NEW ORLEANS – Red Cross officials said Friday that the Houston Astrodome (search) cannot accept any more refugees from Hurricane Katrina (search). The sports arena has been turned into a temporary shelter for more than 11,000 left homeless in the New Orleans area.
"We've actually reached capacity for the safety and comfort of the people inside there," American Red Cross (search) spokeswoman Dana Allen said.
Buses that continued to arrive were being sent on to other shelters in the area and as far away as Huntsville, about an hour north of Houston.
"We're asking that people be patient. Ultimately they are going to be comfortable," Allen said.
The total of 11,375 inside the Astrodome was less than half the estimated 23,000 people who were expected to arrive by bus from New Orleans in Houston.
Violence and chaos disrupted the evacuation efforts in New Orleans Thursday as thousands of National Guard troops poured into the Crescent City to boost security in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
"This is a desperate SOS," New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin (search) said outside the New Orleans Convention Center, where corpses lay in the open and he and other evacuees complained that they were dropped off and given nothing — no food, no water, no medicine.
"We are out here like pure animals. We don't have help," said the Rev. Isaac Clark, 68.
In Washington, the Senate approved a $10.5 billion aid measure to provide relief to Gulf Coast victims of the hurricane. The House will convene on Friday at noon to rush the measure to the president's desk.
Meanwhile, Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco said everyone is concerned for the dead who cannot be picked up until all of the living are found and brought to safety.
"It's a difficult thing for family members who are worried about them. We're worried about them too," she said Thursday. "Frankly, our situation is so difficult we actually believe there will be thousands [dead] but we don't have an official count."
Fights and trash fires broke out at the hot and stinking Superdome and anger and unrest mounted across New Orleans (search) as the first of nearly 25,000 refugees being sheltered at the Superdome began to arrive in Houston, Texas. Thousands of people rushed from nearby hotels and other buildings, hoping to climb onto the buses taking evacuees from the arena.
About 15,000 to 20,000 people who had taken shelter at the convention center to await buses grew increasingly hostile. Police Chief Eddie Compass said he sent in 88 officers to quell the situation at the building, but they were quickly beaten 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."
In hopes of defusing the unrest at the convention center, Nagin gave the refugees permission to march across a bridge to the city's unflooded west bank for whatever relief they can find. But the bedlam at the convention center appeared to make leaving difficult.
A military heliocpter 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.
One ambulance official overseeing the airlift rescue operations said a gunshot was fired at a military helicopter over the Superdome before daybreak.
"We have suspended operations until they gain control of the Superdome," said Richard Zeuschlag, head of Acadian Ambulance, which was handling the evacuation of sick and injured people from the building.
The military continued the ground evacuation without interruption, said National Guard Lt. Col. Pete Schneider.
Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff (search) said the government is sending in 1,400 National Guardsmen to help stop looting and other lawlessnes in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Already, 2,800 National Guardsmen are in the city, he said. There are 4,000 total in Louisiana; 12,000 more will begin to pour in on Friday.
More than 28,000 National Guard members have been deployed to the Gulf Coast region in what may be the largest military response to a natural disaster.
The Bush administration intends to seek $10 billion to cover immediate relief needs in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and lawmakers decided to break off their summer vacation to approve the request by the weekend. Click here for more on that story.
But across New Orleans, the rescuers themselves came under attack from storm victims hungry, desperate and tired of waiting.
"Hospitals are trying to evacuate," said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Cheri Ben-Iesan, spokesman at the city emergency operations center. "At every one of them, there are reports that as the helicopters come in people are shooting at them. There are people just taking potshots at police and at helicopters, telling them, 'You better come get my family.'"
Nagin ordered virtually the entire police force to abandon search-and-rescue efforts and stop thieves who were becoming increasingly hostile.
Volunteers with boats hoping to help rescue those still stranded on rooftops in New Orleans were told to stand down by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after shots were fired.
"The truth is, a terrible tragedy like this brings out the best in most people, brings out the worst in some people," said Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour on NBC's "Today" show. "We're trying to deal with looters as ruthlessly as we can get our hands on them."
President Bush will tour the hurricane devastated Gulf Coast region on Friday and has asked his father, former President George H.W. Bush, and former President Clinton to lead a private fund-raising campaign to help victims recover.
Bush will survey the Alabama and Mississippi coast by helicopter, then go on to New Orleans. He also will tour some locations on the ground.
The president on Thursday warned that looters, price gougers, insurance fraudsters, those taking advantage of charity and others will face the maximum consequences for their actions.
There will be "zero tolerance of people breaking the law during an emergency such as this," Bush said in a live interview at the White House with ABC's "Good Morning America." "I've made that clear to our attorney general."
Chaos at the Superdome
Evacuees who had taken refuge in the Superdome (search) were waiting hours to get onto buses that were taking them 350 miles away to the Houston Astrodome, which can hold 27,000 people. Conditions in the Superdome had become horrendous: There was no air conditioning, the toilets were backed up, and the stench was so bad that medical workers wore masks as they walked around.
Terry Ebbert, head of New Orleans' emergency operations, warned that the slow evacuation at the Superdome had become an "incredibly explosive situation," and he bitterly complained that FEMA was not offering enough help.
"This is a national emergency. This is a national disgrace," he said. "FEMA has been here three days, yet there is no command and control. We can send massive amounts of aid to tsunami victims, but we can't bail out the city of New Orleans."
