as many as 38,000 refugees camped out until Wednesday night when evacuation buses first came, the 4,000 still there were corralled outside, hoping to get on four waiting buses with seats for only 200.
The scene at the sports stadium was one of abject filth. Crammed into a small area after the building was shut to them last night, those remaining sat amid heaps of garbage, piled in places waist high. The stench of human waste pervaded the interior of the now vacant stadium.
One police officer told Reuters there were 100 people in a makeshift morgue at the Superdome, mostly people who died of heat exhaustion, and that six babies had been born there since last Saturday, when people arrived to take shelter.
At the arena, too, there was much talk of bedlam after dark.
“We found a young girl raped and killed in the bathroom,” one National Guard soldier told Reuters. “Then the crowd got the man and they beat him to death.”