Officials watched helplessly as looters around the city ransacked stores for food, clothing, appliances and guns.
“We don’t like looters one bit, but first and foremost is search and rescue,” Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Wednesday.
In the city’s Carrollton section, which is on relatively high ground, looters commandeered a forklift and used it to push up the storm shutters and break the glass of a Rite-Aid pharmacy. The crowd stormed the store, carrying out so much ice, water and food that it dropped from their arms as they ran. The street was littered with packages of ramen noodles and other items.
New Orleans’ homeland security chief, Terry Ebbert, said looters were breaking into stores all over town and stealing guns. He said there are gangs of armed men moving around the city.
The Times-Picayune newspaper reported that the gun section at a new Wal-Mart in the Lower Garden District had been cleaned out by looters.
Gunshots were heard throughout the night in Carrollton.
Police spokesman Marlon Defilo said an officer and a looter were wounded in a shootout. Defilo had no word on their condition. Three or four others were also arrested, he said.
One looter shot and wounded a fellow looter, who was taken to a hospital and survived, he said.
'The French Quarter has been attacked'
Staff members at Children’s Hospital huddled with sick youngsters and waited in vain for help to arrive as looters tried to break through the locked door, Blanco spokeswoman Denise Bottcher told the newspaper. Neither the police nor the National Guard arrived.
Authorities planned to send more than 70 additional officers and an armed personnel carrier into the city.
On New Orleans’ Canal Street, dozens of looters ripped open the steel gates on clothing and jewelry stores and grabbed merchandise. In Biloxi, Miss., people picked through casino slot machines for coins and ransacked other businesses. In some cases, the looting was in full view of police and National Guardsmen.
The historic French Quarter appeared to have been spared the worst flooding, but its stores were getting the worst of human nature.
“The looting is out of control. The French Quarter has been attacked,” Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson said. “We’re using exhausted, scarce police to control looting when they should be used for search and rescue while we still have people on rooftops.”
Sen. Mary Landrieu’s helicopter took a flyover of the devastation and she watched as a group of people smashed a window at a gas-station convenience store and jumped in.
At a drug store in the French Quarter, people were running out with grocery baskets and coolers full of soft drinks, chips and diapers.