With much of the city flooded by Hurricane Katrina, looters floated garbage cans filled with clothing and jewelry down the street in a dash to grab what they could.
In some cases, looting on Tuesday took place in full view of police and National Guard troops.
At a Walgreen’s drug store in the French Quarter, people were running out with grocery baskets and coolers full of soft drinks, chips and diapers.
When police finally showed up, a young boy stood in the door screaming, “86! 86!” — the radio code for police — and the crowd scattered.
Denise Bollinger, a tourist from Philadelphia, stood outside and snapped pictures in amazement.
“It’s downtown Baghdad,” the housewife said. “It’s insane. I’ve wanted to come here for 10 years. I thought this was a sophisticated city. I guess not.”
Around the corner on Canal Street, the main thoroughfare in the central business district, people sloshed headlong through hip-deep water as looters ripped open the steel gates on the front of several clothing and jewelry stores.
One man, who had about 10 pairs of jeans draped over his left arm, was asked if he was salvaging things from his store.
“No,” the man shouted, “that’s everybody’s store.”
Looters filled industrial-sized garbage cans with clothing and jewelry and floated them down the street on bits of plywood and insulation as National Guard lumbered by.
Some in the crowd splashed into the waist-deep water like giddy children at the beach.
Mike Franklin stood on the trolley tracks and watched the spectacle unfold.
“To be honest with you, people who are oppressed all their lives, man, it’s an opportunity to get back at society,” he said.
A man walked down Canal Street with a pallet of food on his head. His wife, who refused to give her name, insisted they weren’t stealing from the nearby Winn-Dixie supermarket. “It’s about survival right now,” she said as she held a plastic bag full of purloined items. “We got to feed our children. I’ve got eight grandchildren to feed.”
Police commandeer pharmacy
At a drug store on Canal Street just outside the French Quarter, two police officers with pump shotguns stood guard as workers from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel across the street loaded large laundry bins full of medications, snack foods and bottled water.
“This is for the sick,” Officer Jeff Jacob said. “We can commandeer whatever we see fit, whatever is necessary to maintain law.”
Another officer, D.J. Butler, told the crowd standing around that they would be out of the way as soon as they got the necessities.
“I’m not saying you’re welcome to it,” the officer said. “This is the situation we’re in. We have to make the best of it.”
The looting was taking place in full view of passing National Guard trucks and police cruisers.
One man with an armload of clothes even asked a policeman, “Can I borrow your car?”