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Public health emergency declared in Gulf Coast

Grand Casino deposited across Hwy. 90 Grand Casino deposited across Hwy. 90

(National) August 31, 2005 - Federal officials have declared a public health emergency for the entire Gulf Coast.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff says the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is "very dangerous."

Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt says his agency is concerned about potential disease outbreaks. He's urging residents of the storm area to boil water, follow food safety guidelines, and be aware of possible carbon monoxide poisoning from generators.

Medical experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are headed to the area.

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta says his agency is working to restore highways, airports, and seaports. Environmental Protection Agency director Stephen Johnson says anti-pollution standards for gasoline are being eased throughout the country until September 15th.

The mayor of New Orleans says at least hundreds of people are dead in the city, and maybe thousands, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Mayor Ray Nagin also says it will be at least two or three months before New Orleans has electricity. During that time, he says, there will be no commmerce in the city.

President Bush won't be visiting the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast just yet, but he's been able to see the damage already from the air.

His flight from his Texas ranch to Washington detoured over the storm's path. Air Force One descended to an altitude of about 5,000 feet so that Bush could view some of the most damaged areas.

The president might visit the storm area later in the week. Katrina has left thousands homeless in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

The scene in New Orleans appears more grim by the hour, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
(Citizen Journalists | Slideshow)

One 57-year-old man died of cancer in his flooded home after Hurricane Katrina struck. His grieving common-law wife wrapped the body in a sheet and floated it on two-by-fours to a main road. The body rested on a grassy median for hours until a man persuaded the driver of a flatbed truck to take it to a hospital.

Former city worker Curtis Miller says he was disgusted that so many vehicles passed by without stopping.

On Tuesday, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said hundreds, if not thousands, of people may still be stuck on roofs and in attics. As a result, he said, rescue crews in boats don't have time to deal with the dead bodies they encounter. He says they're just pushing them aside.

Lifelong New Orleans resident Quentina Green was rescued by boat with her husband and four children. She said they didn't leave their home before the storm hit because the family didn't have the money to evacuate. Her husband, Thomas Green, said they lost everything. Now, he says, they'll "start from scratch, start all over, that's all we can do."

It appears the death toll from the storm will be high. One survivor after another told of friends and loved ones who floated off or disappeared as the floodwaters rose around them.
( Citizen Journalists | Katrina Aftermath Slideshow)

The governor of Louisiana says there's a plan in the works to evacuate those who are left in the city of New Orleans, including the thousands who've taken shelter at the Superdome and elsewhere.

Kathleen Blanco called the the situation "untenable and heartbreaking."

Because of two levees that broke Wednesday, the city is rapidly filling with water, and power may be down for a long time. Blanco says the storm severed a major water main, leaving the city without drinkable water.

In Mississippi, authorities say at least 100 people have died in a coastal county slammed by Hurricane Katrina.

An official in Harrison County, home of Biloxi and Gulfport, says he's "very, very worried" that the number of dead could as he puts it, "go double or triple the latest toll."

Rescuers in boats and helicopters are searching feverishly for possible survivors. Harrison County coroner Gary Hargrove had this advice for rescuers who encounter bodies: "If they're dead, they're dead. We've got the living to take care of."

Authorities had said earlier that at least 30 residents were killed when Katrina wiped out an apartment building. Survivors described a scene of pandemonium as they fled the rising water. A woman who swam to safety with her boyfriend says they pushed floating cars out of the way.

Governor Haley Barbour of Mississippi says it was "a very bad disaster in terms of human life."

The mayor's office in Biloxi says a massive storm surge knocked out five casinos. It damaged the Hard Rock Cafe and washed out the bottom floor of a condominium. Along one Mississippi highway, motorists have been using chainsaws to remove trees blocking the road.

Authorities say rising water in New Orleans has forced one hospital to send patients to the Superdome, where thousands are sheltering. The city's police chief warns people who are outside the city not to come back. He says the situation is bad and "we need people to cooperate" and not get in the way.

Katrina, now downgraded to a tropical depression, has also knocked out power to more than a million people from Louisiana to Florida's Panhandle. Officials say restoring power could take months.

Hurricane Katrina barreled toward New Orleans on Sunday with 160-mph winds and a threat of a 28-foot storm surge, forcing a mandatory evacuation of the below-sea-level city and prayers for those who remained to face a doomsday scenario.

New Orleans appeared to avoid a direct hit when the storm turned slightly to the east before hitting land Monday morning. The center of Hurricane Katrina crashed ashore just east of Grand Isle, Louisiana, about 60 miles south of New Orleans. The storm was a Category-Four, with sustained winds of 150 miles-per-hour.

The National Hurricane Center estimates the strongest winds to hit New Orleans were about 100 miles-per-hour. Authorities in New Orleans say at least 40,000 homes have been flooded.

A 20-foot storm surge pounded homes in Mississippi. WLOX , one of WIS' sister stations in Mississippi, suffered severe damage from the storm, although the on-duty staff say they are all safe.

Only three Category 5 hurricanes, the highest on the Saffir-Simpson scale , have hit the United States since record-keeping began. The last was 1992's Hurricane Andrew, which leveled parts of South Florida, killed 43 people and caused $31 billion in damage. The other two were the 1935 Labor Day hurricane that hit the Florida Keys and killed 600 people and Hurricane Camille, which devastated the Mississippi coast in 1969, killing 256.

Katrina is the 11th named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season. Normally, there are only two or three named storms by this time in the season, which began June first and ends November 30.

Updated 3:11pm by Bryce Mursch with AP

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