NEW ORLEANS – Thousands of National Guardsmen and women armed with food, water and weapons streamed into the hurricane-ravaged New Orleans on Friday to bring relief to the suffering and take back the streets from the looters and armed vigilantes.
"The cavalry is [here] and will continue to arrive," one Guardsman said.
The multitudes of storm sufferers had mixed reactions to the arrival of convoys with supplies four days after Hurricane Katrina (search) slammed the Crescent City.
"Lord, I thank you for getting us out of here," Leschia Radford at the New Orleans Convention Center as the military rolled in with orders to retake the streets and feed the hungry.
But 46-year-old Michael Levy said, "They should have been here days ago. I ain't glad to see 'em" — words that brought shouts of "Hell, yeah!" from those around him. He added: "We've been sleeping on the ... ground like rats. I say burn this whole ... city down."
There were reports Friday evening of a charter bus of Katrina evacuees overturning in Opelousas, La., killing one man and sending several injured to the hospital.
There were also reports of a hostage situation in the New Orleans area in which snipers and armed gangs were preventing between 50 and 100 St. Bernard's Parrish firefighters and their families from leaving a building.
The gangs reportedly shot and killed several sheriff's deputies and were in a gunbattle with firefighters. A rescue effort was under way, FOX News confirmed.
President Bush landed in Mobile, Ala., Friday morning to tour the devastated area and reassure survivors that the federal government will help them rebuild. He later did a close flyover of New Orleans, where, he vowed, order will be restored.
"We have a responsibility to help clean up this mess," Bush said after meeting with the leaders of some Gulf Coast states in Mobile, Ala. "It's as if the entire Gulf Coast were obliterated by the worst kind of weapon you can imagine."
He also pledged that "what is not working right, we're going to make it right."
He also said the $10.5 billion in emergency funds being appropriated by Congress is a small down payment on recovery costs to help the people of New Orleans and other areas hit by Hurrican Katrina (search) back on their feet. The Senate passed that bill Thursday while the House followed suit on Friday. Bush is expected to sign it later in the day.
The White House announced Bush had approved federal disaster aid for Texas and Arkansas, which also suffered hurricane damage. Bush urged people to donate money to the Red Cross.
The president rejected suggestions that the United States could not afford both the war in Iraq and the hurricane cleanup.
"We'll do both. We've got plenty of resources to do both," he said.
Before boarding Air Force One earlier Friday, Bush said tons of food and millions of gallons of water is on its way to the needy and 600 military police are going to be deployed to New Orleans to make sure it arrives safely, but more needs to be done. Click here for more on that story.
"There's a lot of people working hard to help those who have been affected. I want to thank people for their efforts," the president said. "The results are not acceptable."
He added: "We'll get on top of this situation and we're going to help the people that need help."
Later he backed away from his "unacceptable" comment, saying what he meant was that more work needs to be done.
More buses were showing up to evacuate refugees from the New Orleans Superdome while military vehicles full of meals-ready-to-eat, bottled water and other supplies began to arrive. Flatbed trucks carried huge crates, pallets and bags of relief supplies. Soldiers sat in the backs of open-top trucks, their rifles pointing skyward.
Helicopters were picking up what was left of people stranded on rooftops as armed police and military went through the streets to clamp down on crime. Air-conditioned tour buses also showed up to further evacuate refugees.
At the New Orleans Convention Center, some of the thousands of storm victims awaiting their deliverance applauded, threw their hands heavenward and screamed, "Thank you, Jesus!" as the camouflage-green trucks and soldiers arrived.
"Lord, I thank you for getting us out of here," said Leschia Radford.
After being forced from their homes by flooding caused by Katrina, refugees have witnessed corpses rotted along flooded sidewalks and bands of armed thugs thwarting rescue efforts.
One evacuee told FOX News she witnessed a woman giving birth on a New Orleans bridge; the people helping her tied the baby's umbilical cord with a shoestring and sterilized the makeshift tools they had with a lighter.
"I would wish very, very soon that they would send some transportation to remove us from this bridge … this is New Orleans, it's 96 degrees out here, we have no shelter," evacuee Robin Turner told FOX News near the Crescent City Connection Bridge. "It's been five days and the buses have been on the way five days now."
City officials were seething with anger about what they called a slow federal response following Hurricane Katrina.
"I need reinforcements, I need troops, man. I need 500 buses," New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (search) said in a television interview Friday morning. "Get every doggone Greyhound bus line in the country and get that [expletive] moving to New Orleans ... This is a major, major, major deal. I can't emphasize that enough."
Members of the Congressional Black Caucus, along with members of the Black Leadership Forum, National Conference of State Legislators, National Urban League and the NAACP charged that the response was slow because those most affected are poor.
Many also are black, but the lawmakers held off on charging racism.
"The issue is not about race right now," said Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio. "There will be another time to have issues about color."
Meanwhile, 26 countries in an international energy consortium will release more than 60 million barrels of crude oil and gasoline to relieve the energy crunch caused by Hurricane Katrina in the United States. The Bush administration will release 30 million barrels of crude oil from U.S. reserves.
The Internal Revenue Service also acted Friday to expand the nationwide supply of diesel fuel by lifting some excise taxes.
Those interested in donating money or help can log on to Web sites for the Red Cross or Salvation Army. Other organizations and media outlets like the Sun Herald in Mississippi set up online message boards to help victims search and find loved ones.
Guardsmen Are 'Locked and Loaded'
At 4:35 a.m. Friday, an explosion rocked a chemical storage facility near the Mississippi River east of the French Quarter. A series of smaller blasts followed and then acrid, black smoke that could be seen in the dark. The vibrations were felt all the way downtown.
