Hundreds of thousands of people along the U.S. Gulf of Mexico coast are fleeing low-lying areas flooded by Hurricane Katrina. U.S. Navy ships, Marines and the National Guard have joined local rescuers in searching for survivors. Hundreds are feared dead and some places are expected to remain uninhabitable for months.
Two days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into the southern coastlines of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, floodwaters in some places continue to rise and officials have stepped up efforts to evacuate all residents.
In low-lying New Orleans, home to 500,000 people, about 80 percent of the city is underwater and billions of liters of water continue to flow through two damaged levees. Attempts to repair the damage have been unsuccessful.
"There is no cleanup in New Orleans and the reason for that is the water," explained Moon Griffon, a radio talk show host in Louisiana. "It is below sea level and it is pouring in. So actually yesterday and today is going to be worse than when the hurricane that came in. And the reason for that is they cannot stop the water from coming in. It is a natural place to come in and what we feared for 50 or 60 years is actually taking place."
Some 23,000 people gathered in the New Orleans Superdome football stadium are being driven 500 kilometers to Houston's Astrodome. The Texas stadium is prepared to hold the refugees until December.
In drier areas of the city, officials said groups of armed looters are robbing stores. Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco appealed to the military for help with the evacuation, so the state's National Guard can handle security.
"I am asking for military presence to help us with the evacuation, to take charge of the evacuation and do all of the other things our people have been doing," she announced.
U.S. law bars federal military troops from performing civil law enforcement within the country's borders.
Throughout the hurricane affected region, tens of thousands of National Guard soldiers are mobilized and the Pentagon is sending in dozens of ships and thousands of additional troops to help in relief operations.
Small towns along the Gulf Coast suffered extensive devastation. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour toured coastal areas, saying in some places 90 percent of the buildings are gone.
"As you fly over in the helicopter you cannot see any asphalt because the streets are covered with lumber and shingles and furniture," he said.
There are reports that food and water supplies in the region are starting to run short. Officials are also worried about the threat of disease from polluted floodwaters.
President Bush has cut short his vacation and returned to Washington to coordinate the federal response to the crisis. The White House declared the disaster an "incident of national significance," triggering a recently developed national emergency plan.
Hurricane Katrina struck an area critical to the U.S. energy industry, with wind damage and blackouts crippling oil and natural gas facilities. Markets have been jittery as investors wait for news about the extent of the damage to industry infrastructure.
Television footage of huge areas of flattened buildings has recalled last December's Indian Ocean tsunami, in which more than 200,000 people were killed or left missing. The human toll from Hurricane Katrina is thought to be far fewer, but experts say its economic impact could be significant. Insurance analysts say the damage could reach as much as $25 billion in insured losses, making it the most expensive national disaster in U.S. history.