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New Orleans Evacuation Continues Amid Desperate Conditions

Massive rescue and evacuation efforts are continuing in New Orleans and along parts of the Gulf Coast of the United States ravaged earlier this week by Hurricane Katrina. President Bush plans to tour the area Friday, which has been devastated by one of the worst natural disasters in the nation's history.

Thousands of National Guard troops are arriving to help with the evacuation of flood-swamped New Orleans.

In an increasingly desperate situation, tens of thousands of people appear to be without food and water, while many are living in filthy conditions.

The secretary of homeland security, Michael Chertoff, says the flooding has dramatically impeded relief efforts, but he says the rapidly increasing number of security forces will speed the evacuation of the city.

"With these security forces in place, with the National Guard and police in place, we will expeditiously finish the task of evacuating the remainder of the population of New Orleans that has to be removed, we will get them to shelter and then we will begin the somewhat longer term process of getting them into a permanent place of residence, or a semi-permanent place of residence and draining the water, starting to clean New Orleans and then moving on with reconstruction," he said.

Much of the city remains flooded with some refugees of the storm still stranded on rooftops.

Outside the New Orleans Convention Center the sidewalks are packed with people who have no basic supplies or medical care.

Bodies are scattered outside, including an elderly woman who lay dead in her wheelchair. In other parts of the city, bodies are floating in the water.

Frantic people who want to be evacuated are pleading for assistance.

WOMAN: "We have been down here now for a couple of days and we need help. We really, truly do. New Orleans is no more New Orleans. It is a tragedy down here."

The federal government has launched a massive effort to evacuate New Orleans and rescue people still trapped by high water.

Convoys carrying emergency supplies are moving into the city, which is about 80 percent underwater. Remaining residents are complaining that the supplies are not reaching them fast enough.

Patrick Rhode of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) acknowledges people who are waiting to be evacuated have it hard but says they need to remain patient.

"It is very important that the citizens in these impacted areas exercise, as difficult as it is, exercise as much patience as they possibly can," he said. "We understand that you are there. We understand you are suffering. We are trying to get to you as best as we possibly can."

For many Americans the most immediate economic impact from the hurricane has been record high gasoline prices.

Katrina damaged key oil producing and refining facilities, reducing fuel production by more than 10 percent.

President Bush says the disruption in the energy supply is temporary.

"Americans should be prudent in their use of energy during the course of the next few weeks. Do not buy gas if you don't need it," said Mr. Bush.

President Bush made the statement at a joint appearance with his father, former President George Bush, and former President Bill Clinton. Mr. Bush has asked the two former presidents to coordinate fundraising efforts for the victims of the hurricane.