Katrina: Thousands Dead in New Orleans

The death toll in New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina may be in the thousands. Meanwhile, the mayor has diverted police from search and rescue to stopping looters.

New Orleans Police Told to Stop Looters (AP)

With thousands feared dead and the city’s remaining residents told to evacuate for weeks, conditions deteriorated further in submerged New Orleans as looting spiraled out of control. Mayor Ray Nagin ordered virtually the entire police force to abandon search-and-rescue efforts and stop thieves who were becoming increasingly hostile. “They are starting to get closer to heavily populated areas — hotels, hospitals, and we’re going to stop it right now,” Nagin said Wednesday.

Tempers also were starting to flare. Police said a man in Hattiesburg, Miss., fatally shot his sister in the head over a bag of ice. Dozens of carjackings were reported, including a nursing home bus and a truck carrying medical supplies for a hospital. Some police officers said they had been shot at.

Earlier Wednesday, Nagin called for a total evacuation, saying that New Orleans will not be functional for two or three months and that people would not be allowed back into their homes for at least a month or two.

As outrageous as looting is, especially under these circumstances, it is comparatively minor in the face of this disaster. One would think rescuing stranded survivors would remain the top priority for the next several days. While we’d never know the toll, it would be a shame to have more people die because the police were out chasing petty thieves rather than looking for survivors.

crossposted to OTB-BS

FILED UNDER: Policing, Uncategorized, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. LJD says:

    On the other hand, it would be a shame to have more survivors killed by hoodlums shooting at people. The “petty thieves” definition doesn’t quite cover car-jacking. Police have been shot at, one has been killed. Guns have been stolen and people are desperate.

    There’s a big difference between getting some food for your family and stocking up on new Nikes and jewelry. Crawling over dead bodies to relieve them of their worldy possessions, likely things their next of kin will want, is absolutely reprehensible. How about issuing a statement that all looters will be shot on sight?

  2. James Joyner says:

    So we’re going to institute capital punishment–sans trial, no less–for theft?

    And what if a “looter” turns out to be some poor schmoe whose life has been destroyed trying to recover the few possessions that haven’t been destroyed from his own house?

  3. LJD says:

    That poor schmoe who lives in a jewelry store. That poor shmoe that car-jacks…

    Like I said, there’s a big difference from the scenario you outline. Our law enforcement officials are not stupid. What are they to do with a bunch of hoodlums walking out of Wal-Mart with an arm load of guns? Arrest them (all hundred), transport them by hover-craft to the (flooded) jail, to await trial in the (flooded) court? There’s no mistaking those caught on video, leaving a store with things that do not belong to them, with a big smile on their face- like it’s Christmas.

    What about the rights of those they kill? Aren’t the looters responsible for gaps in the recovery effort, because of their actions? They represent the lowest form of life…

  4. Anderson says:

    Right. I hear “zero tolerance for breaking the law” from Bush, and I think, “what is he smoking?”

    Anybody who’s packing heat & doesn’t drop it on command, shoot him. Fine. (You’ll take out a few irate store owners, but hey, they should obey orders.) But “zero tolerance” for people raiding the grocery store?

  5. LJD says:

    “But “zero tolerance” for people raiding the grocery store?”

    Who said that? It’s simple folks, merley the threat of deadly force is a great deterrent to looting. Unless I’m mistaken, N.O. is under martial law. i.e. the local authorities cannot handle the situation. A simple R.O.E. for police and N.G. troops as follows:

    Hey jackass, drop the T.V.
    FIre a warning shot.
    Wax the punk.

    Perfectly acceptable response during martial law.

    Our authorities are well enough trained to dsitinguish an armful of groceries from a car-jacking, jewelry store heist, or gun theft. (Or someone preventing the evacuation of the superdome because they are shooting at something).

    Nobody is talking about open season on people where they don’t belong. After all, few are where they belong at all. We’re talking about restoring order, with lethal force where necessary, which is not in every situation.

  6. Jane Galt says:

    The problem is that the looters are starting to threaten key things like hospitals. They apparently shut down much of the communications network by looting a generator from a hospital with a satellite uplink. The idea is to stop it before they loot more guns and shut down evacuation efforts–the Superdome evacuation has been temporarily halted because someone shot at the helicopters.

  7. Anderson says:

    Who said that?

    President Bush. Zero tolerance for breaking the law. If he didn’t say that, please correct me.

  8. Anderson says:

    Reporter: Regarding the president’s zero tolerance for insurance fraud, looting, price gouging. Does he make any allowance for people who have yet to receive aid who are taking things like water or food or shoes to walk among the debris?

    McClellan: I think you heard from the president earlier today about his zero tolerance. We understand the need for food and water and supplies o fhtat nature. That’s why we have a massive effort underway to continue getting food and water and ice to those who are in need. There are ways for them to get that help. Looting is not the way for them to do it.

  9. LJD says:

    O.K. Anderson, it seemed from your comment that you were extending Bush’s comments (i.e. zero tolerance)to shooting (the subject of conversation) those stealing from a grocery store.
    Those were NOT his words.

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  11. Anderson says:

    O.K. Anderson, it seemed from your comment that you were extending Bush’s comments (i.e. zero tolerance)to shooting (the subject of conversation) those stealing from a grocery store.
    Those were NOT his words.