Apparently, there were no casualties, according to Lt. Michael Francis of the Harbor Police. At least two police boats could be seen at the scene and a hazardous material team was en route.
A second large fire erupted downtown in an old retail building in a dry section of Canal Street.
Lt. Gen. Steven Blum of the National Guard said 7,000 National Guardsmen and women arriving in Louisiana on Friday would be dedicated to restoring order in New Orleans.
He said half of them had just returned from assignments overseas and are "highly proficient in the use of lethal force." He pledged to "put down" the violence "in a quick and efficient manner."
"But they are coming here to save Louisiana citizens. The only thing we are attacking is the effects of this hurricane," he said.
As thousands were evacuated by bus to Houston and other Texas cities from the hot and stinking Superdome (search), fistfights and fires erupted amid a seething sea of tense, suffering people who waited in lines that stretched a half-mile to board yellow school buses. The looting continue as armed individuals roamed the New Orleans streets, threatening rescue and evacuation operations.
Gov. Kathleen Blanco (search) called the looters "hoodlums" and issued a warning to lawbreakers: Hundreds of National Guard troops hardened on the battlefield in Iraq have landed in New Orleans.
"They have M-16s and they're locked and loaded," she said. "These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so, and I expect they will."
A Department of Homeland Security spokesman told FOX News Friday morning that the federal government is conducting helicopter drops and boat rescues but "the infrastructure is blown away, there is no place to pull up a boat and the FEMA guys can't do much without supplies."
The spokesman said there will be a major influx of personnel within the next 48 hours.
The military said its first priority was delivering food and water, after which it would begin evacuating people — something that could take days.
"As fast as we can, we'll move them out," said Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore. "Worse things have happened to America," he added. "We're going to overcome this, too. It's not our fault. The storm came and flooded the city."
At the convention center, New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass got a hero's welcome as he rode down the street on the running board of a box truck and announced through a bullhorn to thunderous applause: "We got 30,000 people out of the Superdome and we're going to take care of you."
"We've got food and water on the way. We've got medical attention on the way. We're going to get you out of here safely. We're going to get all of you," he said.
As he came down the road, elderly people gave thanks and some nearly fainted with joy. Compass also warned that if anyone did anything disruptive, the troops would have to they would have to stop distributing the food and water and get out.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown called for patience. FEMA (search) officials said some operations had to be suspended in areas where gunfire has broken out, but they are working overtime to feed people and restore order.
"Response operations are being conducted over a disaster area of nearly 90,000 square miles — the biggest single disaster response in our nation's history. This is a catastrophic event, and it takes time to get assets to victims over this large area.
"We ask for patience from individuals who may be uncomfortable but are safe while we conduct search and rescue efforts for those who are stranded and without commodities," Brown said.
Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt said more beds and other necessities will be forthcoming in the next few days and that federal officials are somewhat restricted by what information they are receiving.
"The entire nation is rallying to bring resources to the aid of this remarkable human tragedy ... this is a nationwide and remarkable response," Leavitt told FOX News on Friday.
Leavitt said 24 medical teams are being dispatched to the New Orleans area to deal with sanitation issues and mosquitoes. Click here for more on that story.
"There are many dangers but we are very concerned about the public health issues," he said. "We're concerned that standing water and warm weather could provide a breeding ground of disease and we're working to prevent a second tragedy."
Evacuations resumed Friday at some of New Orleans' most troubled hospitals where there were dwindling supplies of food, water and medicines.
'Every Day We Delay, People Are Dying'
New Orleans Police Chief Eddie Compass said there was such a crush around a squad of 88 officers that they retreated when they went in to check out reports of assaults in the Superdome.
"We have individuals who are getting raped, we have individuals who are getting beaten," Compass said. "Tourists are walking in that direction and they are getting preyed upon."
The chief of the Louisiana State Police said he heard of numerous instances of New Orleans police officers — many of whom were from flooded areas — turning in their badges.
A military helicopter tried to land at the convention center several times to drop off food and water, but the rushing crowd forced the choppers to back off. Troopers then tossed the supplies to the crowd from 10 feet off the ground and flew away.
Brown of FEMA said the agency just learned about the situation at the convention center Thursday and quickly scrambled to provide food, water and medical care and remove the corpses.
"I have no idea what they're doing but I will tell you this: God is looking down on all this and if they're not doing everything in their power to save people, they are going to pay the price because every day that we delay, people are dying and they're dying by the hundreds," Nagin said.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced that Dallas would host 25,000 more refugees at Reunion Arena and 25,000 others would relocate to a San Antonio warehouse at KellyUSA, a city-owned complex that once was home to an Air Force base. Houston estimated as many as 55,000 people who fled the hurricane were staying in area hotels.
While floodwaters in New Orleans appeared to stabilize, efforts continued to plug three breaches that had opened up in the levee system that was designed to protect New Orleans, which lies below sea level. Click here for more on that story.
Engineers are developing a plan to create new breaches in the levees so that a combination of pumping and the effects of gravity will drain the water out of the city. Removing the floodwaters will take weeks, officials said.
All along the 90-mile coast, other emergency workers performed the grisly task of retrieving corpses, some of them lying on streets and amid the ruins of obliterated homes that stretch back blocks from the beach.
Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said he knows people are tired, hungry, dirty and scared — particularly in areas hardest hit by Katrina.
"I will say, sometimes I'm scared, too," Barbour said during a briefing in Jackson, Miss. "But we are going to hitch up our britches. We're going to get this done."
FOX News' Jeff Goldblatt, Steve Harrigan, Catherine Herridge, Phil Keating, Liza Porteus, Shepard Smith and The Associated Press contributed to this report.