Refugees had lined up for the first buses, some inching along in wheelchairs, some carrying babies. At least seven bodies were scattered outside, and hungry, desperate people who were tired of waiting broke through the steel doors to a food service entrance and began pushing out pallets of water and juice and whatever else they could find. Click here for more on that story.
People chanted, "Help, help!" as reporters and photographers walked through.
Huge crowds, hoping to finally escape the stifling confines of the stadium, jammed the main concourse outside the dome, spilling out over the ramp to the Hyatt hotel next door — a seething sea of tense, unhappy, people packed shoulder-to-shoulder up to the barricades where heavily armed National Guardsmen stood.
Fights broke out. A fire erupted in a trash chute inside the dome, but a National Guard commander said it did not affect the evacuation. After a traffic jam kept buses from arriving at the Superdome for nearly four hours, a near-riot broke out in the scramble to get on the buses that finally did show up.
While they recognize it's not a permanent fix, the governors of Louisiana and Texas worked out a plan to get refugees to Texas where they can have clean clothes, food, showers and ways to communicate with family.
"Unfortunately there are no great ideas at this particular point in time. You have to do what you have to do," Texas Gov. Rick Perry told FOX News Thursday morning. "As America comes together on this, this is the only appropriate and right thing to do."
Perry said there will be a "substantial" number of additional shelters that will be made available with beds, showers and other items provided by FEMA (search) and other organizations.
"We're going to be very flexible with these individuals," Perry said. "We're going to find a place for these people to stay until they make arrangements."
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said his state has welcomed many evacuees and is preparing for more in what he calls "Operation Care."
"We're now working on ways to deal with helping them long-term — everything from educating their kids" to helping with prescriptions, communicating with families, accessing bank accounts, finding long-term housing and employments, Huckabee told FOX News. He also hailed the leaders of the states hit hardest by Katrina.
"They're doing an outstanding job in ... trying to lead their states in the equivalent of Armageddon — it is apocalyptic in nature," he said.
Nagin has 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. Nagin estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people remained, and said that 14,000 to 15,000 a day could be evacuated in ensuing convoys.
Asked how many people died in the hurricane, Naglin said: "Minimum, hundreds. Most likely, thousands." The death toll has already reached at least 110 in Mississippi.
That would make Katrina the worst natural disaster in the United States since at least the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, which have blamed for anywhere from about 500 to 6,000 deaths. Katrina would also be the nation's deadliest hurricane since 1900, when a storm in Galveston, Texas, killed between 6,000 and 12,000 people.
"I would not be surprise if this is the worst disaster this country has seen," Rep. Charles Boustany, R-La., told FOX News.
Some FEMA rescue operations were suspended where gunfire has broken out, Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said in Washington. "In areas where our employees have been determined to potentially be in danger, we have pulled back," he said.
A National Guard military policeman was shot in the leg as the two scuffled for the MP's rifle, police Capt. Ernie Demmo said. The man was arrested.
"These are good people. These are just scared people," Demmo said.
Tenet HealthCare Corp. asked authorities late Wednesday to help evacuate a fully functioning hospital in Gretna, La., after a supply truck carrying food, water and medical supplies was held up at gunpoint.
Looters used garbage cans and inflatable mattresses to float away with food, clothes, TV sets — even guns. Outside one pharmacy, thieves commandeered a forklift and used it to push up the storm shutters and break through the glass. The driver of a nursing-home bus surrendered the vehicle to thugs after being threatened.
Water Finally Stops Rising
The water that has been gushing into New Orleans after several levees broke appeared to have finally stopped rising. The water apparently has finally reached a level higher than that of Lake Pontchartrain. The Army Corps of Engineers will try to pump water out of the city; they're hoping the water will seep out of the city at about a half-inch per hour.
The floodwaters covered 80 percent of the city, in some areas 20 feet deep, in a reddish-brown soup of sewage, gasoline and garbage.
At least one critical breach in the New Orleans levee system will be repaired by the end of the day Thursday, but a second section will take longer because workers are having trouble getting equipment and material to that part of the swamped city, according to the Army Corps of Engineers.
Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, told reporters that a large breach in the 17th Street Canal (search) levee in New Orleans should be filled in Thursday, the first in what will be a long and costly effort to repair the city's levee system.
Walter Baumy, chief of the Corps' engineering division for the New Orleans district, said contractors were using sheet pile walls to try to close the front of the canal.
However, he said, engineers were still unable to get to the levee break at Industrial Canal.
In Mississippi, ambulances roamed through the passable streets of devastated places such as Biloxi, Gulfport, Waveland and Bay St. Louis, in some cases speeding past corpses in hopes of saving people trapped in flooded and crumbled buildings.
Several telethons were announced to help hurricane victims. One will air on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC at 8 p.m. Friday, with performances including Wynton Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr. Another is scheduled for Sept. 10 on MTV, VH1 and CMT and will include Green Day, Ludacris and Alicia Keys. Jerry Lewis' annual Labor Day fundraiser for the Muscular Dystrophy Association also will include celebrity appeals for help.
Although the Bush administration decided to release crude oil from the federal petroleum reserves after Katrina knocked out 95 percent of the Gulf of Mexico's output, gasoline prices surged above $3 a gallon in many parts of the country.
FOX News' Jeff Goldblatt, Steve Harrigan, Rick Leventhal and Liza Porteus and The Associated Press contributed to this report.