    Well, Scotty thinks they were. What does “zero tolerance for looting” mean, if not shooting? At the very least, that’s irresponsibly vague language that could lead to tragic consequences.

  12. Ben Marbury says:

    Where Is The New Orleans Airlift?

    We had DC3s and 4s carrying coal to Berlin during the Berlin Airlift.

    No excuses can conceal the lack of preparedness and execution on the part of the government.

    New Orleans Armstrong Airport is open to emergency traffic.

    Regardless, why are there (for example, others are numerous) no C130s airlifting to New Orleans? They land on dirt and we have a lot of them.

  13. Claire says:

    To shoot a flood victim, knee deep in water, for taking items needed for survival from an abandoned market is totally immoral. Surely the merchandise is insured. Would our Military or National Guard obey an order to kill a person whose family may be desperate with hunger, thirst, forced by circumstance to horribly bleak, raw and unsanitary conditions for taking groceries, diapers, baby wipes and disposable cleaning cloths (as they have no way to shower or bathe), shoes, bleach, aspirin, iodine, hydrogen peroxide, clean clothing, blankets, sleeping bags, tents .. whatever they need to survive until a rescue effort is accomplished?

    OK, protect the jewelry stores and shoot to kill if someone wants to steal the diamonds and doesn’t drop the gun. Protect the hospitals. Protect the private homes. Forget the Walmarts. They’re well insured.

    It just seems to me that there’s more media emphasis on “looting of bread and water” than on the lack of response of our government on getting the victims to safety on dry ground.

    But, someone stole a TV!! Good for him, if he has a generator maybe he can get it working, and he and the neighboring flood victims can watch CNN in his tent to see that Bush is sending the troops in to plug him on sight for looting.

    Shades of Les Miserables!! Capital Punishment for stealing a loaf of bread? Get Lost, Dubya!!

  14. Tereasa Sanders-Halligan says:

    The woman sat down slowly.
    Silently she wept into her hands, shoulders shaking violently with sobs she tried to keep inside herself.
    Grief so deep is hard to contain and when she finally let it go the tears swept down her cheeks in rivers of sadness and oceans of melancholy almost overtook her to drown her in their depths.

    The sun had come streaming through her windows just hours ago. She had witnessed birds twittering through the branches of the ancient tree outside her window and had felt glad to awaken to such a glorious morning.

    The woman in Idaho turned on the television slowly so as not to spill the steaming coffee she took with her.
    Her hands were still steady at this point and she had tried to shake the slumber from her body but was not quite successful and the coffee’s aroma tickled her senses with delightful scents and promises of a tasty emergence from the land of nod.

    The normalcy of her morning was sadly shaken to its very core by an image on the television that would forever etch itself upon her memory.
    The man cried out in desperation. His voice cracked in despair and tears ran freely on his proud and manly face. A vulnerability so palpable that the woman felt his pain and cried with him.
    The story unfolded painfully and came from the lips of this man who had not cried often in his masculine life. He cried out mama they will come for you on Monday and save you from the waters before they can overtake you. I promise you Mamma they will come. He cried out Mamma they are coming on Friday to rescue you; hold on Mamma they are really coming this time. He cried out that the mother had succumbed to the enveloping waters and the rescuers had at last come to find her floating in the waters in the nursing home that had once been her oasis. Tears of pain and tears of shame leaked from the man’s eyes and he lay his head on his trembling arms and wept interminably.
    The woman sat down slowly and the depths of her grief for this man were deeper then the rising waters where he was and she felt their suffocating knots wrap around her and try to take her down.

    Katrina had made herself familiar to the woman via the magic of TV
    but the full impact of her wrath had been a distant thing. Almost akin to watching dramas unfold in movies and not really having the ability to touch her here so far away in Idaho.

    The pain of this simple man grabbed the woman’s heartstrings and wrenched them tightly in a grip so tight she felt her breath restricted!

    The crying woman sat and watched. Compelled to witness all she could streaming across the screen of her television set. There were images of people cramped together like cattle in a pen awaiting execution at a convention center somewhere in Louisiana. Unlike penned cattle these people had not even the simplest of comforts and were screaming out for water and only the most basic of creature comforts to help them through this ordeal. Little children panted in the heat of this steaming hell while mothers were helpless to ease their suffering.

    There were images of others wading hip deep in slimy water with television sets roped to their bodies. The news anchors talked of looters but all the woman could see was the desperate need to hold onto their lives of yesterday. An inability to face today and an even darker tomorrow. Why else would a television be a piority with no place to take it and no way to power it up in this water filled reality they lived in?

    Inside herself the woman screamed! These are not looters, they are me, they are you, they are family!
    The woman sipped slowly at the cooling coffee.
    Yesterday the penned people drank coffee. They awoke to birdsong and dreaded going to work another day. They chastised their children to stop watching TV and get ready for school. They thought of the state of the economy. They were American with ordinary American lives. Before that hateful hag Katrina, they ate Big Macs and suffered road frustration while stuck in rush hour traffic.

    They are you! They are me! They are family!

    The woman watched on sadly.
    Silently she wept into her hands, shoulders shaking violently with sobs she tried to keep inside herself.
    Grief so deep is hard to contain and when she finally let it go the tears swept down her cheeks in rivers of sadness and oceans of melancholy almost overtook her to drown her in their depths.

    By. Tereasa Sanders-Halligan