LOUISIANA authorities say they now have control over the capital New Orleans and have restored law and order, almost a week after the chaos caused by Hurricane Katrina.
A massive air and bus evacuation has cleared all hurricane survivors from inside the New Orleans Superdome and convention centre, where they had been huddled in squalid and violent conditions.
Military and police officials said groups of up to 2,000 survivors were still grouping at the Superdome and convention centre, which are being used for bus departures.
‘Nineteen thousand people have been moved out of the convention centre,’ said Brigadier Michael Flemming of the Florida National Guard.
Thousands of soldiers poured into New Orleans on Saturday while multitudes fled the city, leaving behind rotting bodies, flooded streets and homes and fears of disease epidemics.
Amid mounting recriminations over the government response to Hurricane Katrina, which is believed to have killed thousands, President George W Bush ordered 7,000 regular troops into the disaster zone while authorities also despatched 10,000 extra National Guard.
Soldiers from the elite 82nd Airborne Division entered the city.
New Orleans police have also made their first arrest since the hurricane and flooding, a prisons chief said.
The prisoner was also the first to be processed at a temporary detention centre being built at the city’s Greyhound bus station.
More than 10,000 survivors were flown out of New Orleans on Saturday as part of the largest airlift in US history, Transport Secretary Norman Mineta said.
At Louis Armstrong international airport, rescue workers used baggage carts to transport people from helicopters into a medical facility, where they were treated and then loaded into waiting planes.
Hundreds of thousands of people from the Gulf Coast have sought refuge in Texas, northern Louisiana and Florida where local authorities say they are now struggling to cope.
As the flood waters slowly receded, bodies still lay in the streets of New Orleans.
The corpse of a black woman remained in a wheelchair outside the Superdome for the fourth day.
No toll for the tragedy was available, but a senator has said the number of dead could top 10,000 in Louisiana. Mississippi has provided a provisional death toll of 147.
Texas has been swamped by hundreds of thousands of refugees from Hurricane Katrina, straining resources in a state where government is small and people fend for themselves.
The Lone Star state, cradle of President George W Bush’s philosophy of muscular individualism, says it is doing its best to welcome the bedraggled exodus from New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast devastated by Katrina.
But officials warn that shelters, hospitals and schools in Texas, which has some of the lowest levels of social spending in the United States, risk being overwhelmed.
Governor Rick Perry, who succeeded Bush in 2000, wrote to the president on Thursday to appeal for federal help.
‘We will do all we can as a state and a people to help our neighbours to the east who have lost so much,’ he said.
‘Hurricane Katrina, a disaster for our neighbouring states, has created emergency conditions in Texas that will require all available resources of both federal and state governments to overcome.’
At least 73,000 people in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama who lost their homes to Katrina’s fury are being evacuated to Texas cities including Houston, Dallas and Austin.
But throughout the Houston area alone, officials estimate that there are between 150,000 and 200,000 evacuees staying in shelters, hotel rooms and with friends and relatives.
The city’s Astrodome stadium took between 10,000 and 11,000 refugees before it closed its doors late on Thursday.
Ramon Miguez, assistant city manager in Dallas, said the city could only take about 8,200 refugees, down from an initial estimate of 10,000.
‘We have already advised the state this morning that we are fast approaching capacity,’ Miguez said on Saturday.
US newspapers have stepped up criticism of the Bush administration for its slow response to the devastation that Hurricane Katrina has wreaked on New Orleans and the US Gulf Coast.
US newspapers said the scale of the disaster requires a change of policy.
‘One thing is certain: if President Bush and his Republican Congressional leaders want to deal responsibly with a historic disaster of this scale, they must finally try the path of an honestly shared national sacrifice,’ The New York Times said.
‘If they respond by passing a few emergency measures and then falling back on their plans to enact more tax cuts, America will have to confront the fact that it is stuck with leaders who neither know, nor care, how to lead,’ the influential daily said.
‘The annihilation in New Orleans is an irrefutable sign that the national tax-cut party is over.
‘So is the idea that American voters cannot be required to accept sacrifice or inconvenience, no matter how great the crisis. This country is better than that.’
Newspapers also pointed out that many of the victims of Hurricane Katrina are the poorest Americans, who need help now more than ever.
‘If blame is to be laid and lessons are to be drawn, one point stands out as irrefutable: Emergency planners must focus much more on the fate of that part of the population that – for reasons of poverty, infirmity, distrust of officialdom, lack of transportation or lack of information – cannot be counted on to leave their homes after an evacuation order,’ said The Washington Post.
The Boston Globe said it was time for the United States to renew the ‘war on poverty,’ noting that images of the disaster showed that the poor in flooded and chaotic New Orleans ‘were long overlooked’.
The international press panned what it called a lack of leadership by Bush and the government in their anaemic response to the disaster.
Accusing the administration of providing ‘a cruel lack of leadership’, the daily Liberation in France said Bush had been slow to react to the 9/11 attacks and no quicker to respond to the tragedy of New Orleans, while presiding over an administration in which both poverty and the anger of the dispossessed were on the increase.