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New Orleans shelters to be evacuated

Floodwaters rising, devastation widespread in Katrina's wake



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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana (CNN) -- New Orleans resembled a war zone more than a modern American metropolis Tuesday, as Gulf Coast communities struggled to deal with the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Deteriorating conditions in New Orleans will force authorities to evacuate the thousands of people at city shelters, including the Louisiana Superdome, where a policeman told CNN unrest was escalating.

The officer expressed concern that the situation could worsen overnight after three shootings, looting and a number of attempted carjackings during the afternoon. (See video of the looting -- 1:25)

Officials could not yet provide accurate estimates for fatalities or time needed for recovery in the area and are focusing, instead, on widespread search-and-rescue operations.

The death toll from the storm so far is estimated at 70 -- mostly in Mississippi. Officials stressed that the number is uncertain and likely to be much higher. (See aerial video of the aftermath -- 3:02)

"A lot of people lost their lives, and we still don't have any idea [how many], because the focus continues to be on rescuing those who have survived," Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco told reporters Tuesday.

Elsewhere along the Gulf Coast, authorities used boats and helicopters to reach stranded residents and search for survivors.

The storm ripped ashore in Louisiana on Monday morning with winds topping 140 mph before scourging Mississippi and Alabama.

The U.S. Coast Guard said its crews assisted in the rescue Monday of about 1,200 people stranded by high water in the New Orleans area, and thousands more were rescued Tuesday morning.

Waters rising in New Orleans

New Orleans was left with no power, no drinking water, dwindling food supplies, widespread looting, smoke rising on the horizon and the sounds of gunfire. At least one large building was ablaze Tuesday. (Full story)

Mayor Ray Nagin told CNN that at least 30 buildings had collapsed, but that no attempt had been made to determine a death toll.

"There are dead bodies floating in some of the water," Nagin said. "The rescuers would basically push them aside as they were trying to save individuals."

Nagin said that as of late Tuesday "a significant amount of water" is flowing into the bowl-shaped city and sections of the city now dry could be under 9 or 10 feet of water within hours.

"The bowl is filling up," he said.

Frustration was also rising among people who now find themselves refugees in their own city.

Thousands of people were being housed in the Louisiana Superdome, where toilets were overflowing and there was no air conditioning to provide relief from 90-degree heat.

Nagin estimated the number of people in the Superdome at between 12,000 and 15,000 people as of late Tuesday. He said they could be there for a week unless evacuated sooner.

Blanco said officials are making plans to evacuate people from the Superdome and other shelters, but she did not say when that might happen or where they might be taken.

The city's main public hospital, Charity Hospital, was no longer functioning and was being evacuated, Blanco said.

Also under way was the evacuation of more than 1,000 people from Tulane University Hospital with the help of the U.S. military, hospital spokeswoman Karen Troyer Caraway said.

"It's an unbelievable situation," she said. "We're completely surrounded by water. There's looting going on in the streets around the hospital."

Hundreds of people were looting businesses downtown, throwing rocks through store windows and hauling away goods.

National Guard troops moved into the downtown business district, and state police squads backed by SWAT teams were sent in to scatter looters and restore order, authorities said late Tuesday.

Nagin told Mississippi television station WAPT a police officer was shot and wounded when he surprised a looter Tuesday, but the officer was expected to recover.

The biggest problem facing authorities, they said, was an inability to communicate.

Nearly all of the parishes in the New Orleans area -- Orleans, St. John the Baptist, Plaquemines, St. Tammany and Jefferson -- have curfews in place.

Inmates from a flooded parish jail were relocated to a freeway on-ramp, where they sat out in the sun, under the watch of armed officers.

Nagin said 80 percent of the city was under water, which was 20 feet deep in some places. (See video of knee-deep and rising water in the French Quarter -- 1:19)

Water from Lake Pontchartrain was pouring into the downtown area from a levee breach, rising steadily throughout the day. (Map)

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reported two major breaches in the levee system that protects New Orleans, much of which lies below sea level.

Authorities warned that efforts to limit the flooding have been unsuccessful, and that residents may not be able to return home for a month.

"The Corps Of Engineers has attempted to fix the situation under emergency conditions," Blanco told CNN. "They're not the best conditions, and probably too little, too late."

Getting anything into New Orleans will be difficult because of the damage to two bridge spans seven miles long that carry Interstate 10 over Lake Pontchartrain, linking the city to points east.

"This is a tragedy of great proportions, greater than any we've see in our lifetimes," Blanco said. "We know many lives have been lost."

The governor also said it was "impossible to even begin to estimate" how long it will take to restore power and drinking water in New Orleans.

Death toll rising in Mississippi

Katrina has inflicted more damage to Mississippi beach towns than did Hurricane Camille, and its death toll is likely to be higher, the state's governor said Tuesday. (Full story)

Camille killed 143 people when it struck the state's coastal counties in 1969 and a total of 256 after it swept inland.

"There are structures after structures that survived Camille with minor damage that are not there any more," Gov. Haley Barbour told reporters in Jackson.

Katrina destroyed "every one" of the casinos that raked in $500,000 per day in revenues to state coffers, Barbour said after a helicopter tour of the affected areas.

"There were 10- and 20-block areas where there was nothing -- not one home standing," he said.

Barbour would not give a confirmed death toll, but said it was likely to be higher than previous reports of 50 to 80 dead.

Jason Green of the Harrison County Coroner's Office said funeral homes in Gulfport had received 26 bodies since the storm passed Monday.

In the small town of Bay St. Louis, search and rescue crews put paint marks on homes known to contain bodies, because there weren't enough refrigerated trucks to remove the corpses.

In Biloxi, an employee of the city's Grand Casino was awed by the extent of the damage.

"I was a senior in high school when Hurricane Camille hit, in 1969, and I have never seen destruction of this magnitude," said Scott Richmond.

Part of the city's sea wall was washed away, and nearly every downtown building had extensive damage to its first level.

State emergency management officials said 80 percent of the state's residents had no power.

In Biloxi, a 25-foot swell of water crashed in from the Gulf of Mexico Monday and inundated structures there.

Up to 30 people are believed to have been killed when an apartment complex on the beach collapsed in the storm.

Distraught resident Harvey Jackson told a local television station about losing his wife in the floodwater as they stood on their roof. (Watch the video report of a husband whose wife slipped from his grip -- 1:07 )

"I held her hand as tight as I could and she told me, 'You can't hold me.' She said 'Take care of the kids and the grandkids,' " he sobbed. (Victims left with nothing)

Streets and homes were flooded as far as 6 miles inland from the beach, and looting was reported in Biloxi and in Gulfport, officials said.

Other developments

• In Mobile, Alabama, the storm pushed water from Mobile Bay into downtown, submerging large sections of the city, and officials imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew. (Full story)

• The impact of Katrina on U.S. oil production and refinery capabilities may be worse than initial reports estimated and could lead to a national gas crisis in the short-term, analysts warned Tuesday. (Full story)

• President Bush was returning to Washington two days ahead of schedule to help oversee Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts, the White House announced. He will fly Friday to Louisiana to tour parishes ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said. (Full story)

• The U.S. military Tuesday started to move ships and helicopters to the region at the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to aid in rescue and medical needs, military officials said. (Full story)

• Katrina was downgraded to a tropical depression Tuesday. As of the 11 p.m. ET update from the National Hurricane Center, the storm was pushing through the Ohio River Valley, causing flood watches in several states.

CNN's Anderson Cooper, Kathleen Koch, David Mattingly, Jeanne Meserve, Miles O'Brien, Jim Spellman, Gary Tuchman and John Zarrella contributed to this report.

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