As airplanes and buses evacuated thousands of refugees, New Orleans was left today to the dead and dying.
While the body count is still unknown, there were indications yesterday more were dying of dehydration, hunger and lack of medical care hourly.
Bodies are everywhere in the city, according to National Guardsmen, officials and rescuers. The dead are found hidden in attics, floating among the toxic waters, on the sides of roadways and highways.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco said yesterday she expected the death toll to reach well into the thousands. And Craig Vanderwagen, rear admiral of the U.S. Public Health Service, told the Associated Press one morgue alone, at a St. Gabriel prison, expected 1,000 to 2,000 bodies.
Touring the airport triage center, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a physician, said “a lot more than eight to 10 people are dying a day.”
Not all of the victims are starving or dehydrating.
Charles Womack, a 30-year-old roofer, said he saw one man beaten to death and another commit suicide at the Superdome. Womack was beaten with a pipe and being treated at the airport triage center.
“One guy jumped off a balcony,” he said. “I saw him do it. He was talking to a lady about it. He said it reminded him of the war and he couldn’t leave.”
Three babies died at the convention center from heat exhaustion, said Mark Kyle, a medical relief provider.
Some 20,000 refugees had been waiting for rescue for nearly a week at the Superdome, with as many as 25,000 more at the New Orleans convention center. National Guard Lt. Col. Bernard McLaughlin said the number may have been closer to 5,000 to 7,000.
But the good news is that the last 300 refugees at the Superdome climbed aboard buses yesterday, prompting cheers from members of the Texas National Guard who were guarding the facility.
By mid-afternoon, only pockets of stragglers remained in the streets around the convention center, and New Orleans paramedics began carting away the dead.
A once-vibrant city of 480,000 people, overtaken just days ago by floods, looting, rape and arson, is now a flooded tomb.
Survivors were still being plucked from roofs and shattered highways across the city yesterday. President Bush ordered more than 7,000 active duty forces to the Gulf Coast.
“The first few days were a natural disaster. The last four days were a man-made disaster,” said Phillip Holt, 51, who was rescued from his home yesterday.
Tens of thousands of people had been evacuated from the city, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry said as many as 120,000 hurricane refugees were in 97 shelters across the state, with another 100,000 in Texas hotels and motels. Others were in Tennessee, Indiana and Arkansas.
Airport director Roy Williams said about 30 people had died there, some of them elderly and ill. The bodies were being kept in refrigerated trucks as a temporary morgue.
At the convention center, people stumbled toward the helicopters, dehydrated and nearly passing out from exhaustion. Many had to be carried by National Guard troops and police on stretchers. And some were being pushed up the street on office chairs and on dollies.
Dan Craig, director of recovery at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said it could take up to six months to get the water out of New Orleans, and the city would then need to dry out, which could take up to three more months.
A Saks Fifth Avenue store billowed smoke Saturday, as did rows of warehouses on the east bank of the Mississippi River, where corrugated roofs buckled and tiny explosions erupted. Gunfire ? almost two dozen shots ? broke out in the French Quarter overnight.