Hurricane Katrina probably killed thousands of people in New Orleans, the mayor said Wednesday - an estimate that, if accurate, would make the storm the nation's deadliest natural disaster since at least the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. "We know there is a significant number of dead bodies in the water," and other people dead in attics, Mayor Ray Nagin said. Asked how many, he said: "Minimum, hundreds. Most likely, thousands."
The frightening estimate came as Army engineers struggled to plug New Orleans' breached levees with giant sandbags and concrete barriers, while authorities drew up plans to clear out the tens of thousands of people left in the Big Easy and all but abandon the flooded-out city. Many of the evacuees - including thousands now staying in the Superdome - will be moved to the Astrodome in Houston, 350 miles away.
There will be a "total evacuation of the city. We have to. The city will not be functional for two or three months," Nagin said. And he said people will not be allowed back into their homes for at least a month or two.
Nagin estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people remained in New Orleans, a city of nearly half a million people. He said 14,000 to 15,000 a day could be evacuated.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, began mounting one of the largest search-and-rescue operations in U.S. history, sending four Navy ships to the Gulf Coast with drinking water and other emergency supplies, along with the hospital ship USNS Comfort, search helicopters and elite SEAL water-rescue teams. American Red Cross workers from across the country converged on the devastated region in the agency's biggest-ever relief operation.
The Clarion-Ledger is reporting that Rep. Gene Taylor lost his home in Bay St. Louis, and the death toll in Hancock County—Bay St. Louis and Waveland—is approaching 50:
Dozens are dead in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in Waveland and Bay St. Louis, two Hancock County communities just minutes from New Orleans. In Waveland alone, the death toll is approaching 50, Mayor Tommy Longo said. [...] A mud-caked 4th District U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, who lost his home in Bay St. Louis, was on the phone at the distribution center on U.S. 90 with the National Guard office in Washington, D.C., trying to get planeloads of supplies flown in.
"Things are going to start moving. The magnitude of it is mindboggling. I'm guessing tens of thousands of homes are gone," said Taylor. who spent the night sleeping on a boat in the middle of Mississippi 603. Taylor is trying to get body bags and a portable morgue to the county, as well.