Katrina Survivors Feel Abandoned

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The city rescued Isaac Clark and his family and left them in bedlam: surrounded by thousands of increasingly angry, uprooted people, with no food or water and nobody to protect them.

A man died the night before, his body left in Thursday's hot sun on a grassy median in front of the city's convention center. Residents smashed into hotels for meat while others cooked it on a parking lot barbecue. People broke into tears from thirst, frustration and fear.

"They came and took us in buses. And left us right here," said Clark, 68. "We are out here living like pure animals. We don't have water. We don't have food. We don't have help." They've been waiting for two days.

The convention center — usually the scene of massive business gatherings and product shows — became a stalled-out transit center for those caught by Hurricane Katrina (search) and a nightmare for those deprived of life's daily needs.

Reporters and photographers saw at least four dead. Others in the crowd said several babies had died. People desperately called for help, chasing after reporters, sometimes pleading and sometimes threatening. The crowd briefly chanted "Help us, help us" before the words faded away.

Over nearly two hours at the center, there was no help from government officials and no sign of any. Three large SUVs with flashing lights on the dashboard zoomed through the crowd, forcing people to the side. None stopped.

A police car drove through with an announcement on its megaphone: "Buses are coming over the bridge now." No buses came in the next hour — though a state police armored car drove through without stopping, eight officers on top with flak jackets and assault weapons staring impassively at the crowd.

"Why aren't they helping us? We are the forgotten," said Rachel Carey, 23, a clerk at Charity Hospital (search), tending to her 4-year-old daughter.

By early afternoon, Mayor Ray Nagin (search) issued a statement about the center: "This is a desperate SOS. We are out of resources at the convention center." He pleaded for buses and later officials said they would try to march those trapped at the center over a nearby bridge and out of city.

Police Chief Eddie Compass said he sent in 88 officers to quell the situation at the building, but they were quickly driven back by an angry mob.

"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."

Carey was going the other direction. Furious, scared and disgusted with the lack of help, she gave up waiting and started walking with a dozen relatives and friends, lugging plastic bags stuffed with their belongings. Young children stayed close to their mother's legs. One woman cried quietly.

Inside the center, many tried to sleep atop musty carpets sopping wet from rain, as if when they woke up this would be over. Bathrooms overflowed. Families huddled together.

Among the crowds were tourists holding onto their luggage. A Florida sheriff's detective, Bill Waldron, was caught in the storm while here for a murder trial, but most people in the building were the city's poor.

"A lot of people weren't able to evacuate," said John Murray, 52. "It's like they're punishing us for not being able to evacuate."

Rage, frustration and paranoia ran through the crowd. One man warned that there was gas leaking inside the center and everyone would be killed. Empty beer bottles littered the curbs. A block away, young men smashed the windows of a truck while others took refuge in a white Rolls-Royce.

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.

Overwhelmingly, anger turned on government officials.

"All I want to say to Mayor Ray Nagin is thank you for helping us," Yolanda McZeal, 43, said calmly, sarcastically and bitterly. "Governor Blanco, thank you for helping us. President Bush, thank you for helping us."

For a few minutes, the crowd chanted, "No more Nagin."

For Carey, the young mother walking away from the center, the disaster was divine retribution for the city's legendary corruption and crime. "The city is corrupt ... God is punishing New Orleans for all the [expletive] they're doing, killing each other."

But she had even less warmth for the police, whom, she said, she barely saw.

"The thugs and the criminals are the heroes. They're the ones that were saving us," she said. Stolen speedboats took her from her flooded neighborhood; stolen moving trucks brought her to the convention center. "The police were nowhere."

While many in the crowd spoke of their love for the city, Carey was having none of that.

"I have to pick up and start somewhere else," she said. Would she consider coming back? "Hell no."