Saturday, September 03, 2005

The Back of the Bus Is Still Reserved for Blacks

I am so angry right now it's hard to be articulate. Yesterday Condoleezza Rice said white American victims of Katrina would never be helped before black American victims. She was wrong. Preferential treatment for whites is alive and well in New Orleans, where about 700 affluent white guests trapped in the Hyatt Hotel were evacuated ahead of thousands of black victims still stranded in the Superdome. That's not all. The rescue operations have been halted, with no explanation, leaving up to 5,000 desperate and mostly black victims still in the Superdome.

Buses taking Hurricane Katrina victims far from the squalor of the Superdome stopped rolling early Saturday. As many as 5,000 people remained in the stadium and could be there until Sunday, according to the Texas Air National Guard.
Officials had hoped to evacuate the last of the crowd before dawn Saturday. Guard members said they were told only that the buses had stopped coming and to shut down the area where the vehicles were being loaded.

"We were rolling," Capt. Jean Clark said. "If the buses had kept coming, we would have this whole place cleaned out already or pretty close to it."
Capt. John Pollard of the Texas Air Force National Guard said 20,000 people were in the dome when evacuation efforts began. That number swelled as people poured into the Superdome because they believed it was the best place to get a ride out of town.

He estimated Saturday morning that between 2,000 and 5,000 people were left at the Superdome. But it remained a mystery why the buses stopped coming to pick up refugees and shuttle them away.
The arena's second-story concourse looked like a dump, with more than a foot of trash except in the occasional area where people were working to keep things as tidy as possible.

Bathrooms had no lights, making people afraid to enter, and the stench from backed-up toilets inside killed any inclination toward bravery.

"When we have to go to the bathroom we just get a box. That's all you can do now," said Sandra Jones of eastern New Orleans.

Her newborn baby was running a fever, and all the small children in her area had rashes, she said.
At one point Friday, the evacuation was interrupted briefly when school buses pulled up so some 700 guests and employees from the Hyatt Hotel could move to the head of the evacuation line — much to the amazement of those who had been crammed in the Superdome since last Sunday.

"How does this work? They (are) clean, they are dry, they get out ahead of us?" exclaimed Howard Blue, 22, who tried to get in their line. The National Guard blocked him as other guardsmen helped the well-dressed guests with their luggage.

The 700 had been trapped in the hotel, near the Superdome, but conditions were considerably cleaner, even without running water, than the unsanitary crush inside the dome. The Hyatt was severely damaged by the storm. Every pane of glass on the riverside wall was blown out.

Mayor Ray Nagin has used the hotel as a base since it sits across the street from city hall, and there were reports the hotel was cleared with priority to make room for police, firefighters and other officials.

Conditions in the Superdome remained unbearable even as the crowd shrank after buses ferried thousands to Houston a day earlier. Much of the medical staff that had been working in the "special needs" arena had been evacuated.

The thousands of human beings still remaining in the Superdome, in conditions that are not even fit for animals, will have to somehow try to survive for at least another 24 hours. The Texas Air National Guard says they could be there until Sunday.